It’s Advent. Enter quickly!

I love the season of Advent, and I am sympathetic with those who try to make room in their busy lives to give this short season some semblance of recognition and practice. Advent has become something of a “Cinderella” season.  It gets squeezed out of contemporary life by the big sisters of commercial and social activity that arrive long before the 25th of December.  Advent is supposed to be a season of focus and contemplation–of waiting in hope for the renewal of our faith.

Father Gregory Fruehwirth, a monk of the Anglican Order of Julian of Norwich, writes:

The first week of Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year in Christ. It is a time of darkness, of hidden pregnancy, of waiting. The seed of the kingdom of God, the seed that will germinate at Christmas, sprout in Epiphany, grow through Lent, blossom at Easter, and bear its seven-fold fruit at Pentecost, is sown in the dark soil of Advent. The new life of God is already within us, even though we may see, feel, and understand nothing. Patience and faith are called for.

The season begins with John the Baptist, warnings about the end of time, the eventual disintegration of creation, and the nearing Day of Judgment.  It ends with the joyful promise of new creation and the awakening of transcendent life in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is a season that calls us to a time of quiet waiting, of margin, of contemplation.  In order for such contemplative presence to be ours, we would do well to intentionally eliminate some of our more routine media-saturated moments in the day and convert them to moments of solitude and silence.

I have long advocated the practice of “Advent Walks,” just before the day ends.  The diffused twilight from the sky, when the sun is below the western horizon, gently gives way to a brisk and gentle darkness. The lights of the neighborhood are blinking on and the scent of dry burning oak fills the night sky, like a waft of incense adding mystery to nature’s daily evening liturgy.  The opening verse of the 9th century Latin chant, memorized from seminary days comes readily to mind, Creátor alme síderum, “Creator of the stars of night, your people’s everlasting light, O Christ redeemer of us all, we pray you hear us when we call.”

Advent will move too swiftly over the days of December.  Enter it quickly!

For Each Hand We Hold

Tomorrow, we will gather once again, with family and friends to give thanks to God for the many blessings bestowed on us at the turning of another year.  We will remember the gift of freedom we enjoy in this great land.  We will recognize the ways our lives have been supported and blessed by the contribution of others.

In Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lovely “Thanksgiving Song,” there come these lines:

Grateful for each hand we hold
Gathered round this table.
From far and near we travel home,
Blessed that we are able.
Grateful for this sheltered place
With light in every window,
Saying “welcome, welcome, share this feast
Come in away from sorrow.”

Carpenter’s song reminds us in more personal ways, to treasure the relationships of family and friends who enrich our daily living and make our hearts glad.  Something to remember when we sit at table and an invitation to widen our circle of hospitality throughout the year.

Wishing you a glad and hopeful Thanksgiving Day,

Rick+

At The Heart of It All

We’ve reached the final weekend of the Liturgical Year, the Last Sunday after Pentecost which focuses on the theme of “Christ The King.”  The central message of Jesus focused on the proclamation of an alternative kingdom, the kingdom of God.  Jesus could have spoken about the ‘family’ of God or the ‘community’ of God, but he chose to speak of the ‘kingdom of God’, which certainly carries a political as well as spiritual meaning.

But for Jesus, the Kingdom of God is not about setting up a particular political system as much as it is about the transformation of human life at all levels.  When Pilate confronted Jesus and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews ?” he answered, “My kingdom doesn’t consist in what you see around you.” (John 18:36 – The Message).

I think Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom of God is summarized beautifully in the prayer he gave his disciples, particularly the line, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Speaking of this line, the Biblical scholar Dominic Crossan loves to say, “Heaven is in great shape; earth is where the problem is.” He is right.  We believe in the kingdom, we speak about the kingdom, we sing and pray about the kingdom, but we have a difficult time experiencing the kingdom in the midst of all the noise and pressures of ordinary daily living.  The winds of consumerism and consumption that blow against our lives in this culture are very powerful forces that are far from easy to overcome.

Jesus knew the winds of culture as well as anyone. You can hear that lived experience in his counsel to, “Set your hearts on his kingdom first . . . and all these other things will be given you as well.”  What matters in the midst of all that surrounds us is where our hearts are. When we are anxious, stressed, and angry, our hearts have started to shift to the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts back to the center, where all other things fall into place, to what the poet T.S. Eliot described as that “still point of the turning world.”  That’s a lovely phrase I return to again and again in times of uncertainty and stress.

