Advent will very quickly be upon us, and with it all of the worldly distractions, commitments and tight schedules that have helped make Christmas itself feel–for some–like an ordeal to be gotten through, instead of a season of dawning light and enduring, mysterious love. Particularly in difficult times such as we are facing, we need to be sure we’ve made some time to consider that light, and that Incarnational mystery, which we will never fully comprehend whereupon, as the great Anglican Madeleine L’Engle wrote:
“God, who is all power, gave away power!”
So, here are some recommendations–books or “companions” that you can keep on the nightstand and dig into before bedtime, or before you rise–or in your purse or car, if you’re driving kids around from lessons to practices–or anywhere you believe you might be able to snatch a few minutes in which to take a breath, and remember, and give thanks.
Since I mentioned L’Engle, let me mention a book I’ve recommended before, her spiritual/biographical Bright Evening Star: Mystery of the Incarnation. L’Engle fans will appreciate both her lyrical prose and the deep insights she brings into contemplation of her own childhood, Christmas, and the knowledge that she grew into. This is a lovely read, and since the season of Christmas is only beginning on December 25, it makes a nice gift, too.
If your life is a bit fast-paced, pick up the Magnificat Advent Companion. This blessedly inexpensive volume is as reliable a publication you are going to find. Magnificat pulls together thoughtful essays, scripture, poetry and devotionals –it’s the whole package–and I will have one in my purse throughout the season, for those random moments.
If you are finding that the Advent Wilderness is a bit fraught with noise and clutter, and you’ve turned your heart into a junk-drawer, you might like Beth A. Richardson’s The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas. Richardson comes from a Methodist tradition, so if you’re not Catholic but want to become more familiar with Advent, this might be a good choice.
On the other hand you can’t go wrong with St. Thomas Aquinas, and so Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Thomas Aquinas is another of my own choices for this season. This is a quick daily read: a bit of scripture, a bit of the Angelic Doctor and an invitation to a few minutes of contemplation.
For something a bit heavier and more time-consuming, but incredibly readable and instructive, my third personal choice for this Advent is Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons And Prison Writings 1941-1944. Fr. Alfred Delp was a German Jesuit priest who died in a Nazi death camp in 1945. I have occasionally quoted him before, and this book is on my desk right now:
The gray horizons must light up. Only the foreground is screaming so loudly and penetratingly. Farther back, where it has to do with things that really count, the situation is already changing. The woman has conceived the Child, sheltered Him in her heart, an has given birth to her Son. The world has come under a different law. All these are not merely one-time historical events upon which our salvation rests. They are simultaneously the model figures and events that announce to us the new order of things, of life, of our existence.
You can read more about Fr. Delp in this extremely interesting interview
One of Delp’s contemporaries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has his words and work included in Watch For The Light: Readings For Advent And Christmas; this is one of those books I find myself going to every Advent. I keep it on a spare table in my office and pick it up randomly, and always find myself reading precisely what I needed to read in that moment. It also contains words by Dorothy Day, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Philip Yancey, Madeleine L Engle, Henri Nouwen, Kathleen Norris.
Finally, A Family Advent: Keeping the Savior in the Season is a nice (inexpensive) assist in getting the whole family together for a few minutes each day, to put on the mind of Advent.
Next Week: A look at book that will make great Christmas gifts!
I am going to heartily recommend, among other books, Brent Landau’s Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem for gift-giving, but this is also excellent Advent reading, if you are–as I am–fascinated by the Magi, and the notion that their journey, begun “in the East at the edge of the Ocean” is rounding out, 2000 years later, with the Christian church in Vietnam and elsewhere in the far East, facing such persecution. The book, which contains the first English translation of an ancient document purporting to journal the experiences of these mysterious travelers, may be controversial, for some–and Landau seems to want to make it controversial–but as a Catholic, it seemed to fit in very well with my understandings; the illustrations are fascinating and enlightening, and the prose of the ancients singing the praises of God is not just lyrical, it is hypnotically joyful. This is a fast read, but it makes the heart soar.
As ever, (and as with the Mystic Monk Coffee) any purchases you make via these Amazon links or the search box in the sidebar create a small stipend for yours truly, and I heartfully thank you if you go that way!
Related: George Baily and Advent
As a fan of Mother Mary Francis, PCC, author of A Right to be Merry (which I excerpt here and here), I needed to include this just released book of Advent meditations: Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Art of Waiting:
“But it is a wonderful thing that we are not happy with ourselves, because the most terrible thing would be that we are at peace with our faults, absorbed in ourselves, blaming our faults on other people…the tenderness, the sweetness of Advent is wedded to that great mystery which begins with the call: Now is the time. Now is the hour. Wake up and be made perfect in holiness.”
– Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
Julie has more Advent reading ideas!