Few things are as dear to me about Advent as my quiet morning times of prayer and devotion by the Christmas tree. With a sturdy mug of cinnamon-laced coffee and maybe a candle or two, I love to sit in my low chair watching the twinkle lights dance with their own reflection in the windows, and the winter dawn kindling beyond the great holly tree outside. Celebrating Christ’s coming, in all the rich tradition of symbols both lowly and magnificent, brings Him nearer to my imagination than any other time of the year—and what is imagination if not faith clothed in pictures our minds can touch and our hearts can hold? I’m well aware that even the most complete earthly picture of Christ’s fullness enfleshed in humanity is only a glimpse of Who He really is in all His glory. When faith is made sight someday, we’ll have the frames to bear such terrible beauty and tenderness. Until then, however, it’s very precious to cling to what we know, knowing the reality is better than our best dreams.
Advent is a time for contemplation as well as preparation. Our inner lives need readying even more than our outer ones do, and it’s for this reason I always surround myself with a goodly company that’s wiser and more experienced than I am—to keep my heart tethered to what’s true and my imagination on fire with what’s good and beautiful.
In that vein, here are some of the books that are journeying with me through Advent this year:
Phyllis Tickle’s trilogy of prayer books are a gift to the Church. I’ve been using them for several years now and they are such a trusty anchor in both the daily round and the church year as a whole. They’re divided into seasons: Prayers for Springtime, Prayers for Summertime, and Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime. And while each one contains