Friday Five: The Advent of Advent


At RevGalBlogPals, Mary Beth Butler invites us each to sit quietly…as Mary sits in the photo above…and consider five things about Advent. They might be images, practices, hymns, anything you like. Here are my five:

1. For me, Advent is always a chance to focus on the Magnificat in one form or another, whether that’s preaching on it, listening to songs connected with it, paying attention to the wide range of art that has tried to capture that moment between Mary and Elizabeth, or presenting adult education sessions on it. I love the strength of it, the hope of it, the poetry of it. It’s Advent at its best.

2. In the last congregation that I served, one of my favorite events was the Advent party on the second Sunday of Advent, when a good percentage of the congregation ate together, packed items for Christmas Eve on the streets of New York City among the homeless poor, made crafts of various kinds, decorated a very large tree in our Fellowship Hall and sang Christmas carols along with the Mediocre Ensemble, an orchestra made up of musicians of all levels and ages. Some people played well and played regularly, some pulled instruments out of attics or basements and only played once a year, some knew all the notes and played them easily, and some could only play a few of the notes in each song. Some years I played guitar with them (though more often I was helping coordinate another part of the evening and couldn’t be with them for the rehearsal in the first hour).   But when that orchestra played We Wish You a Merry Christmas and the lights went on for the first time on the tree, I knew we were in Advent.

3. For many years, Advent has also been a time that I associate with my workload ramping up big time and then slowing down a bit because the semester is coming to an end. In the third week of Advent, my academic semester ends. My grades are due well before Christmas so I’m swamped with papers, projects, and final exams to plow through in that week. But then, once they’re graded the pace and focus change a bit. In the many years when I was working in a parish it meant being able to move my attention entirely to parish preparations for Christmas and was a way for me to really focus on waiting and preparing for Christmas.

4. Nowadays, Advent means I begin to look forward to practicing for the Messiah sing-a-long. This will be my third year spending late November and early December getting ready for the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra’s Messiah sing-a-long and it’s beginning to become a new Advent tradition. The first year I was doing this, there were a huge number of notes that I didn’t yet know how to play, much less play in tempo, on my flute. Last year at this time, I had learned the fingering of all the notes, but getting the proper sound out of them was still a challenge. This year, it’s speed on some of the pieces like “Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion” that is where I’m putting my effort.

5. Years ago, when Kathy and I first moved into our house in Dobbs Ferry, I ordered copies of Christmas carols for each of the instruments that our children played with the dream that, during Advent, we’d find time to take out our guitars, saxophone, violin, keyboard, and drum that were still being stored at our house even though most of the children had moved out. We’d sit in front of our Christmas tree, grab the carol sheet music, and play together.  It never happened. The sax was taken to a new home, the drum was given away, and the music stayed stored with the rest of our sheet music. Last year, when Kathy retired she began to play clarinet and I ordered a clarinet copy of the same book of carols. This year, she’s learned enough that she can play with me. Even before Advent has arrived, we’ve begun to rehearse some of the carols. I’m looking forward to an Advent when we can sit in front of the lighted tree and play together.

Friday Five: Guilty Pleasures

Over at RevGalBlogPals, it’s time to play Friday Five. This week it begins with the paragraph:


“It happened again this week. In a social setting, during a conversation with people that included some I had just met, I made a reference to the church I serve. “Oh!” one of the new acquaintances exclaimed, “I shouldn’t have said hell!” Sigh. This kind of projection can be so tiring, as can the general need to be mindful of how our words and actions are perceived as appropriate (or not). In light of that, I relish moments to myself when I can shed all such perceptions and projections and just be. Occasionally this involves what might be known as a guilty pleasure.

For this week’s Friday Five, share with us five “perception be damned!” pleasures in which you indulge. We promise we won’t judge, or tell. What happens at RevGals stays at RevGals.”

In my ministry, for good or for bad, I try very hard to be “what you see is what you get” rather than “playing minister”. When I used to fill out PIFs (clergy resumes), in response to the question about what I was looking for in a congregation I’d put that one of the things I wanted was a congregation where each member of staff (including myself) can be a total person, not just a role. And when I was in a congregation, I’m pretty sure members of the congregation knew all of me—the rough and the smooth places in my life. I thought that was a good thing, since I hoped it would also give each of them permission to also bring all of themselves to the congregation’s life together.

