Preparation for the Season of Preparation

Here are five things to do today or tomorrow in preparation for Advent:

1) Create a special corner in your house/apartment where adults and children can go to be quiet. Provide a Bible, book of daily meditations, or appropriate picture books. Put some candles (real or battery-operated) nearby to create an Advent atmosphere. Set five minutes a day set apart for quiet, prayer, mediation or for just doing nothing. Invite children to spend time in the special place.

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2) Plant narcissus or amaryllis bulbs in a bowl of potting medium or in a bowl of stones with water. Watch the plants grow daily as a kind of live Advent calendar. Check the water levels daily.

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3) Hang some purple (or blue) lights. There is no need to spend a lot of money. Keep it simple. Put a purple bulb in a night light, front porch light, or electric candle. (I use a purple marker and color a clear bulb when I can’t find one in a store). I bought a string of cool purple lights by Phillips for $11.99. The purple lights are a visual reminder to me that it is Advent and not yet Christmas. They are also a good conversation starter.

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4) Set up an Advent wreath. (Lots of info about using Advent wreaths online or in The Season of the Nativity). I am such a failure at using the pre-formed metal or styrofoam rings; I now use four random candle sticks with purple ribbon, greens, or paper chains. Votives or recycled candles from a previous year are also candidates.

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5) Download Advent Calendar Templates. Set up a table or part of a table with art supplies for drawing on the calendar.

Advent Calendar Templates 2014

For some other ideas about Advent read the Patheos article about Five Ways to Experience an Extreme Advent.

Paraclete Press is having a 40% off sale this weekend on my book and all of their books until Monday, December 1.  Sarah Arthur has a nice book for Advent called Light upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Gratitude Gobbler

I love drawing/praying my yearly gratitude turkey. The turkey is a visual journal of my life in the past twelve months.

What I notice about my life in the past year is my tendency to be alone. This is not all bad. Keeping one’s own company and learning to cultivate the gifts of solitude is a skill, a skill I lacked as a young adult. Now I have the tendency to spend too much time alone. Reading, drawing, praying, studying, writing, playing Scrabble, hanging out on the computer keep me busy for hours.

Being alone is easier than being with other people. My opinions go unchallenged. I can be spiritual in my own way without the annoying trappings of a church and without people who bother me. I can eat what I want and do what I want. I’m the monarch of my self-contained little kingdom. On the down side: My opinions go unchallenged. I can eat what I want and do what I want. My entitlement grows and MY wants and needs become paramount. My solitude turns to isolation.

What I also notice about my life is my huge need for community–as messy and inconvenient as it sometimes is. This year my turkey is dressed with the groups in my life who make my life richer and who keep my thinking from running amok or growing more distorted. These communities remind me that I am both spiritual AND religious. Whether secular or sacred, these groups offer me “religious” frameworks for opening my eyes and staying in touch with reality. Lillian Daniel in a 2011 Huffington Post article says it well:
“Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing     challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.”

I invented none of the groups on my turkey, but I am immensely grateful to be part of them. Thanks be to God. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Family Tree Advent Calendar

Advent is the beginning of the annual church pilgrimage through Scripture and salvation history. I think of it as the starting gate to the yearly reunion with our spiritual ancestors from the Bible and from two thousand years of Christian history. In the midst of reconnecting with all of those characters in the stories, I am often confronted with the relationships I have with my own relatives and ancestors.

Maybe Advent is a good time for me to pray for the members of my family, both alive and dead. I carry a full array of emotions, feelings, and thoughts about them–gratitude, sorrow, love, resentment, delight, frustration, friendship, bewilderment, joy, forgiveness, and unforgiveness. Some of those relationships need healing or maybe just a fresh way to view them. I need to vent some ill feelings and forgive some of my relatives. But I also need forgiveness for my behavior with them. Praying for my relatives opens the door to my memory, but also to my heart. In most cases, my prayer time with family members will remind me of the richness and love in those relationships.

Below is a template for a family tree calendar. Pray for a family member each day. Write the name of the person or paste a picture (with glue or digitally) in a ball on the tree. Doodle, draw, and include words if you like. Make this an opportunity for God to be part of the relationship. “Let go, let God,” and listen.

Download as a Powerpoint (looks cut off, but is not when downloaded and printed), a pdf or a jpg. All print nicely on an 8.5 x 11 page. Expand it to an 11 x 17 piece of paper for more space (129%-135%).
Click:   pptx   or  pdf  or  jpg

Family Tree Advent Calendar

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Advent Calendar Templates 2014

Advent calendars are not just for kids! Instead of opening daily doors with pictures or retrieving small gifts from pockets, adults and children can mark the day-by-day journey to Christmas by praying/drawing on a blank calendar template. Pray for a person or write and meditate on an Advent word each day. Just the small amount of time it takes to fill the space with doodles and color each day can create a time of quiet, reflection, and listening to God. Set aside a table with a basket of markers and/or colored pencils where family members can work on their calendars. Hang the calendars on the wall for all to see. Watch them grow daily.

