To be surprised by unexpected graces. That is the spirit of the Advent season! I went on an Advent mini-retreat last weekend with the Schoenstatt Women Young Professionals, a group of young adult women from all over the Diocese who gather regularly to deepen their spiritual life and find community (if you’re interested, click here!).
On the mini-retreat, Fr Patricio, ISP, gave a talk about the spirit of Advent. He said that the spirit of the Advent season is about RENEWAL. Advent reminds us that we are always “on the way,” he said. In all the changing aspects of life, we remember that although we have no “comfort zones” in this life, God always has us by the hand, so we have peace.
No comfort zones! That sounds rather uncomfortable. But Fr Patricio went on to explain how we don’t want to get too comfortable in that we start to take life for granted. We don’t want to get used to life in such a way that we stop being sensitive to the ever-changing and ever-new nature of the world. Every morning is a surprise! We can be surprised by the unexpected graces of every day! And how Advent is that! Fr Patricio mentioned the unexpectedness of Christ coming as little babe instead of military hero, and the great surprise of the Annunciation to Mary. So we want to foster this inner attitude of openness to the surprises of every day.
How do we do that? Fr Patricio also told us about a Ted talk, by a man named Brother David Steindl-Rast*. Brother David speaks along these same lines – saying that the key to happiness is to live in a grateful way. To live in such a way that we are awake to the gift of every present moment, to let ourselves by surprised by the newness of every moment. I encourage you to watch the whole Ted talk! I’ll use some quotes from the talk to entice you!
Brother David says,
“And how can we live gratefully? By experiencing, by becoming aware, that every moment is a given moment as we say, it’s a gift. You haven’t earned it, you haven’t brought it about in anyway, you have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given to you. And yet that’s the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us. This moment, with all the opportunity that it contains. If we didn’t have this present moment, we wouldn’t have any opportunity to do anything, to experience anything. and this moment is a gift, it’s a given moment as we say.”
As we let ourselves by surprised this Advent season, and open up to the newness of each moment – we see that each moment contains possibility and newness, or as Brother David says, opportunity.
“The gift within this gift is really the opportunity. What you’re really grateful for is the opportunity…Opportunity is the gift within every gift. And we have this saying, opportunity knocks only once. Well think again. Every moment is a new gift! over and over again! And if you miss the opportunity of this moment, another moment is given to us, and another moment. We can avail ourselves of this opportunity or we can miss it. And if we avail ourselves of this opportunity, it is the key to happiness. We hold the master key of happiness in our own hands, moment by moment we can be grateful for this gift.”
Yet sometimes the moment contains suffering. Indeed during this season particularly we can be acutely aware of the pain in our lives, as it stands out in stark contrast to all the celebration. Are we supposed to be grateful for suffering? Brother David answers, saying:
“Does that mean we can be grateful for everything? Certainly not. We cannot be grateful for violence, for war, for oppression, for exploitation, on the personal level we cannot be grateful for the loss of a friend…we can be grateful in every given moment for the opportunity. Even when we are confronted with something that is terribly difficult, we can rise to the occasion and respond to the opportunity that is given to us…When this difficult thing occurs to to us it is a challenge to rise to the opportunity and we can rise to it by learning something. Which is sometimes painful. Learning patience, for instance…[or] it may be to stand up for your opinion for your conviction. That’s an opportunity that is given to us. To learn, to suffer, to stand up. All these opportunities are given to us. But they are opportunities and those who avail themselves of that opportunity are the ones that we admire. They make something out of life. And those who fail, get another opportunity! We always get another opportunity, that’s the wonderful richness of life.”
Then Brother David gives a little method for learning to live this way. Put little ‘stop signs’ in your life to remind you to be aware of the newness of each moment, of each gift.
“How can we do it? Its’ a very simple method. It’s so simple it’s actually what we were told as children when we learn to cross the street. Stop, look, go. That’s all. But how often do we stop? We rush through life, we don’t stop…we have to stop, we have to getquiet, we have to build stop signs into our lives…”
Brother David talks about his experience in Africa, living without the luxuries we usually take for granted. When he was once again living with
comfortable amenities, he too got to used to them again, ceased being aware and thus ceased being really grateful. So he started using the little “stop signs.”
“I put little stickers on the light switch and water faucet – and every time I turned it on, water! Leave it up to your own imagination…but we need stop signs in our lives!…Then the next thing is to look. You look, you open your eyes, you open your ears, you open your nose, you open all your senses, for this wonderful richness that is given to us….that is what life is all about, to enjoy what is given to us. And then we can also open our hearts, Our hearts for the opportunity, the opportunity to also help others, for nothing makes us more happy than when all of us are happy. Then when we open our hearts to the opportunity, the opportunity invite us to do something….stop, look, and then go! And really do something! And what we can do is whatever life offers to you in that present moment. Mostly it’s the opportunity to enjoy. Sometimes it’s something more difficult. But whatever it is, if we take this opportunity, go with it, we are creative! Those are the really creative people! And that little stop, look, go is such a potent seed that it can revolutionize our world.”
Who knows, maybe we’ll start a new Advent tradition? I’ve added a few of my own stop signs to the post, and I encourage you to create your own! 🙂
Advent Challenge: Make your own stop signs to encourage you to stop, look and go!
Make it your own and be creative! This could be a fun little family activity too. The main idea is to wake up to the gift of the moment; to be as the Blessed Mother, surprised and responsive to God, moved to humble gratefulness and contemplative action.
*If you want to read more about Brother David and his work to encourage grateful living, click here: A Network for Grateful Living.