Having said all that, do I have guilty pleasures? I do, even though they’re not connected with the parish. So here are five:

  1. I love books—academic books, books for ministry, novels, poetry, sci fi, mysteries, books in other languages, old books, new books—and, while I do go to the library for books I’m sure I’ll never read again and do get some books in e-format of one kind or another, I also love owning books. The owning is the guilty pleasure.
  1. Peanut M&Ms. I’ve had to give up most candy, including M&Ms since my soy allergy has become so bad, but peanut M&Ms used to be a guilty pleasure of mine. I loved the combined salt and sugar. I could always find a way to justify eating them since the peanuts were a source of protein.
  1. Instruments and time to play instruments. One of my favorite things in all the world is making music—singing (which makes me feel guilty if anyone else is around because I’m so tone-deaf), playing flute, playing guitar, playing mountain lark, playing uke. I’m not very good at any of these instruments, but I love making music and especially playing with others. In the ideal world I would make music of one kind or another two to three hours a day, seven days a week—and then listen to music for a few hours more. Working three plus jobs, my life really doesn’t allow me much time for music-making and there’s always something that should be done in place of it, so when I play music I usually feel like I’m stealing time from something that has a more legitimate claim on it.
  1. Non-work-related travel. Travel is a guilty pleasure for me because I know that it increases my carbon footprint. I don’t do most of my travel by foot or by bike or by public transportation. I do it by car (or if I’m lucky enough to be going somewhere farther away, by plane). I struggle with how to balance my desire to see something new or participate in something that isn’t in my neighborhood with the environmental cost of my doing so.
  1. Whenever I’ve had an opportunity to step away from noise and connections with the world, I have so loved the silence. By silence I don’t mean the lack of natural noise, I mean having to be connected, to speak, to be “on” and reachable by others. When I was in my twenties, my mother used to give me the gift of watching my (then one) child for a long weekend once a year, so I could go away to a cabin in the woods and soak up the silence, hike the nearby trails, and not have to speak or respond to anyone. I didn’t feel guilty being away from it all. Instead, it was heaven. For a variety of reasons I’m not at a place in my life where these kinds of opportunities for long periods of total silence are possible and I’d probably feel very guilty if given the chance.



Never Again Friday Five


Over at Revgalblogpals, Deb writes:

“Perhaps you have tried something that everyone assured you was SO MUCH FUN!!! and you swore on a stack of Bibles that you would never ever be dragged to said activity ever again. Was it horseback riding? Rappelling? Ballet class when you were 7?

So share with us 5 Supposedly Fun Things You’ll Never EVER Do Again. You may find some commiserating souls among us.”

My first reaction to this week’s sharing was to respond with the lines from Yeats’ “A Dialogue of Self and Soul,” in which the soul says

“I am content to live it all again/ And yet again, if it be life to pitch.Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,/A blind man battering blind men;/Or into that most fecund ditch of all,/ The folly that man does/ Or must suffer, if he woos/A proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source/Every event in action or in thought;/ Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!/When such as I cast out remorse/So great a sweetness flows into the breast/ We must laugh and we must sing,/ We are blest by everything,/Everything we look upon is blest.”

While there are clearly activities that I prefer to others for fun, there are very few “possible fun things” that I’ve tried that I wouldn’t want to ever do again. I might even consider doing those that are toward the bottom of my fun list if I were doing them with a group of people with whom I enjoy being.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Snuba is the only activity I can think of that I wouldn’t want to repeat no matter who, what, or where I was doing it. I tried out snuba last January in Maui and disliked everything about it. It had all the negatives of scuba and all the negatives of snorkeling with very few of the positives of either. The length of the cords attached from divers to the floating rafts weren’t really long enough to give me ability to travel far enough down to something to give me better views than snorkeling would have given. They continually got tangled in each other, making it impossible to swim freely toward something I wanted to see and sometimes literally wrapping around my legs, making it impossible to swim. It was a waste of time and money.

Friday Five: Smile, Smile, Smile!

For this week’s Friday Five, Jan asks: what makes you smile? Remembering that Meister Eckhart said that if you pray “thank you” that that is enough of a prayer, share with us five things, memories, or activities that bring you smiles and gratitude.

There are lots of memories and activities over the years that make me smile when I think about them or look at pictures from the events or hear someone talk about them. I’ve tried, though, to pick five relatively inconsequential things that occur on an ongoing basis that make me smile and fill me with gratitude for such fleeting moments of enjoyment.

