Recently, my toddler discovered the slide at a nearby park. “Whee!” he exclaimed, as he finally touched the ground. Happily, he hit the slide with his hands, beckoning me to come help him go down the slide again. I took his hand and guided him back to the steps and platforms so that he could reach the top and zoom down. Then, instead of walking to the steps and repeating the process of climbing, my son tried a different tactic. He looked at me, hit the slide, and reached up his arms. His message was clear: “Pick me up and put me on the slide.” I shook my head, explaining that he needed to climb up the steps if he wanted to go down the slide again.
While it’s true that I didn’t want to repeatedly pick up my toddler to put him on the slide (the thought of it exhausts me!), I also wanted to show him that life should not revolve around instant, easy satisfaction. In order to experience the thrill of going down the slide, my son needed to take a journey: he had to walk over to the stairs and climb to the top platform. If he did this, his ride down the slide would be even more exhilarating because he put forth effort to reach that point.
We have just begun the season of Advent. This is a time of waiting and preparation as we look to the upcoming celebration of Christ’s birth. While it’s tempting to launch into full-scale Christmas celebrations and pay little attention to the prayers, songs, and practices of Advent, we cannot forget the importance of the Advent journey. In the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, we have an opportunity to prayerfully contemplate the Holy Family as they traveled to Bethlehem.
There is a tradition I grew up with, which I now continue in my own family, of moving figurines of Joseph, Mary, and a donkey gradually closer to the Nativity scene throughout Advent. As I look at these figurines, I imagine the hardships and exhaustion the Holy Family endured on their journey. I contemplate the ways in which I can unite myself to them in undertaking a spiritual pilgrimage of Advent. Instead of impatiently biding my time until Christmas, I can seek out prayers, practices, and silence to intentionally travel closer to God in this season. This helps me truly prepare my heart to receive Christ at Christmas, but embracing the season of Advent goes even deeper. In his book, A Monastery Journey to Christmas, Brother Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourrette mentions the deep significance of Advent, as he writes:
“The Advent journey reminds us also of another journey: that of our earthly pilgrimage toward communion with God, toward a rich plenitude of life with him. The very character of Advent is to instill in us a vision of our Christian life as a constant pilgrimage, as a dynamic ongoing movement toward a final encounter, and ultimate destination where we enter into the possession of the one our hearts desire.”
Intentionally embarking on a spiritual journey throughout Advent is not always comfortable. Examining myself, asking God to purify my heart and life, and embracing deeper spiritual practices takes time and effort. This isn’t as much fun as munching on cookies while watching Christmas movies, yet embracing the journey of Advent and drawing close to God is what will truly satisfy us. This season, let us all try to intentionally embark on a spiritual pilgrimage. Together, we can journey with the Holy Family so that we may adore Our Lord on Christmas with pure hearts, full of love and devotion.
Copyright 2017 AnneMarie Miller