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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.

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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.

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After encountering at least a dozen references to Madeleine L’Engle‘s book, Walking on Water: Reflections on faith and art, I had to check my library for a copy. A worthwhile read, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a creative pursuit, or who wonders about the place of art in the life of a religious person.

In Walking on Water, L’Engle offers advice to creative people who also are religious. Her recommendations are straightforward, and apply to prayer life as well as to creative work. Stay open to the Holy Spirit. Take time just to be, so that you can listen to the silence. We cannot wake to the voice of the Creator if we are too busy filling our days with noise. We are meant to be obedient to God’s call, but are we making space to hear it? “We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not; otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it.” We are called to be faithful in our prayers as well as in our work, even when we might feel less than inspired.

Over many years of giving lectures, L’Engle was asked to describe what makes a work of art religious. She explores this question throughout Walking on Water, and her responses made good sense to me. The short answer is that the artist does not have to be religious to make religious art, and one need not intentionally set out to make religious art (in fact, this can easily backfire). Art that uplifts, that is life-affirming, that turns our hearts toward the light rather than the dark—all of these might describe religious art. Also, we are individuals, and what points my heart toward God might not speak to you in the same way. There is space for our diversity.

L’Engle advises us to lay aside the sense that we are in control, that the work is ours to make, in a possessive sense; rather, we can be a vehicle through whom the work emerges, if we can step out of the way enough to let the Holy Spirit shine through. I nodded in affirmation when I read, “I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God. I want to be open to revelation, to new life, to new birth, to new light. Revelation. Listening. Humility.”

Full of stories from the highs and lows of L’Engle‘s own creative life, Walking on Water will bring inspiration, encouragement, and a fresh perspective to artists of all media.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, and based on a copy from the local public library.

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