Awake: Advent Word 7

A page from the violino piccolo part of “Wachet auf” in Bach’s own hand (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” was first performed  on November 25, 1731, the 27th Sunday after Trinity. Based on the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13), this message of stunning cantata is central to Advent watchfulness.


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Watch: Advent Word 6

Words are my lifeblood, so I want to understand them deeply and fully–to know them and to own them. Thus, I frequently consult the Online Etymology Dictionary, a favorite site for enriching my store of words as I explore their origins and their histories.  I took that path to provide a substrate for today’s Advent Word.

The entry for watch begins with these tantalizing tidbits:

Old English wæccan “keep watch, be awake,” from Proto-Germanic wakjan, from PIE root -weg,“to be strong, be lively.” Essentially the same word as Old English wacian “be or remain awake.” . . . Meaning “be vigilant” is from c. 1200. That of “to guard (someone or some place), stand guard” is late 14c. Sense of “to observe, keep under observance” is mid-15c.

And that’s just the verb! As early as 1200, we also had the noun in its related senses of vigil, observation, and guard. As early as the 1580s, our current meaning of “a small timepiece” had evolved from the mid-15th century word for “a clock to wake up sleepers.” Continue reading

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Grace: Advent Word 5

I delight in volubility and could write thousands of words on the idea of grace, so antithetical to American culture beginning with our Puritan forefathers and continuing right through the rugged individuals of the frontier.

However, I also delight in beautiful words written by others. Beginning on p. 845 of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, we find “An Outline of the Faith: commonly called the Catechism.” It is to this seldom-used section of our prayer book that I turn for my discussion of grace, which occurs in a section aptly labeled “The Sacraments.”

Q: What are the sacraments?
A: The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward
and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain
means by which we receive that grace.

Q: What is grace?
A: Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and
undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens
our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

My prayer for the days of Advent and for every day of our lives is that we may accept the daily miracles of God’s grace and, in turn, practice its etymological cousin, gratitude.

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Peace: Advent Word 4B

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Peace: Advent Word 4

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Give Peace a Chance?
Most Advent meditations have no need of a trigger warning, but here goes: If you’re expecting warm fuzzies, you should make a peace sign and hum a few bars of “Kumbaya.” My thoughts as I pondered today’s Advent Word did not incline me to subtitle my post “Give Peace a Chance.” Continue reading

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Presence: Advent Word 3

Richard Jolley, “God’s Map of the Universe”

In an argument that has informed my efforts to understand God ever since I first read it, Walter T. Stace wrote, “Either God is a mystery, or he is nothing at all.” However, it seems that some of the attributes of God are more ineffable than others. Even though we can’t comprehend God’s omnipotence, we can at least understand something about the nature of power and thus imagine the all-powerful. The same goes for omniscience; since we ourselves know things, we can wrap our heads around knowing everything. Continue reading

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Hidden: Advent Word 2

Metaphor was my guide as I pondered today’s assigned word.

First, my thoughts strayed to one of the Bible verses I memorized as a girl in Sunday school. It was the very early 1960s in a very Protestant church, so we used the King James version: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalm 119:11). That trope of hiding reflects significantly on the act of memorizing itself—what we used to call “learning by heart.” Of course, in addition to committing the scriptures to memory, this verse—and those that surround it—suggests that we must internalize the word of God to assist us in living according to his precepts. Some modern translations (notably, the NIV) preserve the metaphor of “hiding,” but even those that use other verbs (“treasure,” “lay up,” “store,” “bank”) maintain a focus on using the scriptures as guides against behaving badly. Continue reading

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Wind: Advent Word 1

Christina Rossetti, the fervent proponent of High Anglicanism who gave us #112 in the Episcopal hymnal, the haunting carol “In the Bleak Midwinter,” also wrote the brief poem below, often anthologized for children:

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894); chalk drawing by her brother, Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you;
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I;
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

Read in the context of Rossetti’s ardent faith, these deceptively simply stanzas offer subtle but powerful suggestions for us as we begin our observation of a holy Advent.

The precise diction with which Rossetti presents the images in her two stanzas carries obvious Biblical connotations. The leaves in the first stanza are trembling—a word that appears throughout Bible, often characterizing the proper behavior of sinners and saints alike in the presence of God: Continue reading

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United in Grief and Patriotism: The Memory of a 10-Year-Old Girl

What were you doing 60 years ago today? (If twinkling somewhere in a galaxy far, far away, don’t bother to reply.) Continue reading

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The Evening and the Morning

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. . . . And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:7-8, 10b)

This was not judgment day — only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.      (William Styron, Sophie’s Choice)

Continue reading

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