Saturday, December 02, 2006

Preparing for Advent

Yesterday, after the stress and strain of the campus lecture the day before, I attended an Advent Retreat at the Episcopal House of Prayer, along with eleven other students and staff. It was hosted by Michael Dennis Browne, professor of English at the University of Minnesota and a widely read poet. Michael poked and prodded us with a bevy of poems, suggesting that this season beckons us to learn to "pay attention to the moment," to the very genius of language as it seeks to get us to slow down.

We spent time writing, praying, and sharing--sometimes in ways that bordered on discomfort. While I love the feel and power of poetic language, I don't always enjoy making public the private self--at least not with people I don't know very well. Michael's advice to graduating students, however, made perfect sense to me--he tells them, "Keep good company." By that he means, not only creating a circle of friends and mentors, but spending time with good poetry and pieces of literature. This has challenged me to read, not only the fiction and short stories which I enjoy so much, but to be more intentional about tackling poetry on a regular basis. I tend to go through spurts, gobbling up whole poems every few weeks, not allowing them to drip into my mind and heart on a daily basis.

One of the prose pieces Michael shared with us was a paragraph from Dom Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., which seems most appropriate on this day before the beginning of the Advent season:
"During most of our waking hours we live on the surface of our being in contact with all the different things which are presented to our senses. Sometimes when we are deep in conversation with a friend or reading a book or perhaps in a dangerous situation, we lose the sense of time and enter into a deeper region of the soul, where it is withdrawn from the outer world: but we are still not far from the surface. Beyond this, beyond all thought and feeling and imagination, there is an inner sanctuary into which we scarcely ever enter. It is the ground or substance of the sould, where all the faculties have their roots, and which is the very centre of our being. It is here that the soul is at all times in direct contact with God. For behing all the phenomena of the world, behind the sights and sounds, behind the forms and energies of nature, there is the ever active presence of God, which sustains them in their being and moves them to act."