Advent and Christmas at Home

Here are my Advent and Christmas posts linked for easy reference:

Martin of Tours, Veterans’ Day, and Advent now updated in 2022 with resources that reflect new thinking about the binary of light and dark.

Advent ideas are suggestions for a slower, simpler start to the season, including music to set the mood.

Advent at home with reading recommendations, and this post on an Advent picture book, with a reading for each day.

Celebrating Christmas at home has some thoughts about crèches, squeezing more people around your holiday table, and Epiphany.

Christmas morning ideas and a recipe for my eggnog French toast that you’ll need to assemble the night before.

Christmas Proclamation adapted from Roman martyrology, a fantastic addition to your Christmas Day liturgy or gathering!

Christmas very much at home from the first pandemic Christmas, with simmer pot and honeycomb recipes and links to liturgies.

Light of the World, a homily preached on Christmas Eve 2021 at Saint Mark’s Cathedral.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Gifts of joy and wonder 2022

… Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, p. 308

Whatever the season or reason for gift-giving, these words from the Episcopal prayer for the newly baptized encourage a different mindset, a way of thinking about giving gifts that will be truly nurturing. I have a clear bias towards books—always my favorite thing to give and to get— and the ones mentioned here were all published in 2022, but I have other suggestions as well.

An inquiring and discerning heart:

Progressive Christian educator and author Brittany Sky McRay has created a subscription series of Family Time Kits to explore faith and inspire compassion, connection, and courage. There are four age categories: 0-36 months, ages 3-6, 7-11, and adult. You can cancel any time after the first month, but I can’t imagine you’ll want to.

Rabbi Toba Spritzer’s God is Here: Reimagining the Divine examines ancient metaphors such as Water, Place, Rock, Cloud, and Fire with new understandings for God, not as an abstract exercise but to change the way we live and act every day, with spiritual practices that accompany each of the divine metaphors.

The courage to will and to persevere:

The long-awaited Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry, is already a best-seller, and its power rests in Hersey’s prophetic voice, strengthened by her grounding in Black liberation theology and Womanism. It’s designed to help all of us push back against white supremacy and capitalism and give us what we need to truly rest.

Conversations with People Who Hate Me: 12 Things I Learned from Talking to Internet Strangers by Dylan Marron is a lively, engaging, and inspiring read about finding connection and common ground in a divided world. Dylan Marron is an actor, activist, and host of the eponymous podcast. Highly recommended for high school youth and adults.

How to Begin When Your World is Ending: A Spiritual Field Guide to Joy Despite Everything by Molly Phinney Baskette is laugh-out-loud funny and bracingly honest. Her insights about how and why to live fully and exuberantly no matter what should be shared with abandon. Molly is a UCC pastor, a parent, a cancer survivor, and a gifted writer. Give this to your besties, your book club, someone who’s struggling right now, and be sure to download the Doomsday Pollyanna Dance Party-slash-Book-Club guide, complete with food and drink pairings and a playlist.

A spirit to know and to love you:

More and more since I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I come close to God in nature. This nature meditations deck is designed to be used by those who are new to mindfulness as well as those with well-established meditation practices. You can slip the box into your backpack before heading out for a hike, choose one for your coat pocket as you go for a walk, or take one to read when you’re stuck inside at your desk.

Seasons of Wonder: Making the Ordinary Sacred Through Projects, Prayers, Reflections, and Rituals: A 52-Week Devotional by Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, an English professor and Episcopal lay leader, is a new interactive devotional for families brimming with prayers, activities, and simple suggestions for families who want to be intentional in discovering and celebrating the Holy throughout the church year and in the natural rhythm of the seasons. There is a special focus on creation care in these practices.

The gift of joy and wonder in all your works:

Here: The Dot We Call Home, The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell, and  Sun in My Tummy  are three outstanding picture books by my dear friend Laura Alary. While these books are not religious, there are spiritual connections to be made, and Laura is a gifted theologian. They make excellent gifts on their own for the children in your life, and their themes inspired me with several ideas for others on your list.

Here, a book that deepens our concepts of home while inviting us to think about our responsibilities to our neighborhoods and to our planet, comes with an excellent downloadable activity guide. You may wish to gift this earth pillow (it also comes ball-sized) or a set of plantable pencils and either this creative journal for budding activists or a gratitude journal like this one.

The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything is a beautifully illustrated biography of a remarkable 19th century woman, Maria Mitchell. Astronomy enthusiasts of any age will appreciate the stunning photography in the 2023 Deep Space Mysteries calendar from Astronomy Today, a connect- the-stars constellation mug, and tee shirts featuring Maria Mitchell or astronaut Mae Jemison, both designed from striking cut paper art by high school student Maggie Donnelly.

Sun in My Tummy is an imaginative and lyrical science lesson on how we get our food. It made me think of this sweet set of weather story blocks for little ones, as well as the award-winning environmental board game for youth and adults, Photosynthesis. I’m also charmed by these lightweight, packable solar lanterns.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Greetings and Gratitude: The Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

In this video, Mohawk language professor Ryan DeCaire and Mohawk food leader Chandra Maracle offer the Haudenosaunee Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen or Thanksgiving Address, a traditional offering of greetings and gratitude to the natural world, in Mohawk and English. At the Earth to Tables website, you can read the text in both languages, with illustrations by Tuscarora artist Rick Hill. I first learned about in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. She says when she asked Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons permission to write about it, he told her, “It’s supposed to be shared, otherwise, how can it work? We’ve been waiting five hundred years for people to listen. If they’d understood the Thanksgiving then, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

May we be truly thankful.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents

Juneteenth and how to be an ally

Commemorative plaque of Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas by William C Teller (Wikimedia Commons)

Friends, Juneteenth is a day for us white folk to be allies, a day to educate ourselves and our kids and take steps to becoming anti-racist, which is an on-going and lifelong process. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, and my place of employment is giving us the day off, so it’s important to recognize that while this is not a day we can claim, it’s a day we can–and should– fully support.

Here’s a great video from BrainPOP for kids that tells the story of Juneteenth, and Colours of Us has updated their list of children’s books that celebrate Juneteenth.

I highly recommend this resource guide with twenty-three ideas to thoughtfully observe the day.

On June 19, 2021, the Rev. Carla Robinson preached a powerful sermon at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, Washington.

It’s a great day for us to recommit ourselves to God and to each other, to end oppression in all forms.

Let us confess our sins against God and one another.

Almighty God, Source of all that is,

Giver of every good gift:

You create all people in your image

and call us to love one another as you love us.

We confess that we have failed to honor you

in the great diversity of the human family.

We have desired to live in freedom,

while building walls between ourselves and others.

We have longed to be known and accepted for who we are,

while making judgements of others based on the color of skin,

or the shape of features, or the varieties of human experience.

We have tried to love our neighbors individually

while yet benefitting from systems that hold

those same neighbors in oppression.

Forgive us, Holy God.

Give us eyes to see you as you are revealed in all people.

Strengthen us for the work of reconciliation rooted in love.

Restore us in your image, to be beloved community,

united in our diversity,

even as you are one with Christ and the Spirit,

Holy and undivided Trinity, now and forever.

Amen.

From the liturgy compiled by the Vivian Taylor Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians

Here are more anti-racism resources I have collected.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Bad Things, Good People, and God: A Guide for Teens by Bryan Bliss

I met Bryan almost exactly a year ago when a dear friend and colleague posted on social media looking for resources for a middle schooler who was (understandably) “angry with God for not ‘taking care of things; a little faster – and why God allows us to keep screwing things up.” I commented that I definitely wanted someone to write a “theodicy for progressive Christian kids” book, Bryan responded, we had a great time working on it, and Bad Things, Good People, and God: A Guide for Teens is now available wherever books are sold.

Bryan is the author of four young adult novels including We’ll Fly Away (long-listed for the 2018 National Book Award) and Thoughts & Prayers. He’s also a former youth minister and curriculum designer, a parent, a theologian, and in the process of becoming an Episcopal priest. So, really, he’s the perfect person to write this particular book — a thoughtful, provocative, and humorous exploration of a serious, weighty, and ancient topic: why bad things happen, how God is involved, why it matters to us, and what we can do about it.

