holiday wishes

This showed up on Facebook a while back courtesy of my friend Annalee. I thought it appropriate today with the beginning of Hanukkah.

The original had some text at the bottom which I think detracted from the message. The diagram delivers the complete message on its own.

Click on the image for the full-size version.

And scroll down beneath the diagram for Peter, Paul and Mary’s marvelous “Light One Candle.”


it’s still Advent

I wrote at the beginning of Advent that I had given up being the Advent Police, and that if I wanted to listen to Christmas music during Advent I would. What I’m discovering is that I don’t want to. I’m perfectly happy right now listening to music that is not of the Christmas genre. Christmas is on a Thursday this year, so there will be plenty of opportunity to listen to Christmas music between Advent 4 and Christmas Day. And, of course, for those of us in the liturgical tradition, Christmas lasts until Epiphany on 6 January, so there is lots of time to listen to Christmas music from Christmas Day until then.

Of course I impose my approach on no one. You need to do what works for you. As the internet abbreviation goes: ymmv – your mileage may vary. I certainly understand that given the headlines in the news along with the stresses of daily life many people choose to start listening to Christmas music earlier rather than later.

Happy Advent!

Sacred Music Friday: Wachet auf

First movement from cantata BWV 140 “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Wake, arise, the voices call us), performed by the J. S. Bach Foundation of St Gallen, Rudolf Lutz, conductor.

Advent 2014

1 Advent

It is Advent once again. Advent is always welcome after that long, green season after Pentecost, even if the Gospel reading for 1 Advent is apocalyptic in nature. The color of Pentecost depends on which denomination you belong to. The Lutherans some years ago changed the color of Advent from purple to blue in order to emphasize expectation over penance. In the Episcopal church the official color of Advent is still purple. Although as Linda my spiritual director has told me, the purple of Advent can be seen as the purple of royalty. At St. John the Divine the color is purple, we have no flowers, and we sing the Kyrie as we do in Lent, though Fr. Phil made a comment on Facebook yesterday similar to what Linda told me about purple and royalty. This year we are doing Eucharistic Prayer C for Advent, which always delights me.

I wrote a reflection at the beginning of Advent last year, which I think still holds up well, except for the reference to the year in the lectionary cycle. Last year we were beginning Year A, Matthew. This year we began Year B, Mark. The question then revolved around, as it still does this year, when Christmas can seep into Advent. I have given up taking on the role the Advent Police, and have decided that if I choose to listen to Christmas music in Advent I will so so. As Linda said to her congregation last year:

quoteI’ve noticed that there’s not much any of us can do to control Advent and Christmas. Just like babies, Advent and Christmas seem to arrive in their own time, not ours. Despite our tight-gripped control of our calendars, they are not as predictable as we would like to believe.

My intent this year us to enjoy the season. I hope you’ll do the same.

getting there

3 Advent

I almost didn’t make it to church yesterday. I turned off the alarm at 6:59, one minute before it was to go off, and lay in bed for a few minutes before I got up to feed Tasha. When I came back upstairs, I looked at the bathtub and looked at the bed. The bed won. I set the alarm for 8:45 and figured that I could get up, take a soak in the tub, have breakfast, and take Tasha for her walk, since Terry had been recovering from a cold. Then I could pick up our New York Times and hit Trader Joe’s. It was cold, after all. Besides, at church we were still singing that somber Kyrie, which I think is fine for Lent, but to me doesn’t seem quite right for Advent. Yet at 7:29 I turned off the alarm and got out of bed. It was after all Gaudete Sunday, and I really didn’t want to miss that, did I? And besides when I miss Communion something is missing from my week. I made up for the lost time by taking a shower rather than enjoying my usual tub soak.

For the Third Sunday in Advent in Year A, congregations are given the option of saying part of Psalm 146 or the Magnificat from Luke 1. (“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…”)  As it turned out, we sang Psalm 146 in the spot for the Psalm, but our opening hymn was a beautiful appreciation of the Magnificat. Really beautiful. And the candle for 3 Advent was rose-colored. Well worth getting out of bed for.

