A common theme for each Advent season is “our need to prepare ourselves” for the birth of Christ. This theme seems simple enough to understand, but in my experience even this theme, simple as it ought to be, can get lost in a maze of alternative ways of thinking. We may blame others, finding reasons why “they” should change. We may get lost in political thoughts. We may shrug all reflections off with the thought of “the world is the way it is and nothing will change it. We may not reflect at all, ending up more concerned with our next task of the day.
Allow me to suggest, perhaps the mind reacts in this way simply to avoid looking at its own responsibility to change. It is just like meditation. Try concentrating on one point, like one’s own breath, or perhaps the name of Jesus, and watch the mind struggle against your effort. Distractions will multiply amazingly, and all because the mind just does not like to be tamed. For this notable reason, any and all meditational schools, Christian or non-Christian, will recommend methods of dealing with the “monkey minds” that we have named such in honor of monkeys globally that just cannot stop flittering from branch to branch, cannot stop chattering, and so on. Some groups will advocate an ongoing discipline of meditation at the same time everyday, and for the same amount of time. When one notices the mind wandering, this school will say, gently bring the mind back to the point of concentration. Other schools will refute such a need to discipline in this fashion, recommending instead the need to cultivate a “watchful awareness,” here simply watching the mind do its thing, as if one’s awareness were separate from one’s mind. The simple ability to exhibit such watchfulness is often enough for the mind to settle down. In either case, one has to do something! One cannot simply allow one’s mind to have the last word. It is said that the mind is an excellent servant but a lousy master. Ask any participant in a 12-step program. The common sense there is to realize first that one is addicted, and then to further realize that my admitted addiction is the result of my best efforts. The concluding thought is typically, “I can’t, He can, let Him.” This too, is a way of bringing the mind into some sort of balance, and not allowing it to dictate to me how to live in this world. Great servant! Lousy master!
So, expect the mind to react in a similar way toward any suggestion that one ought to prepare for the birth of Christ this year. It will initially agree, and then find reasons why it does not have to- or should not have to. And, just like in any meditational effort, one has to choose to be the master, and not let the mind win out. What one must bring one’s mind back to, in this context, is personal responsibility. I am judged alone before the throne of God, and it is “I” who needs to change, first and foremost. The only question left is “how?” One good place to start is consumerism. Our lust for buying, our need to evaluate the world and our reaction to it and to each other by means of finances is strong. Such questions as, “is this worth the money?” has limited meaning in any spiritual context. There is some value, I admit, in asking such a question. But when we use such a question to not help another, to not be charitable, then we miss the point of Christ who throughout Scripture begs us to love each other and to help each other. Consumerism to the extreme can act like acid on our souls. Do we really need all the things we buy? One can be addicted to buying, and discover to our horror that the 12-step program is just as applicable here as to drinking. Isn’t that amazing?
For Christ to be born again in our hearts and in our world, we must be free to accept Him, and to be free means to not be addicted. It takes discipline to wrestle with such a question as what I am proposing in this essay, but then it is important to realize that discipline is foundational to our religion. It takes discipline to control our minds; it takes discipline to love; it takes discipline to be a Christian. By accepting the commitment to follow Christ sincerely, we finally find ourselves at the side of the crib, worshipping the newborn Christ-child.
Peace, Fr. Walter