by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, December 18, 2016
Is it strange that one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of the Advent season is space? Driving to and from New York City, which I do fairly often, I pay close attention to the electronic highway signs warning of accidents, detours, and traffic delays. I pay particular notice when the word, “heavy,” prefaces any report of what’s ahead and warns me of exactly how I’m going to be spending the next several hours of my life. At this time of year, however, the electronic message is pretty much the same every day: “Gridlock Alert. Take Mass Transit.” Translation: Too much going on. Too many cars. Too little space. Not enough room.
I read that as an Advent announcement, a contemporary signs-of-the-times sort of message. Make room. Let go of what’s no longer life-giving, but don’t stop there. Stretch your heart. Expand your worldview. Take a close look at what you’ve made room for and what you’ve kept out.
“Enlarge the space of your tent!” Isaiah urges us. “Spread your tent cloths unsparingly. Lengthen your ropes and make firm your stakes.” The Message Bible provides a contemporary translation of Isaiah’s message as, “Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big! You’re going to need lots of elbow room for your growing family…You’re going to resettle abandoned cities.”
Isaiah’s message is echoed as we prepare to enter into the Nativity story, holding up for our reflection a young couple desperately seeking space, safe space, space that will welcome not only them but the fragile, newborn life Mary carries within her.
Isaiah’s message is echoed today in the news accounts of desperate refugees seeking safe shelter. We see people in the besieged city of Aleppo, targeted and shelled and bombed into oblivion. From a world away, we hear heart-wrenching pleas for help. We see parents consumed with grief beyond words as they cradle the lifeless bodies of their children. We read their text and video messages as they ponder what may very well be their last words to our world. We may weep and wonder: is there no space that will welcome them, hold them to their heart, tell them they can sleep in peace tonight?
Isaiah’s message is also echoed in our everyday lives as we reflect on the choices we’ve made and are making about what to let go of and what to take in. About how we have made room for more engaged prayer, more thoughtful relationships, more experiences of beauty, more actions for justice. About how we have accepted the invitation for our worldviews to expand to fuller hospitality toward others who look different, or sound different, or share customs and traditions that are strange to us but cherished by them.
Isaiah’s message is echoed in an invitation recently offered by my IHM community to an evening of contemplative dialogue promising a safe, sacred, non-judgmental space for people to gather following the U.S. elections. It was an experience of practicing Isaiah’s admonition to enlarge the space of our tent. In this space, we committed to make room for the other, to listen and share with openness and respect around 3 questions:
- Where is your heart now? (A question of feeling)
- What has your heart heard? (A question of noticing after a round of sharing and listening)
- How does your heart hope to move forward? (A question of desiring and acting after a second round of sharing and listening)
We are drawing close to the feast of Christmas. We are nearing the ultimate example of the Holy making space: Emmanuel, God-with-us, fully inhabiting and embracing our human condition with all its hopes and its brokenness. May our desire and our choices to make room be a sign of hope for our beautiful, yet wounded world.
Spend some quiet time in these last days of Advent, gazing with love at our world and reflecting on these 3 questions:
Where is your heart now?
What has your heart heard?
How does your heart hope to move forward?
Wishing you every blessing of Emmanuel, the Holy One who always makes room, in this Christmas season and always!
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