ADVENT: TIME OF VIGILING AND WAITING

starry-nightby Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Our Advent theme at the monastery is Vigiling.

As I began my personal Advent journey this year I realized some of my ways of preparing for this time were marked with the familiar,  such as a place for an Advent wreath in my personal prayer space and gathering a myriad of Scripture guides and seasonal prayer books and photos. Some of these were also different, or new this year. I am using electric candles with my wreath because sometimes in the very early morning hours or late night time I forget to extinguish them before I leave my room and I insist on REAL evergreen boughs because I need the smell to remind me of the season and also of the north woods of the Upper Peninsula where my father was raised. The connection goes deep here because my Dad and his brother and Sister used to cut trees from their property and bring them to Chicago to help the family survive when they were young adults. Since the tradition has continued and my Aunt and her children did the same as I was growing up. As a city cousin, I was overjoyed when they visited us around Thanksgiving to bring their handiwork to my part of the world. Those wreaths funded my cousins’ educations. Memories associated with Advent smells. These are the same and new ones are often added….

It is a time of waiting for the deepest, darkest time of solstice when the light begins to come again. I wait for that time, as many humans have for ages before me.

Many years I have spent the first week of Advent noticing and praising God for the beauty of the early morning and late afternoon skies. What a wonderful contrast of light and dark broken with deep hues of purple, pink, indigo and orange! It is a time of waiting for the deepest, darkest time of solstice when the light begins to come again. I wait for that time, as many humans have for ages before me.

Our Advent theme at the monastery is Vigiling, particularly with our Sister Mary Margaret as she gains strength daily since her September stroke. I wondered on the first day of Advent if Vigiling was just another word for Waiting…

Vigiling is living the present moment with hope and faith.

dromedaries-carawane-sunset_source-nosadeAs I contemplated these two terms I realized that waiting for the Winter Solstice was very different from vigiling with Mary Margaret. Waiting is something that we do with expectation. It is looking/working toward a specific end. Children wait for Christmas. I wait for a doctor’s appointment or the opening of the drive through window at the bank. Vigiling is something more immediate. It is living the present moment with hope and faith. I am with Sister Mary Margaret as she stands at the parallel bars at physical therapy for the first time; I have faith that the speech therapist will help her understand that swallowing takes daily practice. I pray with her and for her and sometimes with her in the present moments of each of our days. Living the present moments, joyful, sad, filled with laughter or tears is the type of Vigil I am doing this year. A vigil of Presence with Hope. Christmas will be a time to celebrate the incarnation. Camels, sheep, shepherds and kings will adorn my Advent wreath. Reindeer and Santa will be packed away with other decorations but the Hope of Vigiling will remain.

The Garden of Gethsemane: Hospice and Hope

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

The Agony of Christ in Gethesemane (from BostonMonks.com)

He’s on his knees. His hands are open —palms extended to the night sky. His bowed head and bent back round out his prayerful stance.

This is the way I picture Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane awaiting his impending death. It’s only a matter of time before he will be handed over to Roman soldiers, scourged, made to march to Calvary bearing a wooden cross on his back, and then nailed to the cross and left to die.

But in those moments before — he waits. He prays. He wonders. He beseeches His father; and he opens his heart, mind, and being to what will follow. His posture reflects his human reluctance and divine acceptance of what is to come.

My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” —Matthew 26:42

My walk alongside Christ this Holy Week takes me into the heart of such moments of agony and awe, historical, biblical reflection, and present-moment contemplations.

Last night, a good friend’s grandfather entered hospice. The news caught me off guard, as I had been praying for him and expected — alongside my friend– grandpa’s return home; more days of life and family to be lived.

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Photo by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

But the news of hospice care arrived, right alongside the dawn of this Holy Thursday, and so informs my prayer and contemplations this day. I hold Jesus’ journey to death and new life right alongside Grandpa Sheehan’s.

“How do we hold the mystery of resurrection inside the reality of an angst-ridden-end?”

I lit a candle next to the east-facing window in my house this morning and sat with scripture and these thoughts.

What is it to open ourselves wholly to death and welcome it, as we simultaneously mark the flow of oxygen in and out of our lungs? How do we hold the mystery of resurrection inside the reality of an angst-ridden-end? What does it mean to mark the dignity of our living selves as the circumstances of darkness press in? The Garden of Gethsemane, hospice, and Holy week bring these questions to the fore.

In my time contemplating Christ’s agony in the garden and Grandpa’s failing lungs, I found myself back in my own journey carrying a growing baby boy in my body, who I knew simultaneously would not survive many moments beyond his birth. It was an impending death – one that connects each of us in these agonizing circumstances.

“I know my call in this day, in these moments, is to not shirk away from the reality of death, but rather: be still and repeat with Christ: ‘Thy will be done. ‘”

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God’s Son: Xavi
(photo taken by Salina Caldes from NILMDTS)

Eighteen months after the experience of bearing a son and burying him a week later, I’m in a new place of understanding the gift of hospice care and Christ’s stance in that garden. I feel an intimate connection with Jesus, and all who hover at death’s door, waiting. I know my call in this day, in these moments, is to not shirk away from the reality of death, but rather: be still and repeat with Christ: Thy will be done. 

A year and a half after our son Xavi’s arrival, and brief time with us on this earth, I know a profound grace and joy in the experience of being his mother –of carrying him in my body and recognizing his direct connection to the God that made him possible.

On this day, in this time of marking our walk with Christ to the open tomb, I invite us all to inhabit fully each moment of agony and angst, trusting profoundly that a purpose for this time will reveal itself just as surely as the resurrected Christ will on Easter morning.

LIVE + JESUS!

We Wait in Joyful Hope

Words of wisdom from Henri Nouwen, Dutch Catholic Priest and Writer

Guadalupe and Juan by Brother Mickey O'Neill Mcgrath

“Waiting is active. Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late. You cannot do anything about it, so you have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” …  The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening. A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the fullest in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there.”