Advent, in the Christian calendar, is a time of waiting, a waiting for the advent (or arrival) of Jesus on Christmas day. We wait for this arrival, and yet it is not just this. Yes, Christmas happens on December 25, however what we wait for is not just a date; we can also wait for what the date signifies: the birth of Christ in our hearts. This birth has no date, it does not follow a calendar, it is not in any diary or appointment book. Advent is a season; it is a time that reminds us of, and calls us to, a way of life. So, as we live, we wait for a birth that we do not know the timing of.
This birth is ongoing; as it happens Christ is revealed in us. Advent reminds us that the whole of a Christian and human life is about growing in this revealing. As we grow in this we can express it more consistently, more faithfully. We are our deepest selves in this expression. In all this the Christ of our hearts is born into the world through us – now.
We might not know the timing of this birth, its ebb and flow in advance, and yet we can foster this birthing in our hearts and the world. How might we do this?
Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. (Mark 13:33)
Jesus tells us how in the Gospel of Mark. He says, you may not know the time of my arrival, however you can stay awake for it, and you can guard for it as you wait. Practically, what does this mean? How might it be done?
A spiritual and human life is about learning the art of staying awake in life. To stay awake means, basically, to remain in the present moment, now. Only now can we love. Only now can we attend to each other and the divinity of our hearts. As we practice this attending, our humanity becomes more and more awake to who we are, and we express more of who we are as we live each moment.
As we give and re-give attention to anything we do in life, then this doing can be a practice in staying awake, staying here, staying now. For the meditator, meditation is a vital part of this staying awake. Attention to the mantra is attention to now. The mantra, as it sounds, becomes, as John Main describes it, an anchor that (over time) drops attention into the heart, now. Regular practice facilitates this attention now – in the immediate stuff of life; only here can we love. Outside of now there is only conception and speculation.
Attention is powerful because what we give it to is what shapes us. Watch the shopping channel five hours a day and see what happens. Attention on the mantra is attention into the heart; attention into the heart is attention into God; attention into God is attention into Love. This Love shapes us; we move more and more into becoming this Love as we love, now.
“Be on your guard….”
As we say the mantra, it has the effect of guarding the heart from our own disordered thinking, thinking that can be at times (and to some extent) critical, anxious, negative, undermining. This thinking can also be (to some extent) proud, ‘puffed up’, divorcing us from the reality of ourselves and our abilities. All of this takes attention off now and the divine life now. We forget who we are. We have fallen asleep to ouselves and God. A faithful meditation practice, done regularly, wakes us up and transforms thinking. We attend into the heart, allowing grace to make a home for attention in the heart. Over time, all within us that is not of reality, kindness, and compassion fades. Regular attending into now, however it is done, facilitates this fading.
Basically, the mantra guards us from the idea of who we are. For some this idea may be more or less an accurate reflection of their deeper selves so there may not be too much to guard from; for others, there will be more to be on guard for. The mantra, as a word of God sounding, both guards the heart and transforms the mind.
“…you never know when the time will come…”
Our ongoing Advent waiting, which is also a good description of a meditation practice, helps us to let go of everything. Patience grows in this letting go, as does faith, hope, and love. Christ births in the heart in divinity’s own good time. In this way, meditation is contemplative prayer; it is part of the contemplative tradition.
What is contemplation? It is the gift of the love-life that is God moving within us, loving us, healing us, deifying us. This is a gift that cannot be expected…you never know when the time will come. It is a gift experienced in the heart; it is not an idea.
How to meditate….
Sit still with your back straight.
Close your eyes lightly.
Then interiorly, silently begin to recite a single word – a prayer word or mantra. We recommend the ancient Christian prayer-word “Maranatha”.
Say it as four equal syllables. Breathe normally and give your full attention to the word as you say it, silently, gently, faithfully and above all – simply. The essence of meditation is simplicity.
Stay with the same word during the whole meditation and from day to day. Don’t visualise but listen to the word as you say it.
Let go of all thoughts (even good thoughts), images and other words. Don’t fight your distractions but let them go by saying your word faithfully, gently and attentively and returning to it immediately that you realise you have stopped saying or it or when your attention is wandering.
Meditate each morning and evening for between 20 and 30 minutes.
(WCCM Australia – wccmaustralia.org.au)