Take This World Seriously – Advent Reflection

(This reflection originally appeared in the Ware Church Advent Devotional Series on November 28th.)
The Gift
by Mary Oliver
I wanted to thank the mockingbird for the vigor of his song.
Every day he sang from the rim of the field, while I picked
   blueberries or just idled in the sun.
Every day he came fluttering by to show me, and why not,
   the white blossoms in his wings.
So one day I went there with a machine, and played some songs of
   Mahler.
The mockingbird stopped singing, he came close and seemed
   to listen.
Now when I go down to the field, a little Mahler spills
   through the sputters of his song.
How happy I am, lounging in the light, listening as the music
   floats by!
And I give thanks also for my mind, that thought of giving
   a gift.
And mostly I’m grateful that I take this world so seriously.

Reflection

One of my favorite Tolkien quotes comes from The Lord of the Rings, where Frodo wishes that the events of the current day had not happened in his time. Gandalf the wizard wisely responds: “so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” I too feel Frodo’s sense of longing, wishing that current events, holiday stress, and the exhaustion that comes with them could just go away.

As we enter a new church year, it is sometimes difficult to feel excited about celebrating the coming of Christ. This beautiful poem by Mary Oliver, however, reminds me what is most important about the season of Advent. She tells of a gift that she gave to a mockingbird, in gratitude for his daily song. She then realizes that she is thankful for the ability to give a gift, and grateful that she takes “this world so seriously”. We also focus on giving gifts during this time of year, and on giving thanks. But sometimes, it can be hard to take this world seriously when we are surrounded by a myriad of distractions and worries.

As we enter this season, we need to be reminded that even in the midst of our busy lives, we can rest in the knowledge that God takes this world seriously. He takes this world so seriously, in fact, that he even sent his only son, Jesus, to be born in a stable, and to take upon himself the pain and suffering of humanity. God takes this world seriously. So seriously that he would allow his only son to be crucified in order to redeem you and I.

If God takes this world so seriously, then it is our calling to take it seriously as well-to seek out the lost, give food to the hungry, and care for the orphan and stranger. We have been given a great gift, by a great God, who takes us and our suffering seriously. Should we not, as Christians, do the same for others around us?

Prayer

Almighty God-you have sent us the gift of your Son, to take our nature upon himself, and to redeem all of humankind. Grant us the grace, as we await the celebration of your most precious gift, to take this world seriously, and to offer your love to all in need of hope and healing. May we come to know your compassion more fully, in order to live out our calling as the Body of Christ. Through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Amanda Bourne, Intern, Episcopal Service Corps, Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge, MA, (and former Intern at Ware Church)

Common Readers

As of late, I’ve been fascinated with books about books, and essays by readers of books. A few years ago, I read and loved Phyllis Rose’s The Shelf, where she reads through a particular library shelf and documents her reading experience. It’s a great book, partially because her past reading experiences as a scholar and feminist provide an engaging background for this experiment. It is also fantastic because it is such a departure from a typical scholarly work–there’s a sense of personality and adventure to it. It almost, at times, touches that fine line between fact and fiction, a sort of magical experimental work.

A year or so ago, a friend gifted me a copy of Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine, which is a biographical exploration of her own life through the lens of her favorite fictional heroines. It was such a good read that I promptly gifted it to a fellow bookworm, and plan on doing the same for all my female book-loving friends (if ya’ll are reading this, at least pretend to be surprised by your holiday/birthday gift, okay?). Although Ellis and I have very different backgrounds, I too could relate to identifying with Anne of Green Gables, or Elizabeth Bennett. I could, in fact, write my own autobiography just based off of female heroines that shaped me, which shows, I think, how universally we are all formed by those who we spend the most time with (fictional or not). A recent exercise based on Ellis’ book is to identify my own list of heroines (I highly recommend trying it… after you read Ellis, of course).

This morning I started a collection of essays by Anne Fadiman (a journalist, and famed author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down) called Ex Libris. I’m only halfway through, but I’m pretty sure that everyone in the tea shop was giving me strange looks because of my constant laughter. It is snarky, and as a bookworm, her reflections on books and being a common reader resonate with me.

Fadiman’s subtitle about the common reader also reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s work in this area. She is the author of two volumes on The Common Reader, about both readers, and writers and a variety of other subjects. Off the top of my head, both Fadiman and Rose talk about Woolf in their works, and even if Ellis doesn’t talk about Woolf, it is not difficult to see the latter’s influence. It is, after all, Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own that argues in favor of female authorship, and her works paved the way for these contemporary female authors to be able to write about their experiences as readers in the first place.

I have just purchased a copy of Ali Smith’s Public Library and Other Stories, which sounds like it runs in this vein of writers writing about reading and books. I’m excited to continue this very-specific and also possibly-overly-nerdy reading streak, so if you have any additional recommendations, you should tell me via the comments!

