In earlier times, some European Christians had an Advent practice that helped capture the meaning of the season. The family would take a wheel off their wagon and use it to make the Advent wreath. During the quiet of winter, they would slow down, stay close to home, and leave some of their work behind. The Advent wreath was a reminder and a symbol of turning inward, waiting, and patience.
In the fast-paced world in which most of us live, this notion of Advent is profoundly countercultural. It responds to the frantic pace and busyness of Christmas preparations with the invitation to slow down. In contrast to the noise and commotion that surround us, it urges us to enter into silence. It encourages us to leave behind our external demands and inner anxiety to discover the presence of God at the center of our lives.
Welcoming the God within requires slowing down, entering into silence, and centering ourselves. For many of us, cultivating such a welcoming presence for the God within is unknown and even unfriendly territory. We need a season like Advent to encourage us – literally, to give us the courage – to enter into silence no matter how hesitant and tentative we may be.
In the early Christian centuries, the desert mothers and fathers had a profound trust that the presence of God was embedded deep within them – and within each of us. This truth came to be described as the divine indwelling. Throughout history, we Christians have engaged in contemplative practices – intentional disciplines to cultivate a relationship with the subtle presence of God in the depth of our being. The historical embrace of contemplative practices is growing more vibrant in our own time. More and more people are seeking, welcoming, and embracing the God within.
Most of us have experienced the God within – even if we didn’t recognize it or know how to name it. Whenever we have wondered about the source of our talents and felt gratitude for our gifts, we have encountered that presence. In our experiences of an undeserved graciousness – a generosity totally unearned and undeserved – we have been touched by it. When we have been gifted with inspiration – a spontaneous flow of insight and wisdom that emerged unexpectedly from somewhere within – we have tasted it. When we have received an inner light or been moved by a desire for goodness and growth, we have felt that presence. When we have discovered an inner resilience – a coping power that we didn’t know we had – we have experienced it. The God within is the subtlest of presences – often unbidden, unrecognized, and unnamed.
The season of Advent encourages us to slow down, enter into silence, and center ourselves. It urges us to find a way – at least symbolically – to take a wheel off our wagon of busyness. It invites us to let go of our attachments and preoccupations in order to discover the God within. It call us to cultivate an intentional openness to the subtle presence of God in the depth of our being.
Choosing to cultivate an intentional openness to the God within is one thing, knowing how to do it can be quite another. There is no secret formula or definitive practice for doing so. Ultimately, each of us welcomes the God within in our own unique way.
Here are several disciplines or practices that I’ve found helpful for welcoming the God within. Each one could become an Advent practice – either as a starting point or as a way of going deeper.
- Meditation: Intentionally opening ourselves to God’s presence in meditation can be as simple as entering into a brief period of silence every day. Five or ten minutes could provide a starting point – leaving room for the time period to grow in response to the Spirit’s urging. Meditation could also take a more structured approach – such as reflecting on a scripture passage or entering into a contemplative practice such as centering prayer. 1
- Journaling: I find writing helpful for focusing my thoughts and going deeper, so journaling is a helpful practice for me. For some, journaling can include a specific goal – such as completing a paragraph or a page each day. Journaling can also be paired with meditation – such as spending ten minutes in silence followed by ten minutes of writing.
- Scripture Reflection: There are many ways to use Scripture to welcome the God within.
Here’s a simple way to do so:
– Take a single line or a brief quote from Scripture.
– Repeat it several times slowly as you take it to heart.
– Let it lead you into silence.
– Let the silence lead you to prayer.
- Here are some passages you may find helpful:
– “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46: 10)
– “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2: 19)
– “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (Matt. 8: 26)
– “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11: 28)
- Spiritual Reading: Devoting time each day to spiritual reading can also be a helpful practice – whether choosing scripture or another excellent resource. Several favorites of mine include: Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond, Thomas Keating’s The Better Part, and Henri Nouwen’s classic With Open Hands. There are, of course, countless other wonderful options.
Each of these practices is a simple way of cultivating an openness to welcome the God within. Such openness is not about the effectiveness of our practice or about anything that we do. It’s about what God does in us.
Trying one of the above practices is not about what happens in a single session, it’s about the trajectory that a daily practice creates in our lives. No single session is magic; the key is what happens over time. In trying any new practice, I suggest entering into it each day for at least a week and preferably two. It’s important to take time before considering whether the practice “fits” and is bearing fruit.
The essence of Advent is waiting and preparing . . . Slowing down and entering into silence are ways of taking a wheel off the wagon of busyness, control, and doing things our own way. Adopting a daily practice is an intentional way of welcoming the God within by letting go, emptying ourselves, and surrendering to the divine presence. As we await Emmanuel – God with us – a practice can help us create a receptive openness that only the divine presence can fill.
Questions to Ponder
Here are several questions to ponder as you consider how to welcome the God within.
– How could you take the wheel off your wagon of busyness during the Season of Advent?
– As you reflect on your own experience, in what ways have you experienced the God within?
– As you consider the practices outlined above, is there one that seems inviting to you? Is there another option that comes to mind?
– What simple daily practice could you engage in during Advent that would help you create a receptive openness to Emmanuel, God with us?
1 Cynthia Bourgeault’s excellent book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, provides an
introduction to centering prayer for those who wish to enter into this practice.