Advent Reflection: Waiting While You Wait

December 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

Cow's Skull with Calico Roses, Georgia O'Keefe, 1931, Oil on canvasAdvent

We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.

-Patrick Kavanagh

A friend once told me that it’s the waiting while you wait that gets you.  And with the waiting, in between the impatience and the silent peace in the pause of slow-paced truth, is the longing. The longing for things hoped for, for hope to pierce through the doubt, for a cup of kindness yet. 

In Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, he longs for “the luxury of a child’s soul” in the midst of Advent, hoping that the penitential rites, formerly associated with Advent in Roman Catholic Ireland, can cleanse out that which has been “tested and tasted too much”.  Kavanagh draws us into the disconnect between new wonder and experienced apathy, apathy won through the “knowledge we stole but could not use. While he waits, he longs for the “spirit-shocking wonder” found in the “ordinary plenty”, and he vows not to “analyse God’s breath in common statement.”  He desires to put aside knowledge and the material pleasures for the fulfillment of his Advent longing, which is in the coming of Christ.

December can be jingle-bell trite with slick Christmas pop songs about love, if only we can approach the critical purchasing mass. Kavanagh reminds us, however, that in the bleary-eyed midst of emptiness comes grace, grace which did not enter with blaring trumpets or loud cheers or probably even angels singing on high. God became human, like us, not in the midst of the sentiment of that there is “no place like home for the holidays”, but precisely in realities of rootlessness, poverty, social stigma, and of shame. Curious choice for an all-powerful, all-knowing God – and yet therein lies the strength, the grace in the broken cry of an infant.  We begin to realize why “God we shall not ask for reason’s payment”, because this God who lowers himself in poverty and shame does so that we may be raised to newness, to “prophetic astonishment”, and to the love which is as simple yet powerful as the assent of that January flower.

-Nicole Hanley

Advent Hymns

December 12, 2012 Comments Off on Advent Hymns

The tune Merton, “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding” (#59) is my very favorite tune in our current hymnal, with Bach’s harmonization of Wachet auf ! “Sleepers Wake!” (#61) a close second. What is it exactly about the Advent hymns that many of us regular church goers find so uplifting? Is it simply the music? Or is it the texts that inspire us so? Charles Wesley’s “Lo he comes with clouds descending” is especially pithy, theologically. Or it is a particularly felicitous match of text and music? Each of these aspects adds to the uniqueness of Advent hymnody. And since we only sing most of these hymns during the four weeks of Advent there are all of the seasonal associations that heighten the emotional impact of these hymns.

But when we strip away these sentiments, what we actually have in early Advent are some uneasy texts about universal change. The Second Coming of Christ is good news but also devastating because it heralds the destruction and reformation of all earthly things. I try to remind myself, as I sing along to these early Advent tunes, that Christ in glory and triumph is not manageable or comfortable but the opposite. More like Hurricane Sandy than Anglican worship. More like global warming than Advent Lessons and Carols. So my resolution this Advent is to pay closer attention to the texts while I am singing them, and not to be so absorbed by the soaring melodies and descants of the hymnody that I lose the plot.

– The Rev. Caroline M. Stacey, Rector

Second Emmanuel Station: The Dream of St. Joseph

December 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

Second Emmanuel Station Dream St. JosephWhen his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…’ (Matthew 1:18-20).

Making plans is important.  A friend of mine once told me, “plan nothing, do nothing.”  This statement has served many times to pull me out of a state of inertia, helping me keep things moving in whatever direction I have oriented myself, hopefully with God’s guidance.  As with all truisms, however, there is a parallel truth: our plans can also lock us into doing things the same way we have always done them, or thinking about things the way we have always thought of them.  Our plans can be a repository for stale perspectives and a fossilized posture toward the world.

