Art of Advent – It’s all about the men

Our second Art of Advent course looked at paintings of men. Lots of men: Prophets, John the Baptist, wise men, Joseph, and some shepherds. But wait! Perhaps there were shepherdesses too! Here are the paintings we looked at…

John the Baptist in the Wilderness boschjtb

St John the Baptist in the wilderness, Hieronymus Bosch, c1489, Museum of Lazaro Galdiano, Madrid, Spain

John the B da Vinci 1513

St John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci, 1513-16, Musee du Louvre, Paris

Dream of St Joseph Philippe de Champaigne 1642

The Dream of St Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne, 1642, National Gallery London

Dream of St Joseph Georges_de_La_Tour

The Dream of St Joseph, Georges de la Tour, 1630-35, Musee des Beaux-arts, Nantes

Christ in the House of His Parents ('The Carpenter's Shop') 1849-50 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’) 1849-50 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and various subscribers 1921

Journey of the Three Magi to Bethlehem, 1638-1640

Journey of the three Magi to Bethlehem, 1638-40, Leonaert Bramer, New York Historical Society

The Sleep of the Kings, Gislebertus 12th c, Autun, Cath of Saint-Lazare

Gislebertus, 1125-35, Autun Cathedral

Annunciation to shepherds Wtewael

The Annunciation to the Shepherds, Joachim Wtewael, 1606, Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Glug glug glug

It is at this time of year, and usually about this time of week in particular, when clergy around the world start to sink.  Glug glug glug…

The lists have been made. And the sub-lists have been added. Highlighter pens may or may not have been used. On the lists there are things listlike “ORANGES – find out how many last year – ask for discount? – did I ask someone to make Christingles?” And “SERMONS X 5 – Midnight, Day, St John, Christmas 1,… what was the other one for?” Sometimes the lists get so messy they have to be re-written. This is a form of procrastination and is allowed. It is also permitted to put things on the second list that have already been done and which can be ticked or struck off straight away giving a huge amount of satisfaction. And the list is on paper, and on my computer, and on my phone, and on my iPad – and the list doth follow me everywhere and doth haunt me in the day and in the night.

Clergy live a kind of schizophrenic existence at this time. It is still Advent, yes. The church is purple, the music is Adventy, the end-times are being pondered.  Then clergy sit at the computer and design the Christmas Day pew sheet and write the 1st Sunday of Christmas sermon. We type out the Christmas carols and like the earworms they are, they get stuck there. No! It is still Advent! Back and forth we go in that twilight world which is Advent but nearly Christmas and the shops and radio stations would have us believe it is nearly over, not just beginning.

Xmas inviteCards and invitations come in. Even the most extrovert of extrovertish party animal balk at these invitations. Collects are sought, nice blessings filed and can’t be found again, memories are stirred with faint rememberings of brilliant ideas for Crib services… but just out of reach. Filing cabinets are emptied, and paper litters the floor along with wrapping paper, nativity ducks, enough tealights to seriously worry the Health and Safety Officer, and a crown of thorns. (How the heck did that get there? And where can I put it so I will find it in Holy Week?)

Voile! I forgot the Voile! Where’s the list?

And in the midst of the chaos we dream strange dreams of angels and camels and a determined young girl. And we ponder what life would be like if we were struck down with a mystery illness that required us to take to our beds for a fortnight and be unable to lift a finger. And then we realise that we couldn’t bear to be anywhere this Christmas but here, with our little flock. Then the sinking feeling starts to go, and a bubbling up begins. The baby Jesus will soon be here! Isn’t that glorious?

Hang on a mo… the baby Jesus! Where the heck is the baby Jesus? Is he even on the list?

Advent thoughts

At Christ Church we are doing Daily Prayer every morning in the hall at 9am. If you want to do it at home along with us you’ll find the service sheets at the back of church.

Mother Kimberly has organised a group of pixies over on Love Blooms Bright again this year so you can check out her blog for your daily fix of Advent wonder.

I thought that my Advent was not going to be too busy this year. What was I thinking? Who filled up my nice new Parson’s Pocketbook when I wasn’t looking?  And when am I going to get that day off which didn’t happen last week?