In that “still point,” we become aware of the many ways God has graced our lives. Just pausing for a moment to listen to the wind  orchestrate the colorful dance of autumn leaves, or relishing the embrace of a friend or loved one, can help keep our hearts focused on the presence and activity of God in the here and now.  Gathering with God’s people at Holy Comforter to listen deeply to sacred scripture and to share a Eucharistic meal is another way of weekly renewal and movement toward the Kingdom in our midst.  From that “still point,” we gain hope for the living of our days.

This weekend we also celebrate “Commitment Sunday,” a way of placing our treasure where we yearn for our hearts to be.  Last Friday our guest speaker for our Festive Meal, Bruce Rockwell,  told us that God gives us each new day as an opportunity to strive to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us.  Giving a percentage of our income as an expression of gratitude helps us remember that all that is good in our lives has its origin in the loving kindness of God who has given us life in the first place. It is so much easier to give generously when we are truly grateful.

At the turning of another liturgical year, and with the approach of the Thanksgiving Holiday, I find so much to be thankful for in my life as lived in relationship with others.  We’ve walked a few more miles together, in joy, in sorrow, in hope reborn.  Take time this week to thank God for the gift of faithful friendships, for wisdom gained, and for the love of Christ the King at the heart of it all.

A Day In November

Mid-November is a time in the northern hemisphere when nature begins its annual cycle of decline, death, and ultimate rebirth.  It is also a season of days when the creation seems awash in a final burst of glorious color.

November, with it’s early feast of All Saints, is a traditional time to cherish the memory of those who have gone before us in the faith.  Their stories continue to inspire us and remind us that we are not alone in our struggle to live faithful, loving, and truthful lives.  My father was born on November 14, 1926, and with his birth came the possibility and reality of my own unique human life.  He lives on in my heart.  November is also the month that Debbie and I gave our lives to each other in the covenant of marriage – November 26, 1977.  That was a great day indeed!

I’ve been working on a piece by the great Cuban composer, conductor, and guitarist, Leo Brouwer entitled, Un Dia De Noviembre, written for a 1972 Cuban film of the same name directed by Humberto Solás. The original instrumentation was for guitar accompanied by flute, bass, and percussion. He later transcribed the piece for solo guitar.  I love the pensive and wistful mood of this piece — perfect for a rain soaked November afternoon.

I’m playing my Alhambra 5PCWE2 using both a condenser mic and a direct box into to my Logic set-up.  I still have some work to do on this piece but the background of rain and falling leaves far outweigh the imperfections that still remain.  Hope you enjoy it as much I did playing it today.

All Saints: Those Who Make God Real To Us

As the days shorten and the beautiful autumn colors begin to fade, the church reminds us of both the splendor and frailty of human life. The Feast of All Saints, which the parish I serve celebrates this weekend, has survived thousands of years for a reason and it seems to have everything to do with our need to keep those who have died alive in our hearts.

The ancient Celts, who celebrated the major festival of Samhain around November 1, believed that the veil between worlds became especially permeable at this time. In something of that spirit, I find that celebrating the Feast of All Saints offers me an invitation to ponder the past.  Not with a desire to return to it, or to second-guess it, but with a mindfulness that the life of those I love but see no longer is changed not ended.  In faith we reach across the distance of time and place trusting that beyond death there is resurrection life.

Nathaniel Walker Gibson

The Festival of All Saints is also one of the principal days identified in the Book of Common Prayer as appropriate for baptism, since it is a celebration of the unity and communion of all Christians from all ages.  We need the younger saints to lead us into laughter and joy!  Whether we are parents, God-parents, or members of the community of faith who promise to do all we can to support the newly baptized in their journey, we share in the blessing and promise of their unique lives.

At the 10:45 liturgy this Sunday, I will have the  privilege of baptizing my first grand-child, Nathaniel Walker Gibson.  Along with four other treasured children, Warren Nguyen Hawthorne, Brody Maddox Hemeon, Allison Janet Krogh, and Sean Gunther McClelland, we will humbly present each one to God “to live as one who bears Christ’s name.” At 5:00 p.m. in the evening we will conclude our celebration of All Saints with an Evening of Remembrance and Celebration of the Duruflé Requiem Mass.  I’ve written about this exquisite requiem in a previous post here.

It seems to me that all that is required to become a saint is to be transparent enough to allow the light of Christ’s love to shine through our humanity, as flawed and uneven as it sometimes can be. With no other qualification than having our eyes and hearts open and our lungs taking in air, and a desire to follow God in the way of Christ, we can help others to see that God is truly real.  Gerald Manley Hopkins captures it powerfully in these lines:

For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Little Walker Gibson is just the latest of ten thousand places for me.