Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holy Spontaneity

For 34 years I've been engaged in ministry as a vocation. That means I've walked through 34 Advents and Christmases.

[Well, I guess technically I only have about 30 Advents under my belt. In the evangelical tradition of which I was a part for the early years of my spiritual journey, Advent was not observed and I wouldn't have known a thing about the word. I "discovered" Advent as a high-church Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas . . . and remember that first Advent being blown away by the colors, the symbolism, the richness of the days preceding Christmas. It was one of the most life-giving "discoveries" of my life at that time!]

Each year is very different, but also very much the same. While Christmas brings its own nuance, in 34 years the pace of the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas has not changed a bit. It is fast and constant. Long ago I stopped lamenting how busy life becomes at Christmas time. It does no good to gripe and complain about being exhausted or tending to special services and projects or about spending time shopping for friends and loved ones. I go into the season knowing that I'm going to be busy and that my time will be pressed. I acknowledge that my calendar will fill quickly and that my interior introvert will ache to run off into a quiet room, shut the door and hide for a few days.

But neither do I completely give in to the parts of the season that seek to divert my attention from God's work in me and in the world. One practice that helps keep me sane through Advent is what I call "holy spontaneity." It is the sort of spiritual discipline that is appropriate for any time of year, but seems especially beneficial around the busyness of Christmas.

In my vision, "holy spontaneity" simply means that I take time occasionally during December to do things that are unscripted. By "unscripted," I mean things that are not on my calendar. "Holy spontaneity" -- for me, anyway -- is made up of things that are not on the map of my life and that have no motivation behind them. In other words, they are not things that I do in order to accomplish something specific.

For me, they fit well within Eugene Peterson's definition of "sabbath time," that is, wasting time for (and with) God.

For example, during Advent I may take a drive without a specific destination. I'll just drive and see where the road takes me. I'll give attention to what I see as I drive. If I feel like stopping at a park I'll stop. If I need to get out and walk, I'll walk.

Or I'll go to a store or a mall, not to shop, but just to walk around. I'll notice people. I'll notice the colors in the store, the decorations. I'll be deliberate in compassion for those who work in those stores. I don't need to buy anything and I have no agenda. I just go.

Or I'll take a walk, just to walk. In order for it to be "holy spontaneity" for me, I'll take a different route than I usually take for my evening dog-walk. I won't plan the route, I'll just walk.

Granted, none of the things I've just mentioned sound particularly "spiritual." But in the midst of a season that can feel rushed, wearying and over-calendared, a bit of holy spontaneity can be life-giving.

Maybe this works well for me because my life is so scheduled, so tightly regimented. My calendar fills up and I have little room for flexibility. I know what needs to be accomplished each day -- whether I actually accomplish it is another matter!.

So holy spontaneity is simply doing something for which there is no plan, no agenda, no script. It means taking a piece of time here or there to be open to something unscripted that arises, to attend to what may come up without trying to force or manipulate something to be significant.

To the extent that holy spontaneity is a spiritual practice that highlights surprise, it lends itself to being more present to each moment, more aware of what is happening in the "right now."

You might want to give it a try in these last ten days before Christmas. You may find that a few moments of holy spontaneity give renewed depth and meaning to all your other moments of busyness and obligation.

And if, as you read this, you find yourself thinking, "There's NO WAY I have time for that!", then maybe this is the spiritual practice that would serve you best this Advent.


Debra said...

Awesome practice! My first thought from the title was: "Holy Spontaneity, Batman". But, upon reading the post, I found connections and became engaged. Thank you for sharing this new (to me) way of being able to hear more clearly during the chaos.

Anonymous said...

This practice speaks to me. It's almost like spontaneity with a purpose! (which may seem like a contradiction, but maybe sometimes we have to "plan" our spontaneity to give it a good kick start.) I think this could be a much needed addition to my Advent repertoire. Thanks.