Thursday, November 18, 2010

Confessions of a domestic Church slacker

Advent 2010 starts November 28, which is ten days from now. Do you know where your purple candles are?

No? Me neither. In fact, I think I have to go buy a set of purple votives for my thing. As it's in a straight line on our fireplace mantle, it would take an extremely charitable person to call it a wreath. But we decided against a wreath years ago when one of our enthusiastic little girls almost knocked the candles over for the umpteenth time, and though our young ladies are long past the age when candles are dangerous for them, we have, in the meantime, added cats to our home. Emmett, our Main Cat, is so laid back and cautious and incurious that were I a believer in reincarnation I would suspect he was some Republican Senator or other come back to life in a more suitable form; but Smidge, our Auxiliary Back-Up Cat, probably has some of Kipling's mongoose in him--except that Smidge's motto is not "Go and Find Out!" but "Go, Find Out, Attack, Destroy, and Neutralize!" which makes him more like a modern-day military industrialist.

Which is why, when Kitten, our oldest girl, handed me some Advent music to take to last week's choir practice (Kitten is extremely organized and fond of keeping track of our music schedules--yay!), my first and second thoughts were, "Oh, gosh. I wonder where I put the Jesse Tree last year?" and "I wonder if we should actually hang up the Jesse Tree, or if Smidge is going to see it as a large brightly-colored felt challenge and good shredding practice for the Christmas Tree Demolition Derby?"

Were it not for regular choir practice, my first indication that Advent was upon us would be either Father's purple vestments or the congregational singing of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" on the first Sunday of the season. In fact, when the girls were little, that usually was my clue to start running around like a maniac looking for candles and wreaths and recipes and activities and wherever the heck I'd put the Jesse tree the year before, in preparation for my annual Christmas stress, on the one hand, or Christmas disappointment, on the other, when I failed to pull off any of the cute and clever and deeply liturgically significant and delicious and lovely and charming and Scriptural things all the other Catholic women out there were doing to celebrate this beautiful time of year.

But that was back when I was younger, and my children were younger, and I wasn't yet comfortable enough in my own skin to realize that my gifts and talents, such as they are, simply aren't the sort of thing that produces hand-crafted yet lavish and useful Christmas gifts, or whips up whole freezers full of delicious treats, or designs and creates an Advent-appropriate decorating scheme that can be magically transformed, at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, into a Christmas wonderland. And attempting to do these things had an unfortunate tendency to take a toll on my sanity (which, regular readers know, is never at a terribly high ebb anyway). And that it's perfectly okay to see some blogger's really creative and clever Advent preparation idea, and even to admire it, without feeling pressure to duplicate it in one's own home--particularly if the creative and clever idea involves a) a glue gun, b) a sewing machine and/or iron, or c) anything requiring truly precision scissor-use.

There were times when this made me feel like a domestic Church slacker (and no, I'm not talking about pants again). There was a temptation to believe that all of these things, or at least the staggering majority of them, were required in order to ensure one's children a meaningful Advent followed by a spiritually significant and holy Christmas. Oh, sure, they weren't technically required. But if you didn't want your children to grow up and become bitter ex-Catholic media types who grudgingly went to Mass at Christmas only because they didn't want a prolonged Christmas lecture from you, then you had to get cracking on everything from the Advent Alphabet to the Nativity Zoo (in which animal crackers might be used to represent symbolically how all of the animals from Noah's Ark were present in spirit with the cows, donkeys and sheep in the creche), and everything in between. [Nota Bene: as far as I know I just made both of those up. If there really is an "Advent Alphabet" craft, or a "Nativity Zoo" craft, let me assure the creator(s) of either that I'm not in any way dissing either idea, or anyone who chooses to do them.]

Now, that wrong impression I had was mine, and only mine. And as I grew up a bit, I realized that our ability to do different things each liturgical season--but especially Advent and Christmas--was going to vary. Travel, illness, other obligations, could and did get in the way of planned daily or weekly Advent activities. Yet my children have grown in the faith, and in their appreciation of these seasons, not by any effort of mine, but by the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, nourished by our usual habits of prayer and worship.

So, if this year Advent is approaching you unawares, or you can't find your purple candles, or you have either a cat or a dog or even, by God's great gift and blessing, a rambunctious toddler around whom some activities (glitter!) are a Really Bad Idea--prepare your heart anyway, and rejoice anyway, and celebrate anyway. What you can do, do with love and kindness and attention and patience and peace; what you can't do, let go, and be at peace. The most important thing the domestic Church models to its members is Love--the Love of God, the Love that is God. The rest is negotiable--yes, even the Advent Wreath and the Jesse Tree.


Anonymous said...

Sigh... I love it when you posts these posts.

Jessica Snell said...

This is so encouraging. Thank you.

Amy said...

Love it! This is so me.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I'm pretty bad at 'domestic church' stuff, BUT the kids went wild for Charlotte's idea of wrapping up books and unwrapping one for each day of Advent... and wrapping and reading books is something I can handle! :)

Also, we have this awesome magnetic nativity advent calendar. And a German Christmas candle sent by a friend.

And I can manage an advent hymn a day, because I like them.

So we'll be doing some stuff....

I've always wanted to try the Jesse tree, but I'm afraid it might end up being a source of stress....... any advice on that one?

Oh, and we bake lots of cookies. But mostly because I like making cookies and they keep the kids happy in that dark part of the afternoon where we're done with school, there's no PBS kids on, and it's too dark to play, but Daddy isn't home yet to light up their lives......

eulogos said...

I remember Amy Welborn had a post a few years ago where she went a week late to buy an Advent calendar, and prominent in the store's advent section was a book about how to celebrate Advent in your Amy Welborn.
Susan Peterson

Charlotte (WaltzingM) said...

The only time the Jesse Tree caused us stress was when we tried to do it along with an Advent Calendar. Then it seemed like too much. Really, the Jesse Tree is the same as an Advent calendar, it helps you count down the days until Christmas while introducing you to some of the characters and stories from the Old Testament. I would recommend getting a pre-packaged one for your first attempt. And with little ones, don't stress out about reading all of the Bible verses. Some of them can be long. You can choose to just talk about the stories (like the story of Noah's Ark or the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho) or even choose a book of Bible Stories to help you out.

Erin Manning said...

Thanks, all!

Susan, that's funny. :)

Deirdre: what Charlotte said! If I had it do do over, I might stick with an Advent calendar for the youngest ages and not move to the Jesse Tree until the children are older. Like Charlotte said, some of the readings can be very long, and some of them can't easily be summarized, either.

But I've also heard of a sort of "hybrid" tradition that intrigues me: a "counting down" of sorts, using either tree or calendar--but using the readings from each day's Mass (which can be found on the USCCB website very handily). That's an especially nice thing to do if daily Mass isn't possible for one's family--the only downside is that the typical Jesse Tree symbols probably won't go with the readings.