As I waited for a pair of waffles to heat up in my toaster, I was reminded of the saying, "Watched pot never boils." I watched those waffles and waited, and those few moments stretched into an eternity. I got bored. I wanted to turn and do something else. But I'm stubborn, and I knew they'd eventually pop up from the toaster, so I continued to watch. And for a few moments, I let myself notice the waffles in the glowing red toaster.
Taking time to notice is called mindfulness. And mindfulness is the sort of thing that Advent calls for.
The market has been ready for us to be ready for Christmas since before Halloween. The market invites us to turn away from the present moment and focus on a million details for the Big Day.
Advent invites us to turn our eyes from the glamor of the market and focus on what hasn't happened yet. We are pregnant with light, but that light won't be born before it's ready. Our world is about to change, but we are still in our cocoon.
Rather than prematurely breaking free from the cocoon, perhaps Advent calls us to be mindful of it. If we stop turning our attention in a thousand other directions and focus patiently on the here and now, perhaps what we attend to will transform right before our eyes.
My fourth priestly discernment meeting, which happened yesterday morning in between Pentecost liturgies, gives me goosebumps as I reflect on it. I realize that the questions I received were the questions of Spirit herself, that God was speaking through the voices of my five committee members (right there in Heidi Chapel) and I was being beckoned to answer God's questions from the depths of my vulnerable heart. The whole of the Pentecost season (which, thanks to the influence of Latin in the Roman Church, we call "Ordinary Time") is a time of just this kind of discernment, of radical listening. My Pentecost theme for Thealogical Lady will be "Spirit Whispers," and here I will invite myself and my readers to cultivate the ability to hear what Spirit says. To listen, ob audire, is to be obedient. Obedience is one of the vows that I have made as a Benedictine Canon, and obedience--radical listening--is something to which all Christians are called by baptism. Listening is a path of wisdom for any mindful person, that she might hear something greater and wiser than her own solitary voice. In reflecting on the Spirit-ed questions that emerged during my discernment meeting yesterday, clarity about my identity rose up. I am not merely Kate, responding to a diocesan priestly call; I am Sr. Kate, a vowed member of the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation, responding to a religious priestly call. I wonder what further clarity will emerge from my next discernment meeting. In what ways will Spirit speak through the curiosity and concerns of my committee members? What will I hear, if I have ears to listen?
In the rare moments when I come across an important realization about myself, particularly if it is brought to my attention by someone else, my gut instinct is to withdraw. I want to hide in my secret corner and examine this new thing, reviewing my memories and experiences for evidence that this realization is actually true of me. Sometimes it's exciting to behold a new facet of myself, and I take delight in gazing in my new mirror. Sometimes it's humiliating, and I want to squeeze my eyes shut till the pain gets buried away. When a realization hurts, time slows--time doesn't want me to miss out on feeling every excruciating part of it. Time is generous like that. Do I choose to bury the hurt, where it might take root and flourish in me? Or do I pluck it out, hold it up, and expose it to the light long enough that it dries up and becomes dust?
Lent is more than just a season of obligatory self-sacrifice. It is a time for a profound change of heart. Yesterday I recognized how I had failed (and continued to fail) at keeping my Lenten penance. The deeper issue that keeps confronting me is my intention--or attitude--this Lent. What sort of posture do I bear as I go about my day? If someone were to catch me in a moment in which I thought I was unobserved, what would they see? Would they see me in deep, contemplative prayer, or rushed, distracted prayer? Would they see me extending extra gentleness to my children, or would they see me snapping at them? Would they see me going about my day mindfully, or would they see me moving from one thing to the next with nothing but the force of habit to steer me? Christians are called during Lent to bear the burden of mindfulness, self-awareness, and self-emptying to the extent that they are able. What does this mean for me, an enthusiastic novice of the Benedictine Canons? Does it mean, for example, that if I'm sending my daughter to her room because she's interrupting my midday prayer, I'm doing my prayer wrong? Does it mean that if I'm puttering through my day without setting any particular goal or intention, that I'll end up casting about with nothing to show for it? Lent is a season of obligatory self-sacrifice, but the self-sacrifice isn't the goal. The change of heart, made possible by a mutual meeting between ourselves and the Divine One, is the goal. What will I need to do today, this hour, or this moment, to raise my awareness enough to realize God's been waiting for me this whole time?