Advent Reflection

The main purpose of a reflection delivered in a spiritual context is to deepen the understanding of the listeners through stretching them; and stretching usually means creating space that they can try to fill or even span intellectually, emotionally but, above all, spiritually. Space in this case is deliberate, rather than accidental, carefully calculated to establish a condition of limited ambiguity within which the hearer can work.

One of the most effective ways of creating space is to identify two or more elements in your mind which are connected through logic, time, culture or just coincidence. In an essay, sermon or homily the point is to elucidate these connections so that the listener is instructed and edified but in a reflection the objective is to leave enough space for the listener's imagination to work.

Another method of creating space is to leave it at the end through constructing a narrative which breaks off at a crucial point. The listener then has to work out a plausible ending which fits with your story.

A third way of constructing a reflection is to take a well known story or text and speculate how it might have been worked out at a deeper level.

The first technique is very similar to that of poetry; the second is like telling a short story; and the third is like literary speculation. In all cases you establish a frame of reference for ambiguity without leaving the listener open to unrestrained fantasy. If you construct a reflection for, say, Advent, which prompts the listener to think about the likely winner of the 2.30 at Newmarket or the state of the economy then you have probably given too much scope to the imagination.

Just to illustrate, but not to be prescriptive, here are some examples of the three different techniques:

  1. Elements - a beggar at the shopping mall and the Bethlehem stable; Christmas trees and the Cross; a single mother you know and Mary; John Baptist and today's street preachers; Christmas pudding and friendship.
  2. Stories - Somebody you met on a train who got off before her story was finished; an incident you saw out of a car window that triggered speculation; a news  story that reminds you of Advent
  3. Speculation - What happened to John Baptist between birth and mission? What was Mary's house like? Christmas without presents.

If you use the linking technique, you need to leave gaps between paragraphs; if you are using the story technique you need to leave shorter gaps between paragraphs but a long gap at the end; and if you are using the speculation technique, you need to deliver slowly and carefully but with good expression.

KC x/05