Theologian Doris Donnelly calls Advent “the most difficult season.” She writes, “For all the high drama that surrounds Advent, the truth is we have a hard time getting involved in its mysteries.” She suggest two reasons for this. First, society jumps the gun on Christmas. Retailers start even before Halloween to bombard us with Christmas ads. It’s hard to celebrate Advent with strains of “Rudolph” and “Frosty” running through our heads. Second, Advent is all about waiting, and waiting is a counter-cultural experience. Many of us don’t like waiting for anything—whether it’s for a piece of toast to pop up or a traffic light to turn green.
Several years ago I picked up the book In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore. It gave me a greater appreciation of the value of slowness in everyday life. I now believe that intentional slowing down can even be a virtue. And it’s also a very appropriate practice for Advent the season of waiting: Mary and Joseph waiting for the birth of Jesus, the world waiting for the birth of our Savior, all of is waiting for the coming of the fulness of the Kingdom of God.
First, a clarification. There is nothing wrong with speed per se. If speed is appropriate for a particular activity, that’s fine. For example, if someone needs our immediate help, we’ll rush to get to them. If we’re in pain, we want speedy relief. But sometimes our love for speed goes too far, becoming (in Honore’s words) “an addiction, a kind of idolatry.” One tragic consequence of living a life of constant hurry is that it makes us live superficially. When we are always rushing about, we can easily fail to make real connections with the world and with one another. Says Honore, “All things that bind us together and make life worth living—community, family, friendship—thrive on the one thing we never have enough of: time.” When we slow down, we are making time for people and things that deserve our time and attention.
So here are some ways we might want to practice the virtue of slowing down this Advent:
+ Be mindful of the pace with which you do things—all things. Are you always in a hurry?
+ Try eating more slowly. Savor instead of gobble.
+ Try doing one thing at a time—instead of three or ten! (When was the word multitasking invented? You don’t have to look it up because I already did. The word multitasking first appeared in a 1965 IBM report talking about the capabilities of the latest computer! Fascinating! At times we probably have to multitask, but I’m suggesting we don’t make multitasking a goal in life.)
+ Pay attention to the individuals you meet regularly: your spouse, children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers. Look at them as if you are meeting them for the first time. Name one thing you appreciate about each one.
+ Slow down enough to notice nature… the color of the sky, the feel of the sun and/or wind on your face, the trees that share your world, the wildlife that you come across—dogs, cats, deer, birds, and even bugs.
+ Notice “strangers” you meet today—store clerks, the person who changes your oil, the letter carrier, the receptionist. After you leave their presence, can you remember what they looked like, what they were wearing, how they spoke? How did you speak to them—kindly or curtly?
+ Make time to really listen to the people you interact with today. Show by your facial expression you care.
+How fast do you drive?
+How fast are your reading this reflection? (To be honest, the very fact that you are reading my blog is a sign that you have made time in your busy day to try to nourish your spiritual life!)
+ Take a few minutes to speak with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or a deceased loved one as you go about your day. Your prayer can be short and sweet like: “Thanks, God, for that beautiful tree… I’m worried about ___. But I trust in you… I need you, Holy Spirit… Jesus, I love you… Mom and Dad, thanks for giving me my love of nature… Honey, I really miss you.”
Let us pray:
Come, Lord Jesus! Come and slow me down. You made time to notice lilies bobbing, birds soaring, bread rising. You made time to dine with acquaintances, stroll along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, hike up into the mountains to pray. You made time to play with children, listen to peoples’ stories, share their joys and sorrows. This Advent give me the grace to slow down for people and for all things that are worthy of my time, attention, and love. I ask for this grace through Mary, the Pondering Disciple, your mother and mine. Come, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.
Is the practice of slowing down something you really need to do this Advent, or is it already a virtue you practice regularly?
What helps you to slow down and pay more attention to the people and things in your daily life?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being not hard at all and 10 being very hard), how hard is it for you to wait?
Has the natural aging process affected your pace of living? If so, in what way?
PS: Just a reminder: I’m on retreat December 4-11 in Florida. I will be praying for all of you in a special way during this time. I ask for your prayers too. Thank you!
For our video today, I chose the ancient hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” This version by Enya is in English and Latin. I found it particularly moving. It helped slow me down…
I invite you to submit a comment to this reflection below. Even a word or two might be helpful for others. Thank you!