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 15, would become the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (or alternatively, the 24th 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.
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.
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+21). It anchors the busyness of this season by giving a simple activity and/or a scripture verse for reflection for each day.
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.
Now, as we struggle under the global pandemic, an extended preparation for and post reflection on the Nativity seems even more important. Each day, practices encourage reflection and making connections via text, Zoom or post. Reaching out to people to share encouragement, especially those feeling isolated is even more crucial.
Here is a Celtic Advent Calendar 2021 for use even under pandemic restrictions and lockdowns. Feel free to share it with others and your wider community.
Happy First Day of Celtic Advent and the 24th Sunday after Pentecost!
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.