In this session Robyn Wrigley-Carr interviews Dr Kathy Henderson Staudt about the themes of the book and in particular Part Two; Advent – Awaiting God’s Coming.
Kathleen (Kathy) Henderson Staudt, Ph.D. is President of the Evelyn Underhill Association in the US. She is a poet, scholar, teacher and spiritual guide.
Start the session relaxing as a group. You could share a meal, go for a walk, or even just have a chat over a cup of tea. Whatever you do, make sure everyone feels at comfortable and at home. When it’s time to start moving towards the session’s content, shift the conversation towards prayer and ask everyone what their experience of prayer is.
You can structure this how you think best. If the group knows each other well already, a free-flowing conversation will be fine. If the group is less well established, it may be best to go round in a circle giving each person a brief opportunity to share their experience about the topic. Don’t let too much discussion develop at this point (if any). What’s important is that every begins to get comfortable talking and sharing and that you as leader get a gauge on where everyone is at.
We enter the silence – readjust our balance, attend to all we usually
leave out, get away from distractions of talking and action. We sink into our souls where God’s voice is heard. Without silence around us, the inward stillness in which God educates and moulds us is impossible. We come to rest before God, to find space for recollection, in which we possess our souls and learn His Will.
It’s an elected silence. We have, for our examples, Enoch, who silently listened for God’s voice to discern the Divine Will, and Teresa, quiet and alone in her watchtower. Remember, silence is more than non-talking. It’s a complete change in the way we use our minds. We lead very active lives. Our mental machinery is made so the more active our work, the more incessant the whirr of wheels, the harder it is to be quiet in the Divine Presence. Yet nothing so improves that active work as such quietude, the sense of Eternity and restful reception of the Holy Spirit, ceasing introspection and altruistic fidgets. Only in such silence can we look out of our workshop window and see the horizons of the spiritual world.
In order to stay attentive, patient and expectant in prayer we should recognise that we are both spiritual and physical beings. Our spiritual life is not an ‘add on’ but part of us as a whole. We need to nourish and exercise this part of us. To help us we can ‘claim time for prayer’ which should be a quiet and intentional time which we protect from distraction. A period such as Advent can make this easier as we have the reason for the season to focus on.
The spiritual disciplines are about making ourselves available to God rather than being about simple self-care. Evelyn describes discipline as exercising our capacity for God – like any other exercise or training though, this takes practice as we grow our muscles in this area. We need to remember it is not about perfection but rather showing up and putting in the time.
When distraction comes we can learn to re-centre ourselves or as Evelyn puts it, ceasing introspection and altruistic fidgets. A practical tip may be to write in a journal or a to-do list before we go into the silent place to pray so we may rid ourselves of the whirring thoughts we can deal with later. We may also want to deal with the idea that lack of attention may be equal to a lack of interest? Food for thought!
Advent hope is a wonderful idea, that we are hopeful, trustful and expectant in this season. How wonderful to know that God is always for us no matter what we are facing. A conviction that God is in control can be elusive but the practice of prayer enables us to have hope. We can trust the mystery that we don’t always know because we aren’t in control and that is acceptable. As one translation of the beatitudes says: Blessed are those who know their need for God. Advent proves that the hope we have is valid because who could have aid the promise from God to His people would be fulfilled in this way – the cradle and the cross together as part of the same story!