I’ve been awash in Advent, even though it’s still 11 days away.
Wait. It’s only 11 days away?
Good thing I spent the day working on bulletins and other plans for worship in December. This year, for once, I’m hoping to take on a practice for Advent that actually lasts until Christmas, a tall order for a pastor who is also trying to make Christmas happen at home. This year, two books are on my desk that offer reflections and practices for individuals and for church groups.
Heidi Haverkamp, a member of the RevGals web ring who blogs at The Vicar of Bolingbrook, developed an Advent series for the adults at her church based on C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,* the basis for her new book of reflections and activities, Advent in Narnia (Westminster John Knox Press).
It’s a beautiful, slender hardcover book, which begins with two-page reflections for 28 days of Advent, divided into 4 weeks of readings. Each reflection covers two pages, ending with questions for reflection. Haverkamp refers to portions of the first half of Lewis’ book, ending when Christmas comes. From the start, she clarifies that Narnia is a beautiful image for the spiritual world, but her purpose is not to teach us about Narnia; she wants to bring us closer to Jesus. “Is it he who will lead us to that world we long for, where pain is turn to love, and death to life.”
As a fan of the Narnia books since 3rd grade, I took a particular interest in the treatment of Lucy and her difficult brother, Edmund. Haverkamp clearly loves the book as much as I do. Her thoughtful questions gave even this frequent re-reader new things to ponder.
She compares Lucy to Jeremiah, asking “How has God helped you face a call or experience you didn’t think you were ready for?” She reminds us that “we all have something in common with Edmund,” yet Christ comes for us, too. The meal with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver elicits the suggestion that we “make an ordinary meal more of a communion with God.”
The prompts continue you in the second section of the book, which lays out a program for four weekly discussion groups. Reading from the book, with the optional addition of watching part of a film version, prepare the group for questions that come with some possible answers, in case the discussion does not light up on its own. The material is suitable for leadership by lay people or clergy. The book includes all the appropriate information about copyright for those using portions of the film and animated versions.
The last section of the book gives very helpful details for an all-ages Advent Narnia event at church to conclude with a brief worship service. Activities include Walk Through the Wardrobe, Tea with Mr. Tumnus, Battle the Witch’s Power (a piñata!) and of course sampling some Turkish Delight. A recipe for Mrs. Beaver’s Sticky Marmalade Roll can be found in the Appendix. I especially appreciated the idea of creating a paper chain to represent the witch’s spell, a chain to be broken in worship after lighting the Advent Wreath.
Advent in Narnia is a terrific resource to use with all ages at church, in your family, or for personal devotions during Advent. I think it would even meet the test of our ridiculously busy Advent in a two pastors with two churches household.
For those who have more time to commit to an Advent practice, the Rev. Dr. Brenda K. Buckwell, Obl. OSB, has created a deep and intricate guide to the season, The Advent of God’s Word: Listening for the Power of the Divine Whisper (SkyLight Paths Publishing). Billed as a Daily Retreat and Devotional, it indeed contains lengthy entries for each day in Advent. Each Sunday presents an introduction to the week, drawing on historical practices for the season and introducing the figures from scripture who will be featured in the weeks readings. Sunday also prepares you for the week’s creative arts practice. Those include icon gazing, visio divina (a take on lectio divina that uses video), audio divina (music), and meditative movement. For each, Buckwell describes the challenges involved and ways to practice. The daily entries center on scripture and the creation of mandalas.
An epilogue guides the reader in committing to a spiritual practice that will last throughout the following year. A Leader’s guide for using the book with groups concludes the book.
I’ll be honest. There is a lot of material for each day, and the Sunday segments would need to happen on a different day for this pastor. Nevertheless, I appreciate the author’s exploration of scripture familiar to the Advent season, and even a less organized approach to the material would benefit the reader/practitioner. I suspect that likelihood was kept in mind when Buckwell and the editors repeated instructions for mandala creation in the daily entries. If you missed Tuesday, you can still take on Wednesday.
I can readily imagine using portions of The Advent of God’s Word in a retreat for clergy, to assist in their preparation for Advent, not just in the practical sense of preparing for worship, but in the deeper sense of preparing the spirit for the season.
Disclaimer: Both books reviewed this week were given to me by their publishers for review. I had the chance to read an advance copy of The Advent of God’s Word and am quoted on the inside front cover.
* In case you wonder about my credentials to assess a Narnia-related book, I won’t even link to a copy of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” that refers to it as Book 2, and I named my daughter after Lucy.
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