This past Sunday -- the First Sunday of Advent -- I did as I usually do. But the readings weren't speaking to me, and my mind wandered to the day ahead and all of the details of our Sunday services.
And it got worse; I began replaying conversations from the week that was past. Instead of focusing on the readings, I was rehearsing all of my "shudda saids," as in, "I shudda said this" to So-and-So, and "I shudda said that."
There was something definitely wrong with this picture. I was preparing to lead the people at prayer in another hour, but my own prayer wasn't going anywhere.
I read the lessons again. I focused on the second reading, from 2 Peter 3:1-10 about "The Lord ... is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." This seemed to have possibilities. Still, I wasn't getting very far and my mind wandered.
Then I read the 1 Advent Sunday "collect" -- the prayer with which we would shortly open our Sunday worship: "Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light..."
That's when it hit me hard. The challenge this Advent for me is to see not only the armor of light in myself, but to see the light in others. If we take seriously that God lives in each of us, then seeing that light in others is a primary challenge of living a life of faith.
And that is not always easy, at least for me, especially with difficult and disagreeable people. Instead of "I shudda said this to So-and-So," I should have seen the light of God especially in those people I find the hardest to deal with.
That is a tall challenge. That takes discipline and practice, and prayer.
I think of people who I most admire, for example Desmond Tutu. It seems to me the difference between him and all the rest of us is that he has this extraordinary gift of seeing God's light in others, especially in people who were once his enemies and oppressors. His great ability to see the light in everyone he meets has brought reconciliation and a path of peace to his troubled land and has inspired the rest of the world.
Last Advent, I wrote quite a bit in this space about the challenge of prayer and a variety of ways of praying. In a way, we are continuing that conversation begun last Advent. I am convinced that sometimes the prayer is not my own. Sometimes it is not me who is praying to God, but God breaking through to me with prayer. Sunday was one of those occasions for me.
This Advent I'd like to challenge each of us -- starting with me -- to look for the light of God in everyone we meet. To do that, we need to begin by lowering our voices so we can listen to each other, and go out of our way to be patient and kind with each other -- especially when it is hardest. I will write more about this challenge as we go along.
My prayer for each of us is that we will put on the "armor of light" by looking for it in each other this Advent.