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.