Rorate Coeli ~ Advent Music Review

Advent has always been one of my favorite liturgical seasons. The music, in particular, is something I look forward to each year. I love how mindful our Church has been throughout the centuries to safeguard and celebrate certain passages, melodies and refrains that hold special significance for the various liturgical seasons. I was so happy to be able to receive a copy of Rorate Cœli: Marian Sounds of Advent from The Monks of Clear Creek

This CD was recorded at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma. It is a series of chants that come from different liturgical moments throughout Advent and the Mass the Vigil of Christmas, that being Mass in the morning on Dec. 24. The “Rotate Cœli” which the CD is named after, is heard during the Saturday Mass of the Blessed Virgin in Advent. The text is taken from Isaiah’s lament over the destruction of Jerusalem while keeping our eyes fixed on the promise of God’s salvation. The refrain is specifically Isaiah 45:8:

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

I found this image to be striking. The introduction to the CD, written by Abbot Philip Anderson, reflects that, “It is through Our Lady that the Dew of God in Person finally came down from Heave to fulfill the longings of the prophets of old.” Jesus, the gentle Dew of God. It reminded me of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 where God passes by the cave. Not in the mighty wind, not in the earthquake and not in the fire. It was at the lightest wisp of breeze that brought Elijah to his knees before his Lord and God. Jesus didn’t come to earth on the backs of wild horses or flaming chariots. He wasn’t born in a palace or a cultural center. He came, meek and mild, as the dew we often don’t even remark upon or notice. The simplicity of chant mingles with the complexity of what is sung about. It never ceases to cause me to pull away from the demands of my day and to rest in those few moments of peace and prayer. 

As someone who loves to learn, I was so happy to find the booklet that came in the CD to be full of information. Not only are all the chants written out in Latin, but it also includes English and French translations. Additionally, the majority of the translations are also accompanied with an explanation of when the chant is typically sung, a few comments about key notes, chords, or phrases to listen for and how this chant connects to the others in the set. While these chants are beautiful and mediative on their own, their richness comes alive when you journey through them with the booklet to guide you and inform your ear to the subtleties built into the music.

Though Advent isn’t upon us just yet, still a few days to go, I am already making plans to be listening to this CD as part of our daily drive to school. My kids and I have listened through it as I prepared to write this review and there is a definite difference in the overall tone of the car from when we listened to chant and when we did not. Adding chant to our usual day may become a permanent thing. I will definitely be looking to the monks at Clear Creek for more peaceful and thoughtful chants to expand our collection.

If you haven’t yet, this is a great time to visit my previous blog post which has the Advent Journals for this year. Again, these are totally free to you and anyone whom you choose to share them with. I hope they bring you blessings and peace this Advent season.

Book of the Dead

When I met Ben’s family, one of the stories that I heard about was his grandfather’s “Book of the Dead.” If he had a bad experience at a restaurant, gas station, you name it, often it went into the Book of the Dead. Meaning he would not go back. There was one restaurant that he didn’t go back to for something like 30 or 40 years because of the poor service he had experienced all those years earlier. When I asked Ben what the name of the restaurant was, his response was, “Which one?”

Ben’s mom still jokes about this and has her own version of the book of the dead. When we move to Kansas this winter it will be the first time she and his dad have driven in the state since the Ice/Wind Storm of one of his childhood trips to Colorado. Fingers crossed Kansas doesn’t get a double entry!

I have recently begun using the Hallow app. The app is full of Catholic prayers, resources and meditations. It’s very peaceful and has a multitude of ways to engage in prayer. There are psalms, homilies, guided silence, and Lectio Divina. I have been trying to do the guided Lectio Divina each day as well as a Divine Mercy Chaplet. I will be honest, one of the things I really like is the timer feature. For nearly every experience you can choose how long you want it to be. If I know I have time, I can do my Lectio for 30 minutes (I haven’t actually gotten to do this yet, but it’s nice to know the option is there for someday!) Or, if I know the kids will be awake soon, I can set it for only 5 or 10 (what usually happens).

The Lectio passage from a few days ago had some interesting words to say about life and death. It was a short Gospel, and to be honest it isn’t one I’ve really noticed before. The meditation was on Luke 20:37-38. This passage is part of a longer story where the Sadducees are trying to trick Jesus into making judgments about what happens after people die. Jesus, of course, answers their question in a way they don’t expect and wins the day.

Part of His answer was to point out that God is the God of the living, not the dead, for “to Him all are alive.” I had to stop and really think about that for a minute. No one is dead to God, for even the dead on earth are still living souls in eternity. Their bodies may be gone, but their soul remains forever.

This, I believe, is big news for the past year. How often have we heard people (ahem, and maybe our selves?) exclaiming that they want this year over, that it’s time to move one, that it’s dead to them, or in Ben’s grandpa’s words, ought to be put in the Book of the Dead? But no, this isn’t what Jesus wants us to do with the year we have been given!

There has been pain, suffering and death in this year. Fact. We cannot sugar coat the tragedies, the sorrow and the large sacrifices that have taken place all over the world. Many, if not most, people have personally encountered the pandemic’s devastating effects on their families, friends and workplaces. It has been a hugely difficult year. But that doesn’t mean it should be written off, left for dead or abandoned.

Jeff Cavins has an excellent book, When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding, which I highly recommend (I posted a review of it a while back if you’re interested in checking that out). Cavins fully acknowledges that suffering is painful, challenging and a universal truth of human existence. Everyone suffers. But, as Christians and especially as Catholics, suffering is much more than this. It is also an “immense treasure” because of what we can choose to do with our suffering (pg 157). Quoting Fr. Mike Schmitz, Cavins asserts: “Suffering without Christ just hurts. But suffering with Christ can transform the world” (ibid).

Many of us have experienced suffering of a new level than we have previously. We have suffered isolation, loss, loneliness, sacrifice and more. But do not let that be the end of the story for 2020. Suffering united with Christ’s passion, using the power of our suffering to grow beyond ourselves and offer it for the suffering of others, and other tools Cavins explores in his book are all ways to discover the transformative potential this year has given to us.

With Advent at our doorstep, a new liturgical year is dawning. Advent is an excellent opportunity for focused spiritual reading, intentional prayer time, and closeness with the Holy Family. If you are able to find a copy of Jeff Cavins’ book, I very much recommend it to everyone. Don’t forget about the free Advent journals I have created for your personal use as well. They are still available and will always be free to print.

I hope that you had a joyful Thanksgiving, even if it was a smaller one. If you haven’t already, this weekend is a beautiful opportunity to take some time to write down what you are grateful for this past year. It’s easy to think of negative things first. Give yourself time to really dig into the year. Go back through your planner, your Facebook or Instagram accounts. What brings a smile to your face? When did you have a sense of peace, of happiness, or contentment? This is also an excellent way to begin preparing for the Advent season.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving weekend and a blessed First Sunday of Advent.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Book Review: Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Mary

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!

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com