December 1, 2015
Welcome to Holidailies 2015. As I outlined a few days ago, discovering my husband’s illness and preparing for treatment over these past two months have caused more distractions and dislocations than I usually experience in the autumn. I come back from the summer writing Gallivants full of energy and ideas, and then typically lose my way as the light wanes and the weather changes. This effect is even more pronounced this year. Holidailies has always provided a turning point for me, a way to wake up, draw a line, and begin again. And so, here we are.
Yesterday was the Feast of St. Andrew, brother of Saint Peter. This day is associated with Christmas because the Sunday closest to it is the First Sunday of Advent. The parish church of my childhood used its Facebook page to post the prayer associated with St. Andrew’s Christmas Novena:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires (mention your intentions here), through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.
A novena is, technically, a ritual performed over nine days. The Saint Andrew Novena calls for the prayer above to be repeated fifteen times a day over the 25 days between November 30 and Christmas. That works out to 40 novenas and change. Or, in simpler terms, a lot of praying.
My clearest memory of it is from a holy card like the one shown at left. “It is fervently believed,” says the copy under the prayer, that anyone who says the prayer 15 times a day for the prescribed time will obtain what is asked. I probably found the card among my grandmother’s things when I inherited her room after she died. I can see myself sitting alone at the dining table in the morning after my parents had left for work, the card in my hand, my attention focused on the recitation. I know that the two things I wanted most in those days, 1960 when I was 13 years old, was a bicycle, and for Eddie Gillis to like me. I never got either of those things. Maybe I’d screwed up on the number of repetitions, or skipped a day.
As an adult, I would look at the ritual and think, Oh what hooey!Â Not only did I scoff at the idea of a God who would be moved to manipulate some teenage boy’s affections because someone had said a set of prescribed prayer repetitions (and, trust me, I was not the only girl in my circle who sought that particular boy’s attention), I questioned the very text that was being prayed: at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. Bible scholars who try to make historical sense of the texts know that the event didn’t take place in a snowy December such as the northeast United States experiences. That’s not how God works, that’s not how prayer works, my mature faith knows. Nevertheless, I have retained an affection for the ritual in my heart and the actual words in my brain all of these years.Â Vouchsafe . . . Not a word you hear very often these days.
This morning I happened to be reading my journal from Advent and Christmastide two years ago. On December 27, 2013, a Friday, I wrote:
Prayer focus today [likely from The Upper Room]: someone seeking a fresh start. As which of us is not?
From a folder of my collected plans for a happy life â€” hippie dippie secular witchy New Age Journal, November/December 1994: Forgiveness Cards: to make a clean beginning you have to atone for the past. “When you send out your Winter Solstice greeting cards” â€” (because these writers/thinkers/seers don’t send Christmas cards) â€” “send some to people with whom you are not on good terms or to those with whom you may have quarreled. . . ToÂ make sure that your message won’t be misunderstood and make things worse rather than better, rub lavender buds on the card or include some in the envelope.”
Spells and smells and repetitious incantations. My current prayer practice doesn’t call for those things (any candles I burn during my morning Coffee and Contemplation are unscented, to protect Igor the Cockatiel, who shares the space with me). But a recent page of The Upper Room did suggest praying for something specific, if only to aid one’s own focus.
What do I want this Advent season? Mild weather, through the middle of January, so that travel to and from Ron’s daily therapy sessions will not be made difficult or impossible, and reconciliation with a number of people with whom I have experienced either an outright estrangement or a distance born of complacency and neglect. As it happens, two of those people called me today.
Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment that they decided to open their phones, and perhaps their hearts as well.