Take a Spiritual “TRIP” this Advent Season!

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With the annual celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mardi Gras (for us down here in the New Orleans area) comes the joy of family gatherings and lots of together time. Today, however, with many of our loved ones living in various parts of the world, we often find ourselves traveling or awaiting the arrival of our sons, daughters, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. So you could say, in some ways, that traveling has become a kind of staple of the holiday season, one as familiar as Grandma’s ham, turkey, dressing and pecan pie. I guess this should come as no surprise, given the far distance that the original pilgrims and Holy Family had to travel on the days ushering in our modern day Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Likewise, the Mardi Gras Season, a “Fat Tuesday” celebration proceeding Ash Wednesday, begins on the Feast Day of the Epiphany (King’s Day), a day commemorating the arduous journey of three wise men to the small town of Bethlehem.

Join me, as we further explore the Christian understanding of a trip, pilgrimage, or journey towards the ultimate gathering of the people of God, as we learn to incorporate this hopeful anticipation into our every day prayer experience.

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In Ignatian spirituality, one based on the teachings of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius of Loyola, we learn about the importance of a daily examen (the spiritual reviewing of one’s day) as a means of discerning the movements of God in our life along with our corresponding response to His invitation. Do we cooperate with God’s will or block and/or intentionally reject this calling? Are we moving closer to or further away from God’s loving embrace. Do we feel joy or sorrow, peace or anxiety? Are we intimately aware of God’s presence and the gift of grace which often accompanies it? These kinds of questions warrant our daily prayerful consideration, as we review our day’s journey, desired destination, and overall sense of well-being.

To this end, I would like to propose an acronym which has helped me, my husband, and family better identify the hands of God in our lives, our subsequent response to His call, and our desired destination. This acronym, one which I learned from Jan and Loyd Tate at the New Orleans Spirituality Center, is “A-TRIP”.  My husband, Tom, and I first learned about this daily exercise when we attended a couple’s retreat about 8 months back. There, Jan and Loyd challenged each of us to take “A-TRIP” once a day as a couple.

How could we do this, we thought, especially given the craziness of our lives and the frequency of Tom’s business trips away from home? The answer was simple: keep our eyes focused on the gathering process and our desired destination – a peace filled home, here on earth and for all eternity with God. Once this answer became clear, our 5-10 minute shared prayer experience (A-TRIP) became a top priority, and often the highlight of our day. Not only did it draw us closer to God, but also closer to each other as a couple. Subsequently, we began incorporating this simple spiritual “trip” into our family prayer experience. The spiritual fruits of this exercise have proved abundant in both regards. It is intimately moving and, at times, inspirational to listen as a loved one shares his/her inner thoughts, desires, concerns, and/or vulnerabilities with God. Likewise, it is humbling to do the same.

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A-TRIP stands for:

A:  Adoration. Adoring the Lord is more than just loving Him. It is gazing into His face, being captivated with Who He is, and looking beyond what the Lord has or can do for us. When we meditate on how great God is, we become transformed into His likeness as we are face to face in adoration of Him. Adoration is a heart response and recognition that He is all we ever need. When we adore the Lord Our God, all life’s problems, seen from heaven’s perspectives, seem to dwarf in comparison.

“My God, I adore you for your bountiful majesty, your intimate love, and unending mercy.”

T: Thanksgiving. Feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us. Like any wise father, God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts He has given to us. It is in our best interest to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from Him. Without gratefulness, we become arrogant and self-centered. We begin to believe that we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship with God, the ultimate giver of all good gifts.

“Lord, I thank you for the many gifts you have given me, for my husband, Tom, son, Joseph, and for the transformative power of your love on display in our family circumstances over the last several years.”

R: Repentance. Repentance represents a turning away from sin and a turning back to God. It alleviates our guilt while simultaneously cultivating a deep sense of joy in our unburdened heart. In the face of God’s unwarranted mercy, we rejoice and often feel compelled to share the good news about God’s boundless love with others! As we continue to examen our lives and our ongoing pattern of sin, we often gain a humble acceptance of our total dependency on Christ, both as a Savior and a King. By learning to surrender our lives to Christ, while simultaneously opening ourselves up to the grace of His Holy Spirit, we begin to grow in Christian virtue and personal holiness.

“Lord, I repent of my impatience and the harsh use of words in moments of conflict.”

I: Intercession. Intercession is prayer on behalf of another. It naturally arises from the instincts of the human heart, a heart filled with love and deep compassion for others. Intercession, however, is not merely prompted by our individual affections or interests,  but by our recognition of God’s individual and societal love and concern for mankind. As members of Christ’s Body, we are called to intercede for others, just as Christ does for His disciples, crucifiers, and each of us.

“Come, Holy Spirit, come. Make us a holy family founded on love. Fill our hearts with love and our home with joy. Transform our lives as a family and guide each of us towards the life vocation You deem most appropriate.”

P: Praise. Praise is the joyful recognition or remembering of all God has done for us. It is closely intertwined with thanksgiving as we offer back to God our appreciation for the mighty works He has done on our behalf. God is all powerful and worthy of our praise.

“God, I praise you for your intimate love, the life giving and self-sacrificial love demonstrated by Christ on the Cross. God, in You, I find my home, for You have created me for Yourself. I praise You for your miraculous plan of goodness for my life and Your tireless pursuit of my love in return.”

As you contemplate the spiritual meaning and ultimate intention of “A-TRIP”, I ask you to remember that we, as Christians, are a pilgriming people living our day to day lives as we try to find our way back home to God. In closing, I wish you and yours happy travels, especially during this Advent Season, and in each and every day which follows. Amen

To learn more about or purchase my new book, The Healing Eyes of Mercy. A Trinity of Love, please visit spiritualsafariguide.com.

Thank you and God Bless! Karen Schwaner Sheehy

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