I Need Advent: From Ordinary to Extraordinary

David Russell Mosley

sapientia

Ordinary Time
28 November 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the last day of the year. I don’t blame you if you didn’t realize that New Year’s Eve was actually tonight. After all, it’s never the same one year to the next. For those who didn’t know, tomorrow is the first day of Advent, which is the first season of the Christian Calendar. Tomorrow begins a period of fasting and waiting. This year I feel in particular need for a fresh start, for Advent.

Advent swoops in like a mournful owl searching for its evening sustenance after the longest period of Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar. Ordinary Time, the season in which we are still in for today, is a time for us as Christians to remember that the Holy Trinity is active in every season of life, including the mundane, sometimes especially the mundane as the Nativity itself reminds us (for what is ultimately more commonplace than giving birth and being born). I’ve always struggled with this long period of Ordinary Time. My prayer routines tend to fade; I slip much more easily into those pet sins I carry round with me like an evil dragon perched upon my shoulder whispering the unspeakable to me. Now don’t misunderstand me, many good things have happened during this Ordinary Time: I passed my PhD Viva, got two book contracts, have watched my boys continue to grow, and more. But still, as I wrote to you yesterday, the virtues I have attempted to cultivate have shrivelled and been replaced by vices.

I need Advent. I need this period of fasting to help me gain the mastery over my body that God gives to those who cooperate with his grace. What’s more, I need the Nativity and all the other feasts that will greet us at the beginning of this new year. I need to be reminded of the extraordinary ways God has been present in our world so that I can be better prepared to look for him and work with him in the ordinary times. In truth, there are no ordinary times. Josef Pieper, a twentieth century Catholic theologian and philosopher, writes that, “in fact the liturgy only knows feast-days, even working days being feria.”⁠1 For Pieper, the Eucharist, which is the heart of all Christian celebrations, so transfigures time that in one sense it turns every day into a feast day, even the days on which we work or fast. I’ve lost sight of this over this most recent Ordinary Time. So this year, I need Advent more than ever. I need the extraordinary to remind me that in one sense there is no ordinary. The whole cosmos is graced, gifted its being by the Almighty. The fact that there is a day at all is extraordinary. The fact that there is a you, a me, that there are rocks and trees and animals is just as extraordinary as the fact that there are angels, for we all, from the highest order of angels to the lowest order of matter come from the same source, the One who is Three, the One who is Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Unity, and Being.

Pray for me, as I will pray for you, that together we may be reminded through these times of intentional fasting and feasting that begins with Advent, that the world is extraordinary precisely because it was an act of pure gratuity on the part of God. Pray that we may have our vision transfigured so was can see the world around us anew, so that we can see past the mist and shadows and catch glimpses of Reality. This is why this year I need Advent.

Sincerely,
David

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1 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 80

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What I’m Reading II: Mary, Aquinas, the Devil, Snape, and the Birth of Narnia

David Russell Mosley

Lent
St Polycarp
23 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, as often happens, the books I read have changed since the last time I updated you on what I’m reading. Here’s the new list.

Handmaid of the Lord by Adrienne von Speyr

Speyr is a new author for me. I’ve read so much about her in the works of Stratford Caldecott. She’s a Catholic Convert and a mystic whose confessor was Hans Urs von Balthasar, another person whose had a profound impact on me. This book is a series of reflections on the Virgin Mary. I’m not very far in since I’m just reading a chapter a day for Lent. Already there is some real beauty in the way she expresses herself and describes the Mother of our Lord, but there are some parts I struggle with. I love Mary, and covet her prayers, but I am not settled on some of the titles ascribed to her, like Mediatrix. This will be a profound and provocative read for me, challenging both my Protestant presuppositions, and my Catholic leanings.

The Prayers and Hymns of St Thomas Aquinas by Thomas Aquinas 

I started looking for something like this when I first came across the prayer for Scholars by Thomas Aquinas. So I was quite pleased when I found a Latin and English edition of some of the prayers and songs of the angelic doctor. This book is fairly simple, each prayer is in Latin on one page and English on the adjacent. The prayers themselves are beautiful and the editors have laid them out like poetry. I’ve also been using this text in my Lenten devotions. I have decided to say one prayer a day for each day in Lent, first in English and then again in Latin.

