Why is it that when Advent rolls around, I suddenly find myself so much busier at work? I guess it’s the end of the year and, well, every workplace somehow seems to have this rush to get things done before the place empties out. But why does it seem to ‘amp up’ in a way that makes my dogged determination to carve out space for Advent sometimes in vain?
What I try to bear in mind is that time set aside for prayer, for the sacraments, for the spiritual life – any time ‘set aside’ for explicitly spiritual activity is really only a fraction of life lived over all. And if we’re serious about that whole “In You I live, move and have my being…” then perhaps I need to re-think that anxiety that comes from feeling like I’ve failed to carve out any ‘decent’ amount of time ‘just’ for prayer.
Instead, perhaps it’s about integrating what the Jesuits would call an Examen of Consciousness all throughout the day – including at work. I’ve found this a good semi-paint-by-numbers yet flexible form of prayer and contemplation – for only 15 minutes or so twice a day. Let’s be honest, I haven’t managed that very often…but baby steps are better than nothing and are more likely to be sustainable in the long term. And more than the quantity, it’s the re-orientation towards consciousness, gratitude, desire for enlightenment, awareness of what’s stirring below, a sense of contrition when we’ve fallen short of God’s great love, and a sense of resolution and purpose for the future.
In a way, you could stretch out the method to any time frame – not just over a day, but over a week, a month, a year, a ‘while’, or use it in a micro way…for a certain decision; even just a salient moment where you sense the Holy Spirit move in a serendipitous way or we recognize that there is a lesson that God is trying to teach.
What I like about this method is that it has to walk alongside Sacred Scripture. Otherwise it can become rather like a naval-gazing exercise. Scripture is like the litmus test, or rather it sets the tone for one’s contemplation and examen. God is seeking to speak to us through the stirring in our hearts, through what we encounter in our daily life, and in Scripture too – in a sense if we listen carefully to all those avenues (and the sacraments), surely God won’t deceive us and bit by bit we’ll get a clearer sense what he is asking of us – even if that is only to rest in His love in peace and joy.
Being able to tune in and listen, for myself at least, transforms my daily living. I can say this as much because of how often I don’t listen as when perhaps I do. I recognize that yearning to not push, rush, pull through the day (and subsequently push, rush and pull others) but to receive it as a gift, with patience and indifference – the ‘gift of the present moment’ as I think Jean-Pierre de Caussade would have described it in ‘Abandonment to Divine Providence’ (another excellent spiritual must-read…on my never ending list of must-reads…)