And of course there is Communion. My week really is out of kilter when I miss Communion. So I made it there, and I am glad that I did.


on Advent

2 Advent

I love Advent. Especially in years like this one when the Season after Pentecost is especially long.

But Advent is not Christmas. The lectionary readings for the first couple of Sundays of Advent can be kind of rough. This is Year A, the year of Matthew. I’ve always thought Matthew was the harshest of the four gospels, and nothing in the readings for the first two Sundays of Advent does anything to alter that opinion. Last week we heard Matthew 24: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Yesterday It was John the Baptist in Matthew 3: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Tough stuff, indeed.

I don’t follow the daily lectionary, but Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Day by Day wrote the December reflections this year and commented:

quote I picked Advent … before I remembered what’s in the daily office lections for the month. Zoinks. It’s not all fun and games. Woe to those who say Advent isn’t penitential!

I spent ten  years in exile from the Episcopal Church off in the Lutheran Church where the color for Advent is Blue, to indicate expectation. The color in the Episcopal Church is still purple. My spiritual director, Linda, an Episcopal parish priest, tells me the color can be seen as royal purple. And I did see on Facebook a picture of an Episcopal clergy person in a beautiful blue vestment.

At St. John the Divine, the approach is more penitential. No altar flowers in Advent (as in Lent), and we sing the Kyrie, which we only sing in those two seasons.

At Good Shepherd Lutheran, Pastor Koch was adamant that we did not sing Christmas songs during Advent. I internalized that, and became a bit of a snob. Linda reminded me once that I am not the Advent police. And indeed, I loosened up a bit last year because in times of stress and frustration Christmas music can be soothing and healing.

Linda spoke to her congregation on Advent 1 about the Advent police. She says, “For some reason, the Advent police seem to take greater pleasure in seeking out infractions than seeking out the Christ Child.” An easy trap to fall in to.

Linda goes on to say:

quote I’ve noticed that there’s not much any of us can do to control Advent and Christmas. Just like babies, Advent and Christmas seem to arrive in their own time, not ours. Despite our tight-gripped control of our calendars, they are not as predictable as we would like to believe. There have been years in my life when neither Advent nor Christmas became a reality for me. There have been years when my Advent extended almost to Easter and other years when I’ve been struck by Christmas in the middle of summer or on a day filled with falling leaves. You may have had similar times when your own experience doesn’t quite coincide with the season or with what seems to be going on with those around you. The thing is—God shows up when God shows up, and there’s not a lot we can do about it.

Now there is a liberating thought.

Maybe we need to get away from all those rules about Advent and focus of waiting and expectation. Maybe the lectionary does not have the correct approach in its focus on penitence.

Marcus Borg writes about Advent:

quote Seeing Advent as a penitential season strikes me as unfortunate. It is the product of a seriously distorted and yet widespread understanding of Christianity: namely, that the central issue in our lives with God is our sinfulness….That is a serious impoverishment of Christianity and Advent. Christianity and Advent are about so much more. The central themes of the stories of Jesus’s birth … are hardly at all about sin and our need for forgiveness.

These themes include, Borg says:

  • Liberation from bondage
  • Return from exile
  • Light in the darkness
  • Yearning and fulfillment

He expands on these themes in his initial Advent post, and promises more on them throughout Advent.

Useful reflections as we wait for the coming of the Light.

I leave the final word to my spiritual director Linda:

quote One again, we begin the journey to Christmas. Jesus is coming. There’s no telling what will happen. Sing a little carol! Stay awake!

ordinary time

I haven’t had a lot to say about religion, liturgy, and spirituality of late. Part of it is just where I am right now. Part of it is where we are in the liturgical calendar. We had a very early Easter this year. That means a very long season after Pentecost. Yesterday was the 25th Sunday after Pentecost. That is, as you’re well aware, one week short of half a year.

It’s ordinary time. The Episcopal Church doesn’t officially use the term “ordinary time” in its liturgical vocabulary. We talk about the Season After Epiphany and the Season After Pentecost. The phrase “Season After” as opposed to “Season of” is supposed to indicate that it is outside one of the sacred seasons. But I like the phrase “ordinary time,” because it tells us precisely where we are.

