Two contrasting approaches to the Advent season
The Hallowing of Time A Daily Prayer Resource, edited by Carol Wilkinson, Hodder & Stoughton £16.99
"DAILY WORSHIP OUTSIDE THE OFFICE,"
intones the publicity blurb. This, we are informed, is a daily prayer resource, a book of spirituality for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, written by a lay person, for the laity. Carol Wilkinson "disagrees" with the mainstream Church view that what is good for the clergy will also be good for the laity. Christmas goose and gander won't mix she says; hence this tome, timely for the festive season. So far, so bad.
But this book sells itself. For ye of little faith and the rest of us, torn between the material demands of Christmas and a desire to make more than just a token spiritual effort, The Hallowing of Time offers a glimpse of the true tranquility of Christmas. Even the title is enough to make a hard-hearted commuter take a step back.
Wilkinson has trodden softly here and her compilation of scripture and readings is complemented with prose and poetry to lift the spirit. She has captured the magic stillness of Christmas night; the words and sweet litany of this most abused of seasons restore meaning midst the tinsel and glitter. The true wonder of God made man is here in glory. Here also a sense of man's fragility. Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Milton and Thomas More offer words of wisdom on time and loneliness, on imprisonment and man's inhumanity to man. Dorothy L Sayers is here too:"So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness." It's a sobering thought as you battle with the crowds in the name of Christmas cheer. I shall cherish the poem by Thomas Merton which Wilkinson has chosen to open her book: "While minds, as meek as beasts, Stay close at home in the sweet hay; And intellects are quieter than the flocks that feed by starlight." The nights of advent, when time falls "like manna at the corners of the wintry earth" should be a time for God, for thought and family. Reflect and remember when all is chaos.
CHRISTINA WHITE The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaardner, Phoenix £5.99
IF YOU WANT TO USE The Christmas Mystery as a preparation for this Christmas, you had better rush out and buy it at once. It is cast in the form of an Advent calendar, with a different chapter daily from 1st December to 24th December; the inter-related chapters are admirably paced to encourage you to sit down and think a little in the course of each busy day. Written originally in Norwegian by Jostein Gaardner, best-selling author of Sophie's World, it has been well translated by Elizabeth Rokkan; the pages are charmingly decorated by Rosemary Wells.
It is a book in several layers: behind the Calendar, as each "window" is opened, there is a series of whimsical folk stories; within each story is a nugget of Christian teaching.
It is not a children's book though older children will love it but a book for those who are prepared to learn in a child-like way.
Perhaps the best word to describe it is "parable" though not in the strict New Testament sense. It is very unusual; try it and see.