When I was a Girl Scout (through High School) our motto was “be prepared”. That was a big theme that was constantly emphasized, especially through our many camping trips as we learned how to fend for ourselves in very primitive situations. Today, those words make me think of the big push locally to be ready for the big earthquake. We have a large container of some kind of non-perishable food, several water jugs and other equipment gathered in our garage for just such an occurrence. We’ve been in a large earthquake before and we know how disruptive and unsettling it can be. Over the months we keep adding to our efforts to be ready.
For Christians, (at least some of us!), we are not yet in the season of Christmas. Rather our new church year began earlier this month with the season of Advent. Advent means “coming”. It is a season that heralds the coming of Divine life into embodying the human condition. And we are bid, in the readings of scripture, to prepare for this event anew every year. And each year the experience of that is different. We are different, changed from the life of the past year and so our preparation focuses on the next development of our spiritual journey in the one we call Christ.
In the midst of this Advent season, George and I are preparing for a long journey. On January 2 we fly to Fort Lauderdale for a short visit with our friend Sandy before we board a cruise ship on the 4th that will take us through the Panama Canal and then all the way around South America (stopping and visiting many places), arriving back in Ft. Lauderdale at the end of March. It will be an amazing journey with visits to Machu Picchu, the Chilean Fjords, Punta Arenas, Antarctica, Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon (to mention a few).
The other day I was in the garage spraying some of our clothes with mosquito repellant because there will be many mosquitos in some of the places we visit and they carry many diseases. In addition to inoculations, we have high powered repellant to put on our skin. Protecting some of our clothing will provide additional protection. That all got me to thinking about what we need to protect ourselves from the dark and difficult things of the world.
A traditional Advent message for preparation of the Coming of Christ is “repent”. It’s a word that has a number of meanings, including turn around, change direction for our lives which, invariably, have slipped into old habits that are not life producing or generative. The Greek word is “metanoia” and the literal translation of that is “bigger mind”. Get a new perspective, see the bigger context for your life. Understand how you are preventing life and love from thriving in your life. Engaging in this kind of spiritual practice is a way of protecting ourselves from getting lost in the day to day grind of life and failing to develop as human beings.
Spraying stuff on our clothes was kind of noxious. It had to be done in a well ventilated area and then the clothes had to be hung to dry overnight. I was concerned that the cold, damp garage would be poor place for all of that to happen. But the spray was smelly and bringing it in the house would not be good.
That’s certainly the way we Christians treat “repentance”. We get it out briefly in Advent and then try to ignore it. We totally miss the protection that this preparation provides – a real opportunity to put it on and understand the new life that is possible for us if we will simply stand back and look at ourselves and see how we are getting pulled into the destructive forces around us. Being prepared can mean that our responses to life are different, not simply knee-jerk. We can see how the simplest thrown away words can hurt or destroy trust in a relationship. We can see how we’ve been impacted by events that are out of our control and responded to them negatively instead of letting them go their own way. If someone cuts in front of me, my repentance has helped me see that cursing will not change the person or the situation. Instead, I now say “God bless you”! It’s a small example that has a big impact. It changes my interior space to negative stuff coming at me. The bigger picture gives me inner freedom to not condemn or judge folks because their behavior is noxious. This is a kind of protection of my own inner and better self that I can put on.
You don’t have to be Christian to do this. But it does require honesty with ones’ self which is difficult. That’s what community offers and why Christians gather as church. Real community is where people share their lives and their difficulties as well as their joys and sorrows. Getting a “bigger mind” takes important inner work and a desire to better oneself. And companions are essential. They teach us to trust and let go, realizing that our failings are not to be denied but loved. Life is not about where you go when you die, but how you are as you live on the planet and beyond. We all can be human beings who are more aware, full of life and love that gets shared all over.
Be prepared. Repent. It’s preparation that we all need.