Year End Favorites

Year-end lists are fashionable among my writerly friends. So, I thought in my free moments, I would add my own small voice to the fray. Here are my top five in two categories:

Music

1. Advent song: Amanda Palmer's version of The Angel Gabriel

I'm not a fan of Amanda Palmer. Don't get me wrong; it's not that I actively dislike her, I just don't know much of her music. From what I have listened to though, she's less of a singer and more of an artist. Her voice is shaky and deep, which works for a certain style but not usually for choral hymns. However, her version of The Angel Gabriel is haunting and hypnotic and reminiscent of the chanting of medieval monks.

I do find Palmer interesting. Her TEDtalk was inspiring and her art is weird and, like this hymn, fascinating. Plus, her husband, Neil Gaiman has written some of my favorite books. The pair of them are equally weird and wonderful.

2. Worship music: All the Poor and Powerless by All Sons and Daughters

I used to loathe most worship music played on the radio. And truthfully, I still find most of it too saccharin and unchallenging to be worth my time. But I discovered All Sons and Daughters while working on leading a worship service with a friend.

3. Alternative: Shovels and Rope: The Devil's All Around

I heard this unusual married duo on an NPR interview. It's just the two of them, pounding on drums and a guitar about as hard as they pound out their voices.

4. Throwback Country: Randy Travis' Deeper than the Holler

My husband and I were listening to a Pandora station recently and discovered our mutual love of 90s country music: Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis, Martina McBride, and Deana Carter. These folks sang the soundtrack of our high school days. And how can you resist listening to this classic love song, sung loud with your husband about how our love is "longer than the song of the whippoorwill?"

5. Folk rock: The Staves' Dead & Born & Grown

I love this entire album from a trio of English sisters. Their harmonies bring me back to singing hymns with my own two sisters.

Books (in no particular order)

1. Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

4. Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns Trilogy (see Karissa Know Sorrell's reflection on this YA fantasy with a strong heroine)

5. Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys Quartet (though only three are out so far)

6. Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries beginning with Still Life

7. Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl

9. Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark

10. Tamora Pierce's Lioness Rampant

and one to grow on...

11. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Oh. Little town.

Brassy and brashare the bells that jingle announcing the arrival of Kringle fitted for joy in lipstick red he of rosy-cheeked bulk and mirth

How silently how silently Comes this birth

Merry ding donging and herald harking a shopper’s paradise lost embarking Heaven and hell converge on a Friday with the shoving and shuffling of feet

How silently how silently Does he greet

Boxes, bags, forests of tissue paper and wood bury the plastics, glass, silver and gold Squeals in the rending and releasing of trinkets bound and gagged with ribbon

How silently how silently The wondrous gift is given

Rhymes and picture books of the night before tales spinning of a rooftop breaking-and-entering with the sound of nutcrackers cracking and drummers drumming

How silently how silently, No ear may hear his coming

We, bold and blaring, announce our name and season With speeches, news feeds and cries of treason Our hearts have no vacancies No room no room for stain or sin

Where meek souls will receive him still The dear Christ enters in

Longing for light

IMG_3073 My friend Ang and I are planning the first monthly community-wide worship service this Friday.  We are also involved in a small church but many people who are our neighbors on the property don't attend church with us.  This has been heartbreaking for many reasons.

But as we ask God to help us reconcile with him, with one another and with creation, we are moved to see that our community is growing in unexpected ways.  The church itself is not growing.  But our community meal-times are nearly bursting with life.

I don't presume to know what God is doing in our church or in this community or beyond us because I believe his glory isn't often visible by our narrow sight.  But we must try to follow where He leads.  So we hope that all of our neighbors will join us in worship this Friday in a time of reflection and longing for the light of Christ, the light that is coming.

In preparation, I've been moved by the hymn Christ be our Light, one that I've sung before but hadn't listened to in the time of Advent.  It is a song of hope and lament, that the world is not yet new, that people still suffer and despair, that the kingdom has not yet come.  In my best days, I believe the church is a mystical place where God is glorified in ways we don't understand and often don't see.  There is God's power and love in our gathering, and I pray that he shines in our hearts and that he moves among us with his light.

1. Longing for light, we wait in darkness. Longing for truth, we turn to you. Make us your own, your holy people, light for the world to see.

Refrain Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.

2. Longing for peace, our world is troubled. Longing for hope, many despair. Your word alone has pow’r to save us. Make us your living voice.

