Selfie Review of The Season of the Nativity

Just thought I’d be the first person to review the book. A little serious, a little snarky….

The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist by Sybil MacBeth

A Review by Sybil MacBeth

After four books about the doodling prayer form she calls Praying in Color, Sybil MacBeth is traveling on a new path to God. Besides prayer, MacBeth is passionate about the Nativity season. Her latest book, The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist, is an invitation to join the ancient journey of Christmas celebration via some fresh ideas and some extreme practices–both spiritual and earthy.

Sure, she wants the focus of Christmas to be less Santa and more Jesus, less consumerism and more transformation, but she is a realist. As in her previous books, MacBeth writes with wit and whimsy about her own meager efforts to stay focused in prayer and disciplined in Christian practice. She invites individuals and families to bring their whole irreverent/holy selves on the Christmas pilgrimage through the preparatory weeks of Advent, the twelve days of Christmas, and the nebulous time of Epiphany. “This is the season,” she proclaims, “when Christ is imagined; Christ is born; and Christ will spread like wildfire.”

This is an odd little book. Odd, because like MacBeth’s mind, The Season of the Nativity flits from room to room. There is a bit of memoir, a bit of faux brain science, some front-porch theology and lots of great hands-on ways to celebrate Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Like the mismatched patterns of a Matisse painting, vividly contrasting sections of the book meet like striped and polka-dot walls in an impressionist still life. The book moves from fun, almost frivolous holiday practices to reverent and contemplative devotions in just a couple of pages. Praying Scripture, sprinkling purple sugar on ice cream, creating a prayer wall, staring at the stars, doodling on Advent calendars, and sleeping under the Christmas tree are just some of the varied ways it honors both the playful and serious side of the human spirit.

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This is also an imperfect book. Imperfect, because MacBeth clearly has a preferential option for purple and more pages are dedicated to Advent practices than Christmas and Epiphany ones. But although it is a little purple-heavy, many of the suggested activities for Advent can be used during the other two seasons as well. And besides, MacBeth has been in love with Advent for a long time. She has only seriously courted Christmas and Epiphany in recent years.

Between the author’s menagerie of photos and doodles and the skill of the Paraclete Press design-team, Season of the Nativity is a 160-page treat for the eyes. This is not just a volume of words; it is a compelling visual journey. Readers will want to own the book and buy it for their family and friends as a holiday tool. In preparation for the first day of Advent (which falls on November 30 this year), Halloween or Thanksgiving might be the ideal occasion to give this book to others, especially to people who say, “I do not want a repeat of last year’s vapid and over-caffeinated Christmas.”

Review Collage 2 resizedPeople of deep faith will appreciate this book, but so will those who struggle with faith and are unsure whether they can actually have a relationship with God. People who want to explore the Christian story can study theology or read history, but The Season of the Nativity gives readers the chance to immerse themselves in some of the stories and practices of Christian faith. MacBeth invites the reader into participation rather than insisting on a set of dogmas.

Amazon ratings and Richter scale numbers aside, The Season of the Nativity is a book to shake and shift holiday celebrations. It does not promise to end the chaos of the season but offers to moderate it with meaningful and creative practices. Readers who follow the author’s suggestions for the three seasons just might make some new or revised affirmations of faith at the end, not because of coercion but because of lived experience. Or they may just have a one-of-a-kind, not-to-be-repeated Nativity season adventure.


The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist

My new book, the Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of An Advent, Epiphany, and Christmas Extremist, is now available. For years I have wanted to write a book about Advent because it’s my favorite season of the year. But Advent, I realized, is not a stand alone season; it’s part of a bigger picture. It’s the left hand panel of the Nativity Season triptych with Christmas in the middle and Epiphany on the right. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany witness to Jesus’s presence on earth, to his flesh and blood self.

“Christmas, in my opinion, gets short shrift. For some reason, Christians have made the death, atonement, and resurrection of the Easter season the most important focus of theology and worship. We seem to have forgotten the mystery and wonder of Jesus’s mere existence and life on earth. The concept of the Incarnation—God coming to “dwell among us” as flesh and blood—is so fanciful and so reckless, it deserves more attention.” (p. 10-11)

This new book aims to give the Nativity season the attention it deserves. It celebrates Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany with a little theology, a little memoir, and lots of hands-on, head-on, heart-on activities for an individual or a whole family to do at home.

