“Love knows how to form itself. God will do his work if we do ours. Our job is to prepare ourselves for love. When we do, love finds us every time.” – Marianne Williamson
It’s Advent Already!
The lights are on the house, the angel is in the yard. Soon the Christmas tree will be up and decorated. As I pull the decorations out of their boxes, I’m reminded of when and where they came to be in our home. Some of them are older than I am, and some are brand new, collected from our travels. Our neighbors came by yesterday to ensure we got together for “holiday cheer!” I just love preparing for Christmas.
And speaking of preparation, did you know that tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent? Advent, the 40 days prior to Christmas, is the season for preparing ourselves for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus. During the season of preparation, many Christian traditions spend the 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting. So, while these 40 days are filled with holiday cheer, parties, shopping, and TV specials, it’s also a time of preparation and deep reflection.
Changing for the Better
Let’s reflect on penance. In the Doubleday dictionary, “penance” refers to the feeling of sorrow for sin or fault, demonstrated by some outward act; repentance. This implies that a person sincerely and contritely apologizes, so that the act or fault won’t be repeated. In “penance”, we hopefully learn from our mistakes and we refrain from doing them going forward. We commit to change for the better.
If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…
Which is where “fasting” comes in. In many religious traditions, fasting is a common practice. It was originally associated with sadness, mourning and petition. It was considered an extremely personal action between the person and their God. Fasting, abstaining from food, was a practice that allowed the person to focus and rely totally on God for their support, comfort, and well-being.
I began to reflect on fasting for a deeper meaning in my own life. And as gently as a feather floating on a breeze, the words “judgment” and “unforgiveness” came into my conscious awareness.
Oh, boy. Could I really “fast” from judging others and finding them lacking? Could I learn to forgive all the perceived mistakes and wrong-doings for which I blamed others? Could I forgive myself for not being as compassionate and forgiving as I thought I should be by now?
Eric Butterworth, one of Unity’s beloved authors and ministers, wrote in “Discover the Power Within You” that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control what we think about what happens. And in that moment, our thinking becomes our life. Am I thinking about the highest good in any given situation? Am I blessing everyone in my sphere of awareness? I can if I choose to focus on God in every person and situation.
Practicing the Presence
That brings me to prayer. There are many wonderful books written about prayer. And many authors claim there is no one right way to pray. My favorite prayer practice has shifted over the years from intercessory prayer (only turning to God to ask for something) to a contemplative prayer.
While I still may ask God for guidance or comfort, I mostly practice sensing the Presence in people and circumstances, even when my eyes and ears disagree with my intention. Rather than praying from worry about a loved one, I surrender my thoughts about them to God’s fullness of life and health. Rather than condemning someone whose beliefs are different than mine, I wrap them in unconditional love, and know that we can find mutual compassion and respect.
So in this season of Advent, this season of preparation, I invite you to join me in reflecting on penance (changing for the better,) fasting (from thoughts, beliefs and habits that don’t support our spiritual growth) and prayer (sensing the Presence everywhere.) We can let this season become our adventure of Christmas as Jesus taught us – living in and from the love of God.