Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ARRIVAL

After eight months on The Mountain at Sewanee, TN, Sunday we set out for home in New Iberia, Louisiana where we reside half the year now. We stopped in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for an overnight at a brand-new Courtyard Marriott in this small city presently listed among the top 100 U.S. cities in which to retire. I looked for mention of the old Mississippi Women’s College that my mother attended in the early part of the 20th century, but could find nothing about this college formerly located in Hattiesburg where my mother studied Art so long ago.

From Hattiesburg to New Iberia, Louisiana, I read aloud to driver Vickie almost all of a book entitled AWAITING THE CHILD, AN ADVENT JOURNAL by newfound Sewanee friend, author Isabel Anders. Although the chapters in this book are meditative essays, we felt the reading was a genuinely poetic experience. In her preface to the new edition of AWAITING THE CHILD, Isabel speaks of poetry and quotes Wallace Stevens as saying “There is a poem at the heart of things,” and she likens Advent to a season in which she longs to discover that poem. Guided by daily lectionary readings (Anglican) designated for the Advent season, Isabel compiled a journal written during the early weeks of her first pregnancy, declaring that “writing is another way of allowing Christ to be born in and through me...and the central incarnation around which this book is built, that of the Child who unto us is born, remains core – it still burns with intensity and urgency for us in a world that desperately needs to acknowledge God With Us.”

Isabel further writes that the book is a call to awareness of The Christ and our response to Him during the particular season of Advent. My favorite chapter in this book is “The City,” a meditation about the preparing of our hearts for the City of God. Isabel, an avid reader of the mystical Charles Williams, says that for Williams, as for all the saints, the belief in blessing every creature is seen as essential to the spiritual life. “He points out that definition of differences among the City’s occupants is unavoidable, but such a definition (or description) is intended to help order the City’s life in one particular way or another. Differences among us point out the need for ‘traffic regulations’ for the convenience of patterns of movement among people. That is what laws and rules serve to do – to make civility the norm. (I love that statement!!) But they cannot teach us to love one another…”

For Isabel, the Eucharist offers the best glimpse of the City where familiar and new people meet in thanksgiving and exchange gifts at the altar. She notes that "over a period of time the repeated experience of taking Communion with the same people can bring a transfiguration of common faces, temporarily overshadowing divisions and weaknesses. The open palms to receive Christ at best imply a unity of will and purpose…”

As you can see from the passages quoted, this is an important book written by someone who has a most original mind that reflects a deep spirituality. The themes it offers for prayer and reflection are opportunities to move through Advent with a heightened awareness of the Christ, while actively awaiting His coming. The noted author Madeleine L’Engle wrote a touching introduction to AWAITING THE CHILD, stating that Isabel wrote these Advent meditations while waiting for her first child to be born, while she, Madeleine, read them in her husband’s hospital room, watching him die… "and Advent is a time when birth and death draw close together and it is not always possible to tell which is which.”

AWAITING THE CHILD is an enriching experience designed for advancing anyone’s spiritual life. How fortunate I am to have become friends with Isabel before I left Sewanee. She has also become one of my major supporters in this risky business called writing. You can log onto her site at www.isabelanders.com. She’s c’est magnifique!
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