“WELCOME, dear feast of Lent,” wrote George Herbert, always a saint, but now
enjoying his own dear feast on 27 February. In some varied books for Advent we
similarly find “season” transformed into “feast”.
One of these books “celebrates” the season, another proclaims it “festival”.
Two of them are based on daily readings for December; none makes reference to
Advent Sundays, to the themes of death, judgement, heaven and hell, nor to the
pattern of Sunday liturgical texts.
Eltin Griffin’s collection in this is an exception. There seems, otherwise,
little interest in “church” in its manifold meanings — as if the Christian life
were not resourced by the fellowship of Grace. But the reader brings both
Church and world to the task of reflection, prayer and action.
A Journey through Advent (CWR, £5.99 (£5.40);
1-85345-312-9) by Rob Frost provides a pattern of daily material for individual
or group use, suggesting a commitment of 15 minutes a day. The weekly
programmes are based on Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary, Jesus, and finally the
reader. A scripture passage is indicated with commentary, suggestions for
self-examination and reflection, for prayer and discussion.
The quotes used range from Karl Barth to Thomas à Kempis, St Teresa of Avila
to John Stott. There is much to think and pray about. A good purchase at £5.99.
Wendy Bray’s The Art of Waiting (BRF, £6.99 (£6.30
); 1-84101-296-3) is similarly based on a daily pattern from 1 December to 6
January, for use individually or in groups. A scripture passage, printed out,
is followed by a commentary, much illustrated from the sorrow and anxieties of
daily life — examination results, surgery, chemotherapy, waiting in a hotel
As in Rob Frost’s book, little attention is given to the sustaining life of
the worshipping community, or the presence to the faithful of Jesus in the
Blessed Sacrament, itself a sign in which we show forth his death until he
come. But its stories of waiting for God are quietly provocative or inspiring.
If you want “church”, however, there is plenty of it in Celebrating
the Season of Advent (The Columba Press, £7.99 (£7.20);
1-85607-468-4). Edited by Eltin Griffin, it is the fruit of eight years of
weekends at a Carmelite conference centre in Ireland.
The aim is to help the Advent season “come alive” in Roman Catholic
parishes, but it has much to teach other Christians — from the fourth-century
origins of Advent in Spain and France, to setting up a parish committee in
September to prepare for a good Advent later.
A friar, Sean Collins, notes that “the central mystery of the Advent season
is precisely the experience of time — past, present and future — as filled with
the promise of God.” In 13 stimulating essays, varying aspects of the season
are looked at, so that the mystery may embrace us more fully.
There is, for example, a useful chapter on “Celebrating Advent with
Children”, who of course look forward to Christmas, and thus may learn
relatively easily about Advent’s “waiting” theme.
With an attractive cover, A Time of Waiting: Images and insight
(The Columba Press, £7.99 (£7.20); 1-85607-471-4) is Anne
Thurston’s readable short book based on the metaphor of pregnancy. There are
nice pictures — although surely our Lady visited Elizabeth, not vice versa, as
the writer clearly under-stands.
The introduction to this occasion, in a painful perspective drawn by
reflecting on Hagar and her child Ishmael (Genesis 16), is one of several
passages to remember and cherish. Such writing is what you want for a time of
reflection and waiting upon God. This book is “warmly recommended” for Advent
thought, focused on Mary not as queen, but as young woman or mother.
If you want something a bit more Christmassy, Matthew Byrne’s The
Way it Was: The narrative of the birth of Jesus (The Columba Press,
£7.99 (£7.20); 1-85607-463-3) combines St Matthew’s Gospel and St
Luke’s Gospel into one story. It is full of local colour, historical detail and
explanation — the circumcision and naming of Jesus, for example, comes over as
a sedate, family occasion like a quiet christening party.
The book’s weakness is that — as the title suggests — it does not raise any
awkward questions about Bible narratives; on the other hand, it does warn the
reader of the way in which the apocryphal Gospels — books about Jesus which are
not canonised by the Church — have coloured Christians’ understanding of the
That said, The Way it Was is a book to buy and enjoy. Fr Byrne’s
writing is vivid, perceptive about people and their motives, and engaging in
its exposition of the purposes of God.
Like all these books, it is useful preparation for Christmas.
Prebendary John Gaskell is a former Vicar of St Alban’s, Holborn, in
To order any of these books at the discounted prices given (
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