Tag Archives: Advent

Advent on the mind…

The art of waiting.  It’s a tough thing but so incredibly essential for spiritual progress.  This does not bode well for impatient types with choleric blood in them like me… but God is slowly refining my spirit to recognize the beauty in letting things be and not chasing down answers, consolations or resolutions.  It is such a good cleansing fire for my soul!

And… perfectly suited for this upcoming time, where the prize of Christmas means so much more if you let the waiting and hoping fully apex during the season of Advent.

Thankfully there are books to help us. Here are some of my favorite choices…

 Come, Lord Jesus.  Superb. Timely. Excellent for Advent. (Why in the world is it so overpriced right now?!)  This one is worth hunting down or checking your parish library.  Mother Mary Francis is thoughtful and witty and profound; she wrote these little reflections for the cloistered sisters in her order but they are all so applicable to the layperson’s life too!  This abbess also has a few other titles like Anima Christi, A Time of Renewal (I’m picking this one up for Lent next year!), and most famously A Right to Be Merry (which I just realized that I have on my bookshelf… lucky me! I need to look at my books more often apparently!)

advent Waiting Stories for Advent, one of Michael O’Brien’s lesser known titles.  Just good, thoughtful little tales for adults. This is a small book but worth revisiting each year. The first story in the book nearly brings me to tears each time…

 

 

The Passion of the Infant Christ by the one and only Caryll Houselander. This is a hard to find title but it is slightly more common under its newer name (if I have my facts correct) of Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross: The Little Way of the Infant Jesus.  Houselander always has spiritual soul food to offer and this book is chalk full of wisdom to chew on as we wait to experience the divine love of the Prince of Peace.

 

 Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings. I really think humans of North America need to spend more time reading about and reflecting on horrible things that happened in Eastern Europe. Whether it’s the Holocaust, or Siberian prison camps or Communist evils… it is so good to get perspective on our lives related to the grander scheme of human experience.  Start with something like He Leadeth Me. But be sure not to overlook titles by Solzhenitsyn like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch or The Gulag Archipelago.  Anyway, why not cultivate just a bit of perspective and gratitude by reading Fr. Delp’s thoughts before our big celebrations?!  This is one I’m going to read this year…

 Advent and Christmas with Fulton Sheen.  I mean… it’s The Bishop.  Need I say more?!  Except that it’s barely over 100 pages and very, very simple reflections for even the busiest of people.  So there’s no excuse really!  (But you might get more bang for your buck by opting for the whole year with The Bishop a la Through the Year with Fulton Sheen.)  There’s a whole series of booklets in this vein that pull excellent reflections for Advent from holy people  like: St. Thérèse, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi (was always a bit of a Christmas saint…) St. Pio and more…

“Advent is the season of the seed …the seed of the world’s life, was hidden in Our Lady. Like the wheat seed in the earth, the seed of the Bread of Life was in her. Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth, the Glory of God was shrined in her darkness. Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence.”  

—Caryll Houselander

 

 

 

 

 

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The Jesse Tree in Picture Books, Model 2.0

*Although it’s only early November, I’m posting this to give ample time for library holds and purchases to be made.
In my first post on how to observe the Jesse Tree tradition in picture books (which has recently been updated to reflect new finds and indicates must read inclusions), I discussed how our family typically stops the Old Testament readings on December 17th to go into full Antiphon mode. It became clear to me that in the shorter years of Advent (like upcoming 2017) there will be only 22 days of the entire season!  This would mean that if we stopped the stories on the 17th, there’d only be 14 days of readings!  Well, this won’t do since the entire story of Salvation needs more than 14 sample stories to cruise up to the Nativity.  So here is a more simple plan for those who prefer it: a 24 day system. You can use this system in the way most ‘Advent Calendars’ are utilized: beginning on December 1st all the way up to Christmas Eve.  (This year—2014— Advent is 25 days long… so I’m stretching out Moses to three nights; it could easily be 4 or 5 if you want to subtract the less important tales of Balaam or Elijah or Belshazzar.)  So, we’ll be doing one story every day and STILL focus ALSO on the O Antiphons beginning on the 17th. For our family, some of these stories needed their own symbols made to be included on our actual tree (which for our family, is an actual tree branch I found, planted in concrete with little wooden ornaments I painted for the symbols). Remember that many of these are out of print but cheap online at amazon or eBay, etc.  And if you can’t borrow or purchase them all this year… just start with what you can!  Bring a little bit of color and wonder into your Jesse Tree readings by including a few picture book stories.  Without further ado:
The Jesse Tree in Picture Books, Model 2.0
Dec. 1: CREATION: best all around is Creation.
Dec. 2: ADAM & EVE: Paradise.
Dec. 3: NOAH’S ARK: Noah’s Ark or Noah’s Ark. You can’t go wrong with either one.

