Advent is Here!

If you observe the liturgical year, then let me wish you a Happy New Year as you celebrate the first Sunday in Advent. If you use an advent wreath or candles and already have them out, good for you! Here are a couple of resources you might not know about to enrich your Advent experience as you prepare your heart to celebrate the nativity of the King of Kings.

Flock Notes’ Carpe Verbum text messages for Scripture reading, prayer, and thoughtful action

You can read the blog but it’s more convenient for many of us to get their daily text for reading, praying, and listening to God as preparation for how you will live out the day. There’s even a nifty image and capsulized message that can be saved and used for your lock and/or home screen. The content was written with teens in mind but I haven’t found this to be limiting. In fact, some of the features designed for the younger mindset come in handy for the over 50 crowd as well–both my mom and I are using the daily screenshot reminder of that day’s key point, along with an Advent candle graphic, to keep our Advent focus going in a festive yet practical way.

http://www.carpeverbum.org/

Young Oceans’ Advent album for a soundtrack

Good contemporary music for Advent is hard to find. So imagine my surprise when I went searching this morning on Amazon Music Unlimited this morning and found this gem! I am mesmerized by its perfectly pleasing mellow harmonies and lovely musical textures, not to mention the solid Advent lyrics. Plus, the multiple instrumental pieces are both soothing and uplifting with an anticipatory feel to them. I’m a musical fussbudget but this is something reminiscent of both Taizé and Jars of Clay but altogether its own sound. If you’re looking for something new for Advent, I highly recommend sampling this.

https://smile.amazon.com/Advent-Deluxe-Young-Oceans/dp/B00BKBJUYA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512318686&sr=8-1&keywords=young+oceans+advent#customerReviews

What are some of your favorite Advent resources? Please feel free to share. Have a blessed season of preparation to celebrate Christ’s birth!

 

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First Friday in Advent: A Prayer for this Season

Prepare a way for you, Lord?
I’ve got lots of work to do!

Help me prepare a way for you into my home, Lord:
help me find a place, a room, a corner, a chair
where you and I can meet each day to pray.
Perhaps I’ll put a candle there, with a Bible;
maybe a statue or a picture; a rosary or a prayer card:
something to mark the spot as the place I keep
to go each day to sit and rest, to take a deep breath,
to remember your presence and open my heart in prayer.

Help me prepare a way for you on my calendar,
an “appointment” each day;
even just ten minutes for you and me to get together,
to talk about the day, its ups and downs,
and get to know each other just a little better than yesterday.

Help me prepare a way for you to enter my thoughts, Lord.
When I’m trying to figure things out, nudge me
to ask for your guidance and counsel,
your Spirit and your wisdom,
when I’m making decisions and choices.
Help me prepare a way for you, Lord,
in my family and among my friends, at work and at school,
in my parish and in my neighborhood.
Help me prepare a way for you to come into the hearts
of those around me who are alone.

Help me prepare a way for you, Lord,
in the crazy rush of Christmas all around me.
Help me remember it’s your birthday
and that you should get some presents—from me.
Help me remember the poverty of your nativity:
make your way into my wallet and spend generously
on those whose needs are so much greater than my own.
Help me remember that of all the gifts I might receive,
none is greater than the love you have for me.

Help me prepare a way for you
to enter my life decisively, Lord.
In the quiet of my prayer, Lord,
help me clear the path you walk into my life, into my soul.

In the stillness of my prayer, Lord,
help me see you as you make your way towards me,
and show me that no matter the roadblocks I put up,
you’ll find a way to come, to enter,
and to fill me with your presence. Amen.

From Good Morning, Good God! by Fr. Austin Fleming, The Word Among Us Press, 2015, via

https://wau.org/resources/article/a_prayer_for_advent/

 

Too Much Tuesday: Simplicity in Spirituality

While rereading Dom Hubert Van Zeller’s outstanding Holiness for Housewives (and other working women), my primary Advent spiritual reading this year, I ran across the following words of wisdom I thought worth sharing. So often we make growing in our faith a complicated matter and are discouraged when we don’t seem to make much progress. Or, alternatively, we can become complacent and coast along in our spiritual practices and not really bear much fruit along the way.

I believe this holy Benedictine priest nailed it when he wrote this book as his way to holiness is, in Benedictine tradition, one of stability, obedience, and ongoing conversion–all the while balanced by moderation. I hope his words–summed up in his phrase “religion is yielding to Christ” are helpful to you as well during this time of waiting and preparing for our Lord and Savior’s birth.

“Training in spiritual things…can be done only by the combined activity of God and yourself. Concentrate on the service of the will…Obedience to God’s will is…is all that religion amounts to. Religion is God. Religion is recognizing God in His own setting. The setting is provided by Him, not by us…Religion is yielding to Christ.

