By Natalie LaValley
In the previous blog, I wrote about waiting. I’m going to return to the lines I quoted from T.S. Eliot’s poem “East Coker.”
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hopeFor hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faithBut the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
In the first line, Eliot connects waiting to stillness. Or rather, stillness is a prerequisite to proper waiting. That can be hard to pull off during Advent. December is notorious for its busyness–there’s so much shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, and traveling. It can become a time fraught with stress from financial pressures, activity, year-end deadlines, and family drama.
Why is stillness important in Advent? Stillness clears our minds so that we remember what we are waiting for. We typically blame consumerism for taking away from the “real meaning” of Christmas, but busyness is just as much the culprit. In fact, busyness and consumerism feed into each other. When you’re stressed, buying things or shopping online can create an addictive sense of temporary excitement or accomplishment. But shopping adds to the busyness, and so the vicious cycle begins. All the activity and consumption serves to overload our brains. When we practice stillness, we give our brains a chance to calm down so our minds can recenter on Christ.
There’s copious amounts of research showing why stillness is good for mental health, and it makes perfect sense that what is good for our souls is good for our bodies as well. Many people practice meditation purely for the health benefits. So if secular people are practicing stillness, shouldn’t we also be practicing it for our spiritual as well as physical health?
You don’t have to go to a monastery to incorporate some stillness into your life. Maybe it means shopping ahead so you have less to do during December (I know, too late for that now). Or maybe it means deciding you don’t have to put up all those lights or go to all those stores when a gift card will do. Perhaps with that extra time, you can spend thirty minutes reading and meditating on the Psalms. Or spend the first fifteen minutes of your morning in prayer.
The point is not to follow a legalistic procedure that you feel guilted into because some Christian writers are telling you that Christmas is too consumerist and busy. Stillness is so much deeper than that. It’s the place, the timeless moment, where God can quietly reorder your mind and heart.