The Singer

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

G. K. Chesterton, “Tremendous Trifles”.

I recently stumbled upon a book that was on my parents’ shelves as I grew up: The Singer Trilogy:  The Mythic Retelling of the Story of the New Testament, by Calvin Miller. It’s an allegory of Christianity, written by a Southern Baptist, published in 1975 . Veeerry promising, right?

Actually, the book’s beautiful: a classic that seems undeservedly forgotten. There are parts, admittedly, that make me wince a bit, for one reason or another–and I haven’t even finished the trilogy in my current reading (the last one was in my teen years or earlier). But Miller knows the language of myth*, the power of story. In transposing into poetry and an alternate Earth the stories that have come to us from Palestine and the Roman Empire a couple of millennia ago, he brings alive the stories followers of Jesus believe: echoing them, reflecting them, illuminating them from new angles.

For a follower of the Singer, one who echoes the ancient star-song, there’s determination, there’s weariness, there’s grimness and tragedy, there’s death. But there’s awe, there’s warm affection, there’s meaning, there’s transcendence. In his allegory, Miller seems to catch, and to play for his readers, some true phrases from the song heard when “the morning stars sang together, and all the angels/[sons of God] shouted for joy”.

I found the audiobook a terrific way to experience this telling. Print would presumably be decent as well (Kindle seems less than optimal), but audio is superb.

* Regarding “myth”: the word as used here refers to the foundational stories by which a group of people define themselves. It includes nothing of the often-assumed “false story” connotation. See Wikipedia for an intro to the subject.

Embracing Advent

Pater noster qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum…

“Our father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your kingdom come…”

We’re entering the season of Advent, a reminder of a world waiting in anticipation, in desperation. Our world was, and is, one that waits for the coming–for the “advent” of a Savior, for the coming of a reign of light, of peace, of justice, of joy.

As far as I can remember, I didn’t grow up experiencing the “church season” of Advent; my closest encounter was an Advent calendar, with cardboard doors we opened each day as Christmas approached. I’m now in the process of learning to embrace the season, as ritual, as commemoration, as anticipation. I thought I’d share a few resources I’ve come across; explore as you wish.

  • I expect the daily-office and liturgical resources in my “Inner space” post to begin engaging Advent-related scripture in this season, part of the magic of a lectionary.
  • The Jesuits in Ireland apparently produce print versions of their resources. An Advent-specific prayer book for 2017-2018 is available here (and, of course, for Kindle).
  • I recently stumbled upon the intriguing Rookie Anglican site. They have a print-ready PDF (using the Anglican Church in North America’s lectionary, not the Revised Common Lectionary) of a booklet of daily offices for the Advent season.
  • Last year, Pray As You Go produced a lovely series of articles on the “O Antiphons”, the ancient worship meditations that have come to us as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. They produced an audio “Advent retreat” to go with it, available on SoundCloud.
  • Forward Movement, from the Episcopal Church, provides another option for the daily offices–together with a nice (paid) Android app.
  • If you’re thus inclined, MennoMedia produces two prayer books as well, for the seasons of the church year. You’ll need the corresponding hymnals. The prayers are also available on Google Play. I may be wrong, but my impression is that they don’t include as deep a cycle of Scripture as I’d wish.
  • And…dive down the rabbit hole of lovely resources that Sarah Bessey has provided here.

Inner space

I live in a world different from the one I was born into, in a a vibrant, bursting-at-the-seams Asian megacity. On my way to work, I weave my way among buses and motorcycles in a cacophony of horns and pollution, or I negotiate a rickshaw fare and let someone else take me.

As fulfilling as life in an “adopted” world can be, it takes a lot of energy–especially for a strong introvert without a lot of energy to spare. As I’ve moved into this life, I’ve increasingly found the importance of building an inner scaffold, a connection with meaning, rest, and contemplation. In this post, I’m mentioning just a few of the tools I’ve found useful:

  • The daily offices from The Trinity Mission offer a daily way to engage with the spiritual aspect of existence. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical tradition, but have found the offices to be deeply nourishing. I love the ancient hymns, the well-considered prayers, the Psalmic worship and the simple, matter-of-fact presentation of portions of Scriptural text. And even more, I love the sense of participation with a Church that transcends time and space. It’s also been interesting to find the beautiful Orthodox chanted settings of some of these hymns.
  • It’s been occasional thus far, but engagement with the Ignatian spiritual practices has been quite enriching as well. Sacred Space is a lovely text-based guide through prayer and engagement with a Scriptural text; 3-Minute Retreats offers brief guided prayers around short excerpts of Scripture; Pray As You Go does the same in audio, with lovely contemplative music. Each of these comes in website or in app flavors. The Ignatian Examen is a practice I haven’t yet explored substantially, but one that looks valuable. (Note that for this non-Catholic, the occasional Marian-leaning meditation doesn’t do much for me, but they actually seem comparatively rare.) Pray As You Go also offers some audio retreats and archives on Soundcloud.
  • In a more secular vein, the Headspace app offers an education in building inner quietness. Each guided meditation offers a short experience of quietness, while over time building the tools and reflexes to live from a position of cognitive and emotional calmness.