Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's beginning to look (and sound) a little like Advent.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. The season of preparation has officially arrived.

Deep breath. That doesn't mean I have to be prepared now. It means it's time to start preparing.

(For those of you who for whom this whole Advent thing is unfamiliar or who might not share my enthusiasm for the topic, it's okay. This just happens to be one of those times when my liturgical geekery is on full display. Once January comes and Epiphany happens and the Magi have left the building, I will go back to writing about other stuff. Promise.)

So far: I have replaced the fall wreath on our door with an appropriately wintery (though not overly Christmas-y) looking one that I made. I love how it turned out. We have thrown away the moldy jack 'o' lantern. Right now, there's still a fall-looking flag up on my little garden flagpole, but I can change it tomorrow. We lit the first candle on the Advent wreath tonight at dinner, but we didn't have time to dig the actual wreath out from the attic, so we just have the candles in the wreath form. Not pretty, but functional. It was fine. There's plenty of time.

Many Christian churches have an Advent wreath. It has four candles, usually purple or dark blue, around the circle and a single white candle in the center. (Sometimes the third outside candle is pink...more on that when we get to the third Sunday.) One of the outer candles is lit each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas to symbolize the coming Light of Christ. The center candle symbolizes Christ and is lit on Christmas. It is common for families to have a wreath in their homes, as well, and to light the candles together. We received a wreath as a wedding gift and have enjoyed lighting it every year since we were married in 2001.

With little children, the traditional readings can get a little long. I want SuperSam and The Sisters to enjoy our tradition of using the wreath, so I have been searching for a resource that can help us make this happen.

I found O Radiant Dawn: 5 Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath by Lisa Hendey and ordered it last week. There are short readings and prayers to use daily during Advent. Each day's reading lasts just a few minutes, so it's perfect for us to use at dinner together each evening (which is when we usually light our candles). The readings focus on light and dark, so it's easy for SuperSam to relate to them. (Note to fellow liturgy geeks: the book does not follow the lectionary, but it does include the O Antiphons, so I'm not complaining. Besides, we can use it again next year.)

A reader asked me this week what I was doing to help slow myself down (see here if you missed why I need to do that). I have decided to put notes to myself in some prominent places (bathroom mirrors, refrigerator door, coffee pot, dashboard of the car, and laptop, to start) that say things like "Breathe, there's time," and "Waiting IS doing something," and "Slow down, it's just Advent." I haven't actually done this yet, but since the notes are supposed to remind me that I have time, I am not stressing about it. We'll see if they help me keep myself from rushing ahead to Christmas too quickly.

We have been listening to the Advent playlist I created (yes, I know that was cheating, but I needed to test it out for you). I'm posting it here on the blog for you in case your ears are hungry for some not-yet-Christmas music. It's about 2 hours long...who knew there were so many Advent songs?

Advent music is strange in some ways, and hearing these songs can be a little jarring when we are so used to Christmas music this time of year. Putting together this playlist made it clear to me that as a culture, we have moved away from observing this season. Most of the compositions are quite old - classical pieces, motets, chant and plainsong make up the bulk of the music I included - but a few contemporary artists have recorded some of the old hymn texts in new settings, and there are some lovely instrumental arrangements, too. The tone is contemplative, often solemn, occasionally apocalyptic- a definite contrast with the stuff being played over the loudspeakers at the mall right now. It is working for me, but if you're in the mood for something totally upbeat and cheery, you might look elsewhere. (Or just check out the a capella version of Sleepers, wake! down below - so catchy!) You might need to download free Spotify software if you don't already have it to hear the songs...I'm trying to find a way around that.

Here is the text of one traditional Advent hymn that has been running through my head:

People, look East. The time is near of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look East, and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way.

I especially like the part about making your house "fair as you are able." Maybe the composer had a bunch of little kids and shared my aversion to sweeping and never quite got around to dusting her bookshelves. Fortunately, I still have time to clean things up before Christmas (and Love, the Guest) arrives. So yes, people, look east, by all means - just don't look behind my couch (at least not for a few more weeks).

If the cleanliness of my floors is any indication, I'm doing okay with the whole "taking my time" thing. I'll keep you posted.