3. Longing for food, many are hungry. Longing for water, many still thirst. Make us your bread, broken for others, shared until all are fed.

4. Longing for shelter, many are homeless. Longing for warmth, many are cold. Make us your building, sheltering others, walls made of living stone.

5. Many the gifts, many the people, many the hearts that yearn to belong. Let us be servants to one another, making your kingdom come.

Advent traditions and resources

Celebrating Advent is fairly new to me as I grew up in a tradition that was decidedly un-liturgical.  While I love my lay-led tradition, both the Church of Christ and the Mennonite denominations, there is a richness and mystery to this time of waiting. We're creating our own traditions in our family and congregation and the root of both seems to be a tree.  Ann Voscamp has an excellent (and free) Jesse Tree resource.  You can download and print ornaments for every day of Advent, each with an accompanying scripture and meditation.  That's what we'll do in our worship services this year.

In our home, I've sewn a simple Advent calendar with twenty-five pockets, each holding a tiny bell inside.

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I've ordered a few kid-oriented Advent books and I plan to read a story and let the kids put a bell on the tree that day.

Patience is the spiritual discipline of the season.  My habit of starting a Christmas playlist on Thanksgiving Day is being challenged because most of the songs we sing during this time aren't actually Advent songs, but Christmas Day songs, celebrating the end to waiting.

Amy Grant's Breath Of Heaven (Mary's Song) and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (this version by Enya) are notable exceptions.

Do you wonder as you watch my face, If a wiser one should have had my place, But i offer all i am For the mercy of your plan. Help me be strong. Help me be. Help me.

When I listen to this song, I can see this girl Mary, burdened by the physical and spiritual weight of an unborn baby, weary on a donkey on a dusty road, only half-knowing that she carries a King.

The child coming

Ang and I are conspiring to wait.

We are gathering the symbols of life,

sewing pockets for the pictures and language of truth,

lighting candles, measuring words,

grasping onto any sparks from the vibrancy of incarnation.

We need color.

We need fire and flame.

We need new time and ancient in this mystic practice.

We need the song of children and infants, praising the baby King.

We are Adventing.

*This is the Advent wreath we're trying to create for our worship service.  The picture is from http://www.southernliving.com/home-garden/holidays-occasions/christmas-decorating-ideas-00400000059442/page15.html

'Tis the season for entitlement

In the past few years, I've approached gift-giving season with a bit of anxiety.  While I enjoy both giving and receiving, motherhood has added new perspective and unanswered questions to birthdays and holidays.

On Tuesday, gift season commences in our household when Dandelion turns four.  Blessed be the day when my first baby was born!

As I sit on the floor of our basement assembling her play kitchen, even as I connect the nuts and bolts and screws of her shiny new toy, I worry about how to keep her and her brother from a sense of entitlement.

I love giving gifts to them, material and otherwise.  I delight in my daughter's squeals of joy, her shouts of 'woo-hoo' when she thinks about her special day and the presents she'll receive and cupcakes she'll eat. I hope she always gets so excited to receive, and that this overflowing feeling is just a glimpse of the glory that will fill her when she truly takes hold of those life-affirming gifts called grace and love.

Perhaps the grime of the "gimmes" hasn't muddied her little spirit yet. But I worry about her future spirit because my own sense of entitlement has proven rather difficult to extricate from my heart.

As a mother, I wonder how to help her see that gifts and blessings aren't the trinkets underneath the puffs and mounds of tissue paper that will litter the floor of our large family gathering at Christmas?

How do I help her weave those non-material moments of joy more intricately into the knots of her spirit: dancing at sunset under a double rainbow, spending a week with Nana and Papa, crunching through the leaves of Autumn, sharing a meal with others in our home, inviting a friend over, learning to crack an egg perfectly into a bowl, playing with other kids at community meals?

And how do I wrestle with the Christ-amnesia of Christmas that winks at her in books, movies, and music, where Santa and presents are favored over the waiting and longing of Advent, and the great fulfilment and gift of a barn baby who would be king?*

I believe the answers lie in love, in service and in giving.  Those are vague words that I try to put into practice.

What are your gift and holiday practices or words of wisdom that might tackle this sense of entitlement?

*I don't think the tradition of incorporating Santa into Christmastime is bad in itself but the Santa suit and toy bag is a lot more glamorous than the dust and hay of a manger born Jesus, even when we emphasize the true "reason for the season." **

**I hate that phrase...