This year will be different.
That’s the promise many of us make to ourselves just after Thanksgiving each year. We make silent oaths that we won’t spend too much on Christmas presents. We tell ourselves that we won’t overindulge at holiday fêtes, and that we’ll take some time to really savor the true meaning of the season.
We kickoff our Christmas preparations with the best of intentions, but often we don’t nurture any part of ourselves other than our latent inner shopper. Yet, the days of Advent and Christmas can be most meaningful when we take time to attend to our spiritual lives.
Fortunately, there are a number of great resources out there to help. A great antidote to the heady pre-holiday mix of anticipation and excitement, stress and anxiety is to take some time for some spiritual reading during the Advent season, which begins on Sunday, December 2.
Here are five prayer booklets to use during Advent. All cost less than $5 and all are less than 100 pages long. They’re just the right size for your work bag, purse or briefcase, and each includes daily reflections you can savor for just a few minutes each day. Try taking time this Advent for quiet prayer and reflection. And then perhaps, at the end of this Christmas season, maybe you’ll realize that this year was different.
The Advent of the God of Peace: Reflections for Advent 2007
(Pax Christi USA)
By John Dear
In this book of reflections, Jesuit priest and peace activist John Dear writes: “We honor the Nativity most … by carrying on Jesus’ work for peace.” Dear’s reflections on the daily scripture readings are written with special attention to how they relate to Christian nonviolence and peacemaking. His daily reflection questions help readers consider not only how they can work for peace in their communities, but also encourages them to embrace nonviolence in their inner lives. This challenging booklet also includes quotes from peace activists such as Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
Breakthrough to Joy: Advent Reflections from the writings of Thomas Merton (Creative Communications)
74 cents, Creativecommunications.com
This booklet includes daily reflections gathered from the writings of Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton, with a focus on Advent themes such as faith, hope and spiritual longing. Merton’s reflections, paired with vignettes from scripture and short prayers, are equal parts inspiring and challenging: “Our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be,” he writes in a passage chosen for the Third Sunday of Advent. “The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that his plan has been neither frustrated nor changed.”
Daybreaks: Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas (Liguori)
By Paula D’Arcy
When Paula D’Arcy’s husband and 21-month-old daughter were killed by a drunk driver many years ago, it led to spiritual searching that in turn has led her to her work as nationally-recognized spiritual writer and retreat leader. In this warmly-written booklet of daily reflections, D’Arcy shares stories and insights from her own life and links them to Advent themes such as light, waiting for God, joy and giving birth.
The Little Blue Book (Diocese of Saginaw, Mich.)
Prior to his death in 2004, Bishop Kenneth Untener launched the “Little Books” series: booklets of six-minute reflections for various liturgical seasons. (Because surely, we’ve all got six minutes to spare.) The Little Blue Book includes daily reflections for the Advent and Christmas seasons. The right-hand page includes a brief passage from the daily Gospel reading along with a scriptural reflection, and the left-hand page includes an explanation of various traditions and customs such as how the readings for Mass are chosen, or introductions to the saints whose feast days fall within these seasons.
Sacred Space for Advent and the Christmas Season (Ave Maria Press)
Building upon the reflections on their wildly popular Web site Sacred Space, the Irish Province Jesuits have launched a series of daily prayer booklets based on the same six-step prayer method they use on their Web site. (Sacredspace.ie now is translated into more than 20 languages.) The daily prayer format, which includes a short scripture passage, will look familiar to those familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It includes reflection questions that encourage readers to interact with the text. The booklet also includes a guide for an Advent Retreat Day.