Today, I issue a challenge. Schedule an afternoon for nothing but prayer.
I use the word “prayer” loosely, so don’t panic.
And you already know how short an afternoon is. So this activity is not as intimidating as you might first suspect.
Here’s what I propose. Choose a place that’s good for you. It can be outdoors or indoors, somewhere in your home, on your property, or somewhere else entirely. But it needs to be a space that is physically comfortable and free of distractions.
Take just a couple of things with you. Maybe you like to pray with a journal, or rosary beads, or an image. A pot of coffee or tea might help you focus or relax. Don’t begin the time hungry—have a decent meal before you begin. But do take along a snack or two. Whatever you do, travel light; this time is between you and God, and God doesn’t need to see your calendar or lists or just-begun projects. This is not project time at all.
Begin by settling in. Sit comfortably. Have your rosary or journal or icon within reach. Close your eyes and breathe consciously for two or three minutes. Do this by noticing your breath going in and out. Or, when you inhale, think of a phrase, such as, “Jesus, be with me,” and use another phrase when you exhale, such as, “I give you myself right now.”
Pray aloud or write out—or draw, or sing, using whatever medium works for you—how you feel at this moment. Make one statement or several; the point is to be honest.
Now spend at least five minutes naming what you are thankful for. Search through past and present, through your relationships and jobs, to identify the good graces of your life.
Change positions now. You might stand up or shift how you’re sitting. And simply tell God what you need for the season ahead. This might take a few minutes or ten minutes or half an hour. Take whatever time you need.
Now go for a walk. Walk just to enjoy the movement. Walk to move your arms and legs, stretch your neck, widen your eyes. Do your best not to think much as you walk; this is mostly about movement and awareness.
When you return to your sitting-down place, make a list. It’s a list of names of the people you love. You might use colored pencils and draw the names more than write them down. Use the writing to meditate on each person. Allow the image of that person to stay there with you. As you write or draw these names (you can draw pictures of faces if you like), present these people to God: “God, these are the people I care about. I want this season of Advent and Christmas to bring them blessings, joy, and hope.”
About now, you may need that snack. If you do, then enjoy it. Sit there in the quiet, or put on some music, and enjoy your snack. There’s nothing else for you to do right now. This is enough.
Now, pray some version of this prayer: “God, show me my heart. What do I really desire? What do I really need? What do I really love?” This is your time to reflect on these questions prayerfully. Stay with this prayer for at least half an hour but longer if you can. Journal or draw or knit or whatever helps you keep coming back to these essential heart questions.
Then sing a favorite song. Yes, it might be an Advent or Christmas song, but that’s not necessary. But it really should be a song that helps your soul—a song of hope or humor or wisdom.
As you come into the final phase of this prayerful afternoon, ask for direction. Throw questions into the air—or, if it helps, write them down:
- Where should my focus be this Advent?
- How can I tend to my deepest loves?
- What activities will nourish me rather than drain me?
- Who needs the love I can offer right now? And how will I love that person?
- What can I give up—what expectation or task or project or event?
Take another little walk, if that helps. Or do a yoga position or two, or a stretch.
Then, ask the Holy Spirit’s help as you commit to three things in the weeks ahead:
- The activity I’ll do for the sake of my own well-being (physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual) is…
- One thing I’ll do to express hope to others during Advent is…
- One gift I will give to the Christ child this year is…
Close with a simple “Thank you,” or an Our Father, or whatever feels right to you.
And here’s Vinita’s confession: I’ve never done an afternoon like this before, but I commit to doing it this year. You can hold me to it and ask me about it later, if you like.