Nov 12 2017

Observing Celtic Advent & Liturgical Time

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.


Nov 15 2016

Celtic Advent Begins

2017 Version is here.

Day 27 on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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Sometimes the smallest act can have the biggest consequences. Even a small pebble creates ripples.

And this is what I’m inviting you to do for the next 40 days of Celtic Advent…

Make some ripples of beauty, joy, and love.

St John of the Cross writes, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”

Many years ago I created this calendar for Advent that suggests one simple thing you can do each day that might create a ripple of love moving out into a love-thirsty world.

You can read more about the history of this calendar in this blog post. It’s really three calendars in one, celebrating Advent, the ancient “O Antiphons” and the 12 days of Christmas.

Share widely and freely.

And for some further encouragement, here is a lovely version of the prayer of St Francis (pause the Music for Dreaming to the right >>):

Happy Advent!


Nov 8 2016

Leaving Sanctuary, Part One

Day 26 in a series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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While cultivating sanctuary space and time is incredibly important in a world where such intentional practice is often in short supply, sometimes the sanctuary itself can become a barrier.

It is so easy to take something good, an icon that invites us into a wider reality of God’s presence and kingdom, and make it into an idol, something that chains and imprisons us away from love, into self-protective habits.

When a sanctuary is functioning as an icon, our vision is open and possibilities are abundant. Peace pervades the space or the time, and the focus is on gratitude for God’s presence. Self-care boundaries are in place, but permeable and flexible, allowing for the breath of life to rhythmically flow in and out.

When a sanctuary becomes an idol, we move into guard-mode. Lock doors and shrouded windows. The world outside becomes a scary place to venture and it all seems easier to stay safe at home. This desire to stay home can be literal or metaphorical, and in my own life, I’ve experienced both temptations.

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Years ago, I was terrified to fly. My first flight was trans-atlantic to Germany and I flew many times back and forth over two decades without issue. Then I flew through a powerful thunderstorm, spending what felt like an eternity holding on as the plane climbed and then dropped sharply over and over.

Looking back, I had also just been in a serious carwreck and as trauma often does, I can see now that the two experiences merged in my psyche. From that point on, I panicked everytime I needed to fly and finally began taking the train (which gave me a love of train travel). My pastor and mentor at the time, Lynne Baab, challenged me when I said I would never fly again. She said, “You cannot promise that. You need to be prepared to go where God calls you, and that might require flying.”

She was right. While I finally found freedom from the fear, I didn’t let it stop me from traveling by air when necessary.

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And then, God called me to lead trips to Ireland each year. What I would have missed if I had remained safely on the ground!

Sanctuaries are great to come home to after an adventure or a scary experience, but not to stay in without leaving.

Crafting sanctuary in our homes and lives will only be life-giving if we are weaving beauty, peace, joy, love, and life, into them, nurturing the very gifts that the world needs; making visible in our lives and homes God’s presence and welcoming others to experience it.

When fear or anger is a thread in the making of sanctuary, the temptation to build defenses and hide within becomes strong.

If remembering to leave your sanctuary is a challenge (it can be for me, too), I offer this beautifully rendered short-film by Pixar. It captures the call to move out of our sanctuary into the world, better than words, and more joyfully.

Be at peace, Christ has overcome the world!

Susan

 


Nov 3 2016

Retreat


I’ve been leading two retreats the past week at Sinsinawa Dominican Convent. The last days of the Cultivating Sanctuary series will continue when I return…


Christ’s grace and peace to you,

Susan


Oct 26 2016

Prayerful Diligence

Day 24 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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A humorous moment with God occurred a few years back as I complained to him, once again, about the writing of my dissertation. The dissertation process for many people causes a loss of joy in the topic studied, and since my topic was the practice of prayer in theological education, I was doubly full of complaint. Not only had I lost a love of the whole educational project, but I also suffered from what used to be called dryness in prayer–a distaste and loss of feeling and connection with God. Sitting on a tombstone, I dramatically begged God to rekindle my love of learning and desire for him. In the silence that followed, a whisper of guidance impressed itself on me, almost with an ironic smile: Write out your gratitudes for today.

Fine.

So, I dutifully wrote out my gratitudes: It was good to take a walk, it was a beautiful day, I’d actually learned some cool bits of monastic theology in the book I was reading, church had been meaningful.

One gratitude tugged at me and again the impression was clear: Write out the book title.

Sure, God. Okay. The Love of Learning and Desire for God.

It took me a moment to realize what had just happened, and then I started laughing. Here I was begging God to rekindle my joy in study and in him, and the answer looked back at me from the title of the book. Keep working, your prayer is being answered in the work you are doing. 

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Ironically, that chapter on monastic theology never made it into the final draft, but it did give me a gift: it taught me about assiduitas.

Assiduitas is the Latin word from which assiduous or assiduity comes. Diligence is a good synonym, except it is more than that. In the monastic context, every labor takes on the shimmer of prayer and every prayer is labor. The daily round of prayers is the opus Dei, the work of God, and the motto of Benedictines is ora et labora, prayer and work. For a monk, prayer is the primary work, but prayer doesn’t stop when one does work tasks–prayer and work are integral to each other. The same goes for assiduitas. It is a prayerful diligence which is used in conjunction with the monastic study of scripture, lectio divina. The monk is attentive, rigorous, and thorough in the study, out of a prayerful response to relationship with God, rather than out of a need to prove oneself astute or perform perfectly.

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The idea of assiduitas helped me reframe the often dry, long, and challenging dissertation work as a prayerful offering to God, and the practice continues in cultivating sanctuary at the Cottage.  Assiduitas expresses itself in the prayer-full completion of tasks with an eye toward excellence–whether it is winding the vacuum cord back neatly or wiping down a dirty appliance or planning nutritious meals or the welcoming of guests. It expresses itself in finishing challenging projects, reading with attention, or seeing to the on-going maintenance tasks of home-keeping.

It is a good response to procrastination or resentment. Rather than letting procrastination take hold, or the opposite, to resentfully power through, prayerful diligence imagines the doing of the task as the prayer, to be done well in God’s sight and to be done with love.

And while I so often fall short, the goal of any diligence is that deep sigh of relief that a place of sanctuary engenders–welcome, peace, grace, love.

If prayerful diligence entices you as a practice, I encourage you to choose one task, and do it slowly, prayerfully. It could be cleaning off a desk area or changing a bed or sweeping the floor. It could be doing a writing assignment or a project task that is more challenging than joyful, or something that keeps getting put off. How might doing it be reframed as an offering of prayer to God or an offering of love to others?

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