On the Fall of the Devil by Anselm

I’ve been enjoying my reading of Anselm. It was great to read the Monologion and the Proslogion together, something I’d never done before. I haven’t started reading this one yet, but it comes in a little semi-related trilogy with On Truth and On the Free Will. Anselm’s dialogs are masterful and I look forward to reading this one as well.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

How many times have I read this book? Multiple times a year since it came out; so some might say too many. Still, I love the Harry Potter series. It has its flaws, Rowling is not the theologian that say Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, Chesterton, or O’Connor are. Even in presenting a world that is meant, in some ways, to be Faërie, yet it is plagued with all the same problems our world is. Nevertheless, this story of hope and salvation is one that I am constantly drawn to. Half-Blood Prince is in weird place for me. Order of the Phoenix is somewhat of transitional book. In the previous four it’s all about keeping Voldemort from coming back or fighting against his effects (Tom Riddle from the diary, Peter Pettigrew, or Death Eater at Hogwarts). Then, once he returns at the end of Goblet of Fire each book is about defeating him outright, but Order of the Phoenix is only the beginning of that story and is the beginning of the darkness. Therefore, Half-Blood Prince sees the real preparation of Harry by Dumbledore for ultimately defeating Voldemort. This can make it feel like its simply build-up for book 7. The first three are absolutely stand-alones, most of book 4 is as well. This book cannot stand on its own. It is pure preparation for the final battle.

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis

I’ve decided to read Lewis’s books in the order he wrote them, roughly. This means I’m finishing with The Magician’s Nephew. It’s a really interesting experience. In The Last Battle, we see the end of Narnia, or the shadowlands Narnia anyway. Now, however, after Narnia’s death, I get to visit Narnia one last time. I get to visit it at the very beginning. In a way, it feels like reading Genesis after reading Revelation. Doing that would change how one reads Genesis, for the better, I think. However, at least as regards Narnia, I think you can or should only do this after you’ve read the books once before. Getting them in intended order first allows for one to then read them in a new order and see how that changes one’s perspective from the original reading.

Anyway, this is what I’m reading now. What are you reading?

Sincerely yours,
David

Lenten Activities in 2015

David Russell Mosley


Ordinary Time
17 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Lent is nearly upon us again. While both Advent and Lent are times of fasting, Lent feels very different from Advent. Part of that probably has to do with how our culture deals with Christmas and Easter. Christmas is more deeply rooted in our culture, with more common customs and rituals. This plays out into Advent as we buy Advent calendars, begin singing Christmas carols and other wintry songs. What Easter and Lenten customs there are and have been are less firmly rooted in our cultural consciousness. Sure we have candies and flowers (though candies are typically off limits in Lent). We have few Easter songs that everyone knows, the way they might “Joy to the World” or “What Child Is This?” or “Silent Night”. But there’s something more. Advent leads us to a simply joyous event: the birth of Christ. What pain there is in childbirth is quickly overcome once the child is here. In Lent, however, not only is our focus in part on our sinfulness, but also on the Light having gone out of the world. We aren’t Mary awaiting the birth of the Lord, but Israel awaiting the end of the dessert wandering. Equally, rather than passing through labour, we must pass through the grave (and quite probably Hell) before we can reach the celebration of Easter. However, this ought to make Easter all the more joyous for us, for in it is bound up all the pain and suffering of life in this fallen cosmos.

As I said, Lent is a time of fasting. Now traditionally, this is a food and drink fast. That is, people fasted typically from various meats, flour, butter, sugar, oils, alcohol, etc. I still hope to do a proper Lenten fast in this fashion someday. However, this year is not that year. Instead, I am fasting from most social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter (don’t worry, I’ll still be writing here). I will also be fasting from iPhone games. I tend to get rather addicted to these games, so I thought it appropriate to give them up. I’m also giving up sweets this Lent. I have an insatiable sweet tooth and little self-control. So, no more sweets for me. Sundays in Lent are feast days, though typically it is a complete feast since you’ve typically gotten rid of all your flour, butter, etc. Nevertheless, I will be indulging in some sweets on Sundays, but still not social media or phone games.

Another plan I have for this lent is to get more disciplined in my prayer life. I’m typically fairly good at getting Morning and Evening prayer in most days. But I want to do better. I also want to add a few more set times of prayer. So, some time in the midmorning, I plan to pray the Rosary; in the early afternoon, I will say a prayer from The Prayers and Hymns of Thomas Aquinas.

The final thing I’ve decided to do for Lent is to read some spiritual books I’ve never read before. I may add more as I finish the two I’ve set myself. The two books I’ve already planned to read are The Handmaid of the Lord by Adrienne von Speyr and The Cloud of Unknowing by an unknown Englishman in the late fourteenth century. I chose von Speyr’s book because she is a relatively contemporary mystic who saw many visions. She was also heavily influenced by her confessor Hans Urs von Balthasar. I chose the second as my ancient/medieval read. I know very little about it and look forward to learning more.

So, what are you doing this Lent? How are you preparing yourselves for the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour? Are you giving anything specific up, taking anything specific up, or reading anything in particular? Do let me know.

Sincerely yours,
David

Unbearably Light: Reflections on My Sons’ Love of Light and an Unbearably Light Vision

David Russell Mosley

IMG_4049

Ordinary Time
St Cyril and St Methodius
14 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Ever since we spent all that time in the hospital for Edwyn’s cancer treatment, I’ve been meaning to write this post. Tonight, another minor vision, more of a palpable sense than a vision, has finally been the impetus to do so.

I noticed it first when we were in our first room when the cancer treatment proper began. Both of my sons had an obsession. They loved to look at light. When the sun would pour in as it began to set. While we adults would shield our eyes, my sons soaked it in, preferring to look at what it illumined in contrast with what it did not. Shadows and light were their delights, often catching their attention. Little has changed in this regard. Now, however, rather than being merely content to watch light, they seek it out and attempt to grasp it. So often when the sun shines (and it almost always the sun or a reflection of it that they are attracted to, not artificial light) and lands on their highchair trays will they try to grasp it. Or when the sun is reflected off a watch or a phone or something similar they will gaze upward as it moves across the ceiling and the walls. It reminds me of a portion of one of George MacDonald’s fairy tales.

The whole fairy tale is ultimately about light and the love of light in its varying shades. The story is about a witch who raises a boy and girl, quite separately from one another. The girl knows only night and the boy only day from infancy. While both have an obsession with light, the girl’s is stronger. She falls in love with the moon, her lamp as she calls it, and is confused when it is gone one day. So she decides to go in search of it:

‘She followed the firefly, which, like herself, was seeking the way out. If it did not know the way, it was yet light; and, because all light is one, any light may serve to guide to more light. If she was mistaken in thinking it the spirit of her lamp, it was of the same spirit as her lamp and had wings. The gold-green jet-boat, driven by light, went throbbing before her through a long narrow passage.’

I’ve always been drawn by this passage. MacDonald gives us here a kind of participatory ontology (as he usually does, he is very much a Platonist). This little insect is thought of as made of light ‘it was yet light’ and also ‘driven by light’. Light is its being and yet is also its source and its power of motion. What is more, there is the light out of which the firefly is made is derived from a more ultimate, and in this story, unnamed Light. C. S. Lewis describes Christianity by comparing it to the sun. He believes in it not because he see it but because by it he can see everything else. All of this is, I believe, my sons’ love of light.

This brings me to tonight. Every night when we put our boys in their cribs, I sing them a lullaby; read them a bed time story; and pray for them. My prayer for my sons usually goes something like this: ‘Heavenly Father, be with my sons this evening. Send them your Holy Spirit to guide them and give them dreams and visions; send your angels to watch over them and protect them from the fears and dangers of the night. Blessed Virgin, watch over my sons as you watched over your own Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.’ Tonight however, I was led to pray more. I began to feel an unbearable lightness. I could sense the saints and angels present with me in that room. So I prayer: ‘Saints and angels in this room, praise our heavenly king with me: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.’ I began to weep. The sense of their presence, of God’s presence through his created cosmos which includes the angels and the saints was unbearably light (God, as Dionysius would remind us, is full of these paradoxes).

Light has two meanings here: the radiance of a creature; and of little or no weight. Yet I think they are connected. For the light of the sun is unbearable, not because of its weight but because of its brilliance. While I saw no light during my prayer this evening, it was nevertheless brilliant and it was unbearable for a sinner such as me.

Sincerely yours,

David

How I Pray: A Reflection

David Russell Mosley

My prayer station at home.
Ordinary Time
11 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

On Monday I posted a list of questions stolen from God and the Machine’s series: How I pray. Today, I want to take this opportunity to answer those questions as best I can. As I said on Monday, I do not offer these as an example of how you ought to pray. I do not think so highly of myself as that. If there is anything I do that you ought to also, it is only because men and women much holier than I have been doing it for much longer. I had considered altering some of the questions to make them perhaps a bit more Protestant friendly. But in an effort to live out consistently and honestly my “Catholic-Evangelicalism”, I am letting them stand and giving my honest answers to them, whomever they may shock or surprise.

Who are you?

While this question was perhaps more intended to explain to readers who this new person is, I do find it a startling and necessary place to begin. Who am I? Am I a father? A husband? A theologian? A poet? A man? An American? I am all of these things and more. Some are accidental to me, not constituting who I am substantially, but constituting the person you encounter whether through these letters or in person. Substantially, I am a Christian, a child of God, adopted into Christ’s sonship and like the pilgrim in The Divine Comedy working my way, by way of my guides, toward the end for which God has made me: the Beatific Vision and deification (which are ultimately synonymous for our vision of the Triune God can be nought else but deifying). I am also a father and a husband (and therefore a man) substantially. These three (or four) things you cannot change about me without changing who I am at my core. Whether other aspects of me, namely being a theologian or poet, are substantial or accidental, I admit to not yet knowing.

