Our prayers shape our beliefs. Our beliefs shape our actions, with God’s help. Our actions shape our world. This month’s first devotion spoke of new beginnings and the Feast of the Holy Name. Then we looked to a guiding star for direction. Last week, civil rights activist Howard Thurman encouraged us in the fallow time of the spirit. You can read about it here.
The season of expectant waiting, Advent, culminated in the birth of Christ. Christ is the One for whom we have waited, our savior from worldly clamors! Yet as we continue observing the liturgical season of Epiphany and our chronological season of winter, we discover that we still have more waiting to do! God wants to reveal more to us.
Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room
Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about preparing a room for God, especially after a session with my spiritual director before Christmas. My anxiety was through the roof, and she asked if I had anywhere to go to pray. “I pray anywhere and everywhere,” I told her. You couldn’t tell that day that I had ever prayed! My lack of composure revealed my lack of discipline.
She shared that in her practice, as a Benedictine oblate, she has small space dedicated only to prayer. She enters that space and lights a candle. Then she sits and waits for God. She gives God 20 minutes and observes what bubbles up in her. She also has an opportunity to empty herself, perhaps of whatever she recognizes that tries to wedge itself between her and God. Before she leaves, she blows out the candle to signal the end of this sacred time. It is her ritual.
I know I need to do this. It’s on my list. I even have the space! But it’s not about the space, it’s about the ritual. On one hand, it seems counter-intuitive that sitting for 20 minutes with God will alleviate the anxiety and stress I feel about having too much to do. However, I have come to know our God of paradox “who repays everyone according to his deeds.” It’s not lost on me that my lack of discipline contributes to my anxiety and stress. As Franciscan Richard Rohr often says: We are not punished for our sins but by them.
Jonah comes up in this Sunday’s Old Testament reading. He is reluctantly obedient to God’s second call to him to go to Ninevah, beginning in Chapter 3. Remember what happened the first time God called him to go to Ninevah? Like a teenager, he knew better and fled to Tarshish instead! This got him a three-day/three-night retreat in the belly of a whale, before the fish emancipated him on the beach through regurgitation. (Five days before Christmas, I felt as if I had been regurgitated.)
God gave him another chance to carry the message to Ninevah, though, and what I see this time in the reading is how I’m like Jonah. I don’t want to sit and wait for God because it’s uncomfortable. I have other ideas! Theologians say Jonah represents the Jews who came up with all kinds of reasons not to listen, too. At the end of the story, we learn that God needed Jonah’s obedience to deliver a message that would save the souls of hundreds of thousands who needed to change their ways. That was no small mission.
I’m not ready to commit to 20 minutes, yet, but I do resolve to prepare Him room. And to stay out of Tarshish.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
Narrative by Stephanie Shareck Werner, © 2021.
Joy To The World, written by G. F. Handel and Isaac Watts