I worked as a landscaper one summer, and I will not be disappointed if I do not have to mow a lawn again. My boss taught me to change the direction of cutting each week. If one week was horizontal, the next would be vertical. If one week was diagonal bottom left to top right, the next would be diagonal again, but this time bottom right to top left. There was value in changing it up, or else the lawn could grow tire marks.
This memory recently came to me when one of my classrooms was double booked. Forced to hold class outside, the lawn mower competed for my attention that afternoon. As it drew closer and closer, my classmates and I joked that we had better get our point across quickly, before the lawn mower drowned us all out with its powerful motor. We no longer had the luxury of the typical, prayerful seminar whisper. It was like when the anticipation of Advent quickly becomes a mad dash to the finish line.
Seeing and hearing the lawn mower brought me back to my own summer of endless lawns to care for, to cut.
Does our prayer not benefit from the same adjustments and attention to detail, a certain openness maybe even commitment to alternatives? Of course, let’s keep to weekly Mass, and perhaps regular adoration or penance or Bible Study. But we should not be afraid of–perhaps even should encourage–small variations in our prayer from time to time. This week use the readings of the day, the next a rosary. This week attend Taize and the next faith sharing. This week use a prayer app, and the next a breviary. This week make a few overdue phone calls, and the next some texts, emails, or handwritten letters. This week, recite your favorite prayers you know by heart; the next, memorize a set of new prayers.
I am convinced that the Lord wants to speak to us in more ways than we may be accustomed to listening. If we are praying the same way as when we were children, are we not limiting ourselves? Where is the growth? Where is the creativity? Is there even openness on our part, or are we settling for tire marks on our spiritual lawns?
What was the last spiritual book you read? Do you even do spiritual reading? Ought we to rely solely on Father’s homily for our nourishment each week? Why limit ourselves to one person when we believe that we are all made in the image and likeness of God?
My fear is that we limit the many avenues that the Lord wants to speak to us, to come to us, to touch us if we insist only on a select few media or people. This Advent, may we be open to Christ in the manger, in the Mass, and in the great many ways he may be trying to communicate with us.
Must we always sit in the same pew during the same Mass at the same church? Does your parish have a sister parish? When was the last time you worshiped there? Have you ever been to a Mass in a language other than your own? What do you have to lose? Jesus is present there, too, but are you willing to give them and Him a chance? Could this Advent be a perfect time to try something new?
We are at risk of playing spiritual tee-ball at the expense of the spiritual fast pitch that Christ may be calling us toward in order to grow in our faith. We might be stuck in predictable, controlled spiritual batting cages, without ever taking advantage of the novel, new, and spirited nourishment that might be waiting for us elsewhere.
I personally use the Jesuit Prayer App while eating breakfast in the cafeteria before my first class. I join weekly Zoom theological reflections through my parish, an initiative that started due to COVID, that has thankfully continued. It brings together folks who otherwise would not be able to meet each week from near and far. I join Bible study every other week with classmates who have opted to supplement formal study with a little work above and beyond what is required by our programs. Finally, I have joined a faith sharing group of university students, a humbling experience to share the graces of what the Lord is doing in each of our lives, but also the struggles and challenges that present themselves.
Each has provided a new way to experience God. Rather than just stare at my food, I enjoy a short Gospel reflection on my cell phone. Rather than simply rely on my own personal prayer, the theological reflections bring me into contact with folks that live hours or even states away from me. Rather than just rely on any course syllabus and the normal studies required during Jesuit theological training, I share my questions and get to hear those of others during our optional bible study sessions, together with our professor. Rather than just rely on my own Jesuit community, I have the privilege of walking with students younger than me on fire for Christ.
If we put as much care and attention into our faith lives as we put into our lawns it could bear much fruit this Advent. What do you have to lose?