Monday, November 28, 2011

Getting out of God’s way

What is the ‘spirit’ of Advent? What does the Church want us to enter into each time we begin the new Liturgical Year? I am quite sure that this is a question that many, if not all parish pastoral councils and pastors ponder at some length each year when planning for the way that the parish should be directed towards Christmas. I was speaking to a priest who lives with me in the Castle, and he said that in a parish that he went to yesterday, the theme for Advent was “Simply Christmas”, alluding to the fact that Christmas has become so complex and complicated, that there is now a conscious need to whittle away those veneers so that the real simple and awe-full reality of God’s incarnation can come to the fore once again. In a shopping-commercial-material world that this has spiraled into, something that simple does seem to make a lot of sense.

Traditionally, the four weeks of Advent have always been broadly given the underlying sub-themes of peace, hope, love and joy. What these are, are the foundations, the rock-bottom essence of life that give us an abiding stability amid life’s surges and swells. And we know this to be true, because it is when we are tossed about by life’s sadnesses, seemingly overwhelmed by its challenges, shocked by news of illness, failure and brokenness, or riddled with pain and torment, these are the ‘basics’ that we seek so that our rudders of life are not ripped apart from our navigation through the sea called ‘life’.

The person of faith needs to hold on to these because one realizes that one just cannot live life according to one’s own dictates, whims and fancies. The wanting to live life according to one’s own fancies and invent one’s own rudder is, I believe, the start of the mess of individualism and advent of atheism or godlessness.

Advent is a time to remind ourselves that we have a base for our existence, and that it is God who has given us this foundation. When we have masked over God with so much of ourselves, we can easily end up thinking that we are our finances, our successes, our families, our businesses, our material possessions and our securities. And it works for the other way as well – we can just as easily end up thinking that we are our failures, our broken relationships, our poverty, our sadness, our misery and our rejected selves. They are both the opposite sides of a coin called ‘self absorption’.

What Advent reminds us to do is to put away our ‘selves’ to prepare the way for God who has put away himself for us. Admittedly, this is one of the hardest things for us to do, whether we are rich or poor, failures or successes, healthy or sick. So much of our time and energies are centered on making us the most important people in the world, drawing either attention or sympathy, praise or pity to ourselves. This does nothing to align ourselves with the God who took on humanity to show us that selflessness is our shared goal in life.

Every sin that you and I can name and be guilty of finds at its base a certain selfishness that caused us to want things our way instead of God’s. The more we are aware of this, the less we will easily fall into sin in its incipient and hidden forms. This must be one of the main fruits of the spiritual life, where we develop a keen sense to ‘sniff’ out sin and detect just how odoriferous it really is.

So, in the coming weeks, apart from putting ‘up’ a lot in our lives, be they in the form of decorations, long lines at the cash register and perhaps even doctors’ appointments, it’s a very apt time to also put ‘aside’ a lot of ourselves to get out of God’s way, so that he can have a clear path to our hearts. After all, Jesus did say that he was the way, the truth and the life. Since he is THE way, we need to get our agenda, our egos and ourselves out of the way, so that his way also becomes our way.


  1. Over the last few weeks, I have received so many Christmas catalogues. Inside these catalogues, one can find for him, for her, for your children, your loved ones, your bosses,your colleagues etc. In others, one finds flowers, fragrance, tech gadgets, over $200, budget etc.

    Reading your comments about "self absorption" and "what Advent reminds us to do is to put away our ‘selves’ to prepare the way for God who has put away himself for us" has got me thinking whether I am the clay for the potter to mould (yesterday's reading) or whether I am cataloguing God and putting him on the shelves for me to use whenever an opportunity or suffering come. Have I turned God into a Christmas catalogue for use at various occassions?

    Pray that with the start of Advent and a new liturgical year, that I be reminded that it is I who need to make the heart space for God to enter into and not for me to catalogue God for use in various ocassions.

  2. In your call, this Advent, to ‘’ put aside a lot of ourselves to get out of God’s way so that he can have a clear path to our hearts’’ ......I hear the echo of the call of the Baptist – ‘’to straighten out his paths, .....every valley to be filled, every hill ...’’ - so that He may increase and we decrease. But as you so poetically put it..... ‘’ amid life’s surges and swells.....tossed about by life’s sadnesses, the sea called ‘life’....’’ how can we free ourselves from self-absorption? How are we to quieten our frenetic minds and troubled hearts? Our senses are continually and continuously being bombarded, inundated with events, sounds and colours – leaving us weary and distraught. Pressure is from outside and within. But in the midst of all this, we should be aware that we still have the freedom to choose – to hear or not to hear and respond to God’s call.
    To put aside ourselves, our ‘’house (must be) at rest’’ (John of the Cross) or as a more contemporary poet says in.....
    “ How does one hush one’s house,.......
    The house must first of all accept the night.
    Let it erase the walls and their display,
    Impoverish the rooms till they are filled
    With humble silences, let clocks be stilled
    And all the selfish urgencies of day..........
    ........Virtue it is that puts a house at rest........’’

    As we ‘’hush’’ ourselves, we empty our minds of clutter and imagination, and humbly prepare to fill this inner space with silence - disciplining ourselves to live in waiting, accepting the darkness of unknowing, un -certitude , the handing over of control (some sort like a kenosis ?) We enter into a state of poverty as we have nothing left to give but our patient waiting in obedience, our will – to conform to His will. This probably is the virtue that puts the house at rest , for the soul is at last at peace ( for that moment in time ) - in surrender, preparing for a coming Advent.
    God bless you, Fr