Nov 15 2018

Practicing Joy and Kindness: Celtic Advent 2018

Celtic Advent Calendar 2018

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The holidays can fly by in a rush, full of events and activities, both joyful and tiring. Finding a way to slow down and savor each day of our Christmas preparations is important. Drawing on ancient Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany traditions, here is a calendar that offers one simple daily way to practice joy and gratitude from November 15 until Epiphany,

In the 6th century, the Celtic Christians celebrated Advent during the 40 days before Christmas, as a mirror to the period of Lent before Easter. In this age of  blurring of holy-days and consumerism, I like the idea of starting Advent earlier, so that Thanksgiving is included, but also so there can be a longer, more intentional preparation for Christ’s coming.

Another tradition from around the 6th century (and probably earlier) is the “O” antiphons. An antiphon, from the Latin antiphona, meaning sounding against, was a repeated line of scripture used as bookends to the psalms in daily prayer and the Eucharist. The antiphon was a prayer “sound-byte,” capturing the most important aspect of the reading, helping those gathered remember through repetition.

Trinity Episcopal Church, Myrtle Beach - O Antiphon Banners

Trinity Episcopal Church, Myrtle Beach – O Antiphon Banners

The “O” antiphons highlight a scriptural name of Christ and offer a jumping off point for reflection. Most people would recognize a version of these antiphons as the verses of the Advent carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. They are still prayed in many churches–as they have been for more than 1500 years–from December 17 to December 23.

Christmas seems to end abruptly on December 26th in our consumer-culture celebration. Another lost tradition marks the Twelve Days from Christmas to Epiphany.  Epiphany means appearance or manifestation and remembers the Magi visiting Jesus; Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan–the public revelation that he is God’s Son; and the first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.  The period from December 25 to January 6th is an ideal time for reflecting on the Light that has come into the world with the birth of Christ.

Auch diese drei Heiligen Könige sind gestern durch Sölde gezogen.

On January 6th, the celebration of the Magi visiting Jesus, children dress up as the three magi carrying a star (the Sternsingers) and go singing from house to house. This practice is most popular in Germany and Austria as way of raising awareness and money for global children’s needs, but has been widely practiced in the church since the 16th century. The singers also chalk the lintel or door of each house with the blessing 20+C+M+B+19, which notes the year and carries a double meaning: CMB stands for Casper, Melchior, and Balthasar, the traditional names of the three Magi, and also a house blessing: Christus Mansionem Benedicat (Christ bless this house!). You can read more about this tradition here.

Pulling these four traditions together, I’ve created a calendar of ideas for living each day intentionally and joyfully.

The ability to give and experience love and joy doesn’t just happen, it needs to be stretched and strengthened. And over time, the capacity to love and to joy increases.

Let the Holy Spirit lead!


Nov 14 2018

Celtic Advent 2018

For each day, from November 15 until Epiphany, January 6, I invite you to join me in a practice of  joy and gratitude, and giving love.

In the 6th century, the Celtic Christians celebrated Advent during the 40 days before Christmas, as a mirror to the period of Lent before Easter.  In this age of  blurring of holy-days and consumerism, I like the idea of starting Advent earlier, so that Thanksgiving is included, but also so there can be a longer, more intentional preparation for Christ’s coming.

Another tradition from around the 6th century (and probably earlier) is the “O” antiphons. An antiphon, from the Latin antiphona, meaning sounding against, was a repeated line of scripture used as bookends to the psalms in daily prayer and the Eucharist. The antiphon was a prayer “sound-byte,” capturing the most important aspect of the reading, helping those gathered remember through repetition. The “O” antiphons highlight a scriptural name of Christ and offer a jumping off point for reflection. Most people would recognize a version of these antiphons as the verses of the Advent carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. They are still prayed in many churches–as they have been for more than 1500 years–from December 17 to December 23.

Finally, Christmas seems to end abruptly on December 26th in our consumer-culture celebration. Another lost tradition marks the Twelve Days from Christmas to Epiphany.  Epiphany means appearance or manifestation and remembers the Magi visiting Jesus; Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan–the public revelation that he is God’s Son; and the first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.  The period from December 25 to January 6th is an ideal time for reflecting on the Light that has come into the world with the birth of Christ.