Planting (1)

I walk into the dusty hardware store. Measuring cups, rakes, plumbing supplies surround me. The man who offers to help me find something is merely a voice in the background, who I thank and leave in a daze, wandering around the aisles. But it isn’t long before the tug that dominates my brain pulls me to the right section. Plastic pots, shiny trowels, bags of specialty soils greet me. This is what I have come for. To till the earth.

I choose several small pots of grey and olive. $1.99 fits my small budget, for which I am thankful. The soil takes a few more minutes to find, buried under brightly colored packages that advertise “quick grow” or “orchid soil” or “organic fertilizer”. The small, unassuming bag of potting soil at the bottom is unadorned, and the price matches its lowly state, a price that means I pick it up with joy.

I ask at the register, on a fluke. “Do you all have any seeds?” The girl looks at me like I have three heads, and tells me matter-of-fact that they have been put away for the winter. Alas for us late-bloomers who wake up with dreams of growing things on November mornings.

It matters not. I slip over to the florist’s shop, where they greet me, they know my name (it seems that I have a passion for the living already in the flowers that adorn my writing desk). They have, I know, tiny succulents in equally tiny pots. Perfect for the beginning of the colony on my windowsill. I buy three, trying not to tip the gravel out onto the floor of the shop as I fumble for exact change.

I float home, successful in my spontaneity, feeling that having three heads didn’t matter, as long as there was earth and life in my shopping bag. In my cell, I scoop messy soil from the bag into the pots, sitting indian-style on the top of my desk, concentrated on the windowsill where four little pots sit. Into one, I transfer the succulents, where they sit perkily atop their brown, crumbled skirt. Into the other three, I hatch plots for what I will grow as I acquire seed, seedlings and inspiration.

But it is enough, I think, to know that there is something alive, living, growing. We are in good company.

Taking Stock on the Cusp

 

Popping by this blog for my semi-random appearance of the moment. I’m reflecting tonight on several things: it has been almost two months since I moved to a monastery to intern, and it is also my birthday weekend. Both of these things bring to mind the amount of change that has occurred in my life in the past 12 months.

There’s been the really difficult things–senior year, family, moving (again, and again, and again). There’s been really wonderful things…not really things, mostly people. People who open and have opened hearts and homes and lives to me. The joys of graduation and finishing four years of hard work. The joy of new experiences and new places and new adventures.

So without further ado, I have written out a “taking stock” post. To say these things that I am doing, feeling, thinking, and to record them for myself in a year, five years, ten years when I want to revisit my thoughts as a young adult.


Taking Stock

making art of all sorts. Oddly, my creative streak has emerged in an intense way over the past few weeks. Let’s just say that I’ve made several trips to Michaels, which is several too many for my budget.

drinking tea. Luckily, there is a fantastic tea shop just a few blocks from where I currently live, which is very wonderful and dangerous.

wanting fall to last longer, to feel the lingering, warm sun for just a little longer, to freeze the red orange gold leaves in place for just a few weeks more.

watching Poe Party, obviously. I’m also meaning to catch up on Elementary, but that hasn’t happened yet, as my TV-watching time has mostly involved watching Pride and Prejudice on Amazon Prime. Just because.

reading Mary Oliver’s House of Light. A random mystery called Thoreau at Devil’s Perch (which I’m having trouble finishing because of the odd plot/narration, but am trying to stick it out for the sake of trying something new). I tried to not buy any more books, but that has only worked for about a week. I broke that mandate tonight at Harvard Book Store, as per usual (but e.e. cummings! Anne Fadiman! Laurie R. King!). Obviously I just need to read faster.

listening to (and singing) mostly hymns and plainsong these days. But I do jam out to Florence + the Machine or Broadway albums as needed.

eating well. This weekend is a bit abnormal, as it is my birthday, and I am allowing myself more sugar than I should.

wishing that the sky stayed the color of sunsets on some days.

enjoying the weekend (or Sabbath, as it is known around here). Relaxation is so important for the body, mind, and soul.

hoping for more adventures in Cambridge tomorrow. Also hoping I will be able to finish that darn Thoreau mystery so I can move on to something more interesting.

needing nothing, right now. Contentment is priceless, when it lingers.

following the election, obviously.

feeling quiet elation, excitement (because birthdays are exciting, even when you’re an adult), present in this moment.

wearing boots and sweaters, because New England falls are the absolute best.

bookmarking this piece about Thoreau and ambition (causing me to buy a copy of Walden), and this article about the popularity of cathedrals vs regular parishes (fascinating).

loving the moments of humanity and kindness I see in the world. There’s so much evil and so many pressures that we face in our day-to-day lives–we need more kindness from both ourselves and others.