Last year not long after the election, we bought a faux birch tree with lights on it.
We brought it home and put it on the wide window ledge in our kitchen/dining room and plugged it in and admired it.
We never turned it off again.
Day and night, winter and spring and summer and fall, we have been waking up to the lights on that tree and coming home to the lights on that tree and eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the lights on that tree. It has been in the background of innumerable photographs; right now our ginger cat is sitting under it with his paw in the water dish.
Yet it has never become something we don’t notice.
As night impinges on day in these dwindling weeks before the Solstice, the little tree reminds us that even in a sad and terrible world, in a devastating political and cultural season, glimmers of goodness exist and there are means to defy the despair evil wants us to feel. By the lights on the little tree, we will call our representatives, and make donations to religious and civic organizations doing good work, and wrap packages and write cards for people we love, and play games and read books and hold hands and pray with them, too.
We will kiss, and we will cry, and we will rage and prepare to burn the whole thing down, and we will refill the cat’s water dish.
Jesus told the disciples that no one but God knows when the hour and the day will come.
In the meantime, I’m not sure what else any of us can do but stay awake and be ready for the moment when something we do or say can make a difference.
As a local church pastor, I love to share resources with my church members designed to enhance their experience of Advent as a season of preparation as opposed to a season of shopping. I want to take on some kind of practice myself, but as a pastor and a parent, I’m often stretched to the limit getting both church and family Christmas ready. Paraclete Press has two beautiful possibilities for those of us who like to work with a book as a spiritual practice, and I am excited to share them with you.
All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, by Gayle Boss (and illustrated by David G. Klein), offers meditations on wild animals and the way they live into the increasing darkness as winter approaches. Boss places the animals (from meadow vole to firefly to cottontail to bear) in their habitats and describes their seeming states of mind as well as the way their bodies have evolved to survive the encroaching cold. Each two page meditation serves to take the reader out of the everyday scramble of human life and into the natural world, deeper and deeper into the shortening days.
He should not be here. Not in the basement window well where he fell sometime in the night, sniffing out food. Not in Michigan, nor in any other state where winter temperatures sit below freezing many days in succession. We lift the opossum, held in the clasp of two rakes. When we open those gates and he quick-waddles into the woods, I bow to him, to the wonder of his survival.
Klein’s woodcuts detail the world of each animal, yet leave room for imagination. While this is not a children’s book, it is a book for many ages, and one a family could read together. The paper, as is characteristic for Paraclete, is gorgeous, making this a book that feels good in the hand. We are all waiting for Jesus to arrive, for God to break in, and this beautiful book is a fine companion for the season.
Now, if reading one more thing feels like too much, here is another option. The Advent Coloring Calendar features coloring pages for the 24 days of Advent, each with a brief word of seasonally appropriate scripture, as well as images for Christmas Day and several more that incorporate familiar carol verses. The book is available for single purchase but also comes packaged with two different recordings: Keeping Christmas: Beloved Carols and the Christmas Story (which includes scripture readings and features a traditional choir with organ) or The Coming of Christ: Gregorian Chant (less my cup of tea, but helpful for being less likely to cause me to get lost in singing along).
If you are a longtime devotee of Praying in Color, you’ll appreciate the quote from Sybil Macbeth, reminding us that coloring causes the “mind and the body to slow down.” Or maybe you are new to the idea of adult coloring books, which you will find for sale this year everywhere from Barnes & Noble to Urban Outfitters. While I always encouraged my children to color outside the lines, I find coloring inside them to be pleasing, relaxing, even comforting. Think of coloring as a mini-Advent retreat in a season when we are far too likely to be goal-oriented, whether it’s finding that iWatch or writing that sermon.
I received copies of both books and both CDs from Paraclete Press in exchange for an honest review.