My Rector’s Warden brought me an Advent Calendar. It is purple, religious AND has chocolate. What more could you ask from an Advent Calendar? Now my boys are demanding one of their own and when did I stop buying them one? (Answer: about 25 years ago)

advent and candles

Liturgical Question

While it is often lovely to have children in church and something to which most clergy will aspire, there can be something unnerving about the questions they ask. When I have the local S1 class in to scamper round church I enjoy it all, including dressing them up and acting out a service, but my heart always sinks at the Question Time. Well who wouldn’t risk making up something just to save face? But when the RE teacher is standing there – and you know he goes to church – you can’t really risk it. So far, I’ve managed to bluff my way out of anything too tricky.

Last Sunday one of our own teenagers asked me a question which has left me pondering… We’d done the Gaudete thing, and the pink thing, and the mood lifting thing. And then she asked me why we didn’t veil the crosses during Advent?  “I mean, he’s not born yet so how can he be on a cross?” she asked. “Why don’t we focus on the nothingness of Advent like we do at Lent? Why don’t we veil everything so we can just think about him about to be born and have no distractions?”

Why indeed? Anyone know?

In which Ruth feels like a complete idiot

I’ve been planning for Advent for a wee while now. A few years ago in another church far, far away I used some material from USPG called Born Among Us which explores Advent and Christmas around the world. The pack includes some lovely pics on acetates for an OHP so I’ve been asking around to see if I can borrow one. Enquiries brought forth the offer of a dodgy one without an arm in a cupboard in Buckstone, an old fusty one over in the west somewhere, and eventually an offer of a lovely slimline one in Linlithgow. Enquiries also brought forth many cries of ‘Why are you not using a digital thingummy and doing it on your laptop?’

Now let me tell you something. I have indeed been to many occasions where Powerpoint was used as a visual aid and I have to say that not one of them worked for me. I’ve watched words flying in from left, right, above and below. I’ve squinted at text that was so small even my cataract-free eyes could not make out a word. I’ve seen every colour of the rainbow and special effect all thrown into one page that gave me a migraine. And I’ve also seen umpteen men footering around with cables and usb things pleading with us to ‘talk amongst ourselves for a minute while we try to figure out why this is not showing on that lovely big screen up there’. (Most of the above can be seen at Synod any year.) So, as a result, I’ve never learned how to use Powerpoint.

However, this week when I got in touch with the lovely person at Linlithgow and asked when I could pop over for her super-duper slimline OHP I was informed that her husband had taken it to the dump. Well who uses them these days when you can use a digital thingummy? Quite.

On to Plan B. Plan B was to scan all the images, learn how to use Powerpoint, create a wee slideshow, and borrow a digital thingummy and a large screen. Oh, and get my neglected Netbook, which I’ve barely used since getting a smartphone, up and running again.  And really it was all going terribly well. The digital thingummy seemed quite easy to figure out considering there were no instructions with it and once plugged in to my netbook there was white light shining brightly on my study wall. But what I couldn’t get were the images from said Powerpoint slideshow to appear on the wall.

I tried phoning the lovely CofS minister who’d loaned me the equipment for help but he was engaged. Then I tried a certain Provost who has a great dislike of Powerpoint and he suggested I tried a few things but they didn’t work. So I phoned the meenester again and he tried to talk me through it. “It’s one of the F keys,” he said. “Which one looks like it has a picture of a laptop on it?”  Em, none. We tried a few F keys until I lost the picture all together off my netbook at which point he said he’d come down. Bless him. Meanwhile I tried pressing a few buttons on the digital thingummy (what IS it called?) but to no avail. It took me the next 20 minutes just to get my netbook back working and by the time he arrived I was all ready to be impressed by his computer savvy.

It was at that point that he noticed I still had the lens cap on. Doh.

Funny old world

It’s a funny old world, this being a priest. Each day brings different challenges and opportunities. Sometimes you are sitting with people listening and sometimes you are on your own making lists of things to do.  Sometimes you are affirming others and sometimes you are wondering whether what you’ve done is alright. Sometimes you are fretting that you won’t get everything done in time and sometimes you are footering about on Twitter and Facebook. And sometimes you are in design mode, as I have been all week: designing Morning Prayer books; designing Advent Liturgy books; and finishing off the design for the magazine. It happens to be a job I particularly enjoy and I often harken back to those days when I did design for a living. The only downside is that there is never enough time to be really creative and spend lots of time making things look super-duper. That upsets the perfectionist in me.

