Day 10: Tangles
Editor’s note: On this tenth day of our Advent and Christmas blog series “His Light Would Not Go Out,” Executive Director Liz Hughes offers a reflection on the tangles of her spiritual life and our world, inspired by the Madeleine L’Engle poem rooting this year’s Advent blog.
Tangle. A challenge, but one that even in its two syllable phonetic make-up implies something navigable. A tangled dog leash that causes dog and owner to collapse to the ground (yes, that happened recently). Tangled hair. Tangled Christmas lights.
How about a tangled spiritual life? A shifting relationship with God as the decades pass. One that is navigable because of God’s unceasing invitation and presence.
Doing… Being… Receiving… That is the trajectory of the changing emphases within my sometimes tangled spiritual life. As a young adult, I was primarily focused on doing: teaching 4th grade at an under-resourced school in Birmingham, Alabama, maintaining the attention of a class of 9-year olds for 7 hours per day; and retaining my sanity as a first-year teacher. Even my prayer life (when I was praying) in my 20s was rooted in a spirit of doing. Most of the time, I was the one leading the conversation with limited space for listening.
In later years, my spiritual life expanded to value being more than doing (even as the lived reality remains aspirational). As I accompanied Jesuit volunteers serving internationally and then came into relationship with FMS overseas lay missioners and DC Service Corps volunteers, I learned from their model of the ministry of presence. I witnessed and admired the power of simply being and listening. Accordingly, in my spiritual life, I embraced a new love of centering prayer and contemplative prayer.
More recently, graced by the wisdom of mentors, my spiritual life has entered a new stage: receiving. While doing and being are certainly still present, for me, receiving necessitates a deeper spirit of humility, a humility that recognizes the tangles, acknowledges that I can only do “what is mine to do,” and lets go in order to receive from God. It is all gift. Receiving also invites a spirit of awe and awareness to recognize the gifts, to listen to the invitations from God, and to receive God’s healing. These days in prayer, I love to simply be with God in the stillness, receiving whatever feelings, insights, or nothings come from our shared time.
A tangled dog leash may cause stumbling at times, but a tangled rope also shortens the point of connection between two creatures. So, it is with my relationship with God. A sometimes tangled spiritual life may lead to stumbles, but bringing those tangles to God and sharing them in prayer—either untangling them or simply holding them together—ultimately brings us so much closer.
And isn’t that what these days of Christmas are all about? Christmas is not just a picture-perfect scene of a family conversing serenely by the fireplace, but rather Christmas is the messiness of our world as it is—often fractured families and communities, social injustices, hopes for peace that are not yet realized. This is the tangled world Jesus embraced in the Incarnation, and my call in this season of Christmas is simply to receive His love.
Question for reflection: What tangles in this world are you called to unravel this Christmas? What tangles are you called to hold with God in prayer?