Simple Practices: Increase Your Generosity

Simply Advent: Simple Practices

You might already be giving regularly to a local food pantry or food ministry. Simply step up the giving during Advent. Instead of donating one grocery bag of items, make that two. Double your financial assistance to the charity to which you already contribute.

As you go through closets to donate clothing to the thrift store for the winter months ahead, go through your blankets and quilts as well and donate one or two. (Do check the thrift store’s policies; some do not accept bedding.)

Also, if you’re able, go to an outlet store and buy up as many pairs of children’s socks and gloves as you’re able, and donate those to the thrift store. These items are greatly needed (at least, in areas that have cold weather during the winter), but they are not donated as regularly as some other items because most of us use socks and gloves until they are too worn to pass along. It will be a treat for a child to be able to buy inexpensive gloves that are brand new.

Please add any of your own suggestions about generosity. We all realize, of course, that “abundance” varies from person to person. God asks that we give as we are able; the generosity is grace, regardless of the size of your contribution.

Simple Practices: A Date with Hope

Simply Advent: Simple Practices

Most of us go for a coffee or tea break with friends from time to time. Why not add one simple aspect to such a date? Sometime during Advent, take half an hour for that coffee or tea break with a couple of friends or coworkers. As you’re sipping and relaxing, ask one another these questions:

  • What gives you reason to hope?
  • What are you looking forward to?

Advent is, after all, about hope and promise and looking forward to what is about to come to us. We so naturally fall into conversations about what’s going wrong in the world and about what worries or angers us. For just one coffee date, shift the conversation.

Please note: This conversation can have religious overtones, but that’s not necessary. Even if you speak of hope in more general terms, it will still be a good Advent-like discussion.

Simple Practices: Linger with the Nativity Story

Simply Advent: Simple Practices

This seems simple enough, but why not be quite intentional about taking in, once more, the story of Jesus’ birth?

  • Read it in Scripture.
  • Read a children’s book version of the story.
  • Watch a film about it, such as The Nativity Story or Jesus of Nazareth (first part).
  • Read about it in poetry form.
  • Meditate on images of various scenes from the story, whether classic artworks, traditional icons, stained-glass images, or any number of artistic renderings.
  • See it in drama or dance or another dramatic representation.

If you’re willing to spend even more time and energy on this, write your own imaginative exploration of this story, putting yourself in the scenes and interacting with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and so on. Several years ago, I wrote a novella that did this, The Winter Seeking.

Simple Encouragements: Go for Wonder

Simply Advent: Simple Encouragements

Sometime this weekend, do something that fills you with wonder. Allow yourself to experience awe. This can be one of the best medicines for whatever ails us. I present workshops and retreats to writers and other artistic types, and I tell them that the best way to fill up a creative well that’s gone dry is to do something that fills you with wonder. Witness something that fills you with wonder. Let your heart be your guide.

When do you feel your soul lift? When do you feel as if you are breathing deeply for the first time in a long time? Where is your wonder?

  • Standing in a field at dawn or sunset
  • Holding a small child while she sleeps
  • Listening to that certain symphony or chorale that never fails to make you weep
  • Driving around the part of town where the Christmas decorations are lavish
  • Pausing in the woods during snowfall
  • Making your perfect yeast bread
  • Skating at the city ice rink or walking the lakefront or prairie path
  • Taking a leisurely hour in a museum or gallery
  • Spending ten minutes in the morning with a poem that sparks you to life
  • Attending services where prayers are sung or silence is kept
  • Participating in the annual “Messiah Sing” or another seasonal performance of music, dance, or drama

The great thing about wonder is that it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time or energy. You may have the opportunity to watch birds at the feeder for five minutes, and that’s all you can do today. But don’t let the opportunity pass. Go find your wonder!

Simple Encouragements: Soak in the Message of the Magnificat

Simply Advent: Simple Encouragements

Today, allow yourself to be encouraged by an ancient, hopeful song. It is the song Mary sang after meeting Elizabeth and both of them confirmed that Mary carried within her womb a special child, one who would become savior of the world.

Unless we remind ourselves of Mary’s reality, we might simply read her song quickly without understanding that it is radical indeed. She is a young woman among an oppressed population; she has no social or political rights as we would recognize them today. She would have no expectations of the world’s systems caring for her or favoring her. Yet she is able to sing the following:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.

—Luke 2:46–55, NRSV

And, in language a bit more plain from The Message, Catholic edition:

I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

God is for those who need help, love, security, freedom, joy, purpose, and hope. God is for us. God pays attention when everything is going wrong—when we are treated unfairly, robbed of dignity, in need of basics such as food and shelter, and in need of other basics such as justice, the ability to speak, and hope for some kind of livable future.

I hope you can read through Mary’s song, more than once, and feel some sense of encouragement for your life and your world.