Sunday, 29 November 2009

An Advent

[To the folks from Elizabeth Esther's blogstravaganza: this current post, "An Advent," won out over a close competitor for the monthly carnival slot. That other post is featured here. It represents what is perhaps another facet of my blogger-personality, appearing as differences in topic and perhaps style. In this case, I am discussing the intersection between people with disabilities and cultural ideals of sexiness. I talk about Aimee Mullins, conjoined twins, where 'sexiness' comes from, and moral reactions to these things.]

Today is the first day of the liturgical year, beginning with the season of Advent. If you are interested in what Advent is, I will yet again encourage you to visit Conversion Diary, which is quite likely one of the Internet's best wikis on all such things, even though it's not officially a wiki. I won't be talking too much about Advent as a general topic, though. Rather, I want to talk about this Advent, which marks or is marked by a unique advent for me.

(In case you didn't visit Jennifer Fulwiler's blog, I should at the very least tell you that Advent is the first season of the liturgical year and one during which we prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ, celebrated on 25 December. The end of the liturgical year, a season known somewhat anticlimactically as Ordinary Time, is the time in the liturgy during which we recall Christ's reign on Earth. Thus in the turning over from this last Saturday to today, we move from Christ's reign to a pre-Christ's reign time, a sort of harkening to the Old Testament which is itself a preparation for Christ. That's not a pre-Christ's reign time in that during this season the sacrifice is somehow moot and we're all for the next few weeks damned. No. It's rather a symbolic sort of thing, a remembering sort of thing. Anyway, Advent is a time of New Year's resolutions--or positive personal change--as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, both as born in Bethleham and as returning again at the end of all things.)

This Sunday, you may recall, is the first Sunday that I became a server at Saint Thomas' Anglican Church. If I were asked to give my denomination, I would say either that I was baptised and confirmed Lutheran or that I am non-denominational. I recall three churches of which I would have called myself a regular member of the congregation: the Lutheran one (St. Paul's) previously described, the evangelical/non-denominational/student church (Bethel) at school, and St. Thomas' here in Fort McMurray. Bethel did not have an alb-clad worship team, but St. Paul's did and during the last two years of elementary school and to a lesser extent the first year of high school, I served there as an acolyte. (I was also Assistant Minister once, but I don't remember much about that.) Anyway, one thing I missed when going to Bethel was the ritual, the altar space, the formal roles, and, as a sort of crystallization of all of that, the alb itself. Here at St. Thomas' we have both the energy of Bethel and the ritual of St. Paul's, and when they called for servers (of which 'acolyte' is in the Anglican church a subtype), I volunteered.

I completed server training a few weeks ago, but in the first two Sunday's following that the other new servers served, and then last Sunday there was a baptism and so one of the girls from the more experienced lot served for that. This Sunday, then, was my first day as a server. It is my luck (solely a figure of speech, I'm sure) that my first day as a server was the first day of Advent, and thus the first day of the liturgical year. Truly a day of firsts.

As far as St. Thomas' itself goes, this is also a time of turn-over. It doesn't match up as neatly as my first, but it's still interesting. Rev. Fraser is going to be consecrated as a Bishop soon and presiding in Athabasca. Thus St. Thomas' will be out a priest. (Rev. Leslie Hand will still be 'our' priest, but she can't always make it Sundays due to commitments at another church.) Today was the second or third worship that I have attended which Rev. Fraser did not himself attend. Rather, the deacon and one of the lay-readers (David and Lori respectively) made up the worship team with myself. Fraser will be back for some more Sundays, but not many more. The sort of service we had today will be more and more common, and so while it's not an actual first, it is among the first and is a taste for what will follow in a few weeks.

However, this leads into a more human story. That is, because Fraser was absent, we did not have communion this Sunday. The sort of service I prepared for was a communion service, and the cues I was watching for were communion service cues. This means I got awful lost and confused when I realized that a central part of the ritual would simply not be there, and so I had no idea when to do things. For instance, in the three songs before communion, you prepare the table during the second song and receive the offering during the third song. So I know that when the priest starts getting ready for the sacrament, I should be getting out the bread box and then the flasks, and then on the song after that I will get the offering plate, receive the offering, and place it on the altar. But since we had no communion, the pre-offering liturgy would be different and my other cue (the priest preparing the sacrement) would be missing. So I was lost.

After some fumbling, though, and some kind guidance from David, I got everything done on time. The good news also was that Lori hadn't led service very many times before and she was nervous too, though she certainly didn't show it.

There were other fumbles than that, but not major ones. David and Lori were very nice (and presumably still are) and it all worked out, and likely no one in the congregation was the wiser.

In a way I was disappointed that there was no communion. I would have liked to have helped prepare the host. It seems magical to me, and I wanted to be part of that. Now, I dislike your common Christian sayings because I fear that through overuse they have lost their meaning. Notwithstanding this, it occured to me during service that this disappointment is another instance of God's plans superceding our own. I had wanted to be part of communion as a way of strengthening my own bond with Christ through that ritual. The whole process was something that I craved, and I craved it solely because I wanted it to make me feel more connected to Christ. This I did not get. Rather, I served during a service without a communion. My focus was on other things then, like singing loudly enough and praying loudly enough and getting my cues right. I was forced to trust that David and Lori, and through them God, would help me perform this role properly and help me help the congregation worship during a time of transition.

I am not saying that I was in the main disappointed, but it wasn't what I was expecting. And don't get me wrong: I have not walked away from this saying, "Now I can trust God and trust the worship team! I am now focused on helping the congregation and not myself, and I can now find Jesus in the service elsewhere than in the host!" It would be nice if these were true, but they aren't really. I don't trust well at all and I barely think of the congregation and on a bad day I have a hard time finding Jesus anywhere, even in the host.

I knew that my peformance as server would not transform me from someone feeling lost and distant from God into a zealous and whole 'little Christ' who is pumping the Spirit out to the congregation. While I am sure that the sow's ear can become a silk purse as much as water once became wine, the transformation from me into Super-me nonetheless seemed a little unlikely even in light of that. I was, however, hoping for some magical connection, some sudden and undeniable affirmation of my community in Christ. Rather, what I did learn, if it was learning, was a lesson that is integral to Advent: that I am not there yet; that I need preparation and that my change is a process, not an event; that I have a long way to go.

I read Narnia books and see how exciting it is that Aslan comes in at the end and turns them into heroes. What I conveniently forget is that Edmund had to wallow in the Witch's prison. That Eustace had to become a dragon (or become disabled and disfigured, which you get by reading what it's like for him to be dragon) and then undergo what amounted to torture at Aslan's claws. That Aravis and Shasta had to trek across the desert with lions hot on their heels (like Jonah, in a way). That Polly and Eustace had to fight a losing battle amidst sorrow at the ends of times. That they had to do all of these things before they became knights (or friends) of Narnia.

The question, of course, is what sort of change is needed? I don't know, but I suppose neither did Edmund, or Eustace, or Aravis, or Polly, or Abraham, or Hosea, or Peter, or Paul. What I do know is that I will start paying better attention to the liturgical year. I don't know what to do to observe that, but at least I will keep an eye on it. And I will stop expecting magical transformations at the appropriate time, not because they can't happen but because they likely won't if you're looking for them.

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