Dec. 4: THE TOWER OF BABEL: The Tower of Babel.
Dec. 5: THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM: Sarah Laughs.
Dec. 6: ABRAHAM & ISAAC: nothing notable in the picture book world that I’ve found! But it’s an important piece of the story so stick with a traditional children’s Bible book to tell it.
Dec. 7: JACOB & ESAU: Jacob and Esau.
Dec. 8: JOSEPH’S COAT OF MANY COLORS: Joseph (first half) or The Coat of Many Colors.
Dec. 9: JOSEPH AS PHAROAH: Joseph (second half) or Benjamin and the Silver Goblet.
Dec. 10: MOSES IN THE BASKET & THE BURNING BUSH: Moses or Exodus (first parts)
Dec. 11: MOSES PLAGUES, THE RED SEA & 10 COMMANDMENTSMoses or Exodus (second parts)
Dec. 12: BALAAM’S ASS: The Angel and the Donkey (1st choice) or The Donkey’s Story (2nd choice)
Dec. 13: RUTH: The Story Of Ruth.
Dec. 14: SAMUEL’S CALL: The Story of the Call of Samuel.
Dec. 15: THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON: The Wisest Man in the World or from the compilation: Kings and Queens of the Bible.
Dec. 16: DAVID & GOLIATH: David and Goliath.
Dec. 17: THE PROPHET ELIJAH: Elijah and the Fire from Heaven (1st choice) or Elijah and King Ahab (2nd choice).
Dec. 18: QUEEN ESTHER: Queen Esther Saves Her People (1st choice) or The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale.
Dec. 19: JONAH: Jonah and the Whale.
Dec. 20: KING BELSHAZZAR AND THE WRITING ON THE WALL: from Kings and Queens of the Bible.
Dec. 21: DANIEL IN THE LION’S DEN: Daniel and the Lord of Lions.
Dec. 22: JOHN THE BAPTIST: nothing notable in the picture book world that I’ve found! But it’s an important piece of the story so stick with a traditional children’s Bible book to tell it.
Dec. 23: THE ANNUNCIATION/VISITATION: from Mary or Mary: The Mother of Jesus or The Life of Mary.  All are good.
Dec. 24: THE NATIVITY: many good choices here. Choose your favorite. I like The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes and The Story of Christmas best.

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The Jesse Tree in Picture Books

**** updated: 06/2015, new comments in RED****
Be sure to check out the alternate and more concise version of this list here.


I had an ambitious project in mind this year before Advent begins. Normally we do our readings for each day of the Jesse Tree straight from a Children’s Bible.  But I wanted to up our game. So I did some initial browsing online to see if it was even possible. It was. I could find a picture book for every individual Bible reading for each of the days of Advent! Mind = Blown.

I got many of my initial title inspirations from this kind mama where she lists a book for each of December’s days. But in our home, we do Jesse Tree a bit differently so I adjusted quite a bit for our purposes.  First of all, we observe Advent for the full 21-28 days depending on the year. Some folks keep it simple and just do Jesse Tree readings beginning Dec. 1st. Secondly, I wasn’t willing to find a picture book just to have a picture book of a certain story.  It had to be good, which means most serial Bible story sets need not apply. Third, beginning on December 17th, we switch completely to the Antiphons. So the last Bible story we read about is the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth before going to the beautiful Messianic titles of Christ (heard in the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”). It would have been far too difficult to find picture books for THOSE, so we just go back to the simple Bible verse and prayer until Christmas Eve when we will read over the original Nativity story (picture book or straight from the Bible) itself.

So in reality, I needed a full 21 individual stories (28 – 7 Antiphons = 21 stories for the longest year of Advent.) On shorter Advent years, we may read more than one story a night (i.e. all the Moses readings work nicely to combine or separate) or skip one altogether.

The downside to this project is that finding picture books—quality picture books—for the stories I wanted to include was a big challenge. Huge actually. There are a myriad of cheap, saccharine-looking Bible story books on the market. But with enough hunting and scavenging and library holding… it was just about possible to find worthy books for my tastes! There are only a couple stories with which I’m not 100% satisfied, so my hunt continues.  Now, I had a couple of these titles already; many others were found at the library. Others were purchased at cheap out-of-print prices. Only one was splurged on at full price. So doing the Jesse tree with picture books is possible! But I admit that its a bit of a luxury; maybe start by acquiring just a few titles a year to supplement your regular readings.

