Advent starts this coming Sunday, December 3, though less liturgically minded congregations (such as the one I worship at) may have started their countdown already (this year, the Fourth Sunday of Advent coincides with Christmas Eve). And as always, the supermarket Advent Calendars with waxy, cheap chocolate countdown the days to Christmas, beginning on December 1.
So maybe, just maybe you are still on the hunt for an Advent devotional to ground you in the midst of the hurly burly of holiday cheer. I mentioned in my “Part 1” post that Paraclete Press has some great Advent devotionals for the season. These include titles like God with Us (edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe), Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Compiled by Sarah Arthur) and Sybil Macbeth’s The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist.
Here are three other titles worth considering:
Along with God with Us, this devotional by Mark Villano I’ve used in the last couple of Advent seasons (here is my post from two years ago). Villano is a Catholic, campus minister, with an MFA in Cinematic Arts from USC and an M.Div from Catholic University of America. As such, Villano blends scriptural insight with personal reflections, peppered with pop-cultural references. Villano illustrates the biblical story, connecting Advent and Christmas to life.
His entry for the first day of Advent closes with this exhortation and invitation:
Do we ever feel like we’re sleepwalking through life? That we’re just going though the motions? Is this just another day at work, at school, at church? Just another Christmas? Are we so caught up in the routines and the preparations of these dates on the calendar that we miss what’s most important about this time in our lives? How does our soul try to warn us? Do we see the possibilities that exist now, the new beginnings that can only happen now?
Advent comes and says “wake up” to these new possibilities. Listen to those cries of the soul. Be open to God’s saving mercy breaking through . Be open to what it is calling you to do (6-7)
In the rest of the devotional, Villano shows us how to be open to God’s movement, to receive the season as kairos (God’s time), to attend to the story of Jesus’ advent and reimagine its implications for our life today.
This devotional is meaty without being too heady. Young and old will appreciate it.
This is a new devotional, but the author isn’t new to me. This will be the third book I’ve read from Fr. Martin Shannon, including a similar devotional he produced on the Psalms for the Lenten/Easter season (reviewed here). Fr. Shannon is an episcopal priest, liturgist and a member of the Community of Jesus (the ecumenical, Benedictine community that operates Paraclete Press).
Steeped in Benedictine spirituality, Fr. Shannon lives and prays the psalms in community. The 41 psalms (which take us from Advent to Epiphany) include psalms of praise, psalms of lament, penitential psalms, psalms of thanksgiving, orientation, disorientation, reorientation. Shannon writes:
Except for a few places (such as the first day of Advent and Christmas Day), the forty-one psalms in this collection are not presented in any particular order. This is because neither your life nor my life goes in any particular order either. The ascending and descending notes of life are sounded mostly without warning and part of my learning to get ready and to make room is to go with the ups and downs as they come, to find in each one a new chord for the “new song.” The Psalms are tried and true instruments upon which the songs of my life can be played out while in Advent and every other time, my soul waits (viii).
Shannon’s daily reflections on the Psalms, describe the world of the psalmists, the theology of the psalms and their significance for us, with an eye especially for this season. Each entry also ends with a word “from the Fathers” (notable saints from the early centuries of the church). Shannon also includes short profiles of the Church Fathers quoted in this book (125-131).
The Psalms are the prayerbook of the church, and Fr. Shannon is a good guide to take us through this season!
German Benedictine Monk Anselm Grün, of Cellarer of Münsterschwarzach Abbey is a teacher and spiritual director. His 2015 devotional, Dein Licht schekt uns Hoffnung, is presented here in translation. The daily entries take us from December 1 to 24 (like the chalky chocolate calendars) and emphasize practice. Grün includes introductions for each week of Advent, and reflections on Saints days, and brief reflections on the lectionary text; however half (or more) of each entry describes a ‘practice’ designed to help us press into the rebirth, renewal and the arrival of God in our midst.
These practices are mostly moments of personal reflection, lighting a candle, mindfulness meditation, long walks and prayer. Grün gives us an outline of practices and topics to reflect on for each day of the season.
Grün is a new author to me, but evidently a well known spiritual writer in his native Germany. I am excited to dig into this one and allow these practice to form me while I wait.
Notice of material connection: I received a copy of these books from Paraclete Press in exchange for my review (or preview in this case).