Slowing Down for Advent

by Melannie Svoboda SND on November 30, 2015

The other morning as I was rushing to get my breakfast, I spilled the whole bowl of Cheerios onto the kitchen floor. Luckily I hadn’t poured the milk in yet. As I was cleaning up the mess, I had a little talk with myself. “Why in the world are you rushing, Melannie?”  “Me? Rushing?” “Yes, you! Rushing!” I said. The truth was I hadn’t even realized I was rushing until the bowl flipped out of my hands.

That’s when I decided what one of my Advent practices would be this year: I am going to slow down. I am going to eat more slowly… walk more slowly… talk more slowly… grocery shop more slowly… write more slowly… drive more slowly… and pray more slowly. Every time I catch myself rushing (whether exteriorly or interiorly), I am going to take a deep breath and intentionally slow down. And every time I do this, I am going to recall what we’re really celebrating during Advent: the slow and beautiful coming of the Son of God into our world, into our time, and into our lives.

Advent candles-492171__180The author Carl Honore has written a wonderful book called In Praise of Slowness.” In it he refers to himself as a “recovering speedaholic.” He tells us why slowing down is so vital for our lives. He writes, “Inevitably, a life of hurry can become superficial. When we rush, we skim the surface, and fail to make real connections with the world or other people.” He concludes, “All the things that bind us together and make life worth living—community, family, friendship—thrive on one thing we never have enough of: time.”

I believe that rushing can also be a form of violence toward other people who have to dodge out of our way as we charge down the sidewalk or hallway or as we madly shove our grocery cart up and down the aisles in the store. Such rushing is a form of violence to others for another reason: By rushing around, we don’t even notice the other people in our lives. They might as well be lamp posts or mannequins.  But rushing can also be a form of violence to ourselves. It can be a sign that we are trying to do too many things in a day. It can indicate that the demands others are placing on us—or the demands we are placing on ourselves—are just too high or even cruel.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk Pope Francis referred to in his recent address to the U.S. Congress, saw a link advent snowflakesbetween overwork (which often causes rushing) and violence. He said the “frenzy” of modern life “destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” Merton wrote those words in the 1960’s. I wonder what he would say about our frenzied and frazzled contemporary times!

Advent, for some people, is the most beautiful season in the liturgical year. But theologian Doris Donnelly also calls it “the most difficult season.” Advent is difficult, she says, because it has to compete with a world already immersed in the din of Christmas ads, Christmas decorations, and Christmas songs. The secular world doesn’t celebrate Advent. Secondly, Advent is difficult because it gently urges us to quiet and expectant waiting—and silent waiting is countercultural.

I have always found the readings for Advent to be exceptionally rich, poetic, peaceful, strong, and full of hope. But I realize I must slow down and really ponder them, allowing their wisdom to seep slowly into my mind, heart, and soul. I must allow them to draw me gently toward ever greater loving.

Traditionally Advent is the time we keep company with Mary. Jesus’ coming into our world 2,000 years ago was dependent on Mary’s YES. But Donnelly reminds us, “Christ being born again this Christmas is no longer dependent on Mary. It is dependent on me.”

St. Mary Church here in Chardon has a lovely statue of the pregnant Mary. I will close this reflection with a photo of that statue and with a prayer/poem which was written (I believe) by one of our parishioners:

Hail Mary, Full of Grace. Help us to reflect your peace-filled face.Scan0009

You have been called by God above to show the world unconditional love.

You have been blessed and are the chosen one.

Mother of God, in your womb you carry His son.

Your hands held out for all to see the most precious gift that will ever be.

Hail Mary, you are the Queen of the most grace-filled miracle ever seen.

God has entrusted you above the rest. We are forever grateful for your yes.

Please bless all those who honor you. Guide and protect us in all that we do. Amen.

 

The song today is the traditional Advent song, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. This 12th Century Latin hymn is song here in English by a traditional choir:

 

What does Advent mean to you?

How are you celebrating the season of Advent this year?

Does anything in this reflection touch you today?

PS: I’m giving an Advent morning retreat on Saturday, December 5 in Cincinnati for the Associates (and others friends) of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. The retreat is entitled “Unwrapping the Gifts of Advent: Peace, Courage, Playfulness, and Hope.” I ask for your prayers for this event. Thank you!

 

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy Evans November 30, 2015 at 9:19 am

Thank you Sr. Melanie! When you dropped the Cheerios I immediately thought well that’s me! Your words are so helpful and I needed a path for this Advent. I will use “slow down” as my mantra this season. Peace!

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Kathy Kovell November 30, 2015 at 10:13 am

Thank you for making my spirit soar with
Our Lord Melanie.
Blessings
Kathy K

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Jean November 30, 2015 at 10:32 am

A very thought-provoking challenge for a usually very busy month! Thank you!

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Claudette November 30, 2015 at 10:36 am

I very much appreciated being reminded of this message to slow down. I love Advent and the invitation it brings. May we hold each other in this intention to slow down and allow God’s great work to find a home in each of us.

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Gayle November 30, 2015 at 10:41 am

Oh Melannie…I can relate! My bowl of cheerios were was waiting for me to add milk, but when I went to grab the milk out of the refrigerator I bumped the bottle of wine and it came flying out of the frig and landed on the floor in many pieces! Quite a clean up job early in the morning and delayed my departure for work considerably!