Joseph offers us a helpful example of how to make plans but to also be open to a new way of thinking.  He is operating under an assumption about Mary’s pregnancy that fits his world view, and so he makes plans to dismiss her quietly.  He is open to new perspectives, however.  He is open to knowing something surprising, something that is perhaps very difficult to believe. He is so open to this that he lets himself hear the Lord in a dream, telling him to take Mary as his wife.  He doesn’t wake up and say, oh, that was just a dream.  He wakes up and knows it was the Lord.  He decides to listen to some new information, and to act on it.  I imagine that he can do this because has an attitude of suspicion towards his old way of thinking and an attitude of openness to what might be shocking and revolutionary to his understanding of things. Instead of dismissing Mary, he welcomes her.

This story invites us to follow St. Joseph with the soul shaking knowledge that we are each called, in our own particular ways, to welcome the Christ Child into the world. So as we make our plans this Advent, whether they are spiritual or Christmas list related, we will be wise to pay attention to the other voices that come to us:  the voices of our dreams; the voices in the quiet of our hearts.  Voices that say something like actually, you might reconsider that plan, that judgment, that action, that assessment of the situation.  Especially if it involves dismissing someone.  Because we might be planning on dismissing someone like Mary, who is birthing God into the world.  Joseph’s faithfulness teaches us that encounters with the holy often involve an upsetting of old plans, and a formulation of new ones. 

– The Rev. Hugh M. Grant

From the Altar Guild: The Symbolism of the Cope in the Advent Blue Set Week II

December 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

So now it’s the second week of Advent.  I want to talk some about the next two symbols on our Advent cope but first I would like to discuss the color of the cope. You know it’s blue! For many of us the color of Advent is purple but here at St Luke’s the color of Advent is blue. I noticed last week that many had purple on at church on the First Sunday of Advent so I hope no one is disappointed by the lack of purple.

 I have always been told that blue vestments in Advent was a Sarum Rite usage so I thought I would check some sources on the use of blue vestments in Advent. I thought it would be an easy task, a fact checking that would take a few minutes.  I was wrong.  I could find nothing that says blue was the color of Advent in the Sarum. I found lots of rants written by priests of Rome against the use of blue vestments as illegal that makes the Protestant in me so proud that we use blue in Advent. In The Parson’s Handbook written by Percy Dearmer in 1899 (he was rector of the Church of St. Mary, Primrose Hill, London and a great champion of the Anglo-Catholic movement) lists from an inventory of Salisbury Cathedral in 1222 that there were vestments made of “blue silk”. So even in the 13th century someone somewhere was wearing blue vestments.

 What does the color blue mean for us? There is a color called royal blue and I would suggest that it is the color of our Advent vestments.  As the name suggests, it is the color worn by royalty. The Church is not uncomfortable with indentifying Jesus as a royal person and the descendent of kings and queens, as you can see from the next two symbols on our cope:

 December 19 – O RADIX JESSE

O Root of Jesse, which stands for an ensign of the people, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek:  Come and deliver us.

This antiphon is represented by the symbol of a flower, a stylized rose, and in our view we can see the roots which give the flower life. Jesse, King David’s father, is the root and stock of Jesus.

Advent Blue Cope -- rose

 December 20 – O CLAVIS DAVID

O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel:  that opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens:  Come and bring the prisoner out of the prison house and him that sits in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

 The second symbol is a key. Keys open locked doors and allow entry into places that have been locked, as Jesus is the way to the Father.

 Advent Blue Cope -- key

By the way, one of the secrets of the St. Luke’s sacristy is that we do have a low Mass set of vestments for Advent which is most defiantly purple but we keep it tucked away for another generation…for the 18 years I’ve been at St. Luke’s this set has been suppressed, as we say in Altar-Guild-speak.  (A low Mass set for us is a chasuble, burse, veil and two stoles, a high mass set is a chasuble, dalmatic for the deacon, a tunicle for the sub-deacon, one or two copes, a burse, veil and two stoles.)

There are eight symbols, so we’re half-way through. Next week we’ll talk about two more of the cope’s symbols. Meanwhile, keep your eye pealed for the beauty and intricacy of this magnificent contribution to our communal spiritual life.

– Sean Scheller

Advent Quote: St. Augustine of Hippo

December 8, 2012 Comments Off on Advent Quote: St. Augustine of Hippo

“Is there no hope at all? ‘Not really’ would seem to be the answer, except perhaps for the grace of the Incarnation.”
– St. Augustine of Hippo

Scripture Reflection — Luke 3:1-6

December 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” 
-Luke 3:1-6

This isn’t exactly a reflection on Luke 3:1-6, a third of which is taken up by a gorgeously overwrought date. It is a reflection on the use of Isaiah in Luke 3:1-6.

 I tend to picture John the Baptist as the guy from the Jesus of Nazareth movie, with bangs that cover his eyes, shouting at a noisy mob about how God doesn’t delight in their sacrifices. In fact, eventually Luke will select as John’s first words, “Brood of vipers!” But already, I expect a harsh prophet, because preaching repentance tends to come with a warning, an implied threat: if you do not repent, something bad will happen. For example, you might wake up one day and regret your life. Your relationships might suffer. You might get cut down with an ax or burned with unquenchable fire. Or, and this brings me to Isaiah, you and everyone you know and love might get sent into captivity following the destruction of your city and temple.

 So it is striking that in providing his interpretive lens for the sayings of John that follow, Luke does not draw from a prophecy of warning. He draws from the opening of Second Isaiah, which promises the end of exile:

 Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term.

This is what the voice is urging us to prepare the way for, in an emotional tone that is generous, bordering on giddy: God is going to lead a new Exodus. Not only will the desert be blasted into a highway, but when the poor and needy are thirsty, it will become a pool of water (Is 41:17-18).

 What does it mean to prepare a highway for God’s liberation? This question seems like it should lend itself easily to inspiring answers, but John’s ideas are ringing hollow for me today. As Luke describes him, he leaves more questions than answers. Suddenly I wonder if I’ve always simply assumed on some level that I knew what phrases like this – prepare the way, bring about the kingdom, God’s liberation – meant. John might urge us to strip (or cut, or burn) these assumptions from our minds, to be filled with expectation, and to meet Jesus as a new person.

– Aaron Miner

Advent I Reflection: Unexpected, Surprising Love

December 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

Advent IThis Advent season is the first time I’ve really made space to let the reality of Christ’s birth rest in me. It’s also the first time I’ve realized the amazing gap between the exhilarating event of Christ coming into the world and the rather tepid cultural experience of Christmas. Maybe this gap explains why the holidays have always been more comfortable than joyous for me. Every year, the season has been very predictable, and there’s been very little surprise in any of it—especially the kind of surprise that raises the everyday to the extraordinary. To be completely honest, that’s maybe all I really wanted — the usual get togethers, a Messiah performance somewhere, people generally in a better mood, time off, no big drama, and no surprises.

 Maybe I needed to become open to surprise before I could wake up to the meaning of Advent, because when I think about it now, every aspect of Christ’s birth seems surprising to me. Surprising that God would choose to reconcile with us by becoming one of us. Surprising, the humble setting for such a momentous birth. Surprising also, the people to whom the event was announced and the ways it was proclaimed. Most surprising of all, the form that the hand of redemption would take —not a powerful fist demanding our crushing obedience, but a tiny hand that would grow to reach out to us in a relentless gesture of compassion. God with us. 

 Christ’s teaching must have been completely surprising in his lifetime. There was such a gap between the expectations of those watching for him and his living reality. And, because of that expectation, they couldn’t be surprised by love. Now as then, is there anything more unexpected than love? Not so much the love we have for family and friends — not love reflected in kind, but the open, free-flowing, unattached, unexpected love that Christ showed us.  We know it when we experience it because of the unusual joy that we only feel in those moments when we come close to Christ’s love. And, because of Christ’s life, that love and joy is our birthright.

 When I look around, it seems that the longing for that love is everywhere, and the ache that people experience in its absence is profound. It’s especially noticeable at this time of year. What a surprise if must be for those who long for love to receive it in some measure, no matter how small. How much more surprising it must be for those who have long ago given up on that longing. Perhaps what “at the last day” will be, is a world where love is no longer surprising, where it infuses everything about us. A world where we’re turned inside-out and our greatest joy is realized in losing ourselves in our love for each other and in coming together in the endless embrace of our Christ, who has been waiting for us all along.