Epiphany is celebrated in many countries by going from house to house and chalking the lintels of doors with the blessing 20+C+M+B+19. “2019” is for the year, and CMB represents Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar, the traditional names of the wise men. It also stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for Christ bless this house. In Germany, over 300,000 children go door to door dressed as wise men and receive donations for children around the world. You can read more about the Star Singers here.

Pulling these three traditions together, I’ve created a calendar of ideas for living each day intentionally and joyfully.  Here is a PDF version. Please feel free to make copies and share with your friends and church.

The ability to give and experience love and joy doesn’t just happen, it needs to be stretched and strengthened. And over time, the capacity to love and to joy increases.

Let the Holy Spirit lead!


Sep 26 2018

Ordinary World

My students are reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. A delightful, restful book, she ties the daily activities of waking up and making beds and brushing teeth to the wider liturgical patterns that mark our lives as disciples. The simplicity of her prose and the grace she approaches our foibles is like a summer rain on a thirsty garden. I find myself looking anew at all the practices of my life, ways that I’ve always looked, but forgotten in the rush and busyness of long days and yeses to too many tasks. We need reminders. We need voices that invite us to slow down and pay attention.

Annie Dillard’s quote, found many times in these blog pages in the past 10 years, has jumped out at me repeatedly this past week: from Tish’s book, websites, other articles, lectures I’m giving, and my own journal:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

The Contemplative Cottage represents the way I hope to spend my days and, ultimately, my life. It is more than a house, but a way to pay attention to the ordinary things of life and see their beauty and experience them as means of grace.

But even in a life that is filled with teaching theology and reading and pondering how to make space for God, the very teaching and reading and pondering can fill that space. The performance aspect of teaching and productive drive toward scholarly work make the focus on daily life in the Cottage, well…quite ordinary. And I have found myself asking, is it enough? Are just simple reflections on attending deeply to life enough?

Yes.

Because it is in the ordinary, the daily, the little practices, beauties, and simple joys that a life is lived. The mystics call us to “follow the savor,” so sharing these moments in the Cottage allows me to savor, and invite you to attend deeply to your own life.

The air has that slight touch of chill now as October approaches, the leaves are curling, flowers fading, and the Harvest Moon hangs brightly. What could be more ordinary and more wonderful than a healing autumn soup? My friend introduced me to this recipe, which I made and then promptly made again with some adaptations. The tastes meld together–not too spicy, just enough to warm one on a cold, blustery day. The colors celebrate the brilliant yellows and reds this season brings, with a touch of dark green as summer leaves give way to autumn gold. The garlic is an excellent remedy to chills and colds, and the spicy heat will gently clear sinuses. May it nourish your body and, in the making of it, help you to celebrate ordinary beauty.

Coconut Red Curry Soup with Butternut Squash and Chard

  • 4 teaspoons of oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, pressed (or more if you like!)
  • 1 tablespoon, fresh grated ginger
  • 1 small to medium butternut squash, no skin, small chunks (about 3 cups)
  • 1 medium or 2 small limes, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons of Thai Red Curry Paste
  • 1 quart of either chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tub of silken tofu (silken is important); you could use chicken, already diced and cooked.
  • 5 small chard leaves, chopped (small is about 10 inches)
  • 1-14 ounce can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup of chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley

Cut squash in long halves, clean out seeds, then microwave for 10 minutes, or until the skin is easily removed. Let cool and then cut into small chunks.

Sauté onion, garlic and ginger for 5-7 minutes. Add lime zest, turmeric, salt, and curry paste, and stir. Stop and savor the smell as the different ingredients come together.

Pour in stock, stir. Add squash and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in loosely diced silken tofu (I dice it in the tub–it will fall apart anyway), chopped chard leaves, and coconut milk. Warm through, about 5 minutes. Add cilantro (or flat leaf parsley), and lime juice (very important!). Stir and let mingle for about 10 minutes.

Enjoy!

 

Painting by Carl Vilhelm Halsoe (1863-1935)

Apr 6 2018

Friday Florilegium

From the margins of a 9th century manuscript comes today’s Florilegium: the joyful poem by an unnamed Irish monk about his cat, Pangur Bán. (Some of you will recognize this name from the lovely and haunting Secret of Kells).

The Scholar and His Cat, Pangur Bán

I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;

In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Translated from the Irish by Robin Flowers


Nov 12 2017

Observing Celtic Advent & Liturgical Time

 The 2018 Celtic Advent Calendar is updated here.

