Resources for Advent

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.

Pilgrim Year

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?

Keening for the Dawn

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.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

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.)

Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent

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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  • Beth

    Beth on Nov. 29, 2016, 4:43 p.m.

    I'm always saying this but THANK YOU!  This is exactly what I was looking for.  I'm an Atheist (or Agnostic, or questioning...) Unitarian but I was raised in the Christmas Faith.  Advent is one of the most deeply meaningful times of year for me as well.  And also one of the few seasons I embrace traditional Christian Religious readings, music, church services, etc..  I'm always on the lookout for new sources for personal devotionals and such.  Fantastic post!

    reply

  • Christi {Jealous Hands}

    Christi {Jealous Hands} on Nov. 29, 2016, 5:59 p.m.

    Renee, thank you for sharing your Advent selections.  I love adding something new/different each year, so you've given me several to check out!

    reply

  • Kim G.

    Kim G. on Nov. 30, 2016, 4:50 p.m.

    Thank you so much for this post.  For me this year has been a year of change.  Exhilarating and devastating at the same time.  Both of my daughters moved to Florida this year to work for the mouse.  They are happy, fulfilled and living on their own (together).  I couldn't be happier for them.  But I had my dog.  And my dad.  My dad got sick, the dog moved to Florida to be with the girls so I could take care of my dad.  My dad died.  Girls still doing great.  I went to Florida to visit them for Thanksgiving and will be going back for Christmas.  I am running away for the holidays unable to cope with all I have lost this year ... even though the girls have thrived (and no, I wouldn't change them moving).

    I, however, am lost.  All of who I am has just changed.  I have nowhere that I "have" to be.  Nowhere that I have to live.  It can be considered a fresh start, a new beginning ... or it can be considered lonely.  I try hard to make it an adventure.

    I'm not doing the whole big decorating thing this year because I will be gone for a good portion of the holiday.  After reading your post, I immediately went and ordered some of what you suggested and some other stuff I found interesting.  I, too, am going to take 30-45 minutes a day to throw myself into the advent.  It is such an important part of who I am.  Which, by the way, makes my dad's passing easier.  I know he is no longer is pain, I know he has been reunited with my mom, grandparents and his brother who passed at 13.  This season and Easter reminds me to be gentle with my feelings, with others who are hurting or who are trying to become something new.

    Thank you for your post.  It was a good reminder for me.  It will be a great way to spend the holiday.  Peace is always my ultimate goal ... I think this will help.

    reply

    • renee

      renee on Dec. 3, 2016, 9:52 p.m.

      Kim G, 

      I love what you say here, "This season and Easter reminds me to be gentle with my feelings, with others who are hurting or who are trying to become something new." ... who are trying to become something new. How beautiful. 

      the weight of this season, both the hard and the beautiful, is the gift of it. Because wherever we are in joy or suffering, the message of Advent is God is for us, God is with us, God is in us. And my spirit longs to just sit and meditate on that. I'm so happy you are diving into advent. This advent, in particular, I'm not exactly sure why is so deeply moving to me. I cry nearly every day while singing a carol, or reading a medition or scripture verse and not for sorrow (or stress, or seasonal exhaustion) but for the heart stopping joy of it all. God. Here. Right wherever I am. This message is rich and resonant with me this season. I pray for you likewise, you would know God. Here. In both your loss (of your father) and your joys in daughters' independence. So many blessings to you Kim. 

      reply

  • Michelle

    Michelle on Dec. 4, 2016, 12:34 p.m.

    I browsed to your website looking for lotion recipes and came across your Advent post and am inspired to encourage you. Your longings reminded me of the beginning of my own journey toward traditional Christianity, especially that desire to encounter Christ with all the senses as well as the mind, for human beings are embodied souls for a reason. :) There is so much ahead of you to discover, I am happy for you!! Do you have the God given desire to see God face to face like the Jeremy Camp song? I have the most amazing thing to tell you, Jesus never meant for us to think it would be when we pass that that desire would finally be fulfilled. No, he left himself for us! Really!! Glorified and alive. The day is now, you can see him face to face in the Tabernacle of every Catholic Church. He comes living, real and glorified to us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We are not left orphans! Amen! So in Advent it is not only his first and last coming, but this perpetual sacramental coming until the end of time also that we meditate on. May you have a blessed and glorious Advent season! Peace in Christ.

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  • Leanne

    Leanne on Dec. 7, 2016, 2:20 p.m.

    I, too, love Steve Bell.  We have his Keening for the Dawn recording on regular rotation in our home.  I hadn't known about his Pilgrim Year resource - thank-you so much for sharing.  I am inspired to immerse myself in it.

    reply

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