Advent_Joy2

This photo of my youngest is one of my very favorites—his joy over the lighting of the Advent candle is infectious! It’s not Advent yet, but soon, soon.

This coming Sunday, November 20, is the final Sunday of the church year, on which we celebrate Christ the King, eternal Lord of all. It is a day of looking forward to the return of our King at the end of history and a hopeful reminder (especially in this election year when far too many of us have staked our hopes on temporal government) that Christ is, even now, Lord of heaven and earth.

The following Sunday, November 27, is the first Sunday of Advent and of a new church year, and so we go back to the beginning of the Gospels and await the coming of Immanuel, God-with-us. But we wait as people who know the end of the story. We wait with the words of John in Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Though I love all the church’s seasons, Advent is perhaps my favorite. I have more resources for it than for all the other seasons combined! I share with you a few in the hope that they will help make your Advent preparations more mindful and more meaningful.

First, a bit of embarrassed self-promotion: my book on the church year, The Circle of Seasons is now available on Kindle. I also have a dwindling number of paperback copies available; just shoot me an email if you want one. They’re $12 each (including shipping to a U.S. address).

Second, my friend Kris Camealy has written a book of Advent devotions, Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting, which are rich in Scripture and speak again and again that ancient cry of the church, “Come, Lord Jesus,” calling us to wait with hopeful, joyful expectation of God’s tabernacling with us.

Third, Malcolm Guite’s Waiting on the Word was my companion through Advent and Christmas last year—a poem a day to keep beauty and truth and the wonder of Incarnation before my eyes. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Fourth, a Jesse Tree devotional, written by yours truly and illustrated by 40 different artists, ages 3 to 83, from my church, Bethany Presbyterian, in Seattle. There’s a devotion for each day of Advent and Christmas. It’s free through December 1.

Fifth, if you’re looking for good books to read with your littles (or not-so littles) this season, to help all of you prepare your hearts for Christmas, here’s are a few of our family’s favorites (as in, we read them every year):

Picture Books

The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Berger (the illustrations are rich and full of Christian symbols)

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown, illus. Barbara Cooney (Cooney’s simple four-color illustrations are a perfect complement to the simple, sweet rhyme by the author of Goodnight Moon; )

One Winter’s Night by John Herman, illus. Leo and Diane Dillon (a sweet story about a lost cow finding shelter in the same barn as Mary and Joseph; one of the few with a Holy Family that doesn’t look Anglo.)

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, illus. Mark Buehner (one of my very favorites; don’t miss this!)

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illus. P.J. Lynch (another of my very, very favorites; a desert island Christmas book for sure!)

The Witness by Robert Westall, illus. Sophy Williams (a retelling of the Christmas story from the point of view of a barn cat, it definitely takes some liberties with the Biblical text, particularly the character of Joseph, but we enjoy it anyway.)

Chapter Books 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (laugh out loud funny—especially if you’ve never read it before!)

One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham, illus. Richard Jesse Watson (the whole Biblical story from Creation through Fall to Redemption, and the illustrations [like the one above, of the angel guarding Eden] are gorgeous!)

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy (I adore this story of hope and restoration)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illus. P.J. Lynch (there are other good illustrated versions, but we love Lynch’s)

And finally, if you only read one Advent meditation this season, let it be this beautiful post by Lanier Ivester, a paean of praise sparked by the flight of sandhill cranes. I’ve read it every year for the past four years (and even posted it with Lanier’s permission on my blog last year because I love it that much) and every time, it quickens my heart with joy and longing, thickens my throat with tears even as I whisper a broken, heartfelt, Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

A blessed Advent to you all. May you pause in the midst of the holiday preparations to watch the beauty and glory of ordinary life unfold—this life that God the Son came to share, to save, and to redeem.

 
 

Evensong, Heading East

I wrote a version of the following essay two years ago. Some of you read it when I published it here on my blog. But it always rankled. It wasn’t…what I wanted it to be, so this fall I revisited it, revised it (with some wise and helpful words from my dear friend Susan), and sent it to Lancia Smith at The Cultivating Project, who graciously received it and published it on her site. It’s still not quite what I want it to be, but it’s much closer than it was, and I’m (mostly) happy with it. If it sparks in you even the merest hint of a longing for Home, I will consider it a success.

empire_builder_in_montana

Somewhere in eastern Montana I finished reading Gaudy Night. With a sigh I closed the book and stared out the train window. In the westering light, green and gold fields rolled away from the tracks in undulating waves clear to the horizon. My eyes smarted, and something in my chest ached. The train’s whistle blew, a plaintive song fading into the distance.

The curve of the sky above the train and the fields seemed taller than my urban eyes were used to, bluer, more three-dimensional. The clouds puffed their tops into the dome of the sky, like snow-white pastries rising in a celestial oven. I held the closed book between my hands, unshed tears pressing against my eyes and aching in my chest. The book was over, and I’d lived with these characters for almost 500 pages and had come to love them; I wanted to keep on living with them and loving them.

But it was more than just that. For as long as I can remember excellent books have almost always left me feeling a bit bereft, as if I lost a part of myself, left it in the pages of the book. (This is perhaps why I reread books religiously: maybe I subconsciously hope that I will find the part of myself that I left behind.) Or maybe it’s that a truly great book enlarges me, and by the end of it there is a hole, an aching gap between who I was before I read it and who I was once I finished it. Maybe it’s both.

I watched the fields roll by. As small hills appeared in the distance, dark blue against the brighter sky, a nagging awareness tugged at my attention…

If you’d like to read the rest, please head over to The Cultivating Project.
 
 
 
Photo by Loco Steve, Creative Commons via Flickr.

As I type these words, sourdough bread is rising in the kitchen. My husband and I have been making our own bread for 12 years. In the spring we decided we were ready to try a new challenge: sourdough. So we ordered a starter from King Arthur—because theirs was started in 1789, the year the American Constitution was signed, and I am geeky enough to think it’s super cool that I have something that old living in my refrigerator.

But having a sourdough starter is a bit like having a cat. It’s mostly self-sufficient, but you still have to feed and water it. Hence this weekly routine:

Yesterday, I pulled my storage starter out of the fridge and divided it. Half I fed with flour and water and returned to the refrigerator. The other half I fed with flour and water and let rise on the counter. Later in the day I fed it again. Before bed I put it in the fridge. This morning I pulled it out of the fridge. And now, I am turning it into bread: I just finished mixing still more flour and water (and a little salt) with the sourdough starter.

In an hour, I will give the slightly risen dough two business letter turns (think of folding a business letter in thirds, and then doing so again) and let it rise for another hour. Then I will rinse and repeat. After that second rise and the third pair of business letter turns, I will let the dough rise for 5 or 6 hours, until it’s doubled. Then I will shape it into rounds and let it rise for another 3 or 4 hours. Then I will bake it.

Every time I make this bread, I think good grief, this is a lot of work. But when it comes out of the oven and I slice through its shattery exterior—sending crumbs of hot crust shooting like sparks all over the counter—and then through its soft, chewy center, and when I slather it with salted butter, and especially when …

Friends, you can read the rest of this piece over at Grace Table. (And just so you know, it’s not really about sourdough…)

 
 
 

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