I used to journal – ages ago. Sadly, my professional writing took the upper hand, leaving little time and energy for me to write solely for myself. A new book from Ascension Press may change that.

Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Mary (Ascension Press, $9.85) by Fr. Mark Toups is a simple yet meaty Advent reflection book that blends meditation, prayer, and journaling into one painless, seamless way for anyone with a busy schedule to learn (or re-learn, as in my case) the fulfilling art of journal writing.

From the section on How to Use this Journal:

“This journal you have in your hands is an Advent prayer journal with daily meditations. Each week of Rejoice! has a theme that allows you to dive deeply into the lessons Mary has to share about welcoming Jesus into her life. Each week’s theme will help you walk closer and closer to the ultimate goal of preparing for the person of Jesus, not just preparing for the day of Christmas.”

The journal is geared toward parish and small group use so as to foster a sense of community, but it certainly can be used as families and individuals. Fr. Toups recommends a prayer method I’ve heard of before – A.R.R.R. (Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond) – but he also recommends one that is new to me: the Five W’s:

WHEN will I spend time with Jesus?

WHERE will I spend time with Jesus?

WHAT are Jesus and I going to do together?

WHO will hold me accountable to my time with Jesus?

WHY am I prioritizing my time with Jesus?

Each day of the journey is built around a key word – pace, rejoice, present, relate, trust, control, empty, echo, certain, struggle, turn, wait, vulnerable, promises, plans, ordinary, everything, nothing, poverty, dependent, simplicity, recollect. They’re organized by week, with each week focusing on a part of the Nativity narrative: Nazareth, Judea, Journey, and Bethlehem.

The book’s meditations adeptly apply the happenings of the original Advent to our present-day lifestyles and circumstances.

From the meditation, Trust, on the Annunciation:

“Mary is invited to trust…and imagine all that she had to be afraid of. Who was she, after all, to be worthy of being chosen? Throughout the next few months, she would need to trust God. When she told her parents, she had to trust. When she told Joseph, she had to trust. When the gossipers of small-town Nazareth whispered, she had to trust. During the emotional roller coaster imbuing her pregnancy, Mary had to trust God with all of her fears.

“Each of us knows fear. In fact, if you want to find fear, follow the trail of restlessness, worry, and anxiety. What do you worry about? Where is your anxiety? When do you get restless? Underneath those ordinary emotions is fear – and where there is fear, there is God waiting for us to trust him. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we live at the pace we do. Believe it or not, living busily, or at living too busily, can be a hidden way that we run from our interior life. Our pace can prevent us from slowing down enough to become aware of those things that stir within. If deep within our hearts we carry restlessness, worry, and anxiety, we can run from that fear by living busily on the outside, so as to avoid facing things on the inside.”

The parts of the book I especially like are the “For Your Prayer” sections at the end of each day. They all invite us to pray with Mary in the way she would have prayed when she lived on Earth.

Consider this example from the meditation on Struggle:

“Mary would have prayed with Psalm 22. Prepare your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Psalm 22:1-8; 19:31. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary in Luke 1:48. Then pray this prayer:

“Father, I ask to know your love for me in my weakness. Help me not to run away from suffering, but to run to you in the suffering.”

Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Mary gets a vote from me as being one of the best books available for Advent 2018.