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Chris Keil November 30, 2015 at 10:53 am

Thank you. I have been trying to do this and in the “health world” we call in Mindfulness! It truly is the key to many conditions. We all need to slow down, focus and be aware and present in the NOW.
I hadn’t thought about how our frenzy could be a form of violence. I was lucky to be in Florida at Universal Studios over Thanksgiving with some of my family……………I saw a “lot of violence” there! No one is slowing down and everyone is running into you because you aren’t keeping the pace! Frustrating, but very enlightening. Good Luck this weekend with your talk!

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Cathy November 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm

My thoughts go back to 2012 when I was standing in the cathedral at Chartres, France. I realized that my prayer that day ascended with the prayers of thousands of people offered in that sacred space for over a millennium. I felt that way again this morning as I listened to this familiar yet ancient hymn and watched the beautiful images. There is rejoicing in the knowledge that we are a faith community journeying together through Advent, this year and all years. Thanks again for encouraging me to reflect.

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Karen November 30, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Sr. Melannie – I use your weekly post as my “slow down” message. Its always a most welcome break in my ever-hectic days. I love Advent as much as I dislike the “Christmas for sale” mentality. Your post today reminds me to go out and seek the Christ Child and not just rush past Him on the way to somewhere else. Thank you!

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Angela November 30, 2015 at 5:17 pm

I am the Queen Busy “B”, and your message, Melanie, has stopped me in my tracks. Busyness truly is one of the greatest toxins in our culture today. Thank you for this reminder to slow down and simplify, not just in this Advent season but throughout the remainder of our lives.

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Sr. Celeste Albers November 30, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Sr. Melannie, thanks so much for your beautiful “slow down” message! I have learned to slow down as I know I am going much more slowly since my stroke on August 16. I have learned that I must do less and I am so grateful that so many people are continuing to help me each day to improve my ability to speak. I am working about three hours a day in my liturgy office, and I now have another sister who is doing it full time. Together we have a great working plan for our liturgies. I know that I will never be able to try to do so much again. I just feel I got another gift to do what God wants me to do! I pray for you that your retreat in Cincinnati will be a wonderful blessing. I love the title of the retreat! I love the messages you offer us each week! Sr. Celeste

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Sister Miriam November 30, 2015 at 7:25 pm

What a beautiful and practical message, thank you. Also, enjoyed the beautiful pictures that moved “slowly” while the song was being played. I look forward to your weekly posts and messages, again thank you.

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Patty November 30, 2015 at 7:31 pm

Thank you, Sister, for this thought-filled reminder.

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Nance November 30, 2015 at 8:58 pm

Many Thanks for great thoughts for this week of Hope ! May the light of this Advent Season, give a Peace and a feeling of Calm, Slowness, and Peace !

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Linda November 30, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Mmmmm….Cheerios! I slowed down just thinking of them!

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mary November 30, 2015 at 11:15 pm

Thank you sister Melanie! I will try to slow down and enjoy the blessings of Jesus coming into our world!May God bless the Advent retreat!

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Cathy Baier December 1, 2015 at 7:22 am

I relate to the idea of Advent being beautiful and difficult. We are bombarded with the commercial messages to hurry up and buy before you miss out! Turning that sound off and directing our attention to the stillness of Advent results in beautiful moments. Thank you for this confirming message! God Bless!

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Lisa Mitchell December 1, 2015 at 11:56 am

Advent for me is being the light of Christ amidst the darkness. How can I be that light if I don’t “slow down?” Thank you for your reflection and words of wisdom. The prayer to Mary is absolutely beautiful.

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Michael December 1, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Thank you Sister. We all need to slow down and really live our lives. The video touched my heart and gave me hope.

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Amy Secrist December 1, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Hi Sr. Melanie, I loved your message today. I’d not thought of the busy-ness and frenzy and hurry being a form of violence. This is insightful and enlightening, and I hope it sticks with me as I move through this holy season. I already had to catch myself at the store this morning — I was trying to get too much done in too little time and feeling overwhelmed. I’m keeping Advent this year by practicing non-attachment, non-grasping, letting go of outcomes and results, and simply enjoying work, duty, leisure, family, friends, and all of life without judgment. I’m working to avoid the perfectionist/comparison trap. This is easier written than lived(!).
I’m thankful for you and your blog, and I’ve said a prayer for the Spirit to be with you at your retreat. Many blessings!

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Tom December 1, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Cheerios, the ideal church snack! If I had collected all the Cheerios I swept up over the years, it would have filled many bowls.

I am beginning Advent by “keeping watch” with a 94 year old friend who is ready for his personal “coming of the Lord.” I am confident that when this task is completed, I will be provided another.

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Michelle Ruddell-Rabb December 2, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Hi Sr. Melannie: Thank you so much for your beautiful post! Every Advent and Lent, the Lord gives me a “theme” for the season. This began approximately 5 years ago. Topics have been “love your enemy”, “the gaze of Jesus”, and “grief and joy.” These little messages come to me through prayer and it is absolutely amazing how during the entire season, Lent or Advent, each reading or meditation speaks to the subject. Slowing down is so crucial. In our very fast, fast, go, go, go world, it is difficult to slow down so we have to make a conscience effort. Telephones, computers, traffic, music – everyone always has something going. I treausure my quiet time with the Lord each day. The prayers stay with me. A blessed day, my dear Sr. Melannie. Thank you again for your timely post.

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