I’m a sucker for beautiful pictures of Mary. Especially when she is pregnant or while Jesus is young. As a youngish mom with four kids I connect very strongly with this image. The hopeful expectation, the waiting, the she-totally-gets-how-it-feels-when-I-can’t-roll-over feeling, all of it. It’s probably why Advent is one of my favorite liturgical seasons. I’m surrounded by these images of Mary and the Holy Family and it brings my heart so much joy. The new Advent meditation journal Rejoice! by Fr. Mark Toups is full of beautiful reflection and gorgeous paintings. And I mean gorgeous! So gorgeous if anyone wanted to give me the set to hang in my house I would be overjoyed…hint hint.
Rejoice! is published by Ascension Press, so you know it’s solid in its theology, wisdom and direction. I have gone through the entire book and used so many book darts! The book encourages imaginative prayer, which is a prayer form that I think our culture is uniquely suited for but no one talks about much. Imaginative prayer comes to us as a formal prayer from from St. Ignatius. Fr. Toups explains that “we imaginatively see the persons in the Bible passage, we hear the words they speak, and we observe the actions they accomplish in the event.” It’s taking the time to slow down enough to be in the scene.
Then, after spending time within the passage, you move onto a method called A.R.R.R. – Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond. You acknowledge how God is stirring within you, you relate to God (this means talking straight to God, not thinking about what you think God thinks or wants you to think, but real and deep sharing of everything that was brought to your mind), receive what God is sharing with you and lastly, respond to what you’ve received. You are also encouraged to journal about your experience so you can look back and see how you’ve grown and how God has shaped you during this Advent.
What is so cool, and I didn’t pick up on until reflecting back on the meditations as a whole, is that Fr. Toups very gently leads you through this A.R.R.R. process over the four weeks of Advent. The first week is spent looking deeply at where God is in our life. The second is about relating with God in a vulnerable and authentic way. The third is about our receptivity, how open and empty are we so that we might receive God more fully. And the fourth, though short this year, challenges us to respond proactively to what we have experienced over the four weeks. It’s so brilliant.
Ascension, has carefully thought through the whole package. Their ideal for the meditations as stated in the very beginning, is for this to be a community walk with Mary. There are additional videos that offer fresh and expanded insights on each of the four weeks of Advent. They have free videos online right now, plus there is an Advent Mission Kick-off video which is about thirty minutes to help your small group or parish get things going. You can also sign up to have the weekly videos sent straight to your email if you are hosting a gathering in your home, or if you are simply journeying as a family. Community is an integral part of holiness and I love how it is gently and thoughtfully woven into this journal experience.
If your parish is looking for something to do together this Advent season, it’s not too late to get your journals in bulk. Be brave, if this review has inspired you bring it to your priest or parish coordinator. You could be the spark that begins a wonderful Advent experience for your whole community.
I can totally see our family using this journal around the dinner table, and sharing in a joint imaginative prayer experience with our children – aren’t they the best at it? As I was writing this review, my seven year old came up and asked what I was doing. After I explained and we went through the pictures, he said “That’s cool,” and walked away. Later that day, he was sitting with his four year old sister and I overheard him saying,
“Clare, we have to get ready for Advent. Mommy has a book and it has pictures of Mary in it. It helps her get ready for Advent. What comes after Advent?”
“Christmas!” she shouted.
“Right,” he said, “So we all have to get ready for Jesus.”
How precious, and that’s just from looking at the pictures! Also, p.s., the pictures are all free and available right now to download for your phone or computer to use throughout Advent. Check them out here. You know I already have them downloaded. I hope you check this journal out, maybe even share it with a friend or two or twenty!