Paradox: Advent Word 13

John Donne (1572-1631) by Isaac Oliver

Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit—Divine Subcommittee for Selection of Advent Words—are having a good chuckle as they watch from on high the consternation of avid participants in their program, all of whom are scratching our heads as we ponder the juxtaposition of yesterday’s word, patience, with that of today, hasten. How are we to shift gears so quickly from 0 to 60? Jesus mutters to his ghostly companion, “Gotta keep ’em on their toes!” And then comes the clever response: “Hurry up and wait, as the fella says!”

Indeed, this strange confluence of opposing advice was the first thing that entered my head as I began to think about what to write today. But suddenly, this seeming contradiction appeared appropriate indeed to our lives as Christians, and I decided to focus on a different word altogether for today’s meditation–paradox. Continue reading

Posted in Advent, Advent Word, hasten, John Donne, paradox, pardox, poetry, St. Francis of Assisi | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Patience: Advent Word 12

Photo courtesy of BestLife

Advent is all about waiting. However, I don’t believe it was standing in lines at Walmart, checking the door every five minutes for the UPS man, or even children sleeping with one eye open on Christmas Eve that inspired today’s word choice.

Instead, I turn to etymology to understand the virtue known as patience that we are enjoined to grow into during Advent. Patience entered English around 1200 via two routes, with slightly different meanings:

“Quality of being willing to bear adversities, calm endurance of misfortune, suffering, etc.,” from Old French; and directly from Latin, . . .  “the quality of suffering or enduring; submission.”

Continue reading

Posted in Advent, Advent Word, patience | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Truth: Advent Word 11

Postmodernism as articulated in the mid-20th century was bad enough—bad enough, in fact, to persuade me not to pursue a PhD in English when I realized how thoroughly that philosophy of deconstruction, epistemological and moral relativism, and rejection of meaning and rationalism dominated the academy. But it got worse—much, much worse—in the early 21st century when the illuminati proclaimed the ascendance of a post-truth era. In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries even declared post-truth its word of the year. While debates continue about whether post-truth is a philosophy, a type of politics, or simply a description of the Zeitgeist, most agree that it relates to the subjugation of objective fact to emotion and personal belief in decision-making. Continue reading

Posted in Advent, Advent Word, religion, scripture, truth | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Valley: Advent Word 10

When I think of scriptural valleys, my mind always goes first to the 23rd Psalm, memorized in King James majesty as a child in Sunday school:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Those metaphoric words of David the shepherd reassure us that both the guidance and the discipline of the Lord will bring us succor as we climb out of whatever damp, drizzly November of the soul we find ourselves in. Continue reading

Posted in Advent, valley | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wait without Hope: Advent Word 9

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

At a loss for words
In truth, today’s official Advent Word is herald. However, other than a vain effort at wordplay because of the homophonic association with my father’s name, Harold, I could think of nothing original to offer for this assignment. Even my research into the hymn whose title was everyone’s immediate association revealed to me only that the original  opening couplet of Charles Wesley’s 1739 hymn was “Hark how all the Welkin rings
‘Glory to the King of Kings!’”

Wild card
So I decided to ignore the assigned word altogether, play a wild card, and ponder a poetic reference that has been on the peripheries of my Advent meditations ever since I saw it posted on Facebook several days ago, without context. Continue reading

Posted in Advent, Advent Word, poetry, T. S. Eliot | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glory: Advent Word 8

I often get my ideas for these assignments with a quick round of  “Advent Word Association.” Today, the first thought that came to mind was the poignant plea of the once and future king at the end of Camelot. Addressing the boy who will become Thomas Malory and pen the most memorable rendition of the Arthurian legend, Le Morte d’Arthur, the king implores:

Ask every person if he’s heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.

Thus, with that plaintive tune in my head, the impermanence of human glory became the theme of my initial meditations on today’s word. Similarly, in Patton, the eponymous general said of Roman conquerors in his famous address to the Third Army: “A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.” Continue reading

Posted in Advent, Advent Word, glory | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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 wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13), this message of this stunning cantata is central to Advent watchfulness.


Posted in Advent, Advent Word, Bach, music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Advent, Advent Word, church, etymology, language, religion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Advent, Advent Word, catechism, grace | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peace: Advent Word 4B

Posted in Advent, peace | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment