ADVENT E-COURSE: Honest Longings – November 29 2015 – January 10 2016
A couple of years ago, I was feeling a yearning to sit quietly amidst all the rush of advent glitter and jingly songs. I signed up for an e-course/online retreat run by my dear friend Tara Owens, who is a certified spiritual director. It was an amazing experience: for the first time in years I felt spiritually prepared for the season. Truly, this course was the spiritual highlight of my year.
It has three levels of involvement, depending on your budget. If you can, DO IT! For Advent and Christmas, November 29 2015 – January 10 2016. For more details, click here.
- Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas – John Blase. I read this last year for Advent, and for me it really did recapture the awe of that first Christmas. It is a retelling of Luke 1-2, by John Blase, poet and blogger, (who has guest-posted here earlier this year). It has 12 sections, each starting with a Bible reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, then telling the story creatively from a particular person’s point of view (e.g. Elizabeth, Mary etc), and ending with a handwritten prayer or reflection. The result is something remarkable, and he really helped me to see afresh a story that can become tired upon repetition, making the characters seem very contemporary. He is such a gifted writer that these short meditations have stayed with me, even a year on, and reading it really did feel like the wonder of Christmas was made more tangible. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £6.23, Amazon.com $9.47
- The Meaning is In the Waiting: the Spirit of Advent – Paula Gooder. I love this Advent book. This follows the themes of waiting in Scripture, and is designed as an advent reflection book, suitable for daily devotion, but with more meat than the average devotional. Paula is one of my favourite biblical scholars: intelligent, thoughtful and prayerful. It is a book that I will want to read and re-read. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £8.99, Wordery (UK), Amazon.com $14.65
- Journey to the Manger – Paula Gooder. This is a book designed for Advent, like a commentary, but with a devotional slant to it. Eight chapters, so it’s better to see it as a book you read over the 4 weeks of Advent (or over the twelve days of Christmas) than a daily devotional. It covers the nativity and Christmas story from lots of different angles, and has Paula Gooder’s trade-mark intelligent, clear, thoughtful analysis – a real joy to read. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £9.09, Wordery (UK) £9.07, Amazon.com $13.06
- Waiting on the Word – Malcolm Guite. This is a genius idea – a poem for every day of Advent and Christmas, with Guite’s own commentary. The range of poems is good (Christina Rosetti, Edmund Spenser, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Luci Shaw), and includes a few of his beautiful sonnets. The commentary is as much literary analysis as it is theological reflection, and what I most love about Guite’s commentary is the sense of excitement about poetry coupled with an encouragement to marvel in God more. Highly recommended. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £10.99, Wordery (UK) £8.68, Amazon.com $15.99
- haphazard by starlight – Janet Morley. A wonderful collection of classic poems, some Christian, some not, to lead you through the season of Advent through to Epiphany, with a literary commentary on the poem, and a short question to encourage you to think about how it affects you. This is literary and academic, but short, and gently spiritual. It is a wonderful collection of poems, and I really appreciated her guided tour – a great way of doing Advent for poetry-lovers. (This is similar to Guite, but slightly more literary/academic and slightly more questioning/downbeat than Guite’s.) Get it from Amazon.co.uk £9.99, Wordery (UK) £7.57, Amazon.com $14.99
- Real God in the Real World: Advent and Christmas readings on the Coming of Christ – Trystan Owain Hughes. I haven’t read this book, but I loved the previous book written by him on Compassion (reviewed here) so it is well worth checking out. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £7.99, Wordery (UK) £9.91, Amazon.com $12.23
- The One True Light – Tim Chester. I haven’t yet read this book. The author is from a roughly conservative evangelical stable, so if you’re interested in a devotional/sermon-style that works through short verses John’s gospel, with an extract from a hymn or a prayer at the end, this might be for you. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £4.99, (not available from Amazon.com or Wordery)
BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
- Refuge – Anne Booth. A beautiful picture book telling the nativity story, but with half an eye on the current refugee crisis. £5 from the sale of each book is donated to the War Child charity for refugees (they make no profit). Get it from Wordery (UK) £7.98, Amazon.com $13.12 (Not available from amazon.co.uk)
- The Night Before Christmas – Clement C. Moore, Eric Puybaret (illustrator). This is my guilty pleasure – the traditional poem about Santa Claus, beautifully illustrated. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £5.99, Wordery (UK) £5.97, (Not available from Amazon.com). I like to offset this slightly saccharine and fictional account of St Nicholas with this:
- Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of Santa Claus – Mary Joslin. This tells the possible history behind the legend of St Nicholas – a holy bishop who gave money to poor girls who had no dowry (the book omits to mention that they might have been forced into slavery or prostitution). Bishop Nicholas saw their stockings drying by the fire and dropped gold coins into them. Beautifully illustrated, this is now sadly out of print, but you can still grab it for £0.75 plus P&P if you’re quick, from Amazon.co.uk sellers, or second-hand from Amazon.com.
ALTERNATIVE ADVENT CALENDARS
- My friend Cara has designed a beautiful Advent Devotional Art Calendar, which is the first time I’ve seen anything like this, and I think it sounds amazing. Based in US, so order now if you’re in the UK.
- The Real Advent Calendar – this may just be in the UK, but I love this chocolate advent calendar that also focuses on the nativity, rather than assorted Disney characters. All the chocolate is Fair Trade and it supports good charities. Buy from Eden.co.uk for quick delivery, or Tesco, both £3.99.
- Two Nativity Plays – essential for any church leader at Christmas – one by my friend Ros Clarke and one by Miranda comedy writer James Cary.
- The Vicar’s Wife introduced me to a nice idea for families for Advent, as an advent calendar alternative: The Jesse Tree.
- James Cooper has a SERIOUSLY amazing website for all things Christmas (he has all of those advent facts and more). If you need any background on any of the traditions for Christmas, his is the one-stop-shop for it all – WhyChristmas.com
I love listening to Christmas music in all December. (This is a bit of a Thing with me: in December I only listen to Christmas music.) These are some of my favourites:
- Carols from King’s College, Cambridge – these are the classic recordings of beautifully-sung choral arrangements by the choral scholars at Cambridge University. And so cheap. Can’t argue with that. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £4.29 or Amazon.com $14.34
- Essential Carols from Kings College, Cambridge – More beautifully-sung choral arrangements. This is a double CD, and has some great and less familiar carols. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £11.55 or Amazon.com $9.93
- Merry Christmas – Vienna Boys Choir – If you would like carols, but feel like a European twist, this is an enchanting album. The sound is sweet – which is not to say ‘cute’, but ‘delicious’, and there is a mixture of German and English classic carols. One of my favourites. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £12.95 or Amazon.com $6.35
- Christmas with the Tallis Scholars – This is two CDs – the second sounds like traditional Latin monk chanting, and can be useful for meditation or relaxation, the first is a lovely collection of haunting traditional and early carols and motets, sung unaccompanied by a small choir. It is best heard accompanied by a roaring fire, to feel the primal power of those haunting chants and wandering harmonies. I love this period of music, and used to sing in a madrigal choir, so this is special to me. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £13.18 or Amazon.com $21.35
- Handel’s Messiah There’s nothing like having the Hallelujah chorus on full blast in the car to make you feel uplifted and excited for Christmas. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £5.99 or Amazon.com $16.01
- Bach – Christmas Oratorio Similar in style to Handel, and a great alternative if you’re all Handel-ed out. This recording by Harnancourt is a great one (sung in German). Get it from Amazon.co.uk £13.19 or Amazon.com $32.60
- In Terra Pax (City of London Choir) Lovely collection of more unusual Christmas music – British composers mainly from the 20th Century (Holst, Vaughan williams, Rutter) etc. This is a big choir with an orchestra, so it has a rich and full sound, and the soloists were all good. If you like your advent music to have a twinge of discordance, even while the lyrics proclaim the comfort of Christmas, this is the one for you. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £8.03 or Amazon.com $11.39
- Ceremony of Carols – Benjamin Britten – Kings’ College, Cambridge. Sometimes I want something with a bit of edge, and anyone who was forced to sing these as a teenager will return to them with their eyes enlightened – they have so much energy and mystery. Get it from Amazon.co.uk £4.99, or Amazon.com $15.73
- Sweet Bells – Kate Rusby. Kate Rusby is an incredibly talented English folk singer, and this is full of good English cheer and wassailing. Her voice is just captivating, and her arrangements of these traditional folk songs and carols are fabulous. It’s a really cosy album. She has another Christmas album, While Mortals Sleep, which is also excellent, but Sweet Bells is probably the one to get if you just get one. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Snow Angels – Over the Rhine. This inhabits a bluesey, jazzy, folksy space. Lovely for whisky by the fire. See it on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
- Michael Buble’s Christmas album – That favourite of modern-day crooners – I love to have this on while decorating the tree, and hum, ‘it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’. See it on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
- Christmas in DiverseCity – Toby Mac – Apparently this dude used to be in DCTalk. I’m not sure how you’d describe this music – electro pop? (I feel old). This has a great, upbeat, contemporary twist on traditional Christmas Carols, and some great collaborations, including Owl City, whilst still feeling worshipful. See it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
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Over to you:
- What do you like to listen to/read in Advent?