I’ve also realised that I haven’t been blogging much lately. Not exactly sure why that is except that I have been rather busy what with one thing and another. So my Advent promise will be to do a little more of that.  We are going to be doing Morning Prayer at Christ Church again this Advent every morning at 9am and we shall be using Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community. I haven’t decided yet whether we will use the set readings or find something more creative (like the meditations in Celtic Daily Prayer or some other Advent book). All suggestions welcome.

And talking of Advent I note that Mother Kimberly is reviving Love Blooms Bright, her daily Advent blog with contributions from others.  Last year I discovered Jan Richardson’s blog Advent Door which is also worth a look. And Mother Kirstin is doing something with psalms over at her Advent Jottings. If you know of any others please let me know.

Today, while the pixies are away photocopying oodles of stuff, I shall be reading frantically several books which I promised to review for the Expository Times and then forgot. It’s a funny old world when reading becomes a chore. So the wireless has been put off, the cat fed and watered, the redbush and Earl Grey tea poured and steaming at my side, and I vow not to go near Twitter of Facebook until at least one of them is done.

Advent 1

Happy New Year!

Heavy snow meant that we were low in numbers today but high in enthusiasm.  Those who did venture out really did deserve to be whisked up immediately come the Rapture. Head of the queue, I’d think.  Fortunately we did have two teenagers, one of whom had to light the Advent wreath. (Oh for a 4 year old with wonder in their eyes!) I had to move the Advent Wreath as there was a severe risk of me becoming a living Advent Candle myself. Well you don’t want all that hairspray too close to a naked flame. Not unless it is the Feast of a Martyr.

And now the Glorias are silent. I get to wear purple for the next 4 weeks (yes, I’m afraid there don’t appear to be any rose vestments here either). Morning Prayer begins tomorrow in church every day at 9am. You can join us if you like, or take a book and do it at home in communion with us.

If you want to take on an Advent devotion daily then you can check out Mother Kimberly’s Love Blooms Bright or Mother Kirstin’s Advent Jottings.

(Here is how it looked after the first snow fall. Twice as bad now.)

Virtual journey round the churches

If you, like me, are snowed in and reduced to playing on the computer let me point you in these directions.

Fr Kelvin at St Mary’s Cathedral (the Glasgow one) recorded all his little fairies decorating the church on Sunday. He has speeded it up and posted it on his blog here.  It is very funny.  I liked the use of the candle snuffer to poke the fairy lights up on to the arch.

Holy Trinity Melrose has produced the most beautiful Advent painting. Many members of the congregation were given a tile to paint and when they were put together they produced a copy of the Annunciation by the Chinese artist He Qi. It really is stunning and what a great idea.

Mother-to-be (in religious terms) Nikki has been doing some wonderful O Antiphon meditations over at A Pilgrim’s Process. It is worth having a look at the others too.

OK, duty calls and some unwritten sermons demand attention. I see it is snowing again so it doesn’t look like I am going to get to church to do the photocopying any time soon.


Rejoice!  Good news, my little brood of vipers!  Don’t worry – be happy!  And other such joyous things.

Tis Gaudete Sunday. The day when we get to wear Rose coloured vestments. Or not, if your church doesn’t have any.  

As it happens, we don’t at St Mark’s. We may in the future but at the moment we don’t. So today, as I was preaching, I wore a rather terrific pink stole from India which a friend brought back. Not rose so much as ROSE!  Gorgeous! But is one rose stole enough for such an auspicious occasion?  No, I thought not too. So I wore my new pink shoes as well.

I could feel the presence of the shoe-police breathing down my neck but I am adamant I did no wrong. Pink shoes should be obligatory for Gaudete Sunday.  Of course I expect to hear from a certain Provost who has been known to take an interest in these matters.  But while I still live, here is a picture of the pink shoe. What’s not to love?

John the Baptist

Here is a lovely painting of John the B.

I didn’t preach on John today because he gets a lot of space in the Lectionary. Had I preached on him, this is probably not the image I would have used. But you can never have too much Caravaggio in my book.

I told a story instead.