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How silently,
how silently
the wondrous gift is given. 

I would be silent now,
and expectant …
                that I may receive
                         the gift I need,
                                                so I may become
                                                          the gifts others need.

I have closed almost every Advent retreat I’ve led over the past ten years with this lovely poem by Ted Loder from his book, Guerrillas of Grace. I believe his hopeful words are meaningful to seekers of any faith. In this hectic, festive month, it’s a perfect invitation to slow down and be still. It is a reminder that this time of year we will be receiving as well as giving gifts. It redirects our attention toward gifts that are less tangible but more powerful than anything that could be purchased and wrapped.

His most important point, in my mind, is easy to miss. In Loder’s poem, it is presumed that to give the gifts that others need, we must first receive.

What is this gift we hope to receive? And how do we become silent enough to be able to receive it?

I’ll answer the second question first. Contemplative practices bring us into precisely the kind of silent, still state that Loder’s poem describes. There are hundreds of contemplative practices. Yoga, meditation, centering prayer, hiking, cross-stitching, baking, gardening, rock climbing, running and so on. Any activity where we fully immerse ourselves in what we’re doing can be contemplative. Your intention is the most important bit. If you enter into the activity seeking a quiet mind, choosing to spend some time “inward” and hoping to connect with a power greater than yourself, you are being contemplative.

It is important to note that though you may “do your practice” for over an hour, you may only sustain this still, silence for a few moments.

Yet, it is enough.

In these few moments, your awareness drops down beneath the chattering, whirling chaos of your thinking mind to connect to a deeper, quieter place within. Here you rest. You listen. And you receive.

Which brings us to back to our first question: what is this gift we hope to receive?

Rest. Rejuvenation. Love. Creativity. Inspiration.

And courage.

Yes, courage. It takes courage to be yourself. To follow your heart. To take a leap of faith. To make a change. To reach out to someone else. To offer the world your true self. And these are the things our time in silent stillness inspires us to do.

When we come into this silent, stillness regularly – maybe even daily – we change. We wake up. We tune in. We find ourselves stretching in new directions, trying new things, developing new interests. We find ourselves  caring deeply about things we never cared about before – the plight of the environment, the poor, the polar bears.

There is no telling how we will change. It is typical that the quiet nudge of feeling that we want our lives to feel different “somehow” is the only plan we have. But change we do. We might start volunteering with an after-school program for underserved children. We might start picking up litter once a week in our local woods. We might start dropping in to visit our elderly neighbor. We might start helping veterans create resumes.

These changes, this new awake-ness,  this new willingness to do “something” – anything! – is the gift we receive.

As we receive it, in the blink of an eye, it transforms us into (in Loder’s words) “the gifts others need.” And, as we give the gift of ourselves to the world around us, the gift of change, growth and love flows on to everyone we touch.

What you are is God’s gift to you. What you become is your gift to God.” – Hans Urs Von Balthasar

What you become is also your gift to the world around you. To those you love and to those you don’t even know. This is the very best gift you could ever give. Thank you for giving it in so many wonderful ways.

Merry Christmas to you all.