Journey Through the Liturgical Year

I’ve decided (albeit belatedly) to follow the liturgical year over the next year and blog about it from time to time.  Since the first Sunday of Advent was this past Sunday, I’d better get a move on.

Advent is a period of preparation for Christmas but, unlike Lent, it is not a period of penance.  It is a period that focuses us on joy.  We prepare ourselves to understand the full adult meaning of the feast.  We come to realize more each year how great are our blessings, how beautiful is a life lived in concert with the Jesus who came to show us the way.  We learn the joy of anticipation, the joy of delighting in a sense of the presence of God all around us, the joy of looking for the second coming of Christ, the joy of living in the surety of even more life in the future. – Joan Chittister

I started reading The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister (read a review by my friend Wess Daniels) along with Eternal Seasons, which is a collection of excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s writing, edited by Michael Ford.  Here’s something Nouwen said that struck me in his discussion of Mary’s response in Luke 1:38 to the news that she was pregnant with God’s child: “She was saying, ‘I don’t know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen.’ She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities.” In reading these books, I am reminded that Advent is a season of waiting–unlike the waiting of the lenten season–that is full of hope, expectation, and joy.

I have spent the last three years learning to find meaning in the painful, barren waiting the lenten season teaches us. I have cried, rebelled, and begged God for answers when the only answer I ever received was wait, wait.  Today in my readings, I realized that my last three years of waiting have been all wrong.  I wasn’t meant to wait in a prolonged state of repentance, despair, and emptiness.  I was meant to wait in hopeful and joyful expectation of the next season in my spiritual journey.  I realized today as I read about the Advent season that I consistently used as my breath prayer the line Mary used to express surrender to the season God had brought her into when the angel Gabriel brought her the news. For three years, I have prayed with Mary: Let it be to me as you have said.

This realization has given me new eyes to look back on my experience of graduating from seminary and trying to figure out what to do next.  I see now that what I perceived as barren wasn’t barren at all. In fact, it was pregnant!  Now I can’t speak from experience, but any mother will tell you that pregnancy isn’t exactly the most pleasant experience.  In fact, it can be quite unpleasant and even painful to endure nine months of ever increasing weight, movement, and discomfort.  Nevertheless, there is also hope, expectation, and joy.  I’m not sure what my season of waiting is going to bring into being, or when that expectation will be realized.  What I do know for sure is that all those times I felt forsaken, I wasn’t.  All those times I felt empty, I wasn’t.  Instead, I am filled with the very fullness of God–living and moving inside of me.  I want to be like Mary.  I want to be open to all possibilities, as Nouwen said, and I want to trust that it is all going to be for good.  Something is going to change, and I can’t wait to find out what is coming…or becoming!

The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, expecting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance in a world preoccupied with control. – Henri Nouwen



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