The only thing that really matters in life is doing the will of God. Once you really appreciate this truth, and act accordingly to its implications, you save yourself a lot of unnecessary heart-searching [overthinking] and resentment.”

Into the Darkest Hour

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss—
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight—
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

Madeleine L’Engle

Holiday/Seasonal Suffering

Whether it’s illness (depression, anxiety, pain, etc.), the common triggers of departed loved ones departed and family separated from us by distance or even various unexpected changes in life, the holidays are, for many, a time full of suffering. I know this year I’m just feeling worn out in general and although I’m not having a bad Advent it’s not the one I had hoped to have. So much for more time for reflection on the meaning of the life Christ came into this world to bring us. It’s not over just yet but it seems there’s only been little bits and pieces of that woven through our Advent wreath prayers and O, Antiphons and my eclectic Advent/winter music mix (and those Christmas hymns that I think of as good year-round).

Then there are circumstances that make gift giving more challenging this year and, as always it seems with me, right down to the line, so there’s the additional pressures of meeting deadlines when one is suffering and thereby slowed down. I’m feeling overwhelmed by the material things of the world and frustrated that I can’t be more focused on the spiritual things of life. But then I serendipitously came across these words of one of my personal heroes, Vincent van Gogh, during a time when he was working as a teacher and feeling pretty overwhelmed himself it seems. His letters from that period are “packed with long quotes from the Bible, poems, and hymns about struggles, sorrows, lost dreams, and his faith in God.”

Must man not struggle here on earth? You must have felt so when you were ill. No victory without a battle, no battle without suffering…No, being ill and being supported by God’s arm and acquiring new ideas and resolutions, which couldn’t occur to us when we weren’t ill, and acquiring clearer faith and firmer trust during those days, no that’s not a bad thing.

Letter 95, Isleworth, October 1876, Van Gogh’s Inner Struggle: Life, Work, & Mental Illness; Secrets of Van Gogh, Vol. 2, Liesbeth Heenk, p. 9.

And you know what? He’s absolutely right! My struggles this Advent have been helping me acquire a clearer faith and firmer trust in God, even though my feelings don’t always match my head’s assessment. So to all of you who are struggling–and I’m sure the majority of you have struggles that make mine seem trite, just as there are those below me on the ladder of suffering who feel the same way regarding mine–let’s remember what Scripture instructs us:

“If one member suffers, all suffer together.” 1 Cor 12:26a RSV-CE

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

There are so many wonderful versions of this quintessential Advent hymn out there, translated from Latin into English in 1861, that’s it’s difficult to select which version of it I enjoy most as a modern hymn. However, today I discovered a new one and I believe it’s going to be a longtime favorite. The artist is a young man, Josh Wilson, who released this version two years ago but since I don’t usually listen to much CCM I missed it. It fuses the traditional tune with his own fresh take on the tempo, has the first stanzas in English and then the last one in Latin (okay, I admit I’m a sucker for Latin in a hymn!). The result is simply timeless. I particularly love the emphasis he places on the word “ransom” when singing about the Lord’s plans for Israel. If you’re interested in sampling and/or purchasing this track, here are the usual places:

http://www.amazon.com/Noel-Josh-Wilson/dp/B009CW0CMS

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/o-come-o-come-emmanuel/id715802377?i=715802927

What I found especially interesting as I was reading a little about the history of “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” (had to work in a little more Latin there, don’t you know<g>) was that it’s simply a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons (today being day two, “O Lord & Ruler…”) that take us from the last week of Advent to the joy of Christmas Day in all its splendor, beginning the 12 Days of Christmas and all our other wonderful traditions.

So the next time you’re looking for some new Advent music to add to your collection, you might want to give this one a shot.

A Simple Life

My Faith in Rural Living is Restored

Every year our little town, population of 700 and something, puts up its ancient but nonetheless comforting Merry Christmas lights in front of our tiny downtown’s train tracks. Of course they go up right after Thanksgiving–which is way too early for my celebrating Advent before Christmas preference–so I just try to remember to rejoice that we actually live somewhere that keeps Christ in Christmas! In previous years I always remembered the various aging Christmas decorations around town going up at the same time, so it was much to my dismay that there was no life size Nativity scene next to our town’s quaint gazebo, which, unlike everything else around town, is of quite recent vintage. I felt really let down and considered talking to our mayor, a neighbor, about its absence.

But then, voila! As I drove home in the dark last night my eyes were drawn to it in all its lit up glory and there was great rejoicing; I actually burst out into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” (This no doubt would have mortified or at the very least annoyed The Teen but probably amused The Husband, who has withstood my quirks for almost a quarter of a century.) Ahh, the balance of celebrating Advent in a society that begins the Christmas frenzy earlier every year was restored with this simple return of the most special family to ever live, the Holy Family.

As Bilbo says in the movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,

“It is no small thing to live a simple life.”

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