December 7, 2014 A Way to Pray in Advent
During Advent I invite you to prepare for Christmas by doing two ancient Christian practices.
First, I invite you to light Advent Candles every day. The first week of Advent you light the first of four candles, the second week you light two, and so on. Although the four candles are usually placed in a circle or wreath shape to symbolize the eternal nature of God, they can also be in a straight line. Advent candles can be blue or purple—the colors of repentance—but, once again, the color is less important than the number.
As you probably know, Jesus likely was not born on December 25th, for the events surrounding his birth seem to indicate that he was born in the springtime. No one knows his birth date. The early church, however, supplanted the pagan rituals surrounding the winter solstice by celebrating the birth of Jesus—the light of the world—at the same time.
The lighting of an increasing number of candles creates the feeling of expectation and anticipation, an important aspect of Advent.
Normally the lighting of the Advent candle is followed a Scripture reading, a reflection on that passage, and a concluding prayer. The candle(s) is extinguished at the end of this family prayer time.
I am inviting you to pair this practice with one developed by Ignatius of Loyola. He urged his followers to end each day with a reflection on the events of the day and on the awareness of the presence—or the absence—of Jesus in those events. Our faith tells us that Jesus never leaves us nor forsakes us. The Risen Jesus is present with us at all times and in all places. We, however, are dimly and only occasionally aware of him. To counteract that lack of awareness Ignatius suggests the following evening prayer practice.
First, remove all distracting noises and activities so that in silence you can turn your attention to Jesus. Turn off or silence all electronic devices and light the Advent candle(s). It focuses your attention on God.
Second, pray a prayer inviting Jesus to be present in this time and asking for the grace of being able to recognize his presence.
Third, just like you might review your day with a good friend or a spouse, reflect on the sequence of the day’s activities. If you are by yourself, ask Jesus, “Show me the places today where you were present and I noticed you there.” If you are with your family or in a group, each individual is invited to complete the following sentence, “I saw Jesus today when…”
Fourth, if you are by yourself you might choose to do the follow up question, “Jesus, show me the places where you were present but I did not notice you.”
Fifth, conclude this short exercise by thanking Jesus for all the ways that he made himself known to you this day and request that tomorrow you might even be more aware of him.