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Literary waiting
New devotional books guide readers through Advent and Christmas


11/1/2006

IN REVIEW

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL
Edited by Christopher L. Webber
Morehouse Publishing, 112 pp., $12.95

O COME EMMANUEL:
A Musical Tour of Daily Readings for Advent and Christmas

By Gordon Giles
Paracelete Press, 160 pp., $14.95

EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED:
An Advent Devotional Guide

By Blair Gilmer Meeks
Upper Room Books, 125 pp., $13

WAITING IN JOYFUL HOPE:
Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas

By Katherine L. Howard, OSB
Morehouse Publishing, 128 pp., $2

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
By Curtis G. Almquist, SSJE
Cowley Publications, 80 pp., $13.95


“Our spiritual life depends on His [God’s] perpetual coming to us, far more than on our going to Him,” wrote the 20th-century Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill, a line quoted in Morehouse Publishing’s Advent with Evelyn Underhill. “Every time a channel is made for Him, He comes….”

Perhaps it’s that desire to create the channel that sends people to devotional books each Advent. We set aside a little time for sacred reading during the days of one of the church’s holy seasons in hopes that Christ will come into our hearts and that we’ll recognize him.

As usual, there are many new Advent/Christmas devotional books to choose from, beginning with the one mentioned above. Those who enjoyed Morehouse Publishing’s Lent with Evelyn Underhill can turn to his new book, compiled by Christopher L. Webber.

Each day of Advent and Christmas is assigned a short selection from Underhill. Selections focus on incarnation and love, as well as various aspects of spiritual life: discipline, humility, patience and others. Webber provides a brief suggestion for meditation and a closing prayer for each entry.

Two Advent books this year use music as the basis for their devotions: O Come Emmanuel and Expecting the Unexpected. The first, written by Gordon Giles, the vicar of St. Mary Magdelene’s in North London, has a decidedly British feel. Some of the hymns will be familiar, while others may be best known to musicians and long-time choir members. Beginning with Advent and ending on Jan. 6, Giles provides a biblical text, hymn text and devotion for each day. His training in music and theology are obvious, making this a solid resource for the period.

Meeks’ Expecting the Unexpected uses the familiar hymns of Charles Wesley as the basis of her devotions spanning the four weeks of Advent and Christmas week. She assigns Scripture, images for prayer, reflection questions and a closing prayer to each day.

Her questions are particularly good, the kind that can’t be answered simply. (“What is creative about God’s forgiveness?”) Each week focuses on an aspect of expectation, such as expecting Christ’s new creation. The leader’s guide at the end of the book makes this a useful resource for reading groups during the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Also focused on the theme of waiting is Waiting in Joyful Hope, with meditations for Advent through Jan. 8 (The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord). “During this season,” Howard writes, “we are drawn into this spiritual dimension … of waiting and longing, fulfillment, and the return and deepening of our waiting and desire. This is not a matter of going around in circles, but of moving in a kind of spiral always more deeply into Christ’s life.”

Using this theme, Howard provides a biblical passage, a brief reflection, questions or thoughts for meditation and a closing prayer for each day.

If Advent passes by quickly, and you haven’t found the devotional time you hoped for, you still have options. Curtis Almquist, the superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, has written The Twelve Days of Christmas, with reflections for each day.

Almquist focuses on the gifts of Christmas -- not the ones we may or may not have found under the tree, but the real gifts: love, revelation, forgiveness, joy, peace and others.