Reflections on the Invitation of Advent – Week One

Advent has traditionally been a time of joyous anticipation for me.  It really is my kind of celebration, you know you are getting a present, and you know what it is, and when you get to open it!  I am not patient, and consequently I have never really engaged in the suspense of Advent. The waiting, the invitation to walk each day without anticipating the fulfillment has not been how I passed these precious weeks.

Like me, most of us, are so caught up in the preparations and celebrations of the season, that the faithful persistent call to wait, to trust, to reflect, is drowned out.  We want to rush on to the big day, we long for the awaited Saviour to make his appearance, to save us from our sin, to rescue us from the darkness that engulfs us. Consequently we rush headlong to that day with little pause in our spirits to prepare us.

One of the rediscovered joys of the liturgical calendar for me is the rhythm of a calendar that draws us into seasons of hope and repentance and joy.  A liturgical Advent is symbolised by violet (or blue), the colour indicative of fast days, but this is not a traditional fast, this fast is one of hope, of peace, of trust.  During Advent, we are asked to walk in the waiting, to enter into the Inter-testamental longing of the Israelites for their Messiah and seek him for ourselves.

What a contrast this is to the hustle and bustle of the world.  Where in all the noise and shopping and feasting is there room for reflection, for silence?

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.41.24 PMThis year our little community is mediating through Enuma Okoro’s Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent. We are journeying to Bethlehem in the company of Zechariah and Elizabeth, sitting with them in their waiting, their faithfulness and doubt.

How are you waiting?

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On the first week of Advent my true love said to me “Hold still, this is gonna hurt.”

“Oh that you would rend the Heavens and come down…”
A plea for advent, that the rupture of our norms, our comforts and our self-satisfied religion would be complete in Him. That He would interrupt us with light and heat, that He would consume all that is not of Him.

Beautiful words and reflections. How are you waiting?

the beautiful due

Isa. 64. 1-9 KJV
Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,
As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!
When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence.
For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.
Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.
But we are all as an unclean thing, and…

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A Feast for the Soul

Men and women, bearers of the Imago Dei, have five main senses. Senses which are heightened in times of joy and pain, compensate for each other in loss, and allow us to experience the depths and heights of human existence.

A view of a majestic mountain, tranquil beach or dazzling skyline can take our breath away in wonder. A scent wafting on the breeze can transport us to other times and places, bring vivid memories to life and draw our deepest feelings to the surface. The touch of a loved one’s hand can instantly comfort and encourage.  Music has the power to describe and elicit the most powerful of emotions. When we feast at a table spread with earth’s bounty, drinking fine wines in the company of other lovers of God, we experience a depth of community unmatched outside heaven.

A rich life, a life lived vividly, is one that engages our senses as well as our minds, a life that fills our soul with glimpses of the Glory of God and prompts us to wonder and worship.

So why, then, do we confine our practice of our spirituality to a single sense? Why do we neglect the fullness of experience in the one place where we should engage the whole of our bodies, where we should be filling the temple with the praise of our maker?

Last weekend, I had the privilege of making new friends, friends who, for our first meeting, invited me to join them at their little Anglican church for Sunday Eucharist.  As we sang, and listened and reflected, I looked around. I looked at a corrugated steel warehouse transformed into a place set apart for the meditation on the love of God. The vestments, chalices, reverential sounds of liturgy and the taste of the wine and wafer all drew me in to the contemplation of my Saviour.

The beauty and richness of an icon, the lovely rhythm of a chanted psalm or the waft of incense can engage our souls in a way that merely listening to a sermon and singing along to a chorus cannot.

I find myself wondering if, in our desire for clarity in understanding God, in our struggle for our minds to be made new, we haven’t backed ourselves into a sterile corner, a place where words are our primary medium and the remaining senses are seen as redundant?

What if we didn’t see the practice of our faith as something only for our minds to engage with? What if we engaged all our senses in worship? What if we embraced our historical roots, roots in which the Church was the fountain of artistic expression, where the greatest artists and composers found not only inspiration but audience for their works?

Sometimes, simplicity isn’t enough. My souls longs for richness.  In re-embracing a liturgical and sacramental tradition, I am rediscovering the joy of communal worship as a feast for the soul.