Check out my new Home Page and the Season of the Nativity Page on this website. The Season of the Nativity Page has some mini reviews and links to where you can buy the book. Think Halloween and Thanksgiving gifts! Please Share with others via the Facebook, Twitter…buttons below. Thanks.

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Celebration Cards

I love using praying in color to make cards for birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations. Doodling and drawing create a reflection & prayer time as well as a personal card at the end. Also I am overwhelmed by the zillions of choices on card racks in stores. After a 1/2-hour of looking, I walk out of the store with no card.

This card is for Eastern Shore Chapel, an Episcopal congregation in Virginia Beach that has been around since 1689. My husband was the rector (senior pastor) there for sixteen years. We lived in a church-owned house in the woods on the property. My favorite room was the screened-in porch; it was the birthplace for me of praying in color.

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Group Lenten Calendar

Here is the calendar of the Music Department at the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod. Band members and singers, adults and children made their contributions to the calendar. I like the idea of taking turns and watching the calendar grow with the prayers and drawings of a group.

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Four Score and Phyllis Tickle

Today is the 80th birthday of Phyllis Tickle. She is one of my best friends; I am one of Phyllis’s 3500 best friends. I first met Phyllis at a Christian Education conference at Shrine Mont (a restored late 19th century summer resort, now Episcopal conference center) in Orkney Springs, Virginia. It was July 2001, two months before the fall of the World Trade Centers. Phyllis was the keynoter of a conference called “Spirituality in the 21st Century.” At 67, she was tall, elegant, white-haired, feisty, smarter than almost anyone I had ever met at any age, and a devout Christian. At 80, she is still all of those things.

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Phyllis describes herself as a “religionist.” A religionist is someone who studies and observes the trends and changes in the patterns of religions. Since religious trends and changes do not happen in a vacuum, Phyllis also knows about history, sociology, science, physics, and spirituality. The stories and knowledge she can share about these fields go back to about 4 CE. Her books number somewhere around fifty.

As much as I admire Phyllis’s brain and her knowledge and her ability to communicate to a large roomful of believers and skeptics, what I really love about Phyllis is her openness to people. She welcomes strangers and listens to their stories. When I moved to Memphis ten years ago, she invited me to lunch at an old Memphis “ladies” institution. We got to know each other over greens and tea sandwiches. I showed her my notebooks of doodled prayers. She said, “You’re going to write a book about this.” I said, “Yes, m’am” and did.

Phyllis mothered me through the process of writing a first book. She became my doula. A doula is a person who mothers a mother through pregnancy and childbirth. I was honored to write about this relationship in a book dedicated to Phyllis called Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future, edited by Tony Jones and published by Paraclete Press. The book is a Festschrift, a “celebratory piece of writing” that honors a person’s achievements while the person is still alive. In this book, a dozen people highlight various aspects of Phyllis’s long and ongoing career. My chapter is called: Mothering an Author Through the Birth of a Book: Phyllis Tickle as Doula. Paraclete will offer this book at 40% off for Phyllis’s birthday weekend.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PHYLLIS. Thank you for the many gifts you have given me and others. I am honored to call you mentor, doula, and friend.

Watch over thy child, Phyllis, O Lord, as her days increase; bless and guide her wherever he may be. Strengthen her when she stands; comfort her when discouraged or sorrowful; raise
her up if she fall; and in her heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 830)

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Lenten Calendar Template 2014

I have added a new page to my website called Handouts. On it are two different calendar templates for Lent this year as shown below. One is a regular box calendar format. The other is a starburst. (or crown of thorns) On my starburst calendar I drew arrows from one date to the next. You can click on the word Handouts above to access the calendar you want, not on the pictures below. Please pass along the link to friends who may be interested.

I plan to go to a copy store and blow up the size of mine to fit on an 11″ x 17″ piece of card stock. (129%)

Each day you can pray for a person or pray a word associated with Lent. One year I meditated on the different names for God. Another year I prayed the words from Psalm 51.