What is your vocation?

This is something I’m still discerning. I am, by training, a theologian. Yet, as I have written to you before, I was in the beginning process of becoming an Anglican priest. I don’t yet know to what vocation I am being called, and what my training and inclinations have to do with that, but I am doing my best to listen.

What is your prayer routine for an average day?

In the mornings, I get up between 3:30 and 6, feed my son, Theodore, go downstairs, and say Morning Prayer. I try, but often fail, at saying Evening prayer between 2:00 and 7:00. I follow the Anglican tradition of keeping Morning and Evening Prayer (based on a shortened form of the Benedictine practice of the Divine Office), using Daily Prayer from the Common Worship. This was the first prayerbook I ever had and like using it to keep up with the Church Calendar. It also adds a level of asceticism to my life that I find I need. Throughout the day I try to pray. I often journal after saying Morning Prayer and this usually includes several prayers, typically for forgiveness. Otherwise, I say prayers when I feel led to or when I need to. I would like to have some more form to my prayer life and am working on it.

How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle those moments when you don’t?

It is difficult for me to achieve this every day. What with twins, living with my Grandmother-in-law in a small condo, and making excuses like the proceeding two, I often fail. I try not to be too hard on myself about it, not disparaging myself, but reminding myself to the standard to which I am holding myself.

Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective?

In difficult times I often turn to a prayer I learned when reading the works of John Cassian. “Make haste, O God, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!” It is from Psalm 70. This prayer when prayed repetitively has been a help in fighting temptation, though I do not turn to it as often as I like.

Do you have a place, habit, or way of praying?

While I hope to someday have a prayer corner filled with icons and religious imagery, for now, in the space we share, I have to settle for something a bit less. I tend to pray Morning Prayer, the one I can ensure I do without others around, in the recliner in my Grandmother-in-law’s living room. I intend also to begin kneeling while doing more formal prayers and perhaps trying other positions for the less formal, like prostration. The body is just as important in the act of prayer as the soul. Our posture, our position can aid or hinder our prayer. Equally, the soul lifts the body to new heights, and depths, in prayer.

Do you use any tools or sacramentals?

I have a few icons that I use, when I’m in the same room as them. Though considering it now, perhaps I will begin bringing them down with me so as to have them for my prayer time.

What is your relationship with the Rosary?

If icons didn’t turn off or confuse some of my Protestant correspondents (for I think of you all, whoever to you all are, as correspondents and not readers), then perhaps my answer to this question will. I have previously written a reflection about praying to departed Christians, the Saints. It stands to reason, therefore, that if I think calling on them for prayer is permissible, so too is calling on the Mother of God. That being said, my prayers to Mary have been limited up to this point by asking her to watch over my sons as she watched over her own son who is Christ our Lord. I have, however, recently acquired a Rosary and have begun to use it at least once daily. In my early days as a Christian, which were not so long ago, I would have thought this if not totally, then at least partially idolatrous. However, I have found my use of the Rosary in prayer to be of profound aid and edification.

Some of you may balk still, but when one looks at the actual prayer, it is mostly Scripture:

Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women [Lk 1.28],
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb [Lk 1.42],
Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

The rest, as you can see, is simply asking for Mary to pray for us. There is nothing, in my opinion too scandalous about this. I have also been influenced by Stratford Caldecott in his book All Things Made New which tells us that the Rosary is entirely about Christ, through the eyes of Mary. I hope to write about that book more soon.

Is there one particular book or spiritual work that has been particularly important to your devotional life?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. On the one hand, the Institutes and Conferences of John Cassian are the primary books that led me down the path of liturgy and asceticism, in fixed hour prayers. However, since then the works of Gregory of Nazianzus, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, and others have been my guides in my devotional life.

What is your current spiritual or devotional reading?

I recently finished reading the Ambigua of Maximus the Confessor and began reading the works of Anselm in this capacity. However, that reading has strayed out of the devotional and may need to be replaced by something else, or at least a reconfiguring of how I read it.

Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?

St Thomas Aquinas has been a recent inspiration for my prayer life. His prayers and hymns, which I have only recently begun to read and pray myself, are ones I often turn to throughout the day. C. S. Lewis has also been a guide when it comes to prayer, especially his Letters to Malcolm which I hope to re-read soon. I’m sure this list will grow. St Benedict, St Patrick, and St Augustine are also frequent sources of inspiration in prayer. Another I hope to interact with more is my, unintentional, namesake, St David of Wales, patron saint of poets.