  • Coming home and walking through the door to find our dog, Max, holding with whatever his favorite toy of the day is in his mouth
  • Seeing vegetables – this year mainly leeks, radish, and rainbow chard– growing in my cold frames. (Who ever thought I’d be able to smile again when looking at chard after this summer of being inundated by it?)
  • Kathy swinging her legs back and forth under her chair the way a lot of my students did when, decades ago, I taught 6th grade
  • Conversations with my children (and other people, though my children in a special way) about the books they’re reading
  • Most weeks, at least one joke on the Big Bang Theory, the one TV show I try to make a point of watching as soon after a new episode is released as possible.




Resolutions and Absolutions

A website that I frequently read for wisdom, for laughs, for sanity is RevGalBlogPals. On Fridays, they do what is called the Friday Fives, asking five questions for people to answer. In years past I used to do those on a fairly regular basis but that fell by the way in 2011. I thought I’d start up doing it again in 2013. So in today’s Friday Five,

Pat Raube asks about resolutions and absolutions:

1. Start by sharing your success stories with us: In the past, what resolution has been your most successful? What change have you made that has been the most beneficial, to your mood, health, finances, or other way of being in the world?

A few years ago I made several resolutions that have made major changes in my life—to eat mindfully (which I’m now able to do these days unless I become much too overworked and tired), to bike for at least ½ hour five times a week, and to do yoga or swimming at least once (ideally twice) a week with Kathy. Up until this past fall, I was able to that on a regular basis. It not only put me in better health, but I felt more centered. This fall, with the craziness of so many part-time jobs, going out one or two evenings to swim or do yoga didn’t make me feel healthier, though, it just made me feel exhausted. I longed for some quiet nights at home. I still long for a night or two at home each week, but maybe when April comes, Kathy and I will be able to find some daytime hours to pick this back up.

2. What is one thing you hope to do differently this year with regard to health, either physical or spiritual? If you are satisfied with your current status in both areas, perhaps you would be willing to share something you’ve already done (or regularly do) to care for yourself.

I hope to put the things that matter most to my overall wellbeing and sanity—not only things like biking, but also the playing of my flute, meditating, reflective reading and writing, etc.—first in my day, before they get crowded out by all the things that work has put on my plate.

3. What is one thing you hope your family (of origin, of choice, however you define your primary place of mutual emotional sustenance) will do differently this year? A new tradition for birthdays? More vacation time? Game night? Feel free to really dream about ways to deepen your connections with those you love.

When I think back on the past year, some of my happiest times were playing board games. I’d love to see more game nights with family and friends. Most of our family enjoys board games, so I’d hope we could get together on a more regular basis to play them, maybe even adding some friends who like board games to the mix throughout the year.

And more vacation time like the time spent in Hawaii in January 2012—who wouldn’t hope for that!!!

4. What is one thing you hope your community of faith will consider doing differently this year? New music? Different approaches to preaching? Rearranging the furniture? If you are in a position to try to introduce change, share some of your enthusiasm and/ or anxiety with us!

At this point this is a hard question to answer. If I were staying at South Church for the entire year, my hope would be that we could broaden out our theology from being so anthropocentric to being much more inclusive of all God’s creation and have that widening more visible in the way we pray, worship, do sermons and music, and act. Because I’ll be leaving in a few months, that doesn’t seem possible. I’m also not sure what my new “community of faith” is to be. Is that the presbytery? Right now the presbytery as my regular community of faith feels very amorphous but maybe it’s a question of just needing to live into it to have that become more of a clear reality.


5. In what area would you most like to learn to be gentle with yourself? For what would you most like to forgive yourself? Share your ideas and strategies for extending yourself the kind of grace we know we are assured of.

I’d like to be gentle with myself around the long To Do lists that this spring is bringing me. Even in the first week of new call overlapping old call and teaching, I can’t seem to begin to catch up to the work of the previous month, much less to the work of this week or day. And when it comes to South Church, I want so badly to savor all the time and work I have left with the congregation that I love so much. Instead, though, there’s barely time, if I do things as quickly as possible and for as long as possible each day, to get through the work there and the work for the presbytery and teaching. Savoring is going to have to fall by the way. I need to make peace that not only will I not be able to savor my days left working there but that even doing things as quickly as I can, not all the work on my schedule will get done by the time it should be done or in the way I’d like to do it.