May you have a Holy Lent.

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British Columbia Workshops

On Friday, February 28 and Saturday, March 1, I’ll be leading two intergenerational Praying in “Colour” workshops on Victoria Island. If you know anyone who lives in Northern Washington or the in Victoria or Vancouver areas of Canada, please pass this information along. Thank you.

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Two Things I Have Learned (and a late, finished Advent calendar)

Writing, writing, writing for the past two months…. A manuscript was due at the publisher six days ago. It’s getting there. (Do not panic, dear editor.) If the finished book will change my erratic blog-posting behavior, I do not know. March or April will tell.

Two practices continue to inform and enhance my life. I was going to say my “spiritual” life. Separating my “regular” life and my “spiritual” life is an unhelpful split. One day maybe the two will be one.

The two things I have learned are two practices:
1) Staying in bed for five or ten minutes when I wake up. Unconscious and conscious thoughts meet there. Prayers pop up. Answers to yesterdays dilemmas (or take-home math tests in the past) are there. Creative solutions to my writing problems surface. The soliloquy of my emerging nighttime self has things to tell me. I need to listen.

2) Writing three pages in my marble notebook before I do anything else. Even before I pray. (Okay, while the coffee is brewing.) I write anything that comes to mind. Some of those things might be events from the day before. More often they are ramblings, brainstorms, thoughts captured from the 5-minute lie-in before my feet hit the floor. I do this every day, even under the looming, finger-shaking February 1 deadline. The things I need to pray about are in the pages . Ideas for my present book and for a new one are in the pages. Complaints about writing the three pages are in the pages. Feelings I didn’t know I had are in the pages.

If my husband Andy is awake, he knows not to speak to me during this 20-25-minute exercise. It’s to his benefit. I am nicer and saner after I write, as if I’ve been to a Zumba® class or taken a long walk. As if I had my clogged brain cleaned out and plunged free. Writing this way is a spiritual exercise. Fifteen+ years after Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way told me to write three pages every day, I still do. She calls them the Morning Pages. I call them a goldmine.

Marble Notebook Feb 6, 2014

Advent 2013 Finished Calendar– Posted only 6 weeks late!

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Advent Lights and Advent Calendar 2013–First 1/2

I am an “Advent Fanatic” or “Advent Extremist” or “Advent Fundamentalist” or “Advent ____.” I’m trying to find the right word to fill in the blank. Yesterday a friend proposed “Advent Advocate.” I like the alliteration, but it feels less hardcore than I am. I really want Advent to have its almost four-week due. Then let Christmas and Epiphany have another two or more weeks. Maybe, it turns out, “Advent Grouch”  is a more apt word for me. Anyway, I’m still waiting for the perfect word duo to express my resolute devotion to a real time of preparation and waiting before Christmas. (without being a cranky old lady about it)

I discovered I’m not the only pre-Christmas, purple-light person in the neighborhood. There is a magnificent light-covered tree about a half-mile from me. I haven’t knocked on the owner’s door yet to ask if they are making an Advent statement or if they just like purple. To me the tree says, “It’s Advent!, Prepare the way of the Lord.”

The picture on the left is our porch; the fabulous tree is on the right.

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Here is the first half of my Advent calendar. This year I decided to pray for people and places.  For the past couple of years I’ve been pondering and praying Advent words: wait, hope, anticipate, darkness, prepare, light….

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Prayer Flash Mob

My email and praying in color dynamo and friend, Lynne M, sent me yet another wonderful way to share prayers. She has been praying for a young man named Tyler with cancer. She drew a black and white prayer template and then colored it. Then she suggested that family and friends print out their own copies of the template, color them, and send them to Tyler with personal prayers and messages. The last I heard, Tyler’s refrigerator had started to fill up with these beautiful prayers. Maybe this is a kind of prayer flash mob. What a great way to shower someone with Christ’s love and care from far and near.

Below are the uncolored template and Lynne’s colored prayers. The first of Lynne’s prayers looks like a peacock. She says the peacock can be a symbol of God’s radiating love for protection or a symbol for fierce fighting for one’s health. In the second drawing, Lynne saw flames and imagined the flames burning away the cancer.

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