 So, my prayer for this Advent, it is that I might notice where I can surprise people with love. I want to be awake to the everyday places, the places that are easy to miss, the places where someone will be surprised by an unexpected act of generosity, or kindness. It might be offering to help a mother with a stroller on the subway stairs. Maybe it will be in coming on to someone looking through a trash can for food, and offering them a meal. Or maybe it will be something as simple as giving an understanding glance to one of the hundreds of people I see daily who are made frightened, lonely, and angry by the pressures of their life — a healing recognition far beyond the moment. Something unexpected, something surprising, something that, like that unexpected star, will point to Bethlehem and the reason for any love I have to offer — Christ was born.

– Tom Wharton

Advent Hymn of the Week: People, Look East

December 5, 2012 § 3 Comments

“People, Look East” is one of my favorite Advent Hymns.  Though it was not in the 1940 or 1982 Hymnals, it was brought in to use in the Episcopal Church through Wonder, Love and Praise.  The words were written by London poet/writer Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965). Originally titled “Carol of Advent”, it appeared in the Oxford Book of Carols, 1928 as a “Modern text written for adapted to traditional tunes”.  In this case, the tune was “Besançon”, a French melody from the Franche-Comté region of France.  The traditional hymn sung in England at the time was a Christmas carol “Shepherds, Shake off Your Drowsy Sleep” or “Chantons, bargiés, Noué, Noué”  Farjeon is best known for her text to the Irish tune “Bunessan”, “Morning Has Broken” as well as various children’s poems.

There are several things make this one of my favorite Advent Hymns–and why I’m sharing this one with you on the blog.  First, It is one of the few Advent hymns that seems to bring in the “greening” of the home that is often done in Advent– specifically in “Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table”.  For most of us, especially in the modern world where Christmas almost starts in October, we prepare our homes and trim the hearths over the next few weeks.  We start the anticipation of the Nativity still waiting in the darkness and hope of the Advent Season.  The poem then leaves the warmth of the home and journeys to the world also preparing, despite the dark and cold of the coming winter.

Growing up in Ohio, my mother would plant bulbs in the fall that would later bloom in the Spring–it was something that I enjoyed doing with her at the age 4. I can’t say I’ve gardened much since then, but I can relate in a nostalgic way to the idea of preparing for new birth and new life just as the world is shutting down for winter.  This hymn reminds me also of our celebration of Christmas in the mid-winter, or near the winter solstice wherein we have the longest night.  And though I know it is not the right time of the year for the actual birth of Christ, there is something in the romanticized near-pagan-infused coupling of the anticipation of the coming Christ that ties it all together for me. 
Lastly, on a much smaller note, I’m drawn to this hymn because of the music itself.  I’ve had trouble finding out the age of the tune other than several references to “Ancient French Tune” which is hardly helpful.  What I do know is that it is a tune from the region of France from which part of my family comes–a town only a few miles north of Besançon called Chenebier.  I wonder if my family in that little village knew the original carol and sung it. 

Advent is a time of preparing–for the coming of Christ as a child and in the return with “clouds descending”.  There are many hymns of foreboding and warning as well as those heralding Christ through John the Baptist; there are a few that refer to the ten virgins in parable and allegory–but few touch on the home preparation, the world preparing for the chosen time, and the anticipation of the angels announcing the arrival of Love, the Guest.

1. People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.
5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

So I have been hunting a good YouTube video relating to this.  The best I could find was a Ukrainian group called Зозуленька.  But seriously, how often do you get to see a bunch of Ukrainian youth in traditional clothing singing a French carol in English in the middle of a Wheat field with an Organ?

– Chap Day

First Emmanuel Station: The Annunciation

December 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Annunciation IconFor the longest time I have struggled with Mary, Virgin Mother of God. It’s seemed to me that Mary got a bad deal. When I would read or pray Luke’s account (Luke 1:26-38) of the Annunciation, the word “bear” stood out to me. What a burden it was to be told that she would bear the child of God. Mary responds graciously to the angel’s news, but what choice did she really have when told that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadow her? The angel doesn’t leave much room for Mary to refuse.

