Well, November 1st has come and gone and if you are anything like me, you have officially started up the Christmas music! (Now the true confession is that I actually listen to Christmas music all year long… I always just find a little Bing Crosby to cheer up any grey day:). I will add however, that though the music is “officially” in full swing- the decorations are still on hold.
I had thought I might start slow with the decorations… maybe a few frosty mugs, the mittens banner.. But after pulling out a couple boxes from the crawl space, I took one look inside and closed them right back up again. This isn’t the first year I have had an aversion to all the “stuff” of Christmas.
A few years ago when I was in knee deep in Seminary deadlines, papers and church ministry – I remember just not decorating at all. There was so much tinsel everywhere that I just needed some peace and stillness. I needed simple Christmas.
I think it’s time for another Simple Christmas this year. But even more than simple, I really need Sacred Christmas. The good news is that as I think of this advent season approaching, I really sense Christ wants to meet me, to meet my family, in this sacred waiting. So in this hope, I press forward. I am asking myself how I can be intentional about creating moments and spaces that draw us all closer to the Prince of Peace. I know that ultimately as a parent, the rhythms I employ for my own Spiritual walk are going to ripple into rhythms into my family. There is an organic relationship between my own Spiritual health and the Spiritual Formation of my family.
So what are the things I can focus on this advent? In Ivy Beckwith’s book “Formational Children’s Ministry” she emphasizes the importance of Story, Ritual, and Relationship for the Spiritual Formation of children and families. Beckwith speaks about the importance of family (both nuclear and spiritual) as the nurturing ground of Story, Ritual & Relationship. She says, “Growing up in…[family] shapes us in many ways… That shaping can be both positive and negative, and most of us grow up with a mixture of both. Much of that shaping through familial relationships is about teaching children how to live, survive, and thrive in the outside world, The question for families, particularly faithful families, is, “which world are we preparing our children for?”
As we desire our families to be shaped deeper in Christ’s Sacred presence, in his Love and Peace-
How can we nurture Story, Ritual and Relationship this advent season?
Here are a few ideas to get us started:
Because I Love love love the Jesus storybook Bible, I thought maybe I’d use it to guide some readings this Advent with our family and with my daughter in particular. I found this free printable advent reading plan.
I am also growing more and more intrigued with play based exploration of story. The kind of exploration that reflects and muses with “I wonder” statements rather than tightly summarizing and extracting moral lessons from the story. For example, if exploring the role of the shepherds, I might say to my daughter “I wonder what it was like to see the sky lit up with angels.. Wow” and let her think about the majesty of that moment/As opposed to “Now just like the Shepherd listened to the angels and went to find Jesus we need to make sure that we listen when God is telling us to do something..”
One way to facilitate this “play exploration” of the Christmas story could be to use the Nativity Little People’s set, or perhaps maybe to try this Interactive nature Advent Calendar idea.
Here are 5 Spiritual Practices for Advent that you could adapt for yourself personally or for your family. These are taken from Traci Smith author of Seamless Faith.
1. Word a day creative challenge. (Photo challenge, art challenge, journal challenge). This one is easy. For each day in December (from the 1st to the 25th) meditate on a word and what God might be telling you through that word. Take a photo to represent it, paint or draw or create something. Do it together as a family, a community, or on your own. My congregation is doing this as a photo challenge this year and posting their photos online. I think I might do some paintings this year, too. Make up your own words, or use these:
2. Gratitude paper chain – Make a paper chain throughout advent (use blue or purple pieces of paper for a liturgical connection or use the traditional green and red). Each day write one thing you are thankful for and put it on your chain. On Christmas morning, put the chain on your Christmas tree or hang it in your home.
3. Advent Poetry/Devotional Reading – Find a book of advent poems or readings and read one each evening in the darkness or in the early morning. Suggestions: Luci Shaw, Accompanied by Angels or the Anglican resource Love Came Down or Chalice Press’ lovely (and inexpensive!) Partners in Prayer. It’s not too late for any of these! They’re all available in e-formats, or get them by mail and just wait a few days to start.
4. Color Your Way Through Advent – Coloring pages. Coloring is not just for kids, you know.Check out these fantastic daily coloring pages produced by Ann Voskamp, author of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.
5. Adopt an Advent “Fast” – We usually think of fasting as something that happens during lent. We “give up” something sometimes as a sacrifice or a symbol of repentance and returning to God. In the frenetic “more more more” of our culture during this season, it’s a great idea for people of faith to adopt a “less, less, less” approach. Fast from buying (what would that look like?) or fast from busyness. Perhaps you are able to give up one weekly (or daily) meeting during advent in order to listen to God’s voice and prepare for Christ to be born anew.
The following are my personal inclinations regarding relationships this coming advent season.
To knit myself closer to those who draw me closer to Christ, to hold loosely those relationships that just simply fill space in my life.
- Foster Healthy Ties
Pick one or two really life giving things you want to do, with people who bring you joy and start planning now how to weave it together with them. For myself there are a couple dear friends who I don’t see too often and we are trying to think of creative spaces to enjoy the friendship God has given us. Hot chocolate at a historic house that’s all dressed up for Christmas? Going to a book reading at a local nearby church?
- Unhealthy People
Say No to intense relationship time with unhealthy people in your lives. Sometimes at holiday times we get sidelined by the “Uncle Bernie’s” who want to gossip about all their grieveances with the rest of the family. If someone can’t interact in a constructive way- Be OK with letting them sit alone.
Anticipate a couple relationships you can minister within, and be honest about how much you can give in this season. Last Christmas we had a friend living with us who had a lot of intense needs. My inclination was to let the entire season be shaped around ministering to those needs. I learned its healthier to decide on a few ways to Show God’s Care but then entrust that Beloved brother or sister into God’s hands.
Our Children need to see us exercise good boundaries. They need us to model for them how to knit ourselves closer to those who will build us up, how to say no to those who are destructive and how to minister to those in need. We will all be better off and freed up to experience Christ’s peace when we aren’t lost in a swirl of complex relationship dances this Christmas.
I am excited to be intentional about some of these ideas around Story, Ritual (Practice) and Relationship, for myself and for my family this advent season. I believe that as we foster healthy Spiritual rhythms in the season of waiting, we will encounter Christ with more fullness in the coming of His Birth. Blessings on you as you enter this season of waiting this month as well.