Sunday, November 29, 2009

The First Sunday of Advent



My sweet friend Anneli Anderson sent me a copy of a new Bible, Mosaic. She had contributed artwork to this Tyndale-published edition of the New Living Translation. I've ruffled through a few pages and it looks wonderful. The first third of the Bible follows the full liturgical calendar. Each week includes Scripture readings, an opening meditation, a sampling of quotations from saints through the ages, a longer meditation by a contemporary writer and, lastly, a work of art. Some of the art is famously classical, other is contemporary. My friend Anneli produced art for the second week of Easter. It's a delightful piece.

I was thrilled to get in the mail and I happily recommend it to you. You can find it here online.

In this vein, our church in Durham, All Saints Anglican, produced an Advent Reader. Both Phaedra and I contributed reflections. Phaedra actually contributed both a reflection and an original work of art (she'll blog about it soon). Our rector, Father Steve, wrote the first reflection for November 29. I asked him if I could reproduce here, because I really like the way he framed the season. He kindly said yes. I share it with you as an aid to your pilgrimage through Advent (see below).

One of the things that Phaedra and I want to do is lean out our lives from here to Christmas. We're not sure what we'll do yet. Mostly we want to create more space for listening to God. Maybe we'll give up something altogether--trying to accomplish four and five things in the evening or eating foods that may not be the healthiest for us. Maybe we'll just trim something--less emailing, less internet surfing, less Facebook. We are, after all, in the "little Lent."

It probably doesn't matter what we choose exactly. What will make the difference is choosing something and sticking with it--always the hardest part. In the time that is opened for us we might achieve a herculean accomplishment like, gasp, praying together or reading out loud big chunks of Scripture--which you'd think would come far easier than it does. It doesn't.

I want to attend to God. I don't want to take Him for granted, especially now that I'm back in school studying theology. I want not to assume that merely cruising into Christmas will result in anything spiritually transformative. I want to be present to the terrible and joyful reality that in the Incarnation God changed the metaphysical status of creation and nothing has been the same since.

Well there you go. We'll see what happens. But if no one has wished you this yet, I wish you, at the beginning of the Church calendar, a Happy New Year!

Advent Devotional #1, November 29, 2009

By Father Steve Breedlove

Over the years, it has become clear to me that I am in the minority: I really like winter. I am glad we live in a place where we actually have four seasons, not just winter with one month of “sorta summer”, but I do miss a little dose of the fierce bluster and hard-cracking winter we experienced in Canada.

I like winter for several reasons: the cessation of hard yard work; the beauty of trees, stripped of leaves and exposed against clean skies; the forced quietness of lengthened darkness; evenings inside when I actually can tend my soul a little more earnestly with a book or a great piece of music; the anticipation of new life to be reborn in a few short months.

Advent is the annual winter of our Christian lives, when everything winter-lovers-love-about-winter becomes a spiritual possibility.

Hard work can be dialed back. Obviously that takes choices, for our world will not let up for a minute. But for a few short weeks, we have permission to say “no” to non-stop work, to not open our computers and check emails after supper, to relax with a friend for a low-agenda evening or to read for our souls, not for our jobs. Maybe it’s just as simple as buying less, shopping less, cooking more simply. Advent is a time when we have permission to lay down hoe and rake, harrow and scythe, and sit quietly for an evening or two.

Advent is a time to let our leaves be stripped away, which I find is what God is eager to do if I will offer him one simple gift: silence actively directed toward him. If I sit in silence for just five minutes (five!), I can begin to make out his voice. Inevitably the Lord begins to gently strip away “leaves.” He asks me to let go of my self-importance, to drop my obsession with accomplishment, to let down my guard of anger and suspicion, to release my wounds to his care. My soul literally aches to be unclothed of its accumulated weights and cares and to be placed in the hands of God. Advent calls me to be quiet enough to let him take me down to the wood.

Advent is a time for lengthened darkness. It is a time to rest in unfinished business with God and to remember that he has all eternity to bring things to conclusion or clarity. It is a time to trust that “because he never slumbers or sleeps,” I can. I can stop worrying about whether or not it will all work out: I already know the answer to that, and I can wait in the darkness of unfinished business.

Advent is a time for nurturing the soul for long-term health. As anyone who has come to our house knows, I am a gardener. I am a firm believer in organic fertilizers – the kind that are made from real substances found in nature, processed and reconstituted in concentrated form, not created from chemicals. They are expensive, and they do not produce visible results – for the first three years of application. But about year four, something happens: there is a healthy, rich, deep beauty that begins to emerge. Fertilizing with the real stuff is not a quick fix, but it produces a lifetime of strength and beauty. During Advent, read, or listen to, or watch, or talk about something that goes deep in and rests quietly until it begins to work deep life into your spirit.

Because of fallowness, and quietness, and deep investment in my soul, Advent is finally a time when I can look forward to new life. Just as surely as winter will be replaced with the glory of spring, my soul will burst back into new life. Spring is coming, and with it, newness and glory that will take my breath away.

I love winter; I love Advent. I need both.

3 comments:

kathleenborkowski said...

Greetings Pastor David & Phaedra!
Thank you for the Advent devo - the words were exactly what I needed this a.m. Now I'm going to pop over to Phaedra's blog and see the art. I'll also check in for more devos.
Sounds like you all are doing very well in your new home.
Peace to you for Xmas and the new year.
Best, Kathleen Borkowski

Kari said...

Hi! I check into your blog regularly and Anneli is my best friend - so cool to see you mention the Mosaic project! FYI- your link does not work to connect to her site!

w. david o. taylor said...

Kari, thanks for saying hi and for the heads-up on Anneli's link. I'll change it right now. Many thanks.