MANY OF US WERE TAUGHT TO MISTRUST OUR OWN SOULS or at best to minimize our inner lives in faith. Go to church, know the Bible, and be kind to others… Instead, I’m reflecting on Advent as a profound inner journey of hope and joyful promise. Will you join me?
We know the commercial and social frenzy of December is at odds with nature’s inward turning, hibernation, and fallow fields, at least in the northern hemisphere. The visible flurry of Christmas in North America also obscures the ancient call to spiritual contemplation in the Christian season of Advent.
I really appreciate the heart of Advent. The wider Christian calendar overlaps with some of the sensibilities of everyday Quaker spirituality, my lived faith. With Quakers, I honor quiet waiting for the Divine. My spirit echoes the inner longing of the Christmas hymns in minor keys. Something in me reawakens with familiar Advent scripture readings. The ol’ texts dignify dreams and mysterious angelic visitations, the call to awareness or “staying awake,” and an authentic “yes” to God’s desires.
“Be not afraid!” say strange presences when the Mystery breaks through. Yet beyond fear shines some real good news. The Holy is here, enfleshed like us. What theologians call “incarnation” is real. The rest of the story is often forgotten: The Holy continues to be enfleshed in the ordinary. Real. Here. Now. The incarnation is within us and leading us to new life.
Advent 1,500 years ago seems to have been about fasting and prayer—forty days to prepare new followers of Jesus’ Way for baptism. Until the Middle Ages, the “coming” of Christ celebrated in Advent probably referred to the End of Days. Slowly, the Christ-infant’s coming shifted to the fore. The tradition of quiet, inward preparation continued.
HOLY BIRTH TODAY
At the core of my Advent experience is the hope of a Holy birth, a birth possible within each of us. Few play out the gender-bending metaphor better than Meister Eckhart, a 14th century German monk:
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son [sic] takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.”
So I offer a few Advent affirmations about the Inner Journey from my context and experience. They provide foundation for spiritual exploration during the Way of the Spirit retreat, the Inner Journey (February 15-18, 2019). You don’t have to agree with my affirmations. If something puzzles or snags you, trying sitting with it in reflection and prayer. If something echoes happily in your soul, repeat it within and maybe allow it to open into gratitude or petition.
First, I affirm that the inner journey is subjective and unique to each. Seems obvious, but it also means this path is tender and difficult to articulate. It takes courage and intention to speak authentically about such hidden things. Second, it’s entirely possible to meet and even partner with the Creator of the Universe through the inner journey. That inner foundation of each human existence has been called “the Divine Indwelling,” “Christ-self” or “True Self,” “an inner temple,” and “an inner sanctuary of the soul.”
Of course, I also affirm that not all my inner stuff is “of the Holy.” That’s why we need time for reflection, growth in spiritual discernment, and a community of faithful people to hold us answerable. My intention is to open more and more of my inner life to God, who loves, heals, and transforms us into radiant reflections of God’s many faceted nature.
Though this third note may seem minor, it’s no small affirmation: The Great I AM, Ultimate Reality, God(de) who answers to many names, truly wants us to be aware, to understand, and to collaborate with Itself for Good. It doesn’t have to be “hard to do,” as I thought for most of my life. “The Word of God is very near you, in your mind and in your heart so that you can keep it.” (Deuteronomy 30: 11-14). That early text offers hope that our capacity to “hear” and respond to God Within is part of the human condition.
And finally, the inner journey bears fruits for Good beyond personal wholeness and healing. The purpose of the inner journey is full integration of inner reality and outward actions to build a more compassionate home, church, town, country, world order, and an earth restored. Twentieth century Quaker, Thomas Kelly, waxed poetic in A Testament of Devotion:
There is an experience of the Eternal breaking into time, which transforms all life into a miracle of faith and action. Unspeakable, profound, and full of glory as an inward experience, it is the root of concern for all creation, the true ground of social endeavor. This inward Life and the outward Concern are truly one whole, and, were it possible, ought to be described simultaneously. —Thomas Kelly (d. 1982)
May we honor everyday Advent. Everyday Holy. Let it be so! Thanks for reading. – Chris
As founder and director of Way of the Spirit, I offer this glimpse of the spirituality woven through our retreats. It helps imagine what someone “would be getting into” if they joined the 2019 class, February 15-18 in Mt. Angel, OR. We welcome sincere seekers from several faith communities. We are enriched by the gifts of Quaker spirituality even as Quakers are enriched by other perspectives.
Participants can attend the first retreat as a stand alone, or continue through five residential retreats over 18 months, with private online community, and monthly face-to-face meetings online. Applications due soon!
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