Alert for Signs: Seeing and Praying through Advent

This Advent book of meditations examines God as a sign-giver, longing to be in touch with us through all the designs and textures of our lives. Titus Presler, Sub-Dean of General Theological Seminary, reflects on experience in parish ministry and the world church to explore how we can cultivate an alertness for signs of God's presence in our lives.

Excerpt | Eucharist as Sign

A good way to begin watching for signs is to cherish the signs we're already given. Cherish them, and don't dismiss, diminish, or take them for granted.

Today is Sunday, and people are showing up to worship. That's remarkable, since there are so many other interesting things to do. In many places, both at home and abroad, going to church is a countercultural act. It's not routine, conformity, or status that draws people to church. It's God--or the divine, or the spiritual, or the ground of being, or whatever--and that's a powerful sign that God is up to something in people's lives.

We Christians make lots of signs in our worship, and we call the major signs sacraments: outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. "What is a priest?" I asked a group of children from all over the map in the after-school ministry at St. Peter's Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I knew the drama of eucharist was coming across clearly when Elizabeth, a child who'd been to church just a few times, said immediately, "The one who breaks the bread!"

The inward and spiritual grace conveyed in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ-- forgiveness, union with Christ, intimations of eternal life--modulate through our lives in an infinite number of ways.

One person was puzzled because every time she came to eucharist she began sobbing uncontrollably. It felt to her like a sign of something. Talking it out, she identified desolation for love not received as a child, and now gratitude for God's love for her in Christ. It was eucharist that drew that out.

Signs in church helped Junior Warden Carolyn Banks see signs in the world. "Eyes like burned-out headlights," is how she described many of the people she saw daily in Central Square. Not repelled, she saw those eyes as a call to mission, and over the years that discernment bore fruit in ministries with children, immigrants, and people on the margins.

Some congregations have this sign placed on the inside of their main door for people to see as they leave church: "You are now entering your mission field."

Worship offers multiple signs. Let's be alert for what they signify.