REFLECTIONS FROM PASTOR AMY JO
Advent is the name for the time on the church calendar when we prepare for the coming of Christ. The name for the season is a word that means “coming into being,” or “appearing.” It is a time to consider what is dawning, appearing, or coming into being in our spiritual lives. How is God’s light breaking through in a new way? How is God beginning to lead us forward in a new direction, both individually and as a Church? Who is the new neighbor that we are called to love? What is the new way in which we’re called to share more generously?
Throughout the season of Advent, I’m going to be trying a new spiritual discipline, and I invite you to join me. The spiritual discipline is meditating daily on compassion and loving kindness. Some time ago, I preached a sermon on the way that neuroscience has documented changes to the neurons in our brain that occur after a time of meditating on compassion and loving kindness. These biological changes are one way to “see” the spiritual growth that can occur through godly meditation. An interesting book to read on this topic is “Altruism,” by Matthieu Ricard. If you want to join me in this spiritual exercise, here’s how I’m proceeding:
1.) Read or say aloud a Scripture to focus: “God is love.” I John 4:8b 2.) We often experience God’s love through our relationships with other people. Remember a person with whom you have experienced God’s love (perhaps a close family member, friend, or mentor.) Concentrate/meditate on the feeling of compassion and loving kindness that you experience in relationship with that person.
3.) Once you have focused in on that feeling of compassion and loving kindness, think of expanding it to encompass those who are close to you (either physically close to you—for example, if you’re doing this while sitting stuck in traffic as I may be, in the cars on either side of you. Or relationally close to you— close friends and family.) Include this widening group in your sense of compassion and loving kindness.
4.) After focusing on this small group, think of expanding the sense of compassion and loving kindness outwards to a larger group— your geographical neighbor, your acquaintances, or extended family. Include this large group in your sense of compassion and loving kindness.
5.) After focusing on this large group, continue to expand your sense of compassion and loving kindness outward again slowly, until it embraces all of the world. Remember that this even includes the enemies who we are
called to love. (Matthew 5:44) Hold on to this idea of all embracing love, and remember that God’s endless love is beyond our human understanding, reaching out to all of creation.
6.) End with this sentence prayer: God help me to love as you love. Amen.
This spiritual practice is similar to the style of meditation featured in the neuroscience experiments documented by Dr. Ricard. When the holiday season becomes busy during December, I hope that this spiritual practice of meditation helps me (and you, too!) to calm our hearts, stay close to God, and not be distracted from the meaning of Christ coming into the world.
The season of Advent is also a good season for our congregation to receive the recommendations of the Healthy Church Initiative consulting team. The recommendations look at places where God is appearing and calling us to grow forward together. During Advent, we look for those new ways that
God is appearing and making God’s self known in the world. Perhaps we will find some of those ways within the recommendations of the HCI team. As we receive the recommendations, we humbly look for the ways in which God is guiding us as a congregation. May God help us to grow in spirit in this season.