A new Advent meditation book made its way into my library: Stephen Cottrell’s Do Nothing – Christmas is Coming.
In his introduction, Cottrell makes an analogy between what seasons like Advent can do in our lives and the de-fragmentation of a computer. A computer stores new information wherever it can find available memory. Large files can be stored in a number of different fragments so when the user asks the computer to find the entire file, the read/write part of the machine slows up searching for the fragments. Defragmenting programs rewrite files so they are stored contiguously providing foundational decluttering.
We need to defragment our lives in the same way. The time-tested method is to slow down, be mindful, and incorporate prayerful contemplation of history, scripture, daily events that the Holy Spirit brings to us. So many faithful say that Advent is their favorite time of the liturgical year and it’s because of this slowing down coupled with mindfulness of the themes of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
On the parish level, this defragmentation process is not always modeled. Advent becomes a time for ratcheting up special programs, speakers, adult forums, and projects. One of the most dismaying staff meetings comes in early November when the rector and the organist have their annual discussion about replacing Rite Two with Rite One.
To offer this language because of its formality and distance from the congregant during a time of year when we are vigilant for Immanuel – God with us – and are encouraged go on spiritual journeys that seek out familiarity with chaos, darkness, and uncertainty represents persistence in the delusional by a few in control. It’s like putting snipers on the walls instead of watchmen who tell of the night.
This is the liturgical Christian’s New Year, a time when many of us make resolutions that affect our spiritual journeys. Yet rather than clear the path for us, our churches are cooking up the spiritual equivalent of hospital food. Either the parish staff goes into hyper drive, colluding with the consumer culture in intention and continuing to send the “don’t bother” message loud and clear, or the small group of church ladies fold their arms to say “We’ve always done it that way.” The one-size fits all sale at Old Navy makes it into the church.
Has anyone out there tried to work with organist/choir directors who tells which hymns are “allowed” to be sung during Advent, for Pageants, and for Christmas?
For more on liturgy and hospital food, scroll down: https://hopefulepiscopalian.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/good-shepherd-sunday/
The churches out there that model the defragmentation process hold the flame of hope as much as Elizabeth and Mary held it in them. They are out there. In those churches….
- The Advent wreath making takes place on a quiet evening with a family meal. The scent of mulled cider and pine boughs fill the parish hall. There are no expectations – no production line quota for how many wreaths get into the homes. And any color candle works.
- Popularity is not the primary criterion for an offering that relates to spiritual journey.
- The Advent guest preachers come from the congregation or there is a commitment to interactive sermons and listening to each other.
- The Christmas Pageant has been replaced with an Epiphany Pageant or Paper Bag Pageant.
- Lessons and Carols is a community-wide participatory event instead of a show by the “talented” and paid professionals.
- Instead of special speakers, there are lay-led quiet days. People share their home prayers, liturgies, and other practices – including playlists of Advent music. The music director listens and responds.
- Mission and outreach are part of a continuum, not geared up for Advent/Christmas. There are serious discussions about capitalism, the poor, and the Christian faith.
- A director of faith formation posts a large sheet of paper during coffee hour with the theme of each week of Advent written at the top. People are asked to write their thoughts and memories about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. These thoughts are incorporated into the worship – including sermons – and life of the parish. The parish musician writes a song for corporate and private worship based on this collaboration.