I had the best of intentions at the start of this Advent season, hands down my favorite liturgical season. And then …. life happened and I responded with my little human ways. You know the drill, anxiety and busyness leads to stress and grumpiness and less patience and less compassionate responses to the folks in your own life because of course you are busy and stressed. Maybe you don’t know, but it’s a familiar pattern for me unfortunately, and one I fell right back into the past couple of weeks.
Thankfully, this past summer when I was on my annual directed retreat I made a commitment to schedule some mini-retreat time this December. I tend to take the most beautiful photos when I am on retreat, and so when I saw a listing for a Contemplative Photography retreat in Advent, I signed up right away. For the months since, I have guarded this weekend on my calendar, knowing I suppose deep down that by now, I’d need it. And I certainly did!
While the retreat itself was excellent, especially the experiences of guided visio divina and the opportunity to pray with the photos taken by the other retreatants, really it was an opportunity to reset my own best intentions. Adapting today’s second reading from the 2nd Letter of Peter, I pray:
I can no longer ignore this one fact,
I am beloved, and so are those around me and all of creation, and with God one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. God’s promise is not delayed, as some think of ‘delay,’ but God is patient with me, not wishing me or you harm but that I would return & center myself on love.
Since everything is grounded in love, what sort of person might I be living with a spirit of gratitude and compassion, waiting for and hastening the coming of love in our midst.
That is of course the kind of person I want to be, to see with God’s eyes the beauty and love and light and hope in the midst of the busyness and anxiety and sorrow and uncertainty. My best intentions may not seem like enough, but they are because God is patient and there is always today to return to the center and prepare the way for the incarnation of love, reflecting God’s love for us to the world.
Anxiety. It’s not imaginary. It’s not soft and cuddly. It is real. Certainly anxiety has been a part of my own life for as long as I can remember. My mother used to talk about my ‘anxiety bunnies.’ Therapy, prayer, and just being gentle over the years has helped me to befriend my anxiety and learn how to deal with it without it dealing too much with me, if you now what I mean.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved that anxiety has a part to play in my own Congregation’s story. In 1884, at the profession of vows of the first Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, Bishop Edward Gilpin Bagshawe said this:
“To secure this divine peace for ourselves and procure its blessing for others in the midst of the sin, turmoil, and restless anxiety of this modern world is the object of your institute.”
As a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, then, my object is to be present to the restless anxiety of the world (and in myself) in ways that bring peace.
Today as I was walking home from church through city streets aglow with the splendor of autumn, I found myself reflecting on today’s second reading from Philippians (4: 6-9).
Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
First of all, my dear friend Paul needs to realize that as much as we might wish to brush our anxiety bunnies under the rug, they will pop back up from time to time. We will have anxiety. I will (and do) have anxiety. But he has a point that rings true with my own experience.
The path to peace in the midst of the restless anxiety of our world (and our own hearts) is to bring that anxiety to God. To bring our prayers and concerns and wonderings to our God who of course already knows all about them, but there is something good and intimate and honest about laying it all before our loving God.
And so having placed our anxieties before God, we can let them rest there and focus instead on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent.
Whatever is lovely … so much is lovely, as my autumn walk this morning showed me in abundance. Does that make all the yucky or complicated or worrisome stuff of life go away? No. But it brings some peace that helps us to be more authentic and our best selves as we face what we have to face in life.
Or so it seemed to me this morning on my autumn walk.
May the God of Peace be with you all, and may whatever lovely things you come across on your path today touch your heart and stop you in your tracks, if just for a moment.
I just put my first soup of the year in the crockpot. Yesterday in Chicago it was close to 80 degrees. This morning as I walked to the grocery store to stock up on soup ingredients, it was in the 50s and just a wee bit overcast with a hint of precipitation to come. I will admit, my inner Pacific Northwesterner is happy with this turn of events.
Hopefully, autumn is here for a bit. Really it’s my favorite season. As a kid, it meant the start of the new school year. It’s a chance to wear that new red sweater you bought at the thrift store over the summer. To go for a long walk and crunch some leaves. And to make the first pot of soup before heading to the library.
It’s nice to know that as I hunker down to get serious about finishing up the first chapter of my thesis, a simple vegetable soup is simmering away.
Sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that are the best.