How long? Not Long! – The Advent Collection

Oregon dawn (Photo by Jim Friedrich)

Yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

–– Samuel John Stone

Of all the seasons, Advent is the one I love the best. Its flavors are so richly complex: prophetic shouts and angelic whispers, deepest dark and magical light, wintry cold and warming hearts, the end of the world and the birth of the new. And its symphonic progression, from the eschatological thunder of its opening movement to the midnight hush in the shepherds’ field, sounds the profoundest depths of the cosmos and the soul.

I fell in love with Advent as a child, when I knew no distinction between sacred and profane. The glow of colored lights on almost every house, our family prayers around the Advent wreath, the search for the perfect tree, the interminable wait for presents to be opened, the smell of baking cookies shaped like stars and Santas, the glorious texts of Isaiah and Luke on Sunday mornings, and hearty renditions of “O come, O come, Emmanuel” and “Come, thou long-expected Jesus”––they were all about the same thing: the wonder of a world where magic is afoot and Love’s gifts are never exhausted.

Over the years, as I have grown more acquainted with the sorrow, pain and injustice of mortal life and human history, the meanings of Advent have only deepened. And in today’s evil times, the practice of hope is more necessary than ever.

I have written more posts about Advent than any other season, and I gather all the links together here. Wander through them as you will. Try the practices. Share whatever you like. And may your own Advent bring you blessing, joy, and the nearness of holy Presence.

Practices

Ten Ways to Keep a Holy Advent –– This has been my most popular Advent post, with simple practices to deepen our experience of the season. “In a month that is already far too busy and rushed, these are not offered as one more to-do list to work through, but as ways to slow down, take a breath, pay attention, and make room in our lives for the birth of the Holy.” The 10 ways are: Interrupting, Silencing, Waiting, Listening, Watching, Praying, Reflecting, Loving, Giving, Receiving. (Dec. 6, 2014)

Praying the O Antiphons –– These sublime antiphons (best known in the hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel”) are a beautiful way to pray during Advent. This post includes my contemporary variations on the ancient texts. On each of the seven days before Christmas, put the appropriate antiphon on your mirror or refrigerator, and pray without ceasing. (Dec. 17, 2014)

The O Antiphons: Drenched in the Speech of God –– Further reflections on what the antiphons have to tell us. “God is not a hypothesis to be tested or a puzzle to be solved by detached observers, but an experience to be encountered by receptive participants, those who know how to say ‘O!’” (Dec. 17, 2015)

Theology

Dancing with Time: An Advent Prelude –– My most recent Advent post is a meditation on time, a major preoccupation of the season. As W. H. Auden said, “Time is our choice of How to love and Why.” (Dec. 1, 2017)

The World’s End (An Advent Manifesto) –– Worlds end all the time. Neither personal worlds nor public worlds last forever. That may bring sadness, but it is also the foundation of hope’s possiblities. “Yes, all the inadequate, incomplete versions of world will come to an end (some of them kicking and screaming!), but creation as it was intended will be restored, not discarded. Like a poet who creates a new language out of old words, Love will remake the ruins and recover the lost. And the Holy One who is the mystery of the world will be its light and its life forever.” (Nov. 25, 2016)

“God Isn’t Fixing This” –– For an Advent liturgy, I constructed an enormous wall, made of newspapers with distressing headlines, and set it as a veil between the congregation and the beauty of the sanctuary. In the course of the liturgy, the wall was torn down, symbolizing God’s grace breaking into our troubled history. As I wrote in this post (after yet another American gun massacre): “What if an unexpected future is breaking through the walls of our self-made prison? The Advent message is to embrace this hope, as we take off the garments of sorrow and affliction to welcome the God of joy into our midst.” (Dec. 15, 2015)

“God is alive, surprising us everywhere” –– “God is alive, surprising us everywhere. The message of a dream, intimating something more real than language. But what? Not an idea in my mind. A feeling in my body. I tried briefly to give it words. Nearness. Urgency. Strength. Presence. Then I let the words go, and rested in whatever it was. In times so dark and dangerous, it felt––consoling. Heaven and earth may pass away, but this Presence will not. We are not alone. Perhaps, even loved. In the deep gloom after the presidential election, I was given the grace of three small revelations. One came during a concert, one in a dream, and one from the mouth of a homeless woman. (Dec. 13, 2016)

Worship

Advent Adventures in Worship (Part 1: The Electric Eschaton) –– “As the liturgical season when the old is judged and found wanting and the new is never quite what anyone expects, Advent seems particularly suited to a disruption of routine and the intrusion of novelty into the worship experience.” In the apocalyptic year of 1968, I curated a multi-media Advent mash-up of sounds and images from films, rock and roll, poetry, political documentaries and other diverse sources to evoke two Advent themes: “Break on through to the other side” and “Please don’t be long.” This post includes an unusual 20-minute audio collage which, 49 years later, remains a unique artifact in the history of preaching. Wear headphones and turn it up! (Dec. 13, 2014)

Advent Adventures in Worship (Part 2: Homecoming) –– In a pioneering example of a worship “installation,” people journeyed in small groups through a series of multi-sensory experiences. “The journey was a dying (baptismal figure, narrowing of space, sounds and images of a yearning world, an unknown way, darkness) and a rising (emergence into an open, “transcendent” space, and being gathered into the community of the eucharist). It was a losing (leaving the original assembly and the main space) and a finding (rediscovering the community and the original space).” (Dec. 20, 2014)

Unsilent Night: An Advent Revelation –– In an annual December art experience by musician Phil Kline in cities across America, participants collectively create a river of sound moving through the streets––a striking instance of Advent surprise and wonder. “If God is more of a situation than an object, then the community, relationality, mystery, beauty, wonder, delight, and communion produced by the event seemed apt expressions of divinity taking ‘place,’ or ‘being here now.’ You didn’t have to name it to live it.” (Dec. 21, 2015)

Reprise: Ten Ways to Keep a Holy Advent

image

Here in Puget Sound, the first Sunday of Advent has begun in darkness, fog, and frost. It is for many of us a deeply felt time, the season where we wait expectantly for the dawning of the New. The spiritual practice of waiting is not a state of passivity, but rather the cultivation of attention, lest we miss what is being offered to us in the unfolding of God’s future.

