Dowuring this month of November we are inviting families--mostly parents, but families, too--to enter into the naturally-contemplative season of autumn and winter.
To paraphrase Mary in Luke's Gospel, you might be wondering: “How can this be, since I have no time or idea how to contemplate?”
This year we are spending time with the theology, thought and prayer of St. Catherine of Siena and her Dominican heritage. At the center of the Dominican mission and ministry is Jesus, the Word of God, upon which we contemplate and that which we preach to others. We cannot give what we do not have, and we cannot speak the Word of peace, love, encouragement, strength or inspiration unless we have first contemplated it in our hearts and minds.
Christianity has its roots in the northern hemisphere, and many of our Christian feasts and celebrations have their origins in pagan rituals and celebrations. We do not know the date of Jesus' birth. However, we have chosen as a Church to celebrate it December 25. At the time of year when light is short and nights are long, we celebrate the coming into the world of the Light which is Jesus.
One of the great gifts of this timing is that autumn and winter are times of hibernation, times of slowing down, times when we naturally ponder the end of the year and the end times. The liturgical readings of November are full of the prophetic call to examine our lives and remember we wait, not just for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, but the coming of Christ at the end of time. During Advent, we are invited to heed the call, again, of the prophets to prepare the way for God both on earth and in our hearts. It is no accident that the liturgical color for Advent, as well as Lent, is purple. While the color purple is meant to be a penitential color, the purple of Advent is a little more blue, like the dark night sky, whereas the purple of Lent is tinged with red, like the blood shed for us.
If you jumped headlong into Black Friday, hit the 50% off sale at Hobby Lobby for Christmas decorations, or scoured the web for Cyber Monday, you're off and running for Christmas. All around us we are told to prepare for great joy and excitement, to banish sadness, disappointment and all things negative from our lives. THAT is what makes a good Christmas.
However, there is a wisdom they miss. Catherine of Siena spent two years in prayer in a tiny room almost the size of a closet. You could say she willingly entered into the darkness in order to find the Light. Before she could preach the Word--to her family, to her town, to the Popes (yes, BOTH of them!)--she had to hear the Word in silence.
To truly see the Light, to truly hear the Word, to truly know the Wisdom, we have to be willing to enter the darkness. All of the great spiritual writers of our Christian tradition tell us this. The big way we say this is that there is no resurrection without first death. There is no new life without letting go of the old one. There is no transformation without the tomb.
This darkening time of autumn and winter are a ready-made retreat time for us. It doesn't take that much more time and effort to gently add some contemplative prayer to our lives. During our November Family Faith sessions we are taking a few moments during the opening part of the session to quiet ourselves, breath deeply, and reflect upon images of Jesus--a bridge, a line from scripture. That same process can be repeated at home, in your car, during your lunch break. Once or twice a day of closing your eyes, slowing down, entering into the quiet of our hearts, calling to mind an image or phrase and simply being still are elements of contemplative prayer. There is no goal other than silence and stillness. There is nothing to achieve but a listening and restful heart. There is nothing to do but show up and be present to God who is with and within us.
Step-by-Step Guide for Busy Parents to Become Autumn Contemplatives
The night before
1. Decide where you are going to sit. Clear off the corner of a sofa. Take socks and backpacks off a chair.
2. Find a candle and lighter (if you're into candles), and have it ready near your seat.
3. Set the coffee maker (if you're into coffee) so it's ready to go first thing in the morning.
4. Choose something to "take to prayer." It could be an image, the liturgical readings for the next day, a line from scripture, or just silence.
5. Set your alarm to go off fifteen minutes earlier than usual.
In the morning
1. Wake up, find your slippers, turn on the coffee. (If necessary, let the dog out, feed the cat, etc.)
2. Pour a cup of coffee and grab that which you are "taking to prayer".
3. Sit down, close your eyes, and breathe. Just breathe and be still for a few moments. Call to mind the image you brought or slowly read the scripture quote. Allow it to rest in your heart and mind. Don't overthink it or analyze it. Just let it be.
4. Breathe a few more times and ask God what God might want you to hear or see in these quiet moments.
5. Thank God for this time together, and promise to do it again tomorrow!
6. Go about your day, holding these few minutes of quiet contemplation in your heart.
Some Resources to "take to prayer"
* A Child in Winter: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany with Caryll HouselanderThomas Hoffman, Editor
* Advent reflection booklets to be given out by St. Catherine's parish the first weekend of Advent.
* The readings of the day for Mass: www.usccb.org