I think those of us who watched Sister Wendy and the Art of the Gospels which was featured on Arena on Christmas Day, were all struck by her way of solitude and prayer. Spending her time alone in a caravan in a copse, praying for 7 hours a day – and doing so on an upright chair so she keeps her concentration. She knows what it is to “keep vigil”.
And so Nouwen encourages us to,
Learn to weep, learn to keep vigil, learn to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.
But we thought the waiting was over. Christmas has happened.
Yet we still wait. We wait to see what God is going to do, what he is going to do in us and with us.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that so often we cling to ‘things’ – people, plans, projects, events, experiences. We hope that this time they will be different, this time they will meet our needs, scratch us where we itch – this time…
And yet ‘things ‘never do truly fulfil us. If they do momentarily, we spend our time trying to collect more and more of them to continue to fill the space that keeps emptying.
What we should be clinging to is God – and finding our purpose and needs fulfilled in him.
4 Your faithful people, Lord,
will praise you with songs
and honor your holy name.
5 Your anger lasts a little while,
but your kindness lasts
for a lifetime.
At night we may cry,
but when morning comes
we will celebrate.
11 You have turned my sorrow
into joyful dancing.
No longer am I sad
and wearing sackcloth.
12 I thank you from my heart,
and I will never stop
singing your praises,
my Lord and my God.
In the depths of God we find peace in our fears, compassion in our greediness, and even the possibility of joy in our sorrow. The depths of God, we find only by serious time spent with him, really with him, focussing on him, zoning out the distractions of life. A whole new way of living and praying. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like something to practice into the New Year as we continue to wait for what God is going to do.
Last Saturday I had the opportunity to go to a prayer labyrinth to prepare for Christmas. It was a great opportunity to spend some quality time with God, and to allow God the chance to speak to me. I found it very helpful. So I have to ask myself why I don’t take, and indeed make, those opportunities more often.
The suggested action for today is to practice cheerfulness. I’m not sure that doesn’t go against what Nouwen was saying. A false cheerfulness is no help, just something else to distract us from what God is saying to us – but if we can find our joy in him, then perhaps we’ve found the place we need to be.
I come to you,
to spend time with you,
to hear your voice,
to receive your healing,
to know your love,
to feel your peace.
Help me to rest here,
to stay while you do your work,
to open myself to you, not waiting to rush away
and get on with things.
O Holy God,
I come to you
This year for Advent – and into Christmas, some friends and I are using Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen. You’re welcome to join us on this journey. Feel free to comment here, or on Twitter using #adventbookclub
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