Some years, I’m drowning in Advent books. This year isn’t one of those years. And, to be honest, I’m glad.
You see, this year I’m feeling very ill-equipped for Advent. And though I feel that way pretty much EVERY year, this year has a special twang to it. There’s something about being 21 weeks pregnant and dealing with some of the other pressures in my life to make me simultaneously dread and anticipate Christmas.
Though I’m a planner, the many logistics of Christmas usually wear me out. Add Advent on top and, well, this year I just want a nap. In a house that’s not swarming with people and laundry. In a climate that’s warmer than our inspired-by-February weather.
So it’s odd that I’m pushing Advent books. And yet, these two books may be what my Advent needs.
They’re both short and designed for busy people. But you know, that “busy” thing isn’t what appeals to me: it’s the “something short.” My prayer life has derailed since my body started demanding twice the sleep, and the “something simple” is what I need. But sometimes, I’ve found, simple can plant seeds that sprout and grow. Both of these books seem to have that potential.
Another bonus: they’re both inexpensive. At under $2, they’re the kind of thing you can purchase and know that it’s money well spent (and not a lot of money either!).
by R. Scott Hurd
Each day has sections, and there’s a rhythm that I find comforting. You begin with a phrase that has always resonated with me: “Be still. Be silent. Know that God is near.” You continue with prayer taken from scripture. Then there’s a short scripture passage (which you can opt to read) and an excerpt of that passage.
Fr. Hurd’s reflection follows, and then there’s a daily action. You close with prayer and that’s it.
Except, in my experience, that’s not ever all there is.
Here’s a sample day, randomly chosen:
Friday, December 5
First Week of Advent
Be still. Be silent. Know that God is near.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth. ~ Psalm 80:2
Read Matthew 9:27-31.
And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread word of him through all that land.” ~ Matthew 9:30-31
Sticks in the Desert
In an ancient story, a desert monk ordered a disciple to water a stick in the sand every day. Since the only water source was far away, the disciple had to make a long walk each night. After three years, however, the stick blossomed, and the monk’s community gathered to celebrate what they called “the fruit of obedience.”
Most of us would probably refuse to water a stick in the desert because it sounds like a ridiculous thing to do. Maybe that was the conclusion of the three men in today’s gospel. Even though Jesus had ordered them not to tell anyone that he had healed them, they nevertheless spread news of their cure far and wide. They probably thought that keeping their secret was unreasonable, considering their excitement and all the questions they were surely asked. Their actions remind us that faith involves trust that God knows what he’s doing — even when his commands seem unreasonable!
Do we disregard God’s commands because we think they don’t make sense — things such as forgiving a hurt, loving an enemy, and living simply in a materialistic world where many starve to death each day? Do we ignore Church teachings about marriage, sexuality, and medical ethics because much of our culture says they’re outdated, or even cruel? Do we fail to persevere in faith when life gets hard because we can’t understand why we should? Do we do things that make us uncomfortable, but try to convince ourselves that they’re okay?
Today’s gospel reminds us that just because something may seem reasonable doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right, and just because something is difficult to believe or seems unreasonable doesn’t give us freedom to dismiss it.
Do you carry some regret? Perhaps you chose not to do something that at a deeper level you thought you should, or you did something that you really knew you shouldn’t. Take that regret to prayer today. Imagine you hold it in your hands as you sit in silence before the Lord. If and when you can, release it.
Gracious God, heal me of my lack of courage and lead me always in the path of choosing what is right. Amen.
by the Irish Jesuits
If you haven’t checked out the website that’s inspired these books, you really should. It’s at sacredspace.ie and it’s one of those sites that can calm me right on down, get me off the cliff of my interior drama, and basically remind me of what’s important in life.
So how is it that I’ve never gone through any of the Sacred Space books before? Well, consider THAT fixed!
This book begins on November 30 and continues all the way through Epiphany, January 4. (Which, in case you wondered, I LOVE.)
“We invite you to make a sacred space in your day and spend ten minutes praying here and now,” reads the first sentence of “How to Use This Booklet.” Each week begins with an introduction, giving you something to think and pray about specifically. Each day is simply done: not even a full page. There’s a the gospel citation, the gospel itself, and a bullet point or two.
It’s based on a six-step prayer method that’s not only easy, but that is also portable. This book would fit in my jacket pocket or purse and wouldn’t fall apart there.
Truly, this is the kind of simple-but-deep that my Advent needs!
Here’s an excerpt from a day, randomly chosen:
The Third Week of Advent
Something to think and pray about each day this week:
Jesus shows how to find goodness where others see only bad. The prime example is the father of the prodigal son. Once the boy has turned towards home, the fathers falls on his neck and throws a party. The party is neither for the son nor for the rest of the family. It is the father expressing his own joy; it is his party: “There is more joy among the angels in heaven over one sinner…” Jesus urges us to be perfect in this way, going the extra mile, generous to a fault. It is a counsel of perfection, rare in this world, but when it happens, God is shown.
The Presence of God
What is present to me is what has a hold on my becoming.
I reflect on the presence of God always there in love,
amidst the many things that have a hold on me.
I pause and pray that I may let God affect my becoming in this precise moment.
“There are very few people who realize what God
would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands,
and let themselves be formed by his grace” (St. Ignatius).
I ask for the grace to trust myself totally to God’s love.
In the presence of my loving Creator,
I look honestly at my feelings over the last day,
the highs, the lows, and the level ground.
Can I see where the Lord has been present?
God speaks to each one of us individually. I need to listen to hear what he is saying to me. Read the text a few times, then listen. (Please turn to your scripture on the following pages. Inspiration points are there should you need them. When you are ready, return here to continue.)
What is stirring in me as I pray?
Am I consoled, troubled, left cold?
I imagine Jesus himself standing or sitting at my side,
and share my feelings with him.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen
Thursday 18th December
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to the public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.
- There is a model here for making decisions and dealing with doubts. Pray about it, carry it as a question, pester God about it. This is the story of Joseph’s utterly unique vocation, as foster-father of the Son of God.
Order The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2014 and/or Sacred Space for Advent and the Christmas Season 2014-2015 and support CatholicMom.com with your purchase!
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Copyright 2014, Sarah Reinhard