Advent

Mighty Stirring: Not the Salvation We Choose

Mighty Stirring: Not the Salvation We Choose

Stir Up Sunday should be featured on an episode of The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass (please tell me you’ve seen these; Aaron and I are obsessed).

On the last Sunday of the church year traditional liturgy rises in a cognate with Psalm 80:2: “Excita, quæsumus, Domine…,” “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…” While hailing the divine, this liturgical invocation has also summoned many a British homemaker, cook, and baker to stir up their Christmas pudding so that it has time to mature before the big day.

I find the tradition charming and have embraced the fun injunction this Advent season through Sunday bakeathons.

But that phrase, excita , has stuck with me. Three out of the four Advent Sundays also begin with excita, calling congregations deep into the active wait for Christ.

When the invitation is made to God, however, as it is in today’s psalm, the question haunts me. What does it mean to say, “Stir up thy might, O God”?

What does God’s might look like? What am I really asking?

When God Sings: Beth Moore and the Brood of Vipers

When God Sings: Beth Moore and the Brood of Vipers

It is not every day that a conservative evangelical gets my attention. This week one such person did. Author and speaker Beth Moore wrote all of social media…

And great rejoicing ensued.

If Beth Moore is radicalizing—“rooting” in the embodied, incarnational love of God—then perhaps there is hope for the rest of us white, well-to-do people of faith.

We are probably the most difficult to reach.

Our ears are so stopped with comfort and luxury; it is easy to forget the naked and hungry.

Our shoulders are so heavy with the expectation to perform, achieve, and get ahead; it is hard to distinguish between the cultural, shame-induced patterns of white upper-middle class church folk and the radically nuanced gospel that is really worth of our lives.

Beth Moore sounds like John the Baptist to me this week.

How Praying the “O Antiphons” Can Bring You through the Wait of Advent

How Praying the “O Antiphons” Can Bring You through the Wait of Advent

We are coming up on the last push of Advent.

Now is the time when perhaps waiting seems most impossible. Indeed, for some families, gatherings with grandparents, cousins, great-uncles, etc. will begin in a matter of days. Church musicals and special services are whipping to a frenzy. And maybe our hearts are burning, just a little, with the strain of the wait.

Good. This is probably a safe indication that Advent is well at home with us, in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Keeping Advent in this space is possible and worth it. This could be the time in which it matters the most.

Zechariah’s Refinement: An Old Man Learns Something New

Zechariah’s Refinement: An Old Man Learns Something New

Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and the father of John the Baptist, was a priest. He was kind of a big deal, really. Only descendants of Levi could be priests and he was one of them.

We do not know very much about his economic status or learning, but we do know that he had responsibilities in the Temple—a turn to touch the holy.

That is always a big deal.

The lectionary tells the story this week of John the Baptist. Starting with Malachi we learn that God is sending a messenger to prepare the way; “The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight--indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1b). But this will not necessarily be an easy coming. It will be something to be endured like a “refiner’s fire” and “fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2). The messenger’s coming will require transformation of us all, but especially, Malachi says, of the descendants of Levi.

How interesting that John the Baptist’s own father was one such person.

Malachi believed that the all-male religious leadership he knew would especially feel the effects of the messenger’s coming—and that the well-being of the entire people would depend upon their heeding that transformation.

Fast forward a few hundred years and we see Zechariah tending his duties in the Temple. Along comes the angel Gabriel with good, good news. The messenger is coming, he says, and through your partnership with your wife!

Zechariah’s response, Say what? How will I know that this is so?

And the angel promptly strikes him mute.

How We'll Advent this Year

How We'll Advent this Year

Advent began yesterday in a soft and glorious manner. The children called us to worship with their song and the family of faith looked on as Hope lit up the sanctuary. It is here. The season of watching and waiting is finally here.

Advent pasts have looked quite different than this one in the Coyle-Carr house. Until now, at least one of us has faced down finals and term papers ‘til Gaudete Sunday three weeks in. This time around, though, graduate days are behind us and a bump swells before us day by day.

Our family is changing and growing, as is its expression of vocation and faithful living. We are seeing things in new lights and from new angles. There is a stirring in our bones even as we feel the most at home yet.

I do feel rooted. My feet can almost find their way around here. I technically became a Texan last Friday.

And here comes Advent.

See the Signs: An Invitation to Anticipation

See the Signs: An Invitation to Anticipation

Advent begins today with what could be a rather ominous gospel reading.

We hear Jesus talking about the apocalyptic coming of the Son of Humanity—his own glorified return at the end of this age. The End is always tinged in mysterious light; it has been a source of anxiety for Christians since the beginning. “When will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21:7). We worry about burning skies and brimstone, persecutions and purgatory—pretty much everything that is not found in this text.

In fact, the Teacher answers the anxiety of his disciples not with a series of warning signals, but a serious invitation to anticipation. To be clear, Jesus does not trivialize the disciples’ fears. He does not shame them for being confused or afraid. Indeed, the End could be scary for those not expecting it to come. But that is just it: Jesus gives us a heads up and a hand up—an invitation to anticipation.

For loose holds and the last day of class - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 49

For loose holds and the last day of class - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 49

This week I am grateful…

1

For Christmas trees in Advent.

Embracing the liturgical year is a beautiful thing, but it is also a conflicting thing. The Year has cost me some expectations and traditions I grew up enjoying because the Year invites me to dwell deeply within the dynamic story of God’s love for the whole world. This means good news, but it also means I sometimes have to give up the kinda good for the better.

I have come to know that knowing God means holding things loosely because God is always better than I hope, more benevolent than I imagine, and wilder than I can fathom. Trusting God, therefore, is a risk. The symbols and traditions I come to love so much can all of a sudden and drastically not fit the grace I experience, the glimpse of the divine that She gives. Love confounds and breaks the handholds I contrive.

Let them be signs, beloved, reminders and pointers—temporary shelters, not permanent dwellings. Go where I go, hold onto Me. There will be more signs and wonders…

Practically speaking, holding on loosely has looked like an assessment of personal practice and traditions. Aaron and I have been intentionally trying traditions together as a family. It is both fun and frustrating. We have enjoyed listening and learning from the multitude of signs the Body of Christ has recognized over the centuries—form the silly and superstitious, to the sanguine and sacred. But I have also at times gotten stuck in my deliberations with questions like, for instance, when in the WORLD should the Christmas tree go up?

I know some folks put theirs up at the beginning of Advent. Others do a progressive tree dressing: they set up the tree on Advent 1 and add to it every week, with the lights coming on St. Lucy’s feast day and the star on Christmas Eve. Still others save the whole shebang for a solely Christmas Eve tradition, the tree staying up ‘til Epiphany. I have been conflicted about the entire question—I mean, what even IS a Christmas tree anyway?

And then a gift unfolds in the doing. A sign emerges.

My roommates and I put up our tree last Sunday because Holly wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it before we go our separate ways. We gathered. We untangled lights and unwrapped ornaments. We argued tree placement—here or there? This angle or that? And it was perfect.

Meagan pulled out these adorable magi and held them just so, and, just like that, I saw the sign of the Christmas tree for this Year.

I saw pilgrimage and anticipation. I felt the Advent, Christ’s coming, but not yet. I felt my own place on the road, in step with the wise ones from the east on their journey toward a Star they knew meant something wonderful.

The tree became a symbol of Advent. It became a guide for the mystical liminality of this season.

As the magic magi travel up the psychedelic spiral of our colorful Christmas tree, they are leading me onward towards Home.

Thanks be to God for simple signs and wonders.

For Advent's approach, our anniversary, & completed drafts - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 48

For Advent's approach, our anniversary, & completed drafts - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 48

This week I am grateful...

1

For communion, contemplation, and contemplating communion.

St. Matthew’s Episcopal welcomed me to the table on Sunday morning, Christ the King Sunday. The meal warmed my belly and buzzed my mind. How overwhelming is God’s grace sometimes! It often is a gentle hand on the shoulder or the faintest whisper of fond greetings. But Sunday it was a radiating pulse of re-orientating love. It was a welcome home. Again.

The next day I sat to do some major work on my school capstone project, musing for hours on the topic of cosmic communion and praying with the nature of matter (which is a story I hope to tell soon!). Several things became clear, and I will share two of those things here.

First, I love, love, love communion. The more I think about the practice and experience it in my body with the gathered community of faith, the deeper the thing becomes, the more encompassing and transformative, the more the truth of it dwells in me, making me a citizen of God’s reality.

Second, contemplating the ways God dwells deeply in and with the ever-unfolding creation gives me life—it makes me alive.

I love God, I love creation, and I love to think. It is grace—an unexpected and utterly free gift—when God meets me in the communion of it all.