The Beauty of Advent

(I originally wrote this article for the parish newsletter at Sacred Heart Church in Pinehurst, NC, 2003)

Happy New Year!

With the celebration of the First Sunday of Advent on November 27, we enter a new liturgical year, in which the Church will again present the history and unchanging mysteries of our salvation, from Creation to the Second Coming, together with the entire life of our Savior.

Advent is a particularly lovely season. For all its solemnity, it is a particularly exciting time as we again contemplate and anticipate the Coming of the Savior — incarnate in history, as we celebrate at Christmas; “in Glory, to judge the living and the dead” as we proclaim in the Creed; and in grace, in the Eucharist and in the Word of God proclaimed.

Our initial focus during the first two weeks of Advent is on Christ’s second coming. Again and again the scriptures remind us of our need to be ready, to be disposed, for His coming and His judgment; thus, Advent begins on a penitential note.

Then on the third Sunday of Advent, our focus lifts. Gaudete Sunday receives its name from the first word of our Opening Antiphon and of our Reading: Rejoice! The deep purple of penance is replaced today with the rose of joy. We begin our liturgical anticipation of Christmas.

While preparation for Christmas is an important part of Advent, this is also a season for us to discover a renewed vision of our lives as Christians. In the interval between the Incarnation and the Second Coming, we find our deepest meaning as human beings. Because of the great love God has for us, “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave… He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death” (Phil. 2:7,8). As C.S. Lewis once said, this gives dignity to the lowliest of beggars, and humility to the most exalted of princes; how much more it gives meaning and substance to ordinary folk like you and me!

Even more wondrous is the Coming of Christ to human hearts. That the Creator of the cosmos chooses to intimately dwell with us, through the indwelling Holy Spirit and through Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, is a mystery about which we simply cannot afford to be come complacent.

We have a particular date to celebrate Christ’s birth; we are not given a day or an hour to anticipate His Coming Again. When we face God in the Final Judgment, we will have to give an accounting: “Do you love me?” Our Lord asked this of Peter; He will ask no less of us.

Advent becomes, therefore, a time to reflect on these Truths and to renew our commitment to Christ, to resolve to live this new liturgical year more faithfully than ever before.

The Sound of Music

What an amazing treat — last night, as the result of the great generosity of one of our Chorale members, my roommate Barb and I had box seats at Meymandi Hall for a concert of the North Carolina Symphony.

Guest performer with the Symphony was pianist Leon Fleisher. Fleisher lost use of his right hand nearly forty years ago due to a neurological condition called focal dystonia. Recent development of new treatments has allowed him to recover the full use of his right hand, an amazing, even awe-inspiring event. He and the Symphony performed the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414. The piano was turned so that we could not see his hands — a treat I would have greatly enjoyed — but even being able to observe the rapt concentration in his countenance as he bent over the keyboard was inspiring.

The Fleisher performance was a pure gift. WCPE has been featuring a number of pieces from Fleisher’s recently-released “Two Hands” CD. Somehow, however, it had not registered with me that he was going to play with the Symphony this week-end. It was a duel gift to be able to attend one of Fleisher’s concert performances.

This week-end was important for Barb and me because Our Guys, the men’s section of the NC Master Chorale, were singing with the symphony’s performance of Liszt’s Faust Symphony. They have been working hard since the beginning of the new season, and since Barb, as Chorale Manager, knows all of them, and since I have made several wonderful friends among them, we really wanted to hear them perform.

There’s something powerfully virile about male voices, and “our guys” did not disappoint. As part of the Mephistophiles “portrait” of the third movement of the symphony, the men added depth and color to the symphony performance. We were so proud to see them sitting their in their tuxedos, singing vigorously what was really a difficult piece for them — the tenors reaching a high “C” during the performance. They sounded just as they looked: HOT!

Next week-end we sing with the Symphony for the Holiday Pops concert. After hearing our men singing last night, I’m left in awe once again at what a privilege I’m enjoying, singing with this wonderful group.

On Southern Accents

I found out a local radio announcer is a North Carolina native, so after we had talked briefly by phone, recently, I made bold to email him with the question: Do people ever comment about your missing Tar Heel accent?

Yeah, he responded. He gave credit (or perhaps blame, depending on your perspective) on his mother, an English teacher. “You?” he asked.

Well, of course! I began to discard my accent, to pronounce words more fully, with more open vowel sounds, as a result of my middle and high school chorus teacher, who was a stickler for enunciation. Over the years, the more I’ve sung, the more distanced I’ve become from my southern accent.

No, I’m not ashamed of the way we sound down here. Some people think it’s charming — and it certainly can be evocative of magnolia blossoms and mint juleps. My family, though, is sufficiently removed from its alleged English landed gentry ancestry that when I joke about my redneck roots I’m not exaggerating by much. Our people, the rural southerners, sound more as if they might have a pinch of snuff tucked between teeth and jowl. Our vowels come out flat, able to stretch what is supposed to be a single syllable into two and sometimes three: Ca-yat, pro-nou-yance. Our voices carry more than a hint of a challenge to the listener — or perhaps a threat of potential danger.

And let me be honest, we do laugh at people with other accents, and we hold our own stereotypes of certain accents, just as people hold stereotypes of ours. For instance, New Yorkers (from NYC or Rochester, it doesn’t particularly matter) come to the South as determined to take over and rebuild us in their image as Sherman in his march to the sea. We hold these Yankees in about as much esteem as we did Sherman, too — although we can be quite pleased to take their money when the mood strikes. And with the golf and tourism industries ruling the roost around here, the mood rarely departs.

It’s funny — a friend from California says my southern accent is charming, folks from Louisiana thought I sounded Yankee, while my cousin down the road complains that I don’t have any accent left at all, that I’m gettin’ above my raisin’.

Can’t win for losing, sometimes.

Prayer Request updates

Two new prayer requests for you, please:

Jenn is the daughter-in-law of my dear friend Donna. Jenn had a lot of hormone-related heart trouble during her first pregnancy, and now she’s early in the first trimester with her second pregnancy, and has begun having the same symptoms again. She has also lost one of a set of twins, Donna tells me; the other baby seems to be doing well so far.

Steve is Donna’s daughter’s boss. He has just recently been diagnosed with cancer — his kidney is affected, and he only has the one kidney.

I’ve taken off a couple of people for whom I’ve been unable to get updates; I’m assuming that, after so many weeks, the crisis has passed. And I’m glad to be able to report that right now it looks as if Elwood may not have to undergo further treatment for the skin cancer he had removed a couple weeks ago.

Thanks, as always, for your prayers for these people.