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coloring-calendarWith social obligations, consumer pressures, and family celebrations, Advent often becomes a season of busyness rather than a holy season of contemplation. Many of us could use help to reorient our minds and hearts to respond to this season in a thoughtful way.

To my delight, Paraclete Press has produced a beautiful Advent Coloring Calendar, a prayerful way to settle the mind and relax during this special season. The designs are hand-drawn by monastics from the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical community in the Benedictine tradition. Each is reminiscent of the geometric patterns in stained glass, and the facing page includes a brief verse, inspiring quote, or excerpt from a seasonal song. The website of Paraclete Press includes sample images to view before purchase.

Bringing prayerful music into your home can contribute to finding the joy in daily life. As a counter to the Santa Claus-filled songs in the hectic shopping districts, you might choose to listen to Advent carols from Gloriae Dei Cantores, or Gregorian chants sung by the Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola. The uplifting recording Keeping Christmas celebrates the traditional Service of Readings and Carols, and includes a 28-page insert with song lyrics and scripture citations. From the comfort of home you can be transported to the Church of the Transfiguration, amidst a welcoming Benedictine community, where Gloriae Dei Cantores are accompanied by the Extol Handbell Choir and Elements Theatre Company.

The Advent Color and Sound set would make a welcome gift for a loved one, or a personal treasure to enhance this holy season of expectant waiting. Through art and music we can find a path toward slowing down and noticing the beauty in the world around us. May you have a blessed Advent!

 

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. No fee was received for this review.

All Creation Waits

7855Advent approaches: the season of expectant waiting, the season of heartfelt longing, the season of seeking for light in dark places. My practice in this season is a willful turning away from consumerism and reaching inward, even while I turn toward loved ones in celebrations. I want to reconnect with a sense that the hope and light we await has already come into our midst. A welcome companion this season is the beautiful book All Creation Waits: The Advent mystery of new beginnings (Paraclete Press). While the reader journeys through winter with nature’s wild creatures, encouragement abounds. For each animal knows inwardly that each winter births a new beginning.

In this lovely book, the daily meditations of Gayle Boss are accompanied by original woodcuts from artist David G. Klein. Readers will find refreshment and a renewed sense of wonder. Describing the reasons for establishing the liturgical season of Advent, Gayle Boss writes about the sense of primal fear that accompanies the increasing darkness of winter in the northern hemisphere. The church fathers advised fasting, almsgiving, and prayer–very different from our modern shopping extravaganzas. The spirit of quiet, however, can attune us to nature’s rhythm, bringing a sense of calm and peace.

As a lover of the natural world, Gayle Boss developed an admiration for the varied responses to the onset of winter. She writes, “The practice of Advent has always been about helping us grasp the mystery of a new beginning out of what looks like death. Other-than-human creatures–sprung, like us, from the Source of Life–manifest this mystery without question or doubt.” Connecting with the mystery will renew our hope.

The author resides in Michigan, and the animals featured are those of the northern woodlands, with a number commonly appearing in urban areas. They are diverse in size and habit, including deer, skunk, chipmunk, frog, and honey bee. One of my favorites is the humble chickadee, whose existence requires a tremendous amount of food to generate enough warmth. She compares the birds to a flock of St. Francises: “Like the saint wed to Lady Poverty, every winter day the question of their existence is open: Will there be enough of what they need to take them through the dark night, into tomorrow? Beyond reason, like the saint, they act as if the question is truly an opening, a freedom, a joy.” The woodcuts are gorgeous, bringing quiet life to each animal.

Truly we can learn much from watching wildlife and attuning to the wholeness of creation. Readers will benefit from the thoughtful, humble, and loving meditations of Gayle Boss, and animal lover would treasure this volume for Advents to come.

May this Advent season deepen your sense of wonder, your hopefulness for our world, and your love for all God’s creation. Peace be upon you.

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. No fee was received for this review.

city-of-god2As Ash Wednesday approaches (it will fall on February 10th this year), I am re-reading City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles, and I expect this will become a pre-Lent tradition for me. Somehow, Sara Miles wrote the words that were on my heart and helped me to better understand why I love Ash Wednesday so very much. Even in years when I had decided adamantly that I was done with church, I felt drawn to attend Ash Wednesday services. In the past few years, when church has become important to me, the litany of confession has brought me happy tears. Why? What happens in this observance?

Ash Wednesday is about repentance. Not about  guilt, or about saying sorry, but about changing. “Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: the whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be his own.” It is about changing in a way that brings us closer to other human beings, and closer to God, and leaving behind—fasting from—that which separates us from others and from God. This kind of change affirms that life is short and the time to love is now. This, for me, is powerful and energizing.

