Remembering Heaven: Advent Calls Us to Be Still and Rest

By Barbara O'Neill

As a culture, we are searching for transcendent meaning. Popular entertainment focused on angels, spirits and the paranormal are just one reflection of this. As Christians, we might say that consciously or unconsciously, we are involved in an ongoing search to unpack the Paschal Mystery one layer at a time. And somewhere deep in our souls, we recognize home—where we came from and where we are returning. We remember. In moments of unconditional love, wordless awe, peace and contentment, we are remembering heaven. We feel at home and on familiar ground.

Life is short, and we know the limitations of time and space. We are busy and easily distracted. Yet we find there are daily experiences that jog us to deeper consciousness, invite us to pray. In the course of a day, we find many opportunities to connect to God, who is Love, the Source of all life and being.

As Catholic Christians, our spirituality and formation is shaped primarily by liturgy. We are surrounded by an untold wealth of rituals and symbols. We take our cue from the ebb and flow of the liturgical year, with its seasons and feasts, and encounter divine love and wisdom at every turn. How can we find more ways to unleash the power of the liturgy in our own daily lives? Do we dare? How will this affect our relationship with God, with ourselves and others?

Preparing for the season of Advent presents its own set of challenges. Our culture is screaming “Christmas!” when Advent is calling us to do just the opposite. For those of us in northern climates, Advent comes just as winter descends, enveloping us in darkness and holding us captive in its cold embrace. The hours of daylight wane while the temperature plunges. Trees lose their leaves and stand with outstretched branches, waiting. The land lies fallow after the hard work of producing its fruit. It is time to rest.

Advent calls us to move into this time of stillness and waiting, silence and reflection. Now is not the time for producing. Now is the time for restoration and renewal.

How do we approach Advent in this spirit? The answer lies in doing little things with great love and attentiveness. Normal routines can easily be turned into ritual moments. Let’s focus on one such time of day.

Every evening, after the busyness of the day, we transition our own houses into places of rest. Many of us change our clothes when we get home from work. We prepare and share a meal with others. We clean up and put things away. We relax, share company and conversation. The day winds down. We turn off lights and close the doors and the house grows silent.

As the day ends and we move toward sleep, we are reflective. We let go of the day’s problems and seek our own inner peace and a feeling of harmony with others.

Most of these nighttime tasks are routine, but doing them consciously with prayerful focus can give them added depth and purpose. Because these routines are common to all of us, perhaps they could serve as the starting point and basis for Advent catechesis and reflection in our congregations, at our meetings and in our homes. Because our lifestyles are varied —some of us are single and live alone, others single but raising children, others are couples raising children or retired in longstanding marriages—a broad range of evening rituals for rest and reflection can inform the spirit of Advent.

Some questions to consider:

  • How do you begin the transition when you get home from work?
  • How do you help your children to wind down and prepare for rest and quiet?
  • What role do the computer, TV and phone play, and do I carefully put these to rest as well?
  • Would turning a nightly routine into a ritual experience make a difference in how you approach sleep?
  • Would you wake up a little more refreshed in the morning if you consciously closed the door on problems, worries and frustrations for the night and allowed yourself to breathe deeply, surrender and rest?

Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay, Wis., reminds us that “Hushing is a noble art. It is that grace and discipline by which we quiet the soul and draw it beyond the multiplicity of events and the immediacy of a thousand voices into a center, a still point, where the one thing necessary is found: peace—that peace willed by God, the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

[Barbara O’Neill holds an MA in liturgical theology from LaSalle University, Philadelphia. She lives and works in Kansas City, Mo.]