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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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stained glass by William Morris, designed by Edward Burne-Jones (1874)


Today, the first Sunday of Advent, we sang one of my favorite church songs: “Canticle of the Turning” by Rory Cooney, Gary Daigle, and Theresa Donohoo. The words are rooted in the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise where she prophesies the coming of God’s peace and justice (Luke 1:46-55). He has filled the hungry with good things, Mary says, and this song echoes her declaration that “the hungry poor shall weep no more, for the world is about to turn.”

This song never fails to stir my heart, bringing tears to my eyes even as it renews my hope that yes, with God’s help we can use our hands to create a world of justice and peace. May you find inspiration, light, and hope this Advent season.

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After our first reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, my daughter declared that we would read it again in preparation for every future Christmas. Meanwhile, I searched for some contemporary seasonal stories, and found that high-quality holiday-themed fiction for older readers can be elusive. I was delighted to discover that prolific children’s author Katherine Paterson has published two collections of short stories for Christmas, available through my local library. I began with A Midnight Clear: Stories for the Christmas Season. Each of the dozen stories here was written to be read aloud at church on Christmas Eve, and they uplift the hope at the heart of the Christmas story.

Readers encounter an older woman whose loneliness is relieved by a young neighbor; a cynical man who discovers warmth and holiday spirit in the company of a stranger; a young couple who receive hospitality when they need it most. Paterson’s stories are well-crafted and believable, heart-warming and not overstated. I found nothing preachy in these tales, yet each carries the Christmas message of caring for one another, of having hope in the coming Light, of finding peace amidst the confusion of the human condition.

Next I shall sit with Angels and Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories, which has just arrived at the library. I anticipate a few cozy evenings reading with my daughter, reflecting together on the Light at the heart of this season.

What fiction have you read that draws you closer to the heart of Advent, helping you to wait in hope? Does your family have favorites that are revisited each year?

Disclaimer: This review is based upon a book borrowed from my public library. No fee was received.

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Advent, the season of expectant waiting when Christians prepare to observe the birth of Jesus, begins on December 1. To support contemplation and reflection during this special season, Pax Christi USA has created a rich pamphlet, Unshakeable Belief, based on the daily lectionary readings, available in an electronic format.

The programs and resources of Pax Christi USA lift up the message of love, reconciliation, and healing that is woven throughout the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. A spirituality of nonviolence requires one to take time in prayer and reflection, so that actions for peacemaking come from a solid ground of faith in God’s vision for justice and peace. The writers who contribute to this pamphlet offer reflection questions that can help one move from busyness into contemplation, and from contemplation into action.

Sr. Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, opens the pamphlet with an invitation. She writes, “Take time apart to honor, praise, and thank God throughout this Advent season, building a deeper sense of peace and calm, an unshakeable belief that peace, not violence, is God’s plan for all creation. Then, moving outward from prayer and the study of these Advent reflections, what action will challenge you in Advent 2013?”

Readers are invited to turn away from greed and commercialism, from fear and ignorance, and to turn hearts toward God’s love coming into the world, God’s love already present among us. Contributing writers include Darleen Pryds, professor at the Franciscan School of Theology in California; Msgr. Ray East, pastor of St. Teresa of Avila parish, Washington, DC; Kimberly Mazyck of Pax Christi USA and Catholic Relief Services; and Alex Mikulich, of the Jesuit Social Research Institute in New Orleans. These writers are not afraid to ask challenging questions, to nudge hearts in the direction of confident faith in God’s love for us all.

I highly recommend this encouraging and inspiring pamphlet as a companion during this holy season.

Disclaimer: An electronic copy of this pamphlet was provided for review purposes. No fee was received.

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The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

During these past weeks of Advent, I have been taking quiet time, preparing myself inwardly for a new year. I have been reading the Bible passages related to the coming birth of Jesus, and asking God to show me what these stories might mean for my life.  Always, I come back to Mary.

When the angel came with a message from God, Mary responded with deep trust and profound courage. I long to be able to say, “Here I am, God, your servant,” without holding back. I don’t want to respond with I can’t…or what if… My prayer is for willingness to serve and to expect that God’s vision is much greater than ours. Mary had a glimpse of this, and she declares her faith in God’s justice with the magnificat.

In this new year, may God work in all of us so that we might declare, with Mary, “my soul magnifies the Lord.” If we each listen for God’s voice, and help lift up those who have a rockier path than our own, we can be instruments of God’s love. As I feel this longing building in my heart, I have been reflecting on an Advent prayer  written by Priyanka Bagh. May it be a blessing to you, and may you be a blessing to others.

Advent Prayer
By Priyanka Bagh, India

I pray
that our desire and passion
will be to serve God,
to give our best—
the core of our being
and our potential—
to be used by God,
that we may be fully equipped and trained
to work hard and excel as
the finest instruments of God.

My heart yearns
for us to be
what God called us to be—
to reach out and be
a source of blessing to others;
for women to rise up
and make a difference,
supporting one another,
so that we can grow
towards the fulfillment
of the calling
that God has for us. Amen.

prayer © Priyanka Bagh. The author wrote this prayer as a thank you to the women who provide scholarships through Mennonite Women USA. You can read about the work of Mennonite Women USA, including their international Women’s Fund, on their website.

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Advent, which begins this year on December 2, offers an ideal time to carve out space for prayerful reflection within the busyness of daily life. One interesting resource for the season is Exploring Advent with Luke: Four questions for spiritual growth by Timothy Clayton.

The narrative brings together biblical texts and personal experiences from Clayton’s life, helping the reader to notice the relevance of the gospels for contemporary life. With a chapter for each week of Advent, Clayton examines the challenges faced by Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. Inspired by their responses to God’s work in their lives, Clayton highlights a relevant question for self-examination.

The close study of scripture invites the reader to engage with the emotional life of the characters. Can we have deep trust like Mary, and sense where God may be moving in our lives? The experience of Elizabeth, who wondered why God chose to bless her, reminds us that we, too, have a role to play as part of God’s creation. “Elizabeth is amazed—humbly, wonderfully astounded to find herself as a strand in the great story whose Weaver is in the heavens.”

I appreciated that this book includes reflection questions for the days after December 25, since in the church Christmas continues through the feast of the Epiphany. Stories of Anna and Simeon remind us of the role of Jesus in the story God has been weaving since the time of the earliest prophets.

Along with the author, I hope you will move into the new year “with courage and in joy,” and enjoy many blessings during the Advent season and beyond.

 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received for this review.

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In my search for Advent resources, I came across the booklet Ideas for Reclaiming Advent and Christmas, which is available as a free PDF document from the Presbyterian Church. During the weeks preceding Christmas in the U.S., there is a heavy cultural emphasis on shopping and spending money. I am thankful for resources that remind me I am not alone in my desire for less consumption, in my sorrow that we could celebrate a peacemaker’s birth with expressions of excess.  It is wonderful and necessary to have supports for focusing on the spiritual significance of the season, and for incorporating awareness of sustainability into our celebrations.

The document, only four pages long, is full of interesting suggestions. I encourage you to take a look.

I invite you to leave comments that include your favorite resources for simplifying holiday celebrations. Perhaps you know a blog with handmade gift ideas, or an inspiring article on keeping God at the center of our celebrations?

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