Here’s what we have going on for a full 28 day Advent. This year, 2013, the season is only 24 days so we’re doing Moses all in one day and Joseph all in one day. I’ll probably skip Elijah altogether. I recently found a couple more stories that are NOT on this particular compendium but you may want to substitute in somewhere if you happen to have an easier time finding them than some of these others:

BALAAM’S ASS: I didn’t realize there was a good picture book version of this drama-comedy until I stumbled upon The Donkey’s Story by Barbara Cohen, thinking it must be a Christmas story at first. But I was pleasantly surprised.  Then I found another one I liked even better in  The Angel and the Donkey! There is a third story on this which I haven’t seen but it is part of an old vintage series that I would LOVE to have in its entirety: Balaam and his Ass .

JOSHUA: Joshua Crosses the Jordan is a reader book but it looks like it could be pretty good.  It’s done by the same pair who did the Elijah title below. 

 

Jesse Tree Booklist

Day 1: The Story of Creation. The best I found on this is Gennedy Spirin’s Creation. I’m looking forward to Archbishop Tutu’s yet to be released Let There Be Light (update 11/14: I’ve seen it now and not really a fan.). But so far, Spirin’s story is both the most simple, most beautiful (well God does look a little bit intimidating but I can overlook that) and most faithful to the original Bible text.
Day 2: Adam & Eve and the Fall. I am currently using Fiona French’s Paradise for the story of the Garden of Eden. I previewed a few others and either didn’t like the text or was uncomfortable with the full, frontal nudity. I loved everything about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden except for the overt nudity and as my three oldest are boys… I just would rather avoid that ogling temptation. Other families might feel differently. The nudity is in context after all, and one good mama suggested that she has no problem employing the Sharpie marker to lengthen Eve’s hair or some-such in these situations. But this particular Jane Ray book was a library one… and I wasn’t willing to purchase something that needed at least two pages of obvious modification. In French’s book, there are two pictures of Eve’s breasts; they are pretty benign considering the art is clearly stained glass-style unreal.
(I thickened an arm shadow to cover the nipple on one page and had the audacity to draw in a blackbird on Eve’s arm for the other page!  It might be a little ridiculous… my kids probably won’t notice the alterations at all. But I feel better anyway.) I wish the story went a little more into detail about Eve tempting Adam and the confrontation; it also ends on a somber note of simply the Garden being closed.  In short, it’s not perfect but I do like most of it…
Day 3: Noah and the Ark. Despite the many versions of this story, the clear-cut winner is hand’s down Jerry Pinkney’s Noah’s Ark(update 6/15: Wait, wait! Pinkeye’s is awesome but even better, EVEN BETTER is the new, GORGEOUS book of art Noah’s Ark)
Day 4: The Tower of Babel. I was very happy to see that a great and vibrant story exists on this: (albeit, out of print…) You can read my review on it at amazon. The Tower of Babel.
Day 5: The Promise to Abraham. I ran into some trouble here. I settled on a typical series-version book for the stories of Abraham and Isaac but it’s not anything worth writing about.  I really wanted to get my hands on Sarah Laughs but wasn’t able to budget it in this year… (update 11/14: got it and love it) and it still left me with the problem of…
Day 6: Isaac and Abraham. There IS The White Ram: A Story of Abraham and Isaac but I thought it strayed too far into the fanciful and I really want to keep our readings focused and reverent. So, until I find some better options, I’ll be reading from our mediocre story book for Abraham and Isaac.
Day 7: Jacob and Esau. Done very well in this book: Jacob and Esau.
Day 8: Joseph.  This is one of those stories that can be broken into two days: the early story of The Coat of Many Colors and the later story involving his brother” reconciliation in Benjamin and the Silver Goblet or you find the whole story done well in Joseph.
Days 9 & 10: Moses. This covers the individual stories of the baby in the basket, the 10 plagues and parting of the sea, and the 10 Commandments. We can read it in sections. There are a few different options that have the whole Moses story but the one I liked the most was done by Margaret Hodges and Barry Moser: Moses. I may also throw in parts from Wildsmith’s Exodus just to change it up a bit.
Day 11: Ruth.  I finally got The Story Of Ruth and think it’s a necessary addition to the Jesse Tree. I’ll be shortening the Moses stories to include this one!  It’s a great lesson in fidelity and devotion.
Day 12: Samuel. I was surprised to find The Story of the Call of Samuel! It’s a pretty well done version of the story. I just wonder why there aren’t other decent picture books on even more interesting Bible figures like Samson, Joshua, Elijah, and others…
Day 13: David and Goliath.  The best version I was able to find was David and Goliath.
Day 14: Esther. I really, really love the Esther book we use for this day! Queen Esther Saves Her People is just sooo good.  If you can’t borrow or purchase this one, there are other decent versions out there. I’d settle for The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale if it weren’t for the other one.
Day 15: Solomon. I wasn’t thrilled with the couple of books I previewed on Solomon’s riddles and such. I wanted a general idea of his kingship and justice.  So I bought the compilation picture book: Kings and Queens of the Bible and am pretty happy with it. Alternately, you can find a lovely tale of his testing by Queen Sheba in The Wisest Man in the World, complete with illustrations by the excellent Anita Lobel.
Day 16: Elijah.  I desperately wanted to find a good picture book on Elijah because I think he’s an important prophet and his story is neat enough to visualize.  Instead I found Journeys with Elijah: Eight Tales of the Prophet at the library which is a collection of legends.  The book is nice but the only useful part to me for my purposes is the introduction which tells the actual story of Elijah. So I’m still on the hunt for a stand-alone picture book on this man. (update 11/14: There is a wonderful and excellent story to be found in Elijah and the Fire from Heaven but it is “very” out of print and used copies in good shape are hard to find. I’ll write more about this in a separate post. I did notice a reader book called Elijah and King Ahab but haven’t had a chance to personally preview it yet.  It is cheap though and looks like “inoffensive” art; I’d buy it if I didn’t have the other one.)
Day 17: Jonah.  I was really, really pleased with Jonah and the Whale. I looked at a few different versions of this story but was really discouraged by the twaddle and the unfaithful retellings out there.  This one is really good…
Day 18: King Belshazaar and the Writing on the Wall. I admit that this wasn’t my first pick on stories to include in our Jesse Tree traditions but I wasn’t able to identify any good books for the stories I DID want.  So this will suffice.  I found this story in the Kings and Queens of the Bible book again.
Day 19: Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I only got to see a couple story books with this tale in it (indeed there are only a couple) and the best one out there is definitely Daniel and the Lord of Lions.
Day 20: The Annunciation and Visitation. I have the book Mary by Brian Wildsmith but de Paola’s Mary: The Mother of Jesus is pretty great too. (also, let’s not forget the strange and wonderful book by Inos Biffi The Life of Mary to use for these stories also.) 

