Advent is one of the most spiritually rich times of year for me and I crave so deeply in my spirit to give time and space to contemplate the meaning of this season; a season of light and dark, the kingdom come and not quite here, God entering time and space to inhabit the earth, to inhabit our hearts.
I've been gathering resources to guide me through this spiritually rich time. The church I attend does not structure itself, in teaching or observances, according to the traditional church calendar or liturgy. I love our church (which is to say the people) and its very modern expressions of worshipping and gathering together. God inhabits hearts not buildings or forms. And I love that expressions of faith and how we gather to teach and remember and celebrate is always re-inventing itself in culture and time.
I align most closely, in Biblical interpretation and corporate expressions of worship, with the evangelical Christian movement. That is my mother church, it's where I came to Christ as a child, in a close-knit community of family and friends, it's the "tradition" in which I feel most enlivened by the Spirit in a corporate setting.
But in my individual worship and study, in the personal expressions of my faith, I lean into contemplative practices (some of which are inspired by ideas and forms from outside the Christian tradition all together). And I am comforted by, and increasingly drawn to root myself into the cyclical nature of the church calendar and the rich history of church tradition, Catholic and Protestant.
I am a very seasonally aware person, and seasonality is a big part of my personal expression of faith, something that is not so present in the corporate Evangelical Christian forms of "doing church".
If you've read Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey, I identify a lot with her story. I didn't experience the anger or burn out she felt with the evangelical faith community but I have experienced the same broadening of perspective that comes partly with age, but also with stepping out and away from what you were "born again" into. And also like her, I have returned to small c church after some years in a spiritual desert.
Anyway, all of that is to explain that if I want to observe Advent I need to put together my own liturgy for doing so, because it's not happening within the church I attend. (Which is ok.)
This post is a round-up of a few Advent resources to inspire, guide and deepen your spiritual experience this holiday season. It may also just be an excuse to post pretty photos of lights and candles, you'll forgive me that indulgence.
Advent started this past Sunday and that is also when I had the inspiration to write this post. I'm not ahead the game like many bloggers are with editorial calendars and posts planned in advance. I would have prepared this post before Advent if I had the thought or writing time, I had neither.
Even though we're two days into this season it's not too late if you want to jump in and any one of the resources I list below will allow you to do that.
First off, I have to say, Steve Bell is one of my favorite singer songwriters. In this post from the spring, I wrote, "Steve Bell is a Christian pilgrim, he defies the mold; his music is rich with truth, beauty, and love that transcend religious affiliation. I feel closer to God every time I listen to his music, which means I listen often. " At this point in writing I want to stop and tell you about all my favorite Steve Bell songs and what each of them means to me. I won't do that. I am working hard to stay focused here.
Point is, Steve Bell has been working for years on Pilgrim Year, which is a digital resource of "Scripture, Story, Song, Poetry and Art to Explore the Christian Calendar".
Pilgrim Year is a media-rich, devotional experience, using prose, art, song, poetry and story to journey meditatively through the Christian calendar year with its positive riot of fasts, festivals, saints’ days and rich traditions... attending to and re-membering these many and varied traditions robs nothing from our present, but only deepens and roots the present in a way that can confidently welcome the future. The Christian narrative is a way of seeing, that recognizes that we live in a meaning-drenched universe, and we’ve been invited to know and give witness to the Love that holds all things together and that will not let us go.
A couple years ago I purchased the first release of this project which was just the Advent devotional. There is now a set of digital devotionals for Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide and Ordinarytide. New material is being added regularly.
The cost of the whole Pilgrim Year is just $20. I think this is an amazing deal. Individually, the devotionals are $4.99.
This is a beautiful resource. It includes music, art, poetry, and reflective writing. Can you hear my heart beating "yes" to this invitation into the church calendar?
Again, a Steve Bell resource. This is some of my most-loved Advent music. The incredible story of God becoming man in the song Descent is one of my favorite Christmas songs.
Just take a listen.
A lot of the music from this album is in the Advent and Christmastide Pilgrim Year devotions.
I've just described resources I'm familiar with, but now I'm shifting into a "I can't wait to dive into these books" type of recommendation.
I haven't read these yet but they are highly recommended by other people and feature writers and thinkers I am drawn to and whose writing and teaching speaks to me.
This is a book of forty-five selected readings from classical and contemporary sources, corresponding to the dates November 24th through January 7th. You can read day-by-day or simply pick-up when you have a moment, the readings don't build or depend on each other. Each selection stands on its own. There is no scripture reading involved though scripture is certainly referenced throughout.
Something interesting for me in this book is the wide cultural and historical context of the selected readings. The short essays, poems and reflections are each written in a particular time and space, by philosophers, poets, theologians, saints and sinners from the 12th Century to our modern time, yet each speak to universal belief and mysteries of the Christian faith. The unifying nature of the essence of Christian teaching - in love God created us, in Christ God is with us, in Spirit God is in us - as presented by these writers, is both deeply comforting and enlivening to me.
Not to mention, the author list is basically a who's who of many of the writers on my to-read list (on which I am making slow, slow progress.)
Speaking of authors I want to read more from, Richard Rohr is high on that list. His latest book on the Trinity, Divine Dance, looks so good. (This is a fabulous podcast by the way with Rob Bell and Richard Rohr which talks a bit about that book.)
As the title suggests this is a daily meditation for Advent but it is more like a classic devotional than Watch for the Light. Each entry starts with short passages of scripture, followed by a brief reflection. I haven't read enough of it to know if the reflections are drawn from the specific scripture for that day.
At first glance what I like about this book is that it's rooted in specific passages from scripture, the readings are short, and the reflection questions give lots of space for thought. And I like that it's Richard Rohr. I'm not a Catholic and so some of the language and nuance in the book is different to me, but I appreciate how that broadens my perspective and experience.
I don't usually read Christian daily devotionals, written reflections based on a short passage of scripture. But for Advent I like the change.
How do I plan to use these Advent resources?
It looks like a lot but they each serve a different purpose and meet a different need. The music is easy, I can just listen and enjoy (and cry and rejoice).
At some point in the day I want to read the daily devotional from Watch for the Light. First thing in the morning, or maybe when I'm eating lunch.
In the evening, I plan to pick up Preparing for Christmas, either at supper with the family or in my before bed meditations.
Pilgrim Year is not a daily reading, so isn't a big time commitment. There are 12 entries in the Advent collection that can be spread throughout the four weeks of Advent, roughly three per week.
When you consider the amount of time many of us spend checking Instagram (I adore Instagram), Facebook, Twitter, the-latest-social-media-platform, fifteen to thirty minutes a day of reading and reflection is doable and probably more edifying.
Feel free to share your favorite advent resources in comments. Also, if you want to talk about personal and corporate expressions of faith, an evolving journey of belief and practice, traditional and modern expressions of worship - and where you fit into all of that - I welcome your voice in comments (email, Facebook, or whatever is comfortable for you.)
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