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Seven Books for the Seasons

Did you know that woodchucks (aka the groundhog) and Jesus’ birthday have something in common? On the church calendar, February 2nd is Candlemas, the last Feast Day in the Christian year dated in reference to Christmas. 

presbyterian calendar

This celebration of Candlemas marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (as Jewish custom required), and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. (Luke 2:29-32). The word ‘Candlemas’ (or Candlemass) refers to the custom of blessing and distributing candles and carrying them in procession before the Mass celebrated in churches in many parts of the globe. The lighting of the candles is symbolic of Christ, the light of the world, as Simeon declared in the Luke passage above.

What does that have to do with a groundhog? An old, old rhyme translated from the Scottish tells us:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.

So, if the weather is ‘fair and bright’ on Candlemas day, you can expect more winter weather. If the day brings ‘cloud and rain’, then the weather in the weeks ahead should improve.  And there you have it: another only-in-America observance involving a groundhog predicting the weather with roots in the Christian calendar, anchored in the life of Christ.

But this post isn’t about Christmas or candles or woodchucks–it’s about reading around the Church Year, anchored not only in the life of Christ but our own lives throughout the seasons, months and days in God’s creation.

Here are seven books currently gracing my bookshelves which have accompanied me in my own cycles through the seasons according to Creation and the birth of Christ. These include poetry and essays by writers from the 1800’s–George MacDonald–through the 1950’s and into the present day, all as rich and varied as their authors.

THE CHURCH YEAR

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Candlemas  Malcolm Guite

They came, as called, according to the Law.

Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,

They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,

For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle

They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,

Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,

Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas

And keep the day the prophecies came true

We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,

The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,

Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

Malcolm Guite is a poet and priest at Girton College, Cambridge in the U.K. These two vocations dovetail in Sounding the Seasons, making church feasts liturgy accessible to readers who may be less familiar with the church calendar. Guite’s sonnets begin with the season of Advent and read through to the Feast of Christ the King on November 11th. As an Evangelical still learning about the Christian way of marking time, I especially like the Index with Scripture references Guite uses, as well as the correlation to the liturgical calendar.

The Next Best Yes {a #poem}

view of cda lake from room
C’oeur d’Alene Lake, ID 

 

Now

Let 

And 

Yet

How can the power of my surrender

be wrapped up in three slight letters?

A mix of mercy in a single syllable?

And yet.

Placed just so, like fine crystal

refracting evening sun into shards 

of light, they precede each sentence,

illuming my way to the next best yes.

***

I’m grateful to Jesus, who is eternal and an all-at-once God, that we are bound by time.

That we are asked to step into our days one at a time, one yes at a time.

 

A Slow Walk into the New Year

P1200354It’s New Year’s Eve as I sit here in my Seattle dining room, typing with a view to the sky. Things are quiet; only the chimes noising their song outside my window as the gray and muted horizon frames the day. It’s time to be pensive and think deep thoughts, I suppose. Here are some of mine as we end not only this year, but an entire decade.

There are those who relish the action of turning the last page of December’s calendar with the promise of a new start each January. But the invisible leap from one year to the next sometimes is akin to falling over a precipice to an uncertain future. The page turning is dramatic and dreadfully sudden with the only certainty that God will be there to catch us.

I much prefer the slow walk into the New Year the Twelve Days of Christmas (from Christmas day until Epiphany on January 6th) provides. A meandering approach to ease into the days ahead with a look, not to something Brand New and Wonderful but to the slow revelation of who God is in the world.

Which is, of course, what Epiphany means. “A showing forth or manifestation.”

We’ve just celebrated Jesus’ birth–the revelation to His Jewish parents of the Messiah as a child. Epiphany is the event when we observe Christ’s appearance to the rest of mankind as the Magi (Gentiles) came from other parts of the world and left with the message that they had seen the Saviour.

Christ’s birth was a singular occasion–The Word, come to Earth as a babe. But walking out what that means as believers in Jesus–taking that message of salvation to the world much as the Wise Men must have done–is a lifelong journey.

What if instead of a freight-filled, auspicious turn from one year to the next, we evened out our steps a bit with a deliberate and intentional walk through all the days afforded us in Twelvetide?

Instead of making January 1st the beginning of each new year, why not make it simply a resting place along the way in a timetable anchored in the life of Christ, as we anchor our lives in His?

Perhaps I’ll begin observing the New Year on January 7th, walking into the world with the Gospel news that Messiah is here, come to bring health, healing and hope for all.

