I Need Advent: From Ordinary to Extraordinary

David Russell Mosley

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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 But still, as I wrote to you yesterday, the virtues I have attempted to cultivate have shrivelled and been replaced by vices.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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The Christmas List: Training in Covetousness or the Training of Desires?

David Russell Mosley

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Advent
10 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Last year I wrote a post responding to a new professor at my alma mater on Father Christmas. The problem, according to Dr Samples, is that Father Christmas/Santa Claus has become a source for perpetuating economic disparities. As I noted in the post, a friend of mine once told me that she discovered Santa wasn’t real because the rich(er) kids down the road got more and more expensive presents than she did. Recently, a new friend of mine, writing an excellent series of posts concerning the United States’s unnamed god, Affluence. He suggests that by training our children to write Christmas lists is to train them in the worship of affluence by teaching them to covet, to desire things they don’t have but want to have. However, I think the Christmas list and the presents brought by Father Christmas do not have to be trainers in covetousness nor perpetuations of economic disparity.

Now, first let me say that nothing will stop some parents from lavishing their children with presents at Christmas time. I was spoiled as a child, all the time, not simply at Christmas. However, I was trained not to brag about my presents because not everyone could get the same things I did. This actually taught me to share, but this is besides the point. If we cannot permanently change how our given neighbourhood parents “do” Christmas, as regards presents, we can change how we and our churches do it. Let me suggest at least one way.

A professor of mine talks about training his children’s desires. He will ask them what they want (desire) for dinner. They might say chips (fries), or candy, or fast food. He will then tell them that instead of any of those things they are having baked fish (or whatever has been made for dinner). The point is to teach them what they ought to desire. By allowing them to voice what they really do desire, but not give it to them, he is helping them learn what they ought to desire versus what they do desire in a given instance. I’m sure this ends in meltdowns and tears often. I’m equally sure that some nights he gives in. But the point is to try, to try to change their desires from low things, that can be good at times, to higher things that are much better. When we allow our children to make Christmas lists that they send to Father Christmas, we’re allowing them to voice their desires. Yet we are not bound to get anything on those lists. Some items may be intangibles, I frequently asked for snow. Others may be well outside of the parents’ price range. J. R. R. Tolkien used to write letters from Father Christmas to his children. While as the stories grew so did the Father Christmas mythology, equally, most of the letters are a way of explaining why the children didn’t get everything on their lists; typically, this is because of some catastrophe that happened at the North Pole. I think we can take this a step further.

I do not have children old enough to ask for anything for Christmas yet, so these are purely ideals that will likely change over time. Nevertheless, I think there is a way that we can allow our children to give voice to their desires in the Christmas list that will be beneficial to them, especially when they don’t receive all the things they asked for. A child might ask for the latest video game system and instead might get a book. A child might ask for a pony, or even a puppy, and yet only get an art set. It’s likely they will be sad not to get all the things on their lists. Yet, if we as parents continue to get them things that are good for them (I am not suggesting that video games, ponies, or puppies are inherently bad for children, just that they represent rather expensive options that parents may not be able to buy their children) we can train them in their desires; and I think we will see a change in what they ask for, because their desires will be being properly ordered.

Parents of children who actually ask for presents, what do you think? Am I completely off base here?

Sincerely yours,

David

The Scholar’s Compass: A New Place to Find Me

David Russell Mosley

Advent
Conception of Mary
8 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I just wanted to write you a quick note to let you know about a new place you’ll occasionally be able to find me. Some time ago the people over at the Emerging Scholar’s Network Blog decided to start putting together a devotional for Christian scholars called Scholar’s Compass. While there is much that can be learned from devotionals and other prayer practices meant for everyday Christians, it is nice to have one set aside for scholars. So alongside some other stellar authors, you can now find me. Two of my devotions have already gone up for this Advent season.

Advent: The New Year Begins

Learning from Father Christmas

Please let me know what you think. I pray you will be blessed by those I have written and those written by the others (and they are spectacular).

Sincerely yours,
David

Books to Read over Advent and Christmas

David Russell Mosley

Third Sunday of Advent
15 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

With only 10 days left in Advent, this may seem like an odd time to write a letter on books to read over Advent and Christmas, but since Christmas is 12 days long, that gives us a bit more time. This list is a combination of fiction, poetry, and theology. I hope you enjoy.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Perhaps the most obvious choice, I find many people have seen film versions of this story, but have rarely read the book. It is a story of transformation, of hearts of stone exchanged for hearts of flesh. Don’t let the familiarity you may have with the story allow you to pass by the beauty of this Christmas Ghost Story.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

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From the creator of Middle Earth (or sub-creator I should perhaps say), many people don’t know, but shouldn’t be surprised to learn, that this creator of language and myth used to write letters to his children from Father Christmas. Filled with stories about the antics that cause Christmas to almost fail, this book is a collection of twenty years of epistles from that jolly old elf.

‘Farmer Giles of Ham’ in The Tolkien Reader by J. R. R. Tolkien

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What started as an introduction to George MacDonald’s ‘The Golden Key’ turned into a delightful fairy story. Giles is a farmer in the little kingdom who finds himself battling a giant and a dragon. The story takes place between Michaelmas and St Matthias’ Day, paying special attention to Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day and more. Be prepared to laugh at a parody of the standard fairy tale.

‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ by The Pearl Poet

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Faerie castles, green giants who can survive without their heads, King Arthur, his cousin Gawain, and more. This poem which centres around Christmas and New Year’s is an excellent example of the Medieval faerie tradition and makes an excellent addition to any Christmas reading.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

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This text defends the doctrine of the Incarnation against the Arian heresy. This is the text you want to read if you want to understand how the Church first began to articulate in greater detail how and why it is that Jesus Christ, the person who’s birth we celebrate in Christmas, is both God and Man. This can be a bit technical and use language that non-theologians might not be familiar with, but I highly recommend working through it, nevertheless.

On God and Christ by Gregory of Nazianzus

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This collection of sermons given by Gregory, bishop of Nazianzus, continue the fight against forms of Arianism, defending both the divinity and humanity of Jesus, as well as the divinity of the Spirit. Gregory takes what Athanasius had done before him and works out more aspects of the importance of the Incarnation. What both this book and the above have in common is an understanding that the coming of Christ means much more than our salvation from sin, but also our deification.

What are some of your favourite books to read during Christmas? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Fasting while Waiting: Advent

David Russell Mosley

 

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

26 November 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

For those of us in the West, the season of Advent is nearly upon us. In just a few days time our Christian year begins again. I’ve always found it interesting that our New Year begins with waiting. We begin by putting ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites after the exile, awaiting this promised branch of Jesse. We put ourselves in Mary’s shoes, awaiting the nativity of the Son of Man and Son of God. But we also remind ourselves of our own situation; our own waiting for the Lord’s return. We begin each year waiting. Waiting for Christmas, certainly, as we recapitulate the waiting that has gone on before us waiting for the birth of Christ; but also waiting for his coming again.

There are two seasons of waiting, in a sense, in the Christian Year. The first is Advent, but the second is Lent, that waiting for the resurrection. When we celebrate Lent, however, we fast, reminding ourselves that the light has gone out of the world and that we depend on that light for our sustenance. It was traditional, however, to also fast in Advent. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Advent for forty days prior to Christmas for that very reason. In the West, however, as well, it was traditional to fast during the four weeks and a bit, usually, that precedes the celebration of the Nativity.

With that in mind, I want to encourage you to fast this Advent. Traditionally, one would have fasted from meats, sweets, etc. during Advent, but as often happens with Lent, this may be a time to fast from other things as well (the internet, social media, Christmas music, Christmas movies, etc.). This Advent I’ll be giving up watching TV on my own. I often fill the silent moments in my life with TV shows and phone games, so I’m going to use Advent as an opportunity to remove some of the distractions in my life and remind myself that God often speaks in the silences.

Have you ever fasted during Advent? If so, from what? How did you find it? Let me know.

 

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

The Waiting Is Nearly Over: The Final Sunday in Advent

Dear Friends and Family,

The wait is nearly over. Tomorrow evening we begin the celebration of the birth of Christ into this world. For the next twelve days we contemplate and give praise for the greatest gift and mystery, God become man.

To help usher in Christmastide, tonight a group of our (mostly) American friends will be attending a Christmas Eve (one day early) service at Southwell Minster.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Tonight we’ll sing carols (something I’ve tried to avoid to help add to my Christmas experience this year, and we’ll celebrate the coming King.

While Advent and Christmas are reminders of events that took place in the past, our participation in them is also to remind us that we still wait the return of our Saviour, Deifier, and King. I have been overawed this Advent thinking about the implications of waiting for the Saviour’s first coming. How long Israel had waited! Then, when their King comes they find out it isn’t to be just how they imagined it. Instead of being a solely political leader come to reunite Israel, they get a man who claims to be God, who turns all their notions on their heads and tells them he must die, resurrect, and return. May we not forget just who it is for whom we are still waiting.

What are your thoughts from Advent this year?

May the Lord, when he comes,
find us watching and waiting.

Yours,
David

A Contemplative Advent

Dear Friends and Family,

Below is a link to a video on contemplation and Advent. The speaker is Phileena Heuertz and she has a website on contemplation here. I only have two comments about this video I sadly cannot embed.

First, she says early on that since contemplation is about allowing ourselves to be open and receptive of God and Advent is also about making space for God in our lives, Advent isn’t a different time of year for her. I understand this kind of view. It’s the I know how I ought to live and shouldn’t need special times to remind me. It’s the argument I hear from my fellow lower protestants about the Church Calendar. This misses the point, in my view. Advent, specifically is about more than just making space for God, it’s about waiting. As I said in a previous post, Advent is both where we join the Church universal in waiting for Christ’s return, and we remember how the world waited for his first coming.

My second, brief, point is this: For her contemplation is centred around a centring prayer which is prayed by remaining silent and focusing on a sacred word to re-centre us when thoughts and distractions come our way. The Eastern Church has a prayer similar to this which is called The Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.’ Another prayer often used in this way is based loosely on Psalm 71.12: ‘O God, incline unto my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me.’ I like these prayers (her idea is awfully similar to Eastern meditation, that doesn’t make it bad, I just prefer things based on Scripture or the Tradition). Anyway, watch the video, let me know what you think. Let’s contemplate and make space for God this Advent season.

A Contemplative Advent.

Yours,

David