Here are three template choices. Click on a picture to download the template. I like to enlarge the template to an 11″ x 17″ piece of card stock. The links are also on the Handouts page of this website. Below the templates are samples of previous years’ finished Advent calendars.

Dated Tree Calendar                                                           Undated Tree Calendar

Advent Tree Calendar Dated 2014

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Box Calendar

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Study Guide for The Season of the Nativity

A FREE Study Guide for The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist is now available. Click here to download it. The downward facing arrow at the top is the button to download it. The guide is designed for a four-week class for a group of people. There are community building exercises along with opportunities to try some of the exercises from the book. The first three weeks are about Advent; the last week is about Christmas and Epiphany.

The guide can be used “as is” or as a jumping off point for creating your own class or study group. “Take what you like and leave the rest.” I would love some feedback from anyone who uses the ideas. Thanks.

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Patheos Book Club Features The Season of the Nativity

The website Patheos–Hosting the Conversation on Faith addresses all religious and non-religious spiritual paths. It seeks to be a place where people ask questions and discussions take place about all world religions and even atheism.

One of their divisions is The Patheos Book Club. For the first two weeks of November The Season of the Nativity is one of their featured books. There are reviews by bloggers, a Q&A about the book, an article by me called “Five Ways to Experience an Extreme Advent,” and a video interview with Deborah Arca (a managing editor of Patheos). When I found out that Deborah not only has a theology background but is a jazz singer I suggested we sing the “Advent Chant” by Phil Porter form page 90 of the book. She agreed and we did. The Advent Chant starts about minute 16:00 of the the 18-minute interview.

Here is the link to all of the Patheos Book Club Season of the Nativity entries. Please pass this on. Thanks.

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Mirrors in Zumba. Mirrors in Church?

I love my Zumba® dance/exercise class. Zumba® class is one of the few places besides the shower where I stop worrying and just enjoy the moment. (This sometimes happens in prayer.) “Ditch the workout; join the party” are the intro words from the Zumba® website. The Latin and hip-hop moves and music send my mind and my body to a playful place.

My favorite Zumba® classes have mirrors. Like many women and most dancers, I have a mixed relationship with mirrors. In ballet class they help me to see whether my placement, technique, and movement are correct. But they also say to me, “You’re too old, too ugly, too fat…. Why are you still here?”

In Zumba® I don’t have time to stare at myself in the mirror. The class moves too quickly. Instructions are nonverbal; students learn the steps in a “follow-the-leader” manner. With the help of the mirror I can see all 360° of my instructor and catch the nuances of the steps. Even if I’m in the back of the room without a good view of the teacher, I can see the other dancers in the mirror and follow them. But besides the instructional benefits of the mirror, there are communal ones. The mirrors double the number of people in the room. They transmit a contagion of energy. When my instructor is bouncing and throwing his whole self into the movement, I want to join in. The entire class seems to be swept in by the corporate atmosphere of rhythm, movement, and fun.

So why don’t we hang mirrors in church? Mirrors at the front of the nave would double the number of people in the congregation. With all of those people facing me, the atmosphere would feel less like a lecture series and more like a gathering of disciples and seekers. If I’m confused about the liturgy in the church I’m attending, watching others could help me to feel comfortable and to learn the patterns of worship. (Churches built “in the round” experience some of these benefits.)

Seeing other people’s faces and bodies helps me to get in the spirit of worship and increases my energy. It only takes a few excited people to change the whole environment. Now, I’m not promoting a “happy-clappy,” perkier-than-thou congregation. I’m not interested in phony cheerfulness–just vitality and attention. My pew behavior would probably improve with mirrors. When I arrive, as I sometimes do, in my smug “I dare you to teach me something today” mode, I might notice my snotty facial attitude in the mirror and be appalled. The mirror could work as a corrective. It might also call my attention to the face of someone in the congregation who is looking distressed or sorrowful. Maybe mirrors would make the church feel more like the “Body of Christ” rather than just a collection of people waiting for the designated leaders in the front to impart their wisdom and knowledge.  Just a thought….

For an awesome Zumba® class in Memphis, visit deefitway. Deejay is a terrific teacher, energizer, and community builder. Thanks to the Monday/Wednesday 10 AM class for allowing me to photograph them.

Mirrors in ZumbaP.S. If you receive these posts as an email and want to share them, return to the prayingincolor blog page and choose the buttons at the bottom of the post.

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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