Longing for Advent of simple presence

Kneading faith
By Fran Lavelle
As the first Sunday of Advent draws nigh, I am forced to look once again at my priorities and how I am spending my most precious gift – time.  Life is indeed busy. We live in an increasingly more hectic world. For the love of Pete, Christmas merchandise made its debut before Halloween.
The rush is on.  It’s the perfect gift, the perfect tree, the perfect parties, the perfect Christmas card that drives the endless “to do” list. It is a never ending cycle of outdoing ourselves and all those around us.  Pinterest is the work of the devil.  There, I said it. Gone are the simple days of making sugar cookies with the kids. We are now scrambling to the specialty baking store to get supplies to make a Buche de Noel Yule log with meringue mushrooms and marzipan forest creatures. Enough!
It seems I’ve replaced the monastic medieval “O Antiphons” with my own version. Oh, Advent!  How I long to embrace you. Oh Jesus! How I desire to be present as I prepare for the coming of the Infant and anticipate your Second Coming! Oh Lord! How I fear failure, again, as I end up in the busyness of life. Oh, God! To be a hermit or a cloistered nun that I may give you the reverence you deserve. I think you get the picture. I want to enter in to this holy season of Advent really present. I want to truly prepare my heart for Christ’s coming at Christmas.
Here’s the deal, it seems like there is always something in the future that I find myself thinking once it has passed I’ll find the time to really be present to God and where he is leading me. I remember several months ago I had a lot on my “to do” list. I mentioned to a friend that things would slow down after this and that came to pass. He looked at me with great honesty and said, “Fran, you’re always saying that.” The truth in his reply stopped me in my tracks. I am always saying that. Facing a daunting future I proclaimed with only a slight waning conviction, “This year I’m going to make a terrific Advent!”
How can we get off the crazy wheel and realistically make a good Advent this year? Nike says it best, “just do it.” Part of the frustration is that in the midst of all of the chaos we have the power to change how we enter into this season.
We can either do the dash and splash and run ragged from place to place pursuing Holiday perfection or we can limit the number of activities we participate in, scale down the Griswold light display, and dedicate the time each day to sit in prayer and reflection.
There are really wonderful resources available to help us stay focused on our goal. Many parishes provide reflection booklets. If you are looking for other resources there are hundreds online. Here are a few of my favorites:
From the US Conference of Catholic Bishops  (www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/advent/); Catholic Relief Services (www.crsfairtrade.org/advent/);  Ignatian Spirituality  (www.ignatianspirituality.com/advent); and, a great family resource from Catholic Mom (http://catholicmom.com/faith/advent/).
My Advent wreath has lovingly been placed on the dining room table. The book of Advent reflections takes its rightful place next to the wreath. As the days pass I hope to replace my “oh antiphons” with the O Antiphons as the hymn “O come, O come Emmanuel” is sung at the end of each day’s reflection. I will do better because I can do better. I hold the key to remaining present to the present moment this Advent. Please don’t ask me if I am keeping “Christ in Christmas.”
For the next four weeks, I am going to keep Fran in Advent. Staying present to the anticipation of Christmas is a reminder of what we HOPE for. Hope is not for the weak. Hope is for all of us brave enough to place our faith and our trust in something greater than ourselves. Hope is believing in the Infant Jesus. With that hope we will not walk away empty or disappointed. My hope for you is that you find moments of quiet reflection to prepare for Emmanuel, God With Us.
(Fran Lavelle is the director of the Department of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)