We spend a lot of time and effort trying to get things figured out (or, at least, trying to appear that we have everything figured out). And then on Ash Wednesday there is this slap of truth: ashes to ashes. Some people might think receiving ashes, hearing “you are dust and to dust you shall return” is a morbid ritual. Yet my experience has been that it is absolutely liberating. We are mortal. Somehow the ceremonial acknowledgement of this reality is refreshing. Where I live, in the U.S., so much of the culture is focused on a false sense of immortality: buy this and everything will be fine; you will be happy and you’ll live forever! (Not in those exact words, perhaps, but that really is the gist of all marketing.)

And it’s not true. Our time is limited and precious and, too often, we squander it. Ash Wednesday is a precious gift of reminder. In the words of Will Hocker, friend of Sara Miles and chaplain at San Francisco General Hospital, Ash Wednesday is a chance “to bow down in public and say, I’m not in charge; I’m not going to live forever.” We are not in charge of life and death, and that is ok. The truth can be scary, but the truth also can be a blessing. It can be freeing to lay down the burden of impossible control.

Throughout City of God, as Sara Miles walks her neighborhood and shares ashes, readers can see the importance of community, of gathering, of collective acts that demonstrate we all are sharing this journey. We must support one another with any small mercy we can offer.

Last year I posted a review of City of God, which highlights some other elements of this energizing, reflective book.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, based on my own copy of the book. No fee was received.

71vtwf4jx0l-e1452271560982The new book from Laura Alary, Make Room: A child’s guide to Lent and Easter, has beautiful, clear writing and gorgeous illustrations from Ann Boyajian. An excellent addition to a home library or church classroom, Make Room will have children feeling enthusiasm for this very special church season.

With language that is both practical and poetic, Alary’s book satisfies the need families have for literature that inspires excitement about faith. The language is simple, leaving space for parents to expand as a child questions and grows. Yet the writing communicates its messages clearly, providing words for experiences that often are hard to articulate.

Why do we observe Lent? What is the purpose of this season? In Alary’s words,

“During Lent we make time to be with God.
Every day we talk with God in different ways.
Sometimes we pray with words.
Sometimes we sing or listen to music.
Sometimes we get out paints and crayons and create many-colored prayers.
Colors are like a different language we can all speak
Even when we have no words.
God understands.”

I highly recommend Make Room for the young people in your life. Whatever books you choose for your family, may this season bring blessings of peace and prayers into your home.

Disclaimer: This review is freely give, based on a loaned copy of the book. No fee was received.

All Shall Be Well

978-1-62698-139-3This year Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the season of Lent, falls on February 10. In this period leading up to Easter many Christians observe a season of reflection, repentance, and renewal. While specific customs vary widely among denominations, all people can benefit from taking time for prayer.

For daily spiritual reading during Lent I intend to draw nourishment from All Shall Be Well: Readings for Lent and Easter. A powerful collection of writings from poets, activists, and religious sisters and brothers, this volume from Orbis Books includes voices who speak for peace, caring for the needy, and uplifting the weak.

I do not want to give a litany of the authors, but the table of contents, with writers both classic (Howard Thurman) and contemporary (Mary Lou Kownacki), had me quite excited. In particular I enjoyed the words of Julia Alvarez, Dorothy Day, Virgil Elizondo, and Daniel Berrigan. The selections are numbered but not dated, since the dates for Lent vary; this thoughtful format will make the book easier to use year after year.

All Shall Be Well will make an inspiring and uplifting companion. I encourage you to find a copy, and may you have a blessed, prayer-filled Lent.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

on the solstice

The Shortest Day

poem by Susan Cooper

Copyright Susan Cooper 1974

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us — listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!

christmas-window-candles-10

This poem was written for The Christmas Revels held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The text was posted on Susan Cooper (Official Fan Page) on facebook (24 Nov 2015). Please note that sharing is only for noncommercial use, and permissions questions should be directed to susancooper@thelostland.com.

Time to Get Ready

time-to-get-ready-an-advent-christmas-reader-to-wake-your-soul-17Advent might be my favorite time of year. This is a precious opportunity to cultivate a sense of wonder and hopefulness, to reflect on the message of Christmas and to consider its implications on our lives. For reading and spiritual refreshment this Advent season, I will be reading Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas reader to wake your soul. Author Mark A. Villano invites readers to “wake up and see how God is moving in your life.”

In Time to Get Ready, Villano has brought together personal reflections passages from scripture, and inspirational writings from the first week of Advent through the feast of the Epiphany. Throughout the book he offers encouragement to read, listen, and pray. We are invited to retrain ourselves to wait with patience, while also acting out of faith by serving others.

This is a richly written volume that surely will bring inspiration to your Advent and Christmas. I highly recommend Time to Get Ready, for personal reflection, retreat days, and group study.

A special note: As of this writing (November 30) the Advent and Christmas books at Paraclete Press are on sale for 45% off the list price until tomorrow, December 1. On their website you also can see a trailer for Time to Get Ready and read an excerpt.

 

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.