Days 21-27: The Antiphons

Day 28 (Christmas Eve): The Nativity.  There are a number of decent versions of the Nativity told in picture book form. I like ones that use the actual words from the Bible. I’m using Francesca Crespi’s The Nativity because I already had it and it’s a nice, special, pop-up touch to the end of the Advent season for my kids. Other worthy titles are: The Christmas StoryBethlehem, and Christmas Story.

Happy reading!


*Addendum

Why do the Jesse Tree at all?  For us, it’s to give the FULL Christmas story… to remember the beginning of salvation history. I love this thought from then-Cardinal Ratzinger (1986):
     “Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. 
     The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.…
     It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”

 

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Top 10 Best Advent Books

I know it seems odd to offer a booklist on Advent but let’s get real here. Do you know how many excellent Christmas books are out there?! It may well be the single most prolific genre of picture books. For that reason, not even I could possibly narrow it down to ten titles. {BUT I CAN NARROW IT DOWN TO 100!!!} So we’ll break it up a bit, I’ll offer you the books that seem to be more fitting for the season of Advent… then we’ll get into the best post-Christmas day books. And apart from even these, I’ll then write up a post about my top ten Winter books! Too bad we skipped Thanksgiving… next year life might slow down and the computer might speed up making this blog more active. For now, it is what it is!

Nothing troubles me more about Christmas than the utter lack of focus on Christ obviously… but a close second is the missing and messing up of the season of Advent: that quiet, somber season of hope. The celebrations and frenzied shopping and indulging in treats are really rather inappropriate during this time of waiting, in my humble opinion. That said, there aren’t very many Advent specific books out there… so the list I present to you includes feast day books, and the Christmas books that at least have a significant time spent on the time prior to the 25th… if you can’t wait until Christmas SEASON (which BEGINS on the 25th) to read in this genre of books (I certainly can’t) than at least try to prioritize your reading list to include the more preparatory books before we begin celebrating Christmas itself.