I’m glad that this long season of ordinary time is drawing to a close. Next week we observe the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, and then the Last Sunday After Pentecost, or Christ the King Sunday. And then December 1, the First Sunday of Advent.

I am ready for Advent. More than ready.

Secular Music Friday: Neil Diamond – Happy Christmas (War Is Over)

A marvelous Neil Diamond rendition of the John Lennon classic. And as unrealistic as it might sound, we can hope and pray for the end of war.

And believe it or not, as daring as it may seem
It is not an empty dream, to walk in a powerful path
Neither the first not the last great peace march
Holly Near

And Happy Solstice for those who so celebrate. Though the song is about Christmas, it somehow seems appropriate for the Solstice as well.

spiritual journey letter 2012

Here’s my 2012 spiritual journey letter, which I sent out to some on my Christmas card list.

2 Advent 2012


 would call this a year of stability from a spiritual journey perspective.


I have nothing exciting or extraordinary to report from that part of my life. I continue to be very happy worshipping at St. John the Divine in Morgan Hill. I continue my monthly visits with my wonderful spiritual director, who helps keep me on track.

From a denominational perspective, the Episcopal Church held its 77th triennial General Convention this year. A lot of good things came out of it. There was a resolution that authorized provisional use of a rite for blessing same-gender unions, a resolution that makes clear that the ordination discernment process is open to members of the transgender community, and another that guarantees transgender people their equal place in the life, worship and governance of the church. All great stuff.

You could make the case that the convention wimped out on the issue of the Anglican Covenant.  Rather than outright rejecting it, they passed a resolution that said, “…the General Convention declines to take a position on the Anglican Covenant at this convention.” I suppose the covenant is dead, anyway, but I wish there had been a stronger response.

My big disappointment was in the area of Open Communion. There were two resolutions: one to allow it and one to study it. What ultimately passed was a resolution that said absolutely nothing. It’s unfortunate, because I believe this is essential to the growth of the Episcopal Church, and it is the common practice anyway. I have never been in an Episcopal church where anyone was ever questioned when coming to the altar rail, and were that the case I would not be in the Episcopal Church. (In many Missouri Synod Lutheran congregations, a newcomer going forward for Communion without first consulting with the pastor risks embarrassment.) My own bishop, Mary Gray-Reeves of the Diocese of El Camino, has clearly said that if someone has their hands open they will receive the Bread. In response to an email I sent to my spiritual director after the final result at Convention, she said, “I’ll continue to be one of those who acts outside the canon and hope for a different outcome next time.” She’s far from alone, and I can only hope that the next General Convention will have more courage on this specific issue.

With respect to our brethren and sistern across the Atlantic in the Church of England, it’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the selection of Justin Welby as the next Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be a marvelous choice. The bad news is the failure of the CofE, by the narrowest of margins, to allow women bishops. That was terribly sad and disappointing.

But all of this is outside my personal control. What I can do is work on maintaining my own spiritual center and my relationship with God, while I “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

A peaceful Advent and a joyful Christmas to you!

Advent, part 2

Yesterday was the first day of Advent, a time of hope and expectation for those in the Christian tradition, of which I consider myself a part.

As we look ahead to Christmas there is a certain subset of those who call themselves Christian who decry the secularization of Christmas and insist that it is wrong to replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.” For myself, I acknowledge that there are people in my world who are not Christians. Within my sphere of friends (Facebook and the old-fashioned kind), relatives, co-workers, and acquaintances, I have Jews, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and more. I think it only respectful not to impose Merry Christmas on them.

Meanwhile, within the Christian, particularly the liturgical, community, there is another dispute. That is the Advent purists vs. those who are not. The Advent purists insist that there should be no Christmas carols until Christmas, or Christmas Eve, anyway. Pastor Koch at Good Shepherd was very much in the Advent purist camp, and I for many years was influenced by that thinking.

Indeed, I believe that it is important not to go diving into Christmas right after Thanksgiving, and to honor that time of waiting and expectation. At the same time, as my spiritual director pointed out a few years ago, I am not the Advent police.

And a little Christmas music early in the season to cheer the heart as the days grow shorter, well, is there anything really wrong with that?