“To advance in the practice of the presence of God we should let go of all our cares, including a multitude of private devotions, good in themselves but often carried out for the wrong reasons, for those devotions are nothing more than the means to arrive at the end.”
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
Advent. Waiting and preparation. As the inveterate planner and list-maker, I am always eager for new seasons. Such a chance to start fresh, make resolutions, advance towards a goal. Advent is no different. “Prepare the way of the Lord.” In our culture, this tends to mean being mindful of the reason for the season.
And so, we turn to a rich treasury of resources that are meant to help us achieve this reason-for-the-season focus: Holy Scripture, Church Fathers, contemporary authors. So many beautiful, touching, poignant words have been written that can help put us on the correct spiritual path through Advent.
Then I’m brought up short by words like those of Brother Lawrence: private devotions, carried out for the wrong reasons. And I know that I’ve unintentionally turned what was meant to be an opportunity for growing closer to God, preparing my own heart, into something akin to a self-improvement project from a woman’s magazine.
When I take an honest look at myself, it is a painful truth that certain devotions have been more about me than God. Take silence, for example. I believe in the importance of finding silence with every fiber in me. Yet it must be confessed that at certain times, my desperate search for solitude and quiet are more about a personal retreat from the world than spending time with God, even if I’m calling it “prayer time.”
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about wanting to recharge my batteries in solitude. Retreat is important; essential. But here I am referring to Brother Lawrence’s “devotions good in themselves, carried out for the wrong reasons.” For example, my thinking I need a specific atmosphere in order to find God. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that the “oneness with God” in prayer can happen in the midst of chaos. What opportunities might I have missed, in my steadfast belief that I know best what devotions will put me on the right path?
“Over time we ought to discover that a single need returns in prayer which has little to do with the various reflections we undertake: namely, a longing for God beneath our thought, at the core of our being.”
Fr. Donald Haggerty, Contemplative Provocations
And so, this inveterate planner and list-maker will not be clinging quite as tightly to plans and lists this Advent. The plans and lists will be there, because some structure and routine is essential, even obligatory. However, some of the pressure of “getting it right” is relieved, with a renewed appreciation of their being merely the means to the End.
Happy First Sunday of Advent!