I do not usually do re-runs of old posts, but some readers found last December’s “Ten Ways to Keep a Holy Advent” a useful list, and you can access it here. I hope you will find some blessing in it. And please feel free to share it with your communities.

Ten ways to keep a holy Advent

Camino de Santiago near Atapuerca

Camino de Santiago near Atapuerca

Advent is a time to keep watch for the unexpected comings of God, to prepare our own hearts to make room for the Blessed One, and to be ourselves signs to the world around us of divine compassion and justice.

Here is a list of ten general practices, each with some specific suggestions for the keeping of this holy season.

In a month that is already far too busy and rushed, these are not offered as one more to-do list to work through, but as ways to slow down, take a breath, pay attention, and make room in our lives for the birth of the Holy. These practices do not begin to exhaust the possibilities, but I hope they may stimulate your own thoughtful and prayerful responses. If anything here speaks to you, or prompts your own variation, try it out – for a minute, an hour, a day, and leave the rest to God.

Let every heart prepare him/her room.

1) Interrupting

Breaking the flow of habitual patterns can prompt new kinds of noticing and stimulate awareness. Once a week, or once a day, practice difference, welcome surprise.

Take a route to work/school/errands you have never used before. What do you see?

Take a walk in a place or a time that is not customary, and pay attention, trying to notice details of color, movement, and shape before words and labels start to fill your head.

Wear your watch on the “wrong” wrist, or not at all. Every time you look at the time and feel the interruption of automatic behavior, turn your attention to God’s presence in the here and now.

2) Silencing

Schedule a fixed time each day (between 1 and 10 minutes) for wordless silence in the presence of God.

Unplug yourself from all media one day a week, or at least for an evening. Pay attention to how your soul wants to use that quiet time.

Spend one whole evening during Advent, or at least one hour, in total stillness and silence. Turn everything off, light a candle or a fire, abstain from books and music, stop talking in your head. Listen. Who is knocking at the door of your heart? What does your deepest desire want to tell you?

3) Waiting

Make every experience of waiting in daily life a time of prayerful attention to the hope and desire within you. What are all the things your are waiting for? But what are you really waiting for?

Practice attentive and patient waiting. Sit or lie by a window where you can see only the sky. Wait for something to pass by: a cloud, a plane, a bird, an angel…

Wait for the full moon to rise (tonight). Wait for the first star to appear on Christmas Eve.

4) Listening

When you are out in the world, pause and close your eyes sometimes. What do you hear? Make those sounds the subject of a prayer.

Spend some time each day in a place of stillness where you can listen to your heart, and listen for God.

In conversations with friends, family, spiritual director, or stranger, listen for what wants to be heard.

Spend some time each day with music that awakens your heart and evokes the beauty of holiness for you.

5) Watching

Rise early one morning to watch night turn to day. Fit your prayer to the slow rhythm of dawning.

Pick a day to watch both the sunrise and the sunset, from a viewpoint that is unusual for you.

Notice the faces of strangers. Can you see in them icons of the holy?

Take a photograph of something that catches your prayerful eye. Write an Advent reflection, poem or haiku to go with it, and post on social media.

Watch a film that focuses your attention on the traces of God in our world or in our lives.

6) Praying

For at least part of one day each week, every time you enter a new space or begin a new activity, say this prayer: “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”

Four times a day (rising, midday, evening, bedtime), face the horizon and pray, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”

Four times a day (rising, midday, evening, bedtime) say the Collect-prayer for the week from the Sunday liturgy.

Cultivate a daily prayer practice, at a set time if possible, and keep it faithfully, even when (or especially when) you are pressed or distracted.

7) Reflecting

Select a book for daily spiritual reading. Don’t skip a single day.

Meditate on the daily readings for Advent (Year 2) provided in lectionaries, Advent books, or online sources.

Journal at least a few times each week. Try beginning with “I am waiting for…” or “I am longing for…” and write what comes to mind.

8) Loving

Visit the sick, the lonely, the sad, the prisoner.

Practice random acts of kindness. Pray that you may be a sign of Christ to everyone you meet.

Pray every day for the person who is hardest for you.

Whenever you are in public space, spend some time praying for everyone you see around you.

For one day, or at least one hour, make a conscious act of seeing Christ in every face.

9) Giving

Do an act of volunteering which you have never done before.
Do something to make more justice and peace.
Send money to a good cause.
Take something to a food bank.

Make a change in your own way of living that will be a vote for “a new heaven and a new earth.”

Pick one social concern that engages your energetic attention, and pray every day that God’s will be done. You don’t have to list possible solutions – they are usually beyond our own imagining. Just entrust the object of your concern to God’s mercy and God’s imagination.

Give yourself to deep conversation with family and friends about the Advent season, the feelings it brings, the action it inspires.

10) Receiving

Pay attention.
Stay awake.
Be ready.

Open the door of your heart
to welcome
the Stranger who knows you by heart.