Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Season of Advent

Sunday, November 28 is the First Sunday of Advent. I love this season of the year. Advent moves through mystery and hope toward the birth of Christ. Through the season of Advent I'll write daily meditations on the Scripture for the day at my blog site, A Daily Advent. The address is

“Church-time” begins with the season of Advent. The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year. It comes after the long stretch that the Church calls “Ordinary Time.”

In the Church calendar, the season of Lent leads into Passion/Palm Sunday, then into Holy Week, culminating on Resurrection Sunday . . . or what we celebrate as Easter. Then we continue our Easter celebration until the Feast of Pentecost, which has both Old Testament and New Testament antecedents for Christians.

Ordinary Time begins after Pentecost, which usually occurs in late May or early June. Through the long summer and fall, we are invited to notice God in the ordinary, in the mundane. There are no special observances to heighten our attention, no Lents, Easters or Pentecosts. Life is ordinary. In the rhythm of the Church calendar, the year ends after this lengthy stretch of Ordinary Time.

But then Advent comes, and suddenly the waiting and ordinariness seems more purposeful. Advent signals that now we wait with an end in mind. It is not simply a season of “getting ready for Christmas.” Advent signals that it’s time to get in touch with our hopes and our longings, that we begin to open ourselves to what we most need. We notice our inner stirrings, that for which we most deeply hunger. We wait, often in darkness, in order to see great light.

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. It is colored in purples and pinks, and characterized by mystery, waiting, anticipation, and hope. The word "advent" literally signifies a coming or an entrance. Thus, this is not only the coming of a new Church year, but it is more so the coming or advent of God's most complete self-revealing, which will come as Christ is embodied in human life.

Through Advent God tends to invite us toward more reflective and mindful living. It is an appropriate invitation given the pace at which many of us will live over the next month. To journey toward Christmas with intention and awareness could be the most precious gift we give to ourselves and others through Advent.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Please, No "Attitude of Gratitude"

I really do get it . . . the "have an attitude of gratitude" thing that people say. I guess it's fine, but it got ruined for me several years ago when I came to know a pastor who used every trite expression he had ever heard at every opportunity possible. He loved them! He put them on his church sign along the busy street, so everyone we see them. He recited them in personal conversations. He repeated them in community ecumenical services.

So every year at Thanksgiving, all he could talk about was having an "attitude of gratitude." Then, as Advent and Christmas rolled around, over and over he repeated, "Jesus is the reason for the season," and "Let's put Christ back in Christmas!"


I had enough of that pretty fast. Call it a pet peeve, I guess. My over-reaction probably says much more about me than about him or about others who use the phrases, or even about the phrase itself. But I have an inward alarm that goes off whenever I hear it.

I've warned the folks who regularly speak at Chapelwood's Contemplative Worship that if one of them ever uses any of those phrases during a meditation at 8:45 on Sunday morning, I'll immediately leap from my front-pew perch and tackle them. Yes, I'm not beyond aggression!

Really, though, I've found plenty this week for which I am thankful. I've been able to find space to breathe deeply and ponder my life, to give my thanks to God for where I am and those around me. I've found myself thankful for full moons low on the horizon . . . for laughter with my wife and two adult children . . . for extended family . . . for health and the movement toward health . . . for the sights and sounds of the countryside.

In short, I've tried to have an attitude of gratitude . . . but I've also tried not to say it just that way.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Voices: A Rilke Poem

This piece of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke introduces a section in his Book of Images that includes the "songs" of several groups Rilke saw as marginalized . . . The Song the Beggar Sings, The Song the Drunkard Sings, The Song the Widow Sings, The Song the Orphan Sings, The Song the Idiot Sings, and so on. . . .

The Voices

The rich and the happy can choose to keep silent,
no need to bid for attention.
But the desperate must reveal themselves,
must say: I am blind
or: I am going blind
or: It's not good for me here on Earth
or: My child is sick
or: I am not holding it together . . .

But when is that really enough?
So, lest people pass them by like objects,
sometimes they sing.

And sometimes their songs are beautiful.

[trans. by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows]

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Psalm for All Saints Day

I gave Psalm 145 my own voice several years ago. I wrote the psalm-prayer to tip my hat toward those persons who had blazed the trail, inviting you and me to follow. While I found their lives to be a source of courage and strength, I also sensed that we are each called to live uniquely for God in our own time. I cannot live the life of Benedict of Nursia or Ignatius of Loyola or Henri Nouwen. I can only live my life in my world. Thus, I did not write the psalm-prayer specifically for All Saints, but the psalm fits the spirit of the day. I offer it here.

PSALM 145:4 – 13 Prayer
A psalm celebrating God’s work through the ages

From age to age Your works live large in our world.
Your mercies are new every morning;
Yet, they stretch out as a consistent thread,
woven through the centuries.

Each generation finds its own way to manifest Your Love,
to embody Your Presence in the world.

I may not be called to the harsh asceticism of Abba Anthony,
to the visionary path of Francis of Assisi,
to the mystical prayer of Julian of Norwich,
to the swashbuckling surrender of Ignatius of Loyola,
to the radical discipleship of Menno Simons,
to the sacrificial compassion of Teresa of Calcutta,
to the anonymous service of Alphonsus Rodriguez,
to the just cause of Nelson Mandela,

But I – and my generation – are called to follow You
in our life-world
as these were called to follow You in theirs.

We find our own way,
by Your Spirit,
into asceticism and vision,
prayer and surrender,
discipleship and compassion,
service and justice,
in ways that are appropriate
and life-giving
and God-anointed
for our times.

The means may change;
the One at the end, however,
remains steady through the times:
kind to those in need
and compassionate toward the broken ones;
not motivated by twisted anger,
but by a generous love that never comes to an end;
sustaining the created world moment by moment
and re-creating us continually
from the inside-out.

All creation – oceans, winds,
hills, trees and humans –
offer their praise, God.
And those deepening life in You,
repeat the blessing passed down through the ages,
speaking Your Name,
stretching hands toward neighbors,
sacrificing for the greater good,
surrendering their lives for Love’s sake.

It has been that way in past generations.
God, that it would continue so today
and on into the boundless future.

Alleluia! Amen.