This past weekend was Thanksgiving in the United States, and now we’ve entered the season of Advent, the traditional period of holy waiting leading to Christmas. This, during a year that has brought most of us even more than our usual hurry, hesitation, and heartbreak.
I find myself puzzling over some complex questions.
Namely, what are we really waiting for in Advent?
And what are we really thankful for in Thanks-giving?
The history of the latter is fraught with sadness. While there may have indeed been pockets of genuine hospitality and mutual exchange between early ‘pilgrims’ and indigenous inhabitants of this land, our subsequent actions of genocidal erasure toward those who lived in harmony with this land for 10-14,000 years prior makes Thanksgiving’s deployment in our national hagiography function as a collective self-absolving amnesia, an insult added to very real injury.
To the ᎠᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (East Cherokee) people whose land I live on, I am grateful for the gift of this land and her sustenance, and so sorry for the way it came about. In the coming year, I seek openness to pathways of metanoia and repair.
And I pause, left with the composted coordinates of the holiday, itself: A season dedicated to gratitude, when many of us are wondering where thankfulness still dwells.
A season dedicated to meal-sharing, during a time many of us chose to remain absent from family as a form of greater care amid rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, and a U.S. death rate rivaling the record set in April.
Remorse and grace, messiness and connection: Isn’t Thanksgiving a kind of microcosm of our lives right now?
None of us are un-stained by transgression, done by or to us; and yet, we seek acts of metanoia (changed-being) and vessels of mercy, together.
From Hungry Ghosts to Full Incarnations
2020 has been a hellacious year for many of us. I think we’re ready to do the work, to receive the grace, of rejoining soul to body—individually and culturally. We’re tired of living as discarnate, hungry ghosts.
And so, I find myself grateful for you.
If you’re like me, you’re ready:
To journey with your people, backed by all the divine energies of God, angels, and the great cloud of witnesses, to work together in discovering the Kin-dom of God, what contemporary teacher Charles Eisenstein names the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
How can we show up for each other? I wouldn’t expect the turn-of-the-century indie band Death Cab for Cutie to give us our sacred invitation, but here we are:
I cannot guess what we’ll discover
When we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels
But I know our filthy hands can wash one another’s
And not one speck will remain.
During a time when we’re exhausted and exploited and complicit, all at the same time, how can we begin the work that re-connects?
Those of us who aspire to friendship with God along the Way of Jesus, have a great potential comfort: the writer of an ancient letter (which became part of our Scripture) invites us to trust what-is-so from a God’s-eye view, and thus become “partakers of the Divine Nature.” (see I Peter 1:4)
The 14th-century Byzantine theologian Gregory of Palamas affirms this venerable tradition along the path of apprenticeship to Christ-likeness, teaching that we can access these “energies of the divinity” as God generously grants them from God’s unitive essence: “the rays are many, and are sent out in a manner appropriate to those participating in them.”
The Church in the near-East, self-understood as the Orthodox Church, has reflected for over a thousand years how to make this participation in Divine energies immensely practical, though unfortunately these practices were largely inaccessible outside of monastic circles for centuries. Their wisdom has been available to Western spiritual seekers for about 70 years now via English translations of The Philokalia, thanks to students of Fourth Way teacher PD Ouspensky.
This living tradition is so vast and deep, I’m not even going to attempt to skim its surface here. Instead, I’m going to embrace its premises as a contemporary jumping-off-point:
If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19), this means that sacred breath already fills our lungs. What would it be like to pause and really notice this, taking it in as actual nourishment for our being?
I asked my friend and colleague Sydney Faith Rose — a gifted teacher, therapist, and facilitator — to give us an exercise we can work with, right now, to bring us back into our hearts and bodies. We ended up crafting one together, that has been road-tested. : ) Here it is!
❧ As you notice the energy that drives your inhale and exhalation, set an intention for the way you want to show up in the world. What does this look like? What does this feel like? Pause for as many breaths as you need, until you sense a definite impression of this vision.
❧ Divine Light is abundantly available. Imagine the energy of your breath as a guiding light reflecting God’s Light, keeping you in touch with your intention in the present moment. This light can be any color or quality that you choose.
❧ Drawing your awareness down into the bottoms of your feet with each breath, imagine the light infusing your feet with the quality you’re wanting to more fully embody in your life — in our soles and your soul.
❧ Allow this breath and light to inspire its natural enlivening in you as it shines on any sensation or numbness that you notice happening in your feet.
❧ Slowly draw this energy up through your legs, then your root, then your torso, continuing upward through the crown of your head. Allow this sacred breath and holy light to illuminate whatever is present in each part of your body as you go: Tension, sensation, heaviness, warmth. Notice whatever is present, without condemnation.
❧ If you find areas of pain or tension as you go, you can soften and offer yourself compassion if that’s in alignment with your intention. If your mind starts passing judgement, denigrating sensations or telling stories about why you feel the way you feel, see if you can allow your attention to return to present-moment receiving, returning to the sensations of your breath, trusting this to keep you rooted in your intention. Surrender to the circulation of attention and compassion through every part of your body.
❧ Notice if you want to expand these energies beyond the immediate field of your body: Where do they wish to go? To the space around you? Your loved ones? Your enemies? Planet earth?
❧ When you’ve moved these energies where they wish to go, pause for a moment and inquire: Does the whole of my body seem to be lit up, as if from within? If you sense this increased sensation of attention, see if you can dwell here for a few moments.
❧ Close with an attitude of thankfulness: To your body for supporting you, to God for indwelling you. Take as much time as you’d like: Thank each body part, if you want. And express your gratitude to anyone and anything else that you sense supporting your daily living.
Did you try this Partaking Exercise? How did it feel?
Who wants to join me in practicing this for several minutes a day this Advent, from now ’till December 24th?
If you intend to join me and care to share, please leave a comment below. And as you notice anything shifting, in your inner or outer worlds, feel free to leave a comment below!
This season has its burdens — there’s no use sugar-coating it. But I’m convinced that these burdens are an invitation to go deeper into re-connection, whole-making, and soul-making. This Advent, we can wait attentively, as our own being and perhaps new worlds emerge.
PS: If you’d like to go deeper in exploring embodiment and breathing practices with Sydney Faith Rose, she’s offering a special on one-on-one sessions, this week only!