How about you? What are you going to take into the next season? I’d love to hear in the comments.

(This is an edited version of a recent social media post.)  Cheers!

When God Disrupts Your Christmas Plans on Purpose

Emmanuel. God with us. That’s the core of Christmas, that God the Son left his place in Heaven and came to us as a baby in a manger. What an unlikely beginning for a King. Talk about a disruption.

Our pastor spoke last Sunday of just what that Incarnation looked like, how God came into the world at Christmas. There was a visual he mentioned of Jesus putting his hand on peoples’ hearts to “stop the bleeding.” Not physical bleeding, but that dissipation and dissolution that leads to pain and hurt, often making us act like the broken people we are.

Sometimes just being kind during Christmas is all someone needs to transfuse them with life. I know it’s all I need. Which is why celebrating the birth of Jesus is an act of defiance, to choose to live like people who know that He came.

To notice others, speak kindly to them, acknowledge their worth as people made in God’s image. Wish them a “Merry Christmas” but also ask how they’re doing when they look harassed and harried. During this season most of all we are challenged to incarnate Jesus to the world in the face of all that would cause us to do otherwise.  To choose joy in spite of what we see around us.

“Incarnate” means to embody in the flesh. Sometimes (most times) the way we act is more important than what we say. We don’t have to even mention Jesus’ name, but simply act in order that a door might open someday for a conversation about Him.

Of course, there is an enemy of our souls who wants to steal our joy and hijack our message, so it makes sense that it might seem like all Hell breaks loose in the weeks before Christmas. I know, I probably shouldn’t say ‘hell’ in the same sentence where I’m talking about Christ’s birth and all. But I think when God’s kingdom is advancing in the small ways we seek to honor him, there is always pushback.

What’s in a Name? Only Everything {an Advent Post}

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There can be no manner of doubt a name is more easily remembered when its meaning is understood.      –A.J. Macself, from the Foreword, “Plant Names Simplified”

I forgot to plant my amaryllis bulb the week of All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote about the practice in my Christmas season book, how planting a crinkly, brown bulb with antenna-like roots can be a lesson in patience and waiting during the Advent and Christmas season. But I was too busy to remember. Goodness.

So, I potted the inglorious bulb the other day after soaking the accompanying ground-up coconut shreds in warm water, watching them miraculously expand and nearly overtake my 32-ounce glass measuring cup. Amaryllis duly snugged into plastic container, I pondered something while I cleaned up the mess in my sink.

What does ‘amaryllis’ mean, anyway?

I’m fond of learning the Latin for plant names, shrubs and trees. As an amateur gardener, I pride myself on the pronunciation and meaning of the various denizens of my yard and garden. And some of the names are not Latin at all, but simply named for people or a place.

–Susan Magnolia

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-Japanese Stewartia

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-Shindishojo Maple

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-Lonicera (Honeysuckle)

Advent-Waiting {a #poem}

shadows smudge on the wall
beside me, gray on red
as I look up, pensive,
pen in hand to write.
how to right this over indulgence,
too full of my own
bloated worry?
I’ve buried my prayers, fed one
saturated heart with cares
not meant to be carried.
fasting from the thoughts that also
fill my brain seems a lifeline
in this season where we’re
drowning in too much.
I shut the door, shutter the blinds
and feast on silence, making
space in my waiting for the
gift to arrive, though it tarry.
it occurs to me, that like
the Christ child’s birth,
answers may look far
different than I expect.
so I make room in the welcome
dark, waiting for the light,
which will surely dawn.
——–

More of my Christmas poems can be found here.

The first day of Advent this year is Sunday December 1st, which is so very much God-timed, don’t you think? And I just planted my amaryllis bulb to bloom (maybe? I hope….) in time for Christmas.

Two years ago I wrote a book about slowing down the holiday season, from Advent all the way through Epiphany on January 6th, to help families find ways to more joy and less hurry in the days ahead. Hundreds of readers have found Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas practical, inspiring and super-helpful.

My little red and white book is now on sale ((link is in the sidebar over there on the right)). If you and your family are observing the four Sundays in Advent, you can find a FREE download of the watchwords Wait or Hope, Prepare, Rejoice and Love–over on the LTSW website right HERE. (Look under the Free Printables tab.)

If you are new to the practice of observing Advent, it’s okay to begin slowly, like I did. #startsmallstartnow is the mantra in my book. Adopt or adapt your practices this season and find joy again in the celebrations to come. God bless you.