Bad Things, Good People and God takes on Bible stories, big ideas, and theologians and issues both historical and contemporary. It’s honest and fresh. What I love most about this book is that it empowers youth to construct and claim their own theodicies:

Let’s take a deep breath.

Just because there isn’t an easy answer (any answer?) to the problem of evil—why bad things happen—doesn’t mean we need to live in a state of constant anxiety or dread. It is not an overstatement to say this is the biggest question of faith. It’s also a question that all of us must wrestle with, cobble together some semblance of an answer, and claim our place as theologians in the world.

Yes, theologians.

Because what you have to say matters. Your theology matters. Your view of the world reveals another glimmer of truth—some small answer—to these big questions.

p. vi

Ultimately, these challenging questions can’t be neatly answered once and for all, but we — and our faith — are stronger for wrestling with them. I’m grateful for Bryan’s wisdom and wisecracks, and the passion he has for diving deep into the messiness of life with God and the rest of us.

Read a longer excerpt from the book here.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

New Directions for Holy Questions: Progressive Christian Theology for Families by Claire Brown and Anita Peebles

During the first 18 months of the pandemic, I had a new job, as an editor and the Christian formation specialist at Church Publishing Incorporated in New York City. I spent all but eight days working from a corner of our kitchen table in Brooklyn, and one of the very best things I did there was to acquire and edit New Directions for Holy Questions: Progressive Christian Theology for Families by Claire Brown and Anita Peebles. It was a joy and a privilege to work on, and I am so glad it’s out in the world!

This is a book for those who come to Christianity with open hearts and open minds, for the curious, for children and others who have big questions about God and Jesus and the Bible — questions that often lead to more wondering rather than simple answers, questions Christians have wrestled with throughout the ages.

Each chapter asks a holy question and begins with a retelling of a Bible story. Thoughtful conversation prompts and opportunities for both action and reflection lead the reader in new directions. You’ll find spiritual practices to try, a justice story that gives a real-life illustration of the concept being discussed, and a few summary points at the end of each chapter to give adults suggestions for talking about these big ideas with children not yet old enough to read. The authors write from a perspective that embraces anti-racism, gender equality, economic justice, care of the environment, affirmation of LGBTQ+ folks, trauma-informed practice, and global citizenship.

Following Jesus is a journey, and Claire and Anita are wonderful, insightful companions on the way for children and adults alike. More enriching conversation can be found on the book’s website and podcast. You can read an excerpt on the Church Publishing website here.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Light of the World

From the Godly Play Large story of Holy Baptism at Trinity Church Wall Street

A homily preached on Christmas Eve 2021 at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle, Washington

When I was six years old, I came home from church on Christmas Eve, made my little brother put on his bathrobe, plopped a dish towel on top of his head, and brought him into the living room, where I draped a lacy crocheted afghan over my own head and shoulders, tightly swaddled my doll Tabitha in a flannel receiving blanket, and directed my first nativity pageant. The story we tell every year on this night, the one that so vividly lives in our hearts and imaginations, is about the Holy Family, Mary and Joseph and Jesus, but it is also deeply and truly, a story about us.

You may know the story of the day you were born. You may hold the story of the birth of your child, or a sibling. When you were born, stars danced and angels sang. Every birth is a miracle, and every child is holy. How do I know? Let me tell you another story:

 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters… And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

The very first thing that God spoke into being was light. And in this story, every time God makes something, God looks at it and calls it good. God creates us—humans—in God’s own image and calls us good. We carry within us the light of our creator. We are light bearers, all of us.

During the Christmas pageant at Saint Mark’s, when we get to the part where Jesus is born, the manger glows. Mary and Joseph wear golden haloes that catch and reflect the light. Here’s a secret about Baby Marilee, who played Jesus on Tuesday night: she glows, too. And so does her sister Esmé, and so do her parents, who played Mary and Joseph. So do you.

Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes just like I swaddled my doll, just like my mother swaddled my brother and me, because babies love to be swaddled, they are calmed and soothed by the snugness of the cloth wrapped around them. There was no room for them in the inn because the busy inn was no place to deliver a baby. Mary needed privacy, quiet and warmth, perhaps in the room on the ground floor, where the most important animals—the cow, the ox, and the donkey—would be brought in at night for safekeeping. The manger may have been a hollow in the floor, with fresh, sweet-smelling hay, the perfect spot for a baby to snuggle down. Jesus, God’s own child, was born in this simple, ordinary way. God comes to us in the messy, everyday miracles of life and love.

One Godly Play story begins like this: “There once was someone who said such wonderful things and did such amazing things that people just had to ask him who he was. Once when they asked him, he said, ‘I am the light…’”

Another time, Jesus told the ones listening to his stories, “You are the light of the world.” The light shines in each of us. By this light, we see God in each other: in family, friends, and strangers. Through small acts of kindness and courage, the light grows and spreads. Everyone glows with the light of God’s love. Everyone is holy.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Gifts of joy and wonder 2021

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

… Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer, p. 308

Whatever the season or reason for gift-giving, these words from the Episcopal prayer for the newly baptized encourage a different mindset, a way of thinking about giving gifts that will be truly nurturing. While not all of these suggestions are overtly religious, some invite the connection to God and the Holy; others ask us to be a part of God’s transforming work in the world.

An inquiring and discerning heart:

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC) has created three card decks, one for children, one for youth, and one for adults, for lively conversations about five spiritual practices of discipleship: Pray, Learn, Serve, Give, and Share. These can be used intergenerationally, at gatherings, around the dinner table, or before bed.

What is God Like? by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner (2021) is a beautifully illustrated picture book that uses images of God in scripture to show us glimpses of God’s expansive love for all people, everywhere.

Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu (2021) is a final book of essays by this beloved progressive Christian author, with essentially the same message as her children’s book—simply, that God’s love is without limits, conditions, or rules. Highly recommended for high school youth through adults.

The courage to will and to persevere:

Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar — whether or not you have read the wonderful book of the same name by Daneen Akers, you’ll appreciate this vibrant wall calendar for all ages. Highlighting the lives of twelve holy troublemakers of different faiths who are women, LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, the calendar also includes “important holidays from diverse faith traditions, social justice movement anniversaries, and dates that help us remember that joy is an essential part of holy troublemaking.”

You Are Revolutionary by Cindy Wang Brandt (2021) and Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman (2021) are two inspiring picture books for kids who are ready to change the world right now.

If there is one new book to give adults who can handle truth when it’s told with wit and grace, it’s No Cure for Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler (2021).

A spirit to know and to love you:

These olive wood holding crosses fit comfortably within the palm of an adult’s hand, and are smooth and sturdy enough for a baby to chew on.

A finger labyrinth is just the thing to center yourself wherever you are. This one is pocket-sized.

My favorite new music to stir the spirit is They’re Calling Me Home by Rhiannon Giddens (2021).

The gift of joy and wonder in all your works:

This Box of Natural Wonders is filled with unusual items to touch and see, and can be enjoyed by all ages.

The Seasons: A Year of Nature Journaling is a downloadable set of guided nature journals and a supporting curriculum that’s a wonderful way to connect to God’s creation through the seasons.

Dimming the Day: Evening Meditations for Quiet Wonder (2021) by Jennifer Grant invites youth and adults alike into contemplation and awe through the natural world, from hummingbirds to humpback whales.

Bird feeders bring joy and wonder as close as your window! This one is from the company my husband the birder says is the gold standard, but a simple one like this can be hung anywhere.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

‘Twas the Season of Advent by Glenys Nellist

Cover illustration by Elena Selivanova

Glenys Nellist recounts the timeless story of the Incarnation–God coming into the world as Jesus, born of Mary–through a gentle retelling of scripture from the Old and New Testaments over twenty-five days in her newest book, Twas the Season of Advent. Beautifully and sensitively illustrated by Elena Selivanova, the stories, which begin with a rhyme following the style of the beloved Christmas poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and include the scripture citation, are meant to be read one each day from December 1 through Christmas Day. Each ends with a simple prayer. A downloadable activity pack is available to help families deepen and further the conversation. A wonderful addition to the rich treasury of Advent and Christmas stories, ‘Twas the Season of Advent may become a new tradition to add to your holiday devotions or bedtime ritual.

Remembering September 11

Photo: Tim Martin

1.

What I remember most vividly about that day was the color of the sky—a deep, clear blue that we remarked on to strangers in awe and wonder, minutes earlier. I was on a crosstown bus transporting a heavy bag of books to my new office at Church of the Heavenly Rest on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where I had recently joined the staff as Director of Religious Education. Just before my stop, the bus driver’s radio alerted us to the fact that there’d been an accident in lower Manhattan and all buses were being diverted and would not be allowed below 14th Street.

Tuesdays are staff meeting days in many churches, and at Heavenly Rest we began at 9 a.m. with Morning Prayer and the news that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. When someone rushed in to tell us of the second plane, we realized that this was vastly different from the sad but understandable accident we could imagine involving a small passenger plane. The sexton immediately went and got the Paschal candle, lit it, and placed it in the center of the chancel, where it stayed lit for months. Immediately we began planning a worship service for that evening. Whenever the phones rang—and service was sporadic that day—it was someone asking how they could help.

Around lunchtime, I went out with the communications director and put up flyers announcing the service in shop windows and on pillars and posts. As we did so, we noticed people in twos and threes—almost never alone—coated from head to toe in white dust, slowly and silently streaming up Fifth Avenue. At 5 pm, the church was filled with people from all over the neighborhood, whether or not they had any connection to Heavenly Rest, whether or not they identified as Christian. Communion was offered to every single person who was present. In the days and weeks that followed, I held fast to the words of Psalm 46 that was chosen for worship:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;
Though its waters rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be overthrown;
God shall help her at the break of day.
The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken;
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come now and look upon the works of the LORD,
what awesome things he has done on earth.
It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, then, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

2.

The Gospel that was appointed for Sunday, September 16, 2001 was Luke 15:1–10: God searches for all the lost ones, finds us, and brings us home, rejoicing.

For no reason other than I felt drawn, I went back to church after lunch. As I came through the front door and my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could see two people sitting in the front pew of the otherwise empty sanctuary: a woman and a young girl. I grabbed a few blank index cards and a fistful of crayons from a basket, walked over, and knelt beside them. Softly, I introduced myself and handed the child the crayons and index cards.

“This is Annie, and I’m her aunt,” the woman told me. “Annie’s father died on Tuesday, and she is wondering who is keeping her safe now.”

I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and began.

“Well, Annie, your mother and your aunts and uncles are keeping you safe. So are the firefighters, and the police officers, the mayor and the president.” I paused and pointed to the Paschal candle in front of us. “Do you see this candle? We sometimes call it the Christ candle, and it’s there to remind us that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. Jesus is here with us, and we are safe in God’s love.”

I don’t remember if I said anything else. What I will never forget is that Annie drew three pictures. The first was of the paschal candle, the second was of the dark church with jewel-bright stained-glass windows, and the third was the sun blazing in the sky. Annie knew. I simply reminded her.

       The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:5

3.

St. Paul’s Chapel, the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City, stands opposite the site of the World Trade Center. It is the city’s only remaining Colonial-era church and by something like a miracle, it was completely undamaged on September 11, save for a one hundred-year-old sycamore tree that was uprooted in the churchyard. A survivor, too, of the Great Fire of 1776, George Washington prayed there on his inauguration day. And from October 2001 through May of 2002, St. Paul’s was a place of refuge and rest for the recovery workers. It was staffed around the clock with hundreds of volunteers, some with specialties like massage therapy and podiatry, and others who served hot meals, made up beds in pews, played the piano, prayed with the firefighters, police officers, and construction workers, and listened to their stories.

The October night I was there as a volunteer, two men arrived from South Carolina in a U-Haul truck carrying 3000 pairs of steel-toed boots. The fires were still so hot that the soles of the men’s boots were continually melting.  At midnight I went out to the smoldering pile with a few others, carrying a basket with bottles of cold water, packets of tissues, eye drops, and pewter angel tokens that had been the gift of a parishioner at the church where I was then working. The angel tokens were all the firefighters wanted. “Thank you,” they whispered over and over. Imagine.  They were thanking us.

When I got home, I found that the red tennis shoes I was wearing were entirely coated with fine white dust. They could not be cleaned. I could not throw them away, nor could I wear them again.  I think of God speaking to Moses from the burning bush:

Remove the sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

Exodus 3:5

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.