 On my pilgrimage to the Holy Land last January I visited the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Facing the altar, at the back of the congregation, is a large icon of Mary as the Burning Bush that confronts Moses (Ex 3:1-22). In this and similar icons, Mary appears to Moses as the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Like the burning bush, Mary is on fire with the task of bringing the Word of God into the world. Like the bush, Mary is not consumed. She burns but she does not burn up.

 As I meditated on that icon, I began to understand Mary and the Annunciation differently. Rather than being a sweet, innocent, virginal girl who meekly bows to the will of God, Mary is a powerful woman who burns with a love of God and who has the strength to accept the pain and the grief that always go hand in hand with the joy and peace of accepting God’s invitation to bring forth the Word. Mary’s supposedly meek and mild “be it unto me according to thy Word,” expresses a willingness to have her heart broken so that Love can enter the world. Mary can be for all us a witness to the strength required of us to say “yes” to God, to agree to burn with God’s love. This task is a painful one, but if we accept it willingly, aware of the cost, like Mary we may also bring the Word of grace and love into the world.

– Will Owen

From the Altar Guild: The Symbolism of the Cope in the Advent Blue Set

December 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

We have been amazingly blessed at St Luke’s. One of these blessings is the vast array of vestments that we use during the liturgical seasons of the church year: we have our gold set for the Christmas season (our former rector used to call it the samurai set), we have the blue and white set for Eastertide, and the unbleached linen of our Lenten array, to name a few. Thanks to the talents of Graham French and Roper Shamhart is one of my favorites,  our Advent blue set with the artfully done embroidered roses. We use the Advent blue set for only four Sundays so get a look while you can! The cope (a large ceremonial cloak worn at solemn liturgical functions resembling a cloak or mantle) of the Advent blue set is decorated with symbols of the “O Antiphons”.

 As the website Fully Homely Divinity says about the O Antiphons:

 Traditionally, on the last days of Advent, at the service of Vespers, a series of special texts were added to the beginning and end of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, which is sung every day at Vespers, or Evening Prayer. Each of these texts, called “antiphons”, begins with the word “O”, so they came to be known as the “Great O Antiphons”. 

 The St Luke’s sacristy is a trove of tucked away treasures. During one of the altar guild’s clean ups during the year I found a single sheet of paper with print carefully typed on a Selectic 3 typewriter in a protective plastic cover that had written across the top:


 What a find! Here is the introduction at the top of the paper and the texts of the first two O Antiphons

 “The GREAT O ANTIPHONS date from the 9th century and are sung at the Magnificat at Vespers on the even of each of the 8 days before Christmas, being December 17 (referred to as O SAPIENT), 18, 19, 2, 21, 22, 23, and 24. Since Vespers, the sixth of the seven canonical hours, occur after sun-down it is, in effect, the first prayer service of the next day. Although there is an antiphon proper for the 21st, O REX GENTIUM, with text similar to that for the 23rd, it is general practice that the antiphon for St. Thomas’ Day is substituted since it is the feast of an Apostle.

 December 17 – O SAPIENTI

 O wisdom which came out of the moth of the most High, and reaches from one end to another, mightily, an sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

 December 18 – O ADONAY

 O Adonay, and leader of the house of Israel, who appeared in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gave him the Law of Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

 The symbol used on our cope for the first O Antiphon, “O Sapientia”, is the seven-branched candelabra from the Temple in Jerusalem called a menorah.  This is the menorah which stood in the Holy Place in the Temple. We know this because there is an image of it on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The Temple was the place of God’s presence where the faithful came to hear God’s word.Advent Cope

 The symbol used for the second O Antiphon “O Adonay” is the burning bush from Exodus where God spoke to Moses through the flame without the bush being consumed. You can still visit the burning bush at St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. Advent Blue Cope

 Next week we’ll talk about two more of the cope’s symbols. Meanwhile, keep your eye pealed for the beauty and intricacy of this magnificent contribution to our communal spiritual life.

– Sean Scheller

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