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Archive for the ‘reflection’ Category

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photo from Simon Community NI

My feelings about the church season of Advent continue to startle me in their intensity. I am powerfully drawn to the light and fervent hope of Advent, which this year begins on Sunday, December 3. During the time when I was leaving the church as a teen, I remember fighting the power of religious songs until I decided, ‘I can love these songs, even if I am not yet sure what I think about the church.’ Even when I settled in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), where meetinghouses typically do not have the adornments or follow the outward church calendar with which I was raised, my heart was drawn toward Advent. Eventually, thankfully, a bright trail of universalism helped me accept that I can love this season of hope and observe to whatever degree I am led.

The setting aside time, the turning toward the light, the sense of expectancy and renewal all nourish me. Perhaps living in the northeastern United States, with ancestors from Ireland, Scotland, and England, I have the longing to turn from darkness toward light in the marrow of my bones. Yet I also know the darkness and the quiet have their own lessons to teach.

Since keeping this blog I have had the privilege of reviewing many books about the Advent season. To help you prepare for this season, I will share links to some volumes I have reviewed in the past. Inspiring writings are abundant and diverse in approach:

contemplative creativity: pray through the arts with an Advent coloring calendar and collection of carols

be with the youth in your life: reading together throughout Advent can bring a special closeness and a chance to witness bright hope

reconnect with nature: remember we are a small part of a larger creation

bring light into your home: experience the tradition of an Advent wreath

explore silence: amidst the outward busyness in our culture, turn to the quiet

What books have brightened the light of Advent for you? What will you do this year to carve out quiet amidst the busyness, to find the light and hope behind the rushing? Whatever your own reason might be for turning toward this season, whether tradition or quiet longing, I hope you will find what your heart needs in the upcoming weeks.

 

Disclaimer: No fee was received for any review included in this post.

 

 

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The church especially remembers the life and message of Francis of Assisi with his feast day on October 4. For a previous year’s feast I reviewed Francis of Assisi in His Own Words, an excellent collection from Paraclete Press. May this review inspire a trip to your local bookstore, and quiet time with the words of Francis.

In honor of Francis teaching love toward all creatures, churches in many communities celebrate a blessing of the animals on this day. It is an opportunity to recognize the special place companion animals have in our lives. I experienced with this special observance at a community fair, a tender and beautiful experience, when a minister gave a vocal blessing and laying of hands to my German Shepherd. May we remember always to extend kindness and mercy to all living creatures, and may this feast day be an occasion to affirm commitment to caring for God’s creation.

When thinking of Francis of Assisi, the song “Make me an instrument of your peace” begins playing in my mind. From childhood, this was my favorite song at church. While this prayer for peace captures the spirit of Francis’ teachings, it was not his composition. According to the Franciscan Archive, this prayer first appeared on a prayer card during the first world war. This prayer continues to offer comfort and inspiration to many. It is my heartfelt prayer for all of us today.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Déan gléas chun síochána díom, a Thiarna.
Señor, hazme un instrumento de tu paz.

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Photo credit: Jim McGuire

I have been listening to the music of Carrie Newcomer, finding her lyrics to be uplifting and a soothing balm. Over the years several friends have mentioned her music to me, and I have seen her lyrics quoted in essays and sermons. One song from her latest recording is “Help in Hard Times”:

I invite your comments with a favorite uplifting song or artist. What music restores your hope on hard days? What song brings sunshine into your home or soothes your spirit?

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In the U.S. where I live, the second Sunday of May is celebrated as mother’s day. As a girl it became linked in my mind with church celebrations of Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus. I was raised Catholic, and while that no longer is my religion, the songs we sang to celebrate Mary powerfully shaped me and my early ideas about faith. I had a deep admiration for Mary’s courage and her sense of purpose. With Mary on my mind, I have been re-reading a couple of books.

978-1-62698-004-4To understand Mary in her cultural context and to explore the impact of her faith on her way of life, I recommend In Quest of the Jewish Mary by Mary Christine Athans. This book does a beautiful job of presenting historical details and guiding readers to imagine a figure of tremendous faith. The story opens with the personal journey of the author, who writes from a Catholic perspective that is full of respect for other faith traditions. This volume will be of interest to readers of any background who enjoy interfaith journeys. I wrote a complete review of Athans’ interesting book when it was published by Orbis Books in 2013.

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For a discussion of scholarly studies on the role of Mary in Islam, I recommend Mary the Blessed Virgin of Islam by Aliah Schleifer, former professor at the American University in Cairo. I have met many non-Muslims who are unaware of the importance of Mary in Islam. In Islam Jesus is considered a prophet, and his mother is honored for her deep faith and model of pious living. Her story is told in Chapter 19 of the Qur’an, entitled Maryam.

Do you have a favorite title about Mary? I invite you to share in the comments below.

 

Disclaimer: The books mentioned here are from my personal library. No fee was received for this review.

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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!

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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.

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“All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?”

excerpt from “Blessing the Dust” by Jan Richardson
© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

This Lent, what quiet, hidden corner of your heart will you open to God? Where will you invite God’s healing, to bring you toward new life, toward wholeness? Wherever your path may lead this season, my prayer is that you will be surrounded by love on your journey.

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happy new year

May the new year bring you abundant opportunities to give and receive love, to discover new joys, and to appreciate all of your blessings with fresh eyes.

If we make any resolution as this year begins, may it be to show more kindness to each person we meet.

I look forward to a year of reading, learning, and sharing about the books I enjoy.

May peace be with you now and always.

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