What is one prayer you find particularly powerful or effective?

Aquinas’s Prayer for the Attainment of Heaven is one I find particularly powerful. It helps me keep the cosmic as well as individual scope of the life in Christ. I have written about it here.

Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences in your prayer life?

There have been times in the past, but none of them can I really remember. The most recent happened while we were still living in the United Kingdom during the intercessions at a Spoken Eucharist service at the parish church in Beeston. I have written about it here. Dreams, visions, and miracles are things I think we are meant to court, but warily. The devil can also show us pictures as he did to Christ in the desert. Nevertheless, there is an inherently visionary aspect to our faith. God is the God who gives dreams and visions and we his people ought to be open and prepared to receive them.

I’d like to see _______YOU_______________ answer these questions.

Sincerely yours,
David

How I Pray: Introduction

David Russell Mosley


Ordinary Time
8 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

As the snow continues to fall, and I have left the house very infrequently, my reading, and especially blog catch-up, have increased. I was going through the most recent blog posts and came across this post from God and the Machine: How I Pray: The Very Reverend Archimandrite John Panteleimon Manoussakis. Thomas McDonald has been asking various, and primarily Roman Catholic, theologians and priests about how they pray. My own prayer life has seen some reinvigoration and so I was drawn to these posts, reading several of them after Archimandrite John’s. I was intrigued by McDonald’s questions. He asks:

Who are you?

What is your vocation?

What is your prayer routine for an average day?

How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle those moments when you don’t?

Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective?

Do you have a place, habit, or way of praying?

Do you use any tools or sacramentals?

What are your relationship with the Rosary?

Is there one particular book or spiritual work that has been particularly important to your devotional life?

What is your current spiritual or devotional reading?

Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?

What is one prayer you find particularly powerful or effective?

Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences in your prayer life?

I’d like to see ______________________ answer these questions.

I hope this week to answer at least some of these questions. I feel a bit strange setting myself these questions. McDonald primarily asks those who are, in some sense, worthy of answering these questions. They are, seemingly, particularly holy. I know that I am not. However, I hope that by trying to answer some of these questions myself I will be forced to think more and more intentionally about my prayer life. If this process of self-reflection is beneficial to those who read these letters, all the better. But time spent thinking about how I pray to the Creator and King of the cosmos is not time wasted.

Sincerely yours,
David

Praying on the Feast of the Angelic Doctor

David Russell Mosley

St-thomas-aquinas
Epiphanytide
St Thomas Aquinas
27 January 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the feast day of St Thomas Aquinas. St Thomas was a Dominican Friar from Italy who taught at the University of Paris. The good doctor has increasingly become an important part of my life. Not only has his theological acumen enhanced my own, meager as it may be; but I have lately been equally influenced by his prayer life. Thomas had a profound prayer life, and according to his hagiographer was subject to visions as well.

I want to leave you with one of his prayers, which has been a help to me:

For the Attainment of Heaven

God of all consolation,
You Who see nothing in us
but what You have given us,
I invoke your help:
After this life has run its cource,
grant me
knowledge of You, the first Truth,
and enjoyment of Your divine majesty.

O most bountiful Rewarder, endow my body
with beauty of splendor,
with swift responsiveness to all commands,
with complete subservience to the spirit,
and with freedom from all vulnerability/

Add to these
an abundance of Your riches,
a river of delights,
and a flood of other goods

So that I may enjoy
Your solace above me,
a delightful garden beneath my feet,
the glorification of body and soul within me,
and the sweet companionship
of men and angels around me.

With You, most merciful Father,
may my mind attain
the enlightenment of wisdom,
my desire
what is truly desirable,
and my courage
the praise of triumph.

There, with You, is
refuge from all dangers,
multitude of dwelling places,
and harmony of wills.

There, with You, resides
the cheerfulness of Vern*
the brilliance of Summer,
the fruitfulness of Autumn,
and the gentle repose of Winter.

Give me, O Lord my God,
that life without death
and that joy without sorrow
where there is
the greatest freedom,
unconfined security,
secure tranquility,
delightful happiness,
happy eternity,
eternal blessedness,
the vision of truth,
and praise, O God.

Amen

From Aquinas, Thomas. The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas. Translated and edited by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser. Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2003.

Sincerely yours,
David

*I chose to translate vernalis as Vern, rather than the translators choice of Spring, simply because I prefer the symmetry of two latin based names for seasons and two Anglo-Saxon.