Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gathering on Holy Ground

Italian creche--note the baby has not arrived yet

While I served at St. Matthew’s one of the joyful activities was writing/revising prayers for the “stations” we made to begin the “midnight mass.” After a half hour or so of singing best-loved carols and hymns which hadn’t made it into the regular liturgy, the lights would go down. A hush of anticipation fell over the gathered congregation. Then the Deacon and I, accompanied by 2 torches and a varying number of choir members would make our way through the church, stopping for song, prayer and the lighting of candles at the Advent wreath, the baptismal font, the Christmas/Chrismon tree and the Crèche. The sense of increased light coming into the dark world with the Christ was liturgically enacted.

Returning to the front of the church we were joined by the whole choir, who had changed their scapulars from blue to gold, other acolytes carrying banners and crosses and the thurifer with Queen of Heaven incense, wafting heavenward. Proclaiming that the dwelling of God is with creation, that God will dwell with us and we shall be God’s people; that the glory of the Lord has been revealed and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God, we began to process throughout the church singing, “O come, all ye faithful.”

French creche from Aix in Provence  (very tiny and handpainted) The ladies on the left are bringing lavender; and a fisherman on the right is bringing his catch.

In this week before Christmas, accustomed to that prayerful writing/revising, I have wondered how these prayers might be used in the domestic church, in my own home, as I won’t be presiding at Christmas services this year for the first time in 20 years. We have an Advent wreath, Christmas tree and a crèche to bless, so that may well suffice for my liturgical longings. Here are the Stations we used several years ago, singing specific verses of Longing for Light as we made our way from place to place.

At the Advent Wreath
Deacon: During Advent we wait in darkness and long for light. We wait with hope, we long for peace, we desire joy and we yearn for love as we prepare in pregnant anticipation for God’s light and life to invade our world and transform our hearts.
Dean: Tonight we proclaim that a tiny human being, Jesus, is that light and life. Let us announce salvation to people everywhere. Love came down from heaven. Light not shines in the dark and darkness cannot overcome it.
The Candles are lit.

Wooden German creche (Now what is that pig doing here?)

At the Font
Deacon: Jesus burst forth from the waters of the Virgin’s womb to take our human nature with its pain, sorrow, joy and dreams. In the waters of baptism we burst forth spiritually re-born, so that we may live in righteousness and holiness all our days.
Water is poured into the font.
Dean: O God, whose Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of creation, sanctify this water for the service of your holy Church, that it may be to us an outward sign of the cleansing refreshment of your grace and a reminder of the life and light you share with us now and for ever. Amen.

African soapstone creche

At the Tree
Deacon: God created the heavens and earth and all that is in them. In a beautiful and peaceful garden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge grew. When our ancestors disobeyed and ate the fruit of that tree, God pronounced a curse where hard work, pain and death became our way of life. But on another tree God’s Son worked our whole salvation, breaking the power of Satan so that everyone everywhere would be blessed and could become a blessing to others.
The tree is lighted.
Dean: Good and gracious God, bless this tree as a reminder of your promise that the citizens of your kingdom would be as numerous as the stars in heaven. Let these Chrismons (ornaments which represent individuals and events of salvation history) remind us that the cross of crucifixion cast its shadow over the stable in Bethlehem where our Son, our Lord, was born. Amen.

Mexican creche

At the Crèche
Deacon: During the dark of night, in a rude stable, a child was born. There was nothing to suggest anything out of the ordinary. But this was the Son of God, the Child of Mary, the long-awaited light of the world.
The babe is placed in the crèche.
Dean: Blessed Jesus, Son of God, we pray that you will bless this crèche to be a sign of your humble birth that we may stand in humble awe at the mystery of your Incarnation. Tonight as we behold you in the faces of friends and strangers, let us join our voices with the angels and archangels who proclaim your birth. And grant that we may be strengthened to greet your when you come again in glorious majesty as our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

And so gentle reader, may Jesus bless you with a joyous, peaceful and loving Christmastide.  As for Mother and me, friends will join us for traditional prime rib on Christmas Day and to help us consume some of the 50 dozen cookies, the carmel corn, party mix, cashew brittle, cranberry tortes and fruitcakes that we have been busy making all December.  We do love to cook almost as much as we enjoy sharing our efforts with other and feasting on them ourselves.  Taste and see, the Lord is good!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent--waiting, hoping, sharing

Our secular Swedish Advent Wreath

           Due to the retirement covenant that prevents my participation in the life of St. Matthew’s, I have stayed away with a few exceptions; namely, to attend funerals of several elderly women who were neighbors/friends long before I contemplated ordination and the priesthood.  Last week I permitted myself to attend my first non-church event at the cathedral.
          The University of Wyoming Collegiate Chorale and several faculty members of the Music Department presented their annual candlelight concert.  It is one of Laramie's several "official starts" of the holiday season, but the selection of music is far more eclectic than traditional Christmas carols and hymns.  This year the concert was centered on the theme, "The Solace of the Song."  The Chorale sang the premier of an amazing Magnificat written by Forrest Pierce.  It combined Latin elements and mid-Eastern/Sufi rhythms and sounds. Another song, Some Roads, composed by a local master song writer, Bill McKay, really touched my heart and spirit.  It goes,
Life is more than yesterdays
More than the ties that bind,
Some roads lead on from what you've known
To what you need to find.

So in the beautiful, holy place that has been the center of my life for many years, as a laywoman and later as a priest, I gratefully remembered so many experiences of knowing/finding/being found by God in the liturgy, in the people gathered, in shared prayers and joyful praise, and in giving ourselves to one another in the midst of deep anguish and grief.  I was particularly aware how much I miss singing in proximity with the fine St. Matthew’s choristers, as well as just how much I enjoy really good choral music.  My voice certainly improved during my tenure there.  Even though I have returned after many years to practicing the piano on a more or less regular basis—yes, even scales—and singing along with the player piano, my voice seems croakier than ever.  I am not so sure where this road that I have known so well is taking me, but I am hopefully confident that it will take me to what I need to find. 
As a page of the liturgical calendar turned on Sunday, we began another year with the season of Advent. I attended the ELCA church which has just proudly installed a new pipe organ.  Great sound! I was delighted to note their blue Altar hangings (Hooray for the Sarum Rite!) and surprised to see all red candles in their huge hanging Advent Wreath. A local rancher made the wreath to look very much like a wagon wheel.  There were also surprisingly several large poinsettias.  Like many churches when they light the first candle they designate this first week of Advent for  hope.
In the forced quietness of Advent as we wait, hoping with great anticipation, we are also concerned with waking up to find those places where the Christ is continually breaking in, coming to be with us. While some of the traditional ways of keeping Advent seem totally counter-cultural to the “Christmas parties, decorations, mall music, etc.” they are also ways to help us to become more mindful. 
Mother and I are attempting to keep Advent in a more intentional way this year. Without all the “church stuff” that kept me busy in the past, I am finding time for quiet mindfulness and meditation.  Because the gift from a dear friend (and the priest who I did my seminary field work under and who preached at my ordination and installation as Dean) has 29 Advent meditations, we got a jump start on Advent by beginning on November 28.  We light a candle, read some Scripture and Martha’s inspiring meditation and study her artistry on the reverse side.  Then with glasses of wine and candlelight we share something of our hearts with one another.
            We have talked of childhood Christmas memories—huge boxes of candy left on the porch and a paper bag filled with peanuts.  We remember dolls, stuffed animals, sleds, and special meals (Lutfisk at Grammy and Grampy's; turkey at our home; and somewhere along the line, exchanging turkey for Prime Rib)  And hilarious parties with my brother's in-laws before all going to the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. And the fun of gathering used Christmas trees to be used for forts and igloos until the snow melted.   
            Mother told about her baptism and all the “missionary/preacher boys” at her college who were praying for her to be baptized, and about weddings in our family that touched us in different ways.  I am much enjoying these times of sharing and seeing the different ways in which Jesus the Christ, has been with us, guiding us and forming us, for a long while and hopefully for a while to come.  He is the Alpha and the Omega.   We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly”—but we know he is coming to us now and will come to us in even more glorious ways as we wait and hope with joyful anticipation.