*** Two years later, I’m updating this list.  Look for my new notes in red.***

 The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie de Paola. You’ll find that de Paola has a quite a few seasonal gems here but this one shine specifically. The feast of our Lady of Guadalupe is on December 12th and St. Juan Diego is on the 9th. This book tells the true story of this apparition in a lovely way. (I’ve been to the cathedral where the tilma still exists today!) Let’s not forget this story during this time of hope and preparation for the Christ-Child! I still have and like this version of the Guadalupe story… but one that I’ve since found I love even MORE is this version by Carmen Bernier-Grand.

 One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham. I shuffled off The Miracle of St. Nicholas (onto my Christmas list) in order to include this title.  This book goes through the entire story of Christmas. The ENTIRE story, from the Creation of the World through the Resurrection of Christ.  It includes many snippets of tales from the Old Testament which would line up beautifully with Jesse Tree readings.  The art is superb and the story inviting when taken nibbles at a time. 

 Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard Schneider. Alright, this book gets immediate bonus point for saying the word “Advent.” Now the Christmas genre is ripe for overly-sentimental, sappy books. I have some of them. And they are fine in moderation. But my four boys get tired of sugary sweetness sometimes and need something a bit more rollicking. Well, this isn’t that book. But it is one of the better sentimental ones that has some interesting action included and not just character dramas. It’s a fantastic book with a lovely message. Get it.

 Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets. I reluctantly bumped off The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey to make room for this book in the Advent Top Ten.  (Don’t worry, I have other plans for Toomey on a different list.)  But this out-of-print gem by Ets is so beautiful and evocative and a perfect tale of Las Posadas and a little girl’s hopes coming to life.  This book seriously needs to come back in print but until then, a used copy is worth picking up.

 Lucia Child of Light by Florence Ekstrand. Well, I really want to include a couple other books on St. Lucy in this list but to be honest, I’ve not personally read them yet. They are on my wish list and should be on yours too! Lucia Morning in Sweden and Lucia, Saint of Light. Other than that, I found this little book at a thrift store this year and I love it. It’s not a typical picture book; it’s a medley really. First is a full story of the legend, sans pictures. Then there are tips and such for how to celebrate the day… keeping in mind that the feast of St. Lucy on December 13th is not a “mini Christmas” nor a specific part of Advent. But this little saint of light ought not be forgotten in the shuffle so I encourage you to read up on her!

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola. It’s always nice to learn about some of the traditions we take for granted this time of year. Here is a sweet story about a young girl’s searching for just the perfect gift for the Christmas procession.

 The Real Santa Claus by Marianna Mayer. I replaced one of my old titles for this one.  This book is absolutely beautiful and helps put the Santa/St. Nick dilemma in its proper perspective—an excellent thing to do on his feast day of Dec. 6th. Being very wordy in between the lovely art though, it’s better for older readers, maybe 8+ or so?  For younger readers on the same topic, I’d recommend Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend or A Special Place for Santa: A Legend for Our Time

 The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Helen Berger. Again, this one would make my Top Three list overall. It is an incredibly simple story, relaying the walk the donkey takes as it carries the Virgin Mother to where Jesus is born. But the imagery is sublime. And I’m including it in the pre-Christmas list because the analogies in this book could line up perfectly with certain Old Testament readings if you are inclined to do a Jesse Tree during this season. Still probably my very favorite Christmas-time book… would be fitting to read on the feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th) as it honors Mary so much.

 The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola. We really can’t get away from this author can we? And trust me, there are more where this came from. But The Clown of God was the very first Tomie de Paola book I ever purchased once I started really thinking about investing in quality literature. Not only is the story a good story and fitting for the Christmas season, I love how it deals with death. De Paola is one of the few authors who’ll touch this subject in a real, no holds barred way… but in a way that is still reverent and readable. (A wonderful, wonderful book dealing with the ‘circle of life’ so to speak is his Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs.) The Clown of God is worth owning.

 The  Christmas Deer by April Wilson.  I fell in love with this author/illustrator when I found her gorgeous book: Magpie Magic. So I had high hopes for this book that I found this year. The art is beautiful, reminiscent of Jan Brett’s style with these wintry images.  But the major reason this book belongs in Advent and not Christmas is precisely because it’s an Advent journey… including a tear out, card-stock calendar in back!

Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide and where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place. -Edward Hays
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