Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent 2016

Did I mean to be absent from my blog over a year? No. This was perhaps the busiest year I ever want to experience. All good things but so many things. I was so ready for Advent this year. I happened to google a phrase that popped into my head on November 15, "a homely advent." This is what I wanted. Homely, meaning simple and unsophisticated, not grand and elaborate.

The first few links that popped up in my search for "a homely advent" included a link to The Contemplative Cottage's Celtic Advent Calendar, which began that very day, Nov. 15, forty days before Christmas. This was just the week after our tumultuous presidential election and everyone I knew was either in shock or horrified/terrified, or in dismay at the resulting ugliness of feeling. Tomorrow is three weeks since the election and while many feelings are still volatile, the immediate shock is over.

Focussing on Advent seemed like a calming and positive way forward. I'm directing my energy not on political action or social media debate or researching the rabbit trails of news stories, but on what matters most in the end regardless. I am making a renewed effort to spend time on spiritual reading, prayer, observing the liturgical year, and especially in observing Advent as a distinct period of time of preparation for Christmas. We set out our Nativity scenes and Advent wreath. Christmas decorations and gifts are staying stashed away for a later appearance.

The devotional book I've chosen for this year is "Season of Promises: Praying through Advent with Julian of Norwich, Thomas a Kempis, Caryll Houselander, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence, Max Picard" by Mitch Finchley. It's a small book and the daily readings are short but interesting. This year Advent is as long as it can possibly be, the full four weeks, so I'll get to read through it entirely.

Yesterday was the First Sunday in Advent, a cold, wet, miserable day that made it difficult to want to leave the house for Mass. But we made it, and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" was sung, the Advent wreath was blessed and lit, and the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist looked down at us and sang with us, "Come let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord."

The first advent candle is said to represent Hope. Christ Our Hope. Our hope for peace and justice and love and life eternal. "Stay awake! also must be prepared." "Come let us climb the Lord's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." Let's walk the path of Advent together and not lose hope.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Feast of the Holy Cross

Detail of my Summer 2015 Quarter Year Liturgical Calendar
September 14 - The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is one of the markers for the seasonal-liturgical calendar year. Holy Cross Day marked the beginning of monastic winter in some communities; the Rule of St. Benedict has a summer and winter schedule for the monks' working, eating, and prayer days, and as the days grew noticeably shorter, this was the point in which the schedule changed over--meals would be lighter since outdoor work would be decreasing. 

"From the Ides of September until the beginning of Lent
let them always take their dinner at the ninth hour.
But this evening hour shall be so determined
that they will not need the light of a lamp while eating,
Indeed at all seasons
let the hour, whether for supper or for dinner, be so arranged
that everything will be done by daylight."
--from Chapter 41 of the RSB

Holy Cross Day also is the marker for the Ember Days at the end of of summer, arriving near the autumnal equinox (September 23 this year) and before the next Quarter Day, Michaelmas (September 29). The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, following the Sunday after Holy Cross Day (got that?), are the Ember Days, which are days of thanksgiving, prayer and fasting in appreciation of the harvest, the fruits of the earth and the fruits of the Spirit, all of which grow and nourish us, thanks to the grace of God. 

Ember Days at a glance
Reflect & orient oneself to the coming season 
Wednesday: give thanks for the harvest - devotion to Mary
Friday: we ask the Lord to bless our labors - light a candle and pray for the souls of loved ones 
Saturday: anticipating the celebration - pray for priests & vocations

These would be good days for garden clean up, planting new trees (before that first frost hits), preparing for colder and wetter days ahead. I have grapes and basil to harvest, as well as a lot of summer greens to clear up and out. The pumpkins and squash are doing great still, but you can feel the garden starting to die back with less sunlight and more cold days.  

Holy Cross is also my parish, so this is our patronal feast day. One Eastern Orthodox Christian practice I read about for Holy Cross is the veneration of the cross (on the vigil of the feast) by placing a small cross on a tray, surrounded by basil leaves and flowers. This would be part of the feast's liturgy, and would be venerated (kissed) and incensed in a procession. This idea could easily be adapted for home use as part of your family evening prayer time. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Autumn 2015

It's my birthday, so like any good hobbit, I have gifts for my party guests! Here is a copy of my Autumn 2015 liturgical quarter calendar for each of you to print and color. Enjoy!

Auturmn 2015 by LeeAnn Balbirona

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In Color: Summer 2015

If coloring isn't your thing, here is a colored version of Summer 2015. 
See the previous post for b&w version.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Mother Nature Bedtime Story

Every night when I put my son to bed we say two prayers together: the St. Michael Prayer ("his" prayer) and another one ("my" prayer), which varies. The other night we were saying the Hail Mary and Ewan asked me:

"What's a womb?"
"The place where a baby grows in a mom's body."
"How can Jesus have a womb? He's a man."

Oh, I see the confusion. Like the difference between "Let's eat, Grandma!" and "Let's eat Grandma!" he hears the prayer as saying, "Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!" forgetting that the entire prayer is addressed to someone else (Mary), not Jesus at all.

"In the Hail Mary prayer we are talking to Mary, Jesus' mother, so when we say "blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus," we are saying "blessed is your son, Jesus."
"Oh. What does fruit of the womb mean?"
"Like a tree makes fruit. An apple tree makes an apple. Mary is like a tree and Jesus is the fruit."

Connections sparking in his 9-year-old brain...

"And God is like the rain that makes the tree grow!"
"Sure, or maybe the Holy Spirit is like the rain?" I suggest, though like all analogies, it is also imperfect and fails to fully explain divine truth.

"OK, then God the Father is the Sun."
"Yep, that makes sense."

And then he comes up with another connection.

"There's also Mother Nature," he says.
"Hmm, Mother Nature is more an idea, not a real person," I say.
"Mother Nature is real too. Mary is Mother Nature."

Just when I thought this was going well, it seems like he's got his religion and mythology mixed. I start blaming myself for every fantasy-based cartoon and movie he's ever watched.

"Mary is Mother Nature because she makes everything beautiful," he concludes.


"Wow, Ewan, that makes me really happy that you understand things that way. Not everyone does!"

Even if it is not perfectly correct theology, it is great that he is making analogies to understand the Faith for himself and sees Mary as a beautiful mother who helps make the world more beautiful too.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Goodbye, green.
Goodbye, gloria.
Farewell, alleluia.
Hello, Lent.

It was a bright, warm, and sunny morning in the Pacific Northwest. A few fruit trees in the neighborhood have even started blossoming. What a strange early spring.

As we were all singing the Gloria for the last Sunday of this season of Ordinary Time this morning, I felt as if we were packing away the rest of the winter decorations. Ash Wednesday is coming!

Lenten roses I saw recently, growing near white flowering kale, at the Chihuly glass garden.