Myrrh_Bearing_Women

The Myrrh-Bearing Women, witnesses to the Resurrection, celebrated on the third Sunday of Easter

I studied for my MDiv at a school embedded in a monastic community. Each day, we gathered for prayer under the guidance of the church calendar. Time itself was caught up like a thread and woven into the recurring round of seasons, feast days, memorials, and observances. Liturgical time became a reminder that the Kingdom was at hand and we could not help but remember the centuries of disciples gone before. And God was weaving each of our timelines into the Story for future generations.

I wondered: what is the design God is weaving with me?

Even the way dates were named changed. Sunday, November 12, would become the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (or for the Anglicans and Presbyterians among us, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost). After a few months of hearing the date proclaimed in this way,  my own internal sense of time and seasons began to shift. One day as I began to journal, I started to write the liturgical date, so natural it had become. The relationship between human time and God’s story of redemption intertwined.

presentation Bénédite de la Roncière

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, February 2

At the Contemplative Cottage, the seasons are represented by icons and symbols that call to mind the particular story remembered. The Orthodox tradition brings to the Body of Christ rich gifts of visual images for this specific use–icons honoring the many feasts and observances, windows to the wider reality of Kingdom life. The icons help us remember the great cloud of witnesses and each thread of their lives woven as a testimony to us today. On a particular day or throughout a season, an icon or symbol takes a more prominent place in the house, and a bouquet of flowers or candle might mark it.

mary tells the disciples

Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, July 22

Observing Celtic Advent at the Contemplative Cottage is a way for me to recover a more contemplative and prayerful focus between Thanksgiving and Epiphany. The early Celtic Christians observed 40 days of Advent as a preparation for the Lord’s Nativity, mirroring the 40 days of Lent. This practice begins on November 15. Not unlike Advent calendars which count down the traditional 4 weeks before Christmas, the Celtic Advent Calendar journeys from mid-November to Christmas. I’ve also included additional traditions of the “O Antiphons” and the “twelve days of Christmas,” ending the calendar with the chalk Epiphany Blessing (20+C+M+B+18). It anchors the busyness of this season by giving a simple activity and/or a scripture verse for reflection for each day.

Celtic Advent Calendar 2017

The observances at the Cottage and shared on this blog come from years of moving through the cycle of stories, rediscovering old traditions, reclaiming their practice, and then sharing them with others. The most challenging seasons are ones that sneak up on me–as Advent and Christmas did for so many years. The rush of the consumer holiday season (now starting with Halloween!) and the academic year often meant I missed expectantly reflecting on Christ’s birth in my life and in the world of human history.

If observing an extended preparation for and post reflection on the Nativity this year resonates with you, I’ve updated the Celtic Advent Calendar for your use. Feel free to share it with others and your wider community.

Happy 23rd Sunday after Pentecost!

Susan

If you want more ideas for living the church year in home and life, I recommend Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s lovely book The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year. It is out of print, but you can still get it for Kindle here

(an edited repost from the archives)

May 28 2017

Experiencing Spacious Time

halsoe-tea

I’m honored to be a guest blogger at Presbyterian Outlook this week.

Over Easter weekend in 1999, my close friends convinced me to end my Lenten media fast a day early by going to a movie. Based on the good reviews and the promise of an enjoyable evening, I agreed.

The movie was “The Matrix.”

Advice for people who have fasted from food is to ease back into eating with a small, slow meal. After six weeks without media, “The Matrix” was like eating a five-course dinner while skydiving.

Though tame in comparison to today’s movies, the violence shocked me, even as I was captivated by the incredible story. It drove home how the Lenten fast had reset and heightened my senses. Like Neo, when he finally sees the Matrix for what it is, I realized how much immersion in screen stories had desensitized me.

Working with Young Adult Volunteers at the time, I longed to live more faithfully within the Story that God was writing. However, especially after a long day of ministry, it was easy to disappear into a show or movie. While screen stories, such as “The Matrix,” were powerful food for reflection, too much screen-time dulled my sense of participation in my own life and in the lives of those around me.

That Lenten fast was the first of many media fasts I practiced over the years. At the turn of the millennium, it was easier to set boundaries around the internet and TV.

Then everything changed.

Join me for the rest over at Presbyterian Outlook Magazine.

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