The liturgical year comes to an end this week, and I am struggling with what am experiencing as spiritual clutter in my heart and mind: too many books, too many websites, too many blogs from others, too many fraught conversations. All of these sources are good, some even brilliant, but the sheer number of them is crowding out my ability to listen for the Word of the Holy One to me day by day.
I am attracted to every shiny word and image about people’s journey of Spirit that I see. What does this young woman have to say? what insights do these theologians have to bring? how are these spiritual teachers expanding the parameters of deep conversation? and who are the latest voices to come to sit in at the table of conversation? Most of these sources are worthy, provocative and helpful. Theirs are insights and perspectives that challenge and enrich my own study and experience so far. But what I am finding is that for me right now, the engagement of “more” is crowding out the “one thing necessary” that Jesus flagged for Martha and Mary, that time of listening deeply, musing, pondering, letting the Word dwell in me richly, truly, madly deeply. I read quickly, so I can absorb lots of words in a record amount of time, but I am noticing that my rapid speed and prodigious quantities of written material are making it hard for me to hear a Word. I remember the seekers who went to the Desert Ammas and Abbas to ask, “Amma, give me a word!” Rarely were the responses given in more than one or two sentences. When that Word was given, the seeker was to go into her own life again to ponder, to meditate, to contemplate what that might mean for her in the location she was given to live.
As I take the turn into Advent next week, I want to attend to the one thing necessary. It will mean ignoring and tuning out some very glittering images and plangent siren calls of What’s New, What’s Exciting and What’s Different. It will mean turning down the volume on the shrieking headlines and news updates of the hour. It will mean choosing an Advent practice wisely, and then sticking with that, and only that, while I give myself the time and space to reflect on what comes up for me. It will mean committing myself to the parts of my practice that I skate over quickly–the silence, the journal writing, the focused prayer. And keep my eyes and ears focused on the one thing I intend to do.
I have already begun removing things from my basket in my prayer place. That book I nearly finished but didn’t can go to another stack of awaited reading. That diary that is more about quotidian activities than the heart of the matter can come to my reading chair for later. That journal that is really completed can be replaced by a new one that is eagerly waiting with me for a Word. And my timer can keep me rooted and breathing in my prayer place as I listen for the Word.
My late spiritual director, Betsy, often quoted C.G. Jung, saying ,”The Good is the Enemy of the Best.” The good clutter all around, so readily accessible to me, is in this moment the enemy of my best hope for getting a clear channel of connection to the Holy One who is waiting to teach and direct me in these days fraught with bafflement. outrage and grief. My invitation is to un-clutter, sit still and keep my heart, eyes and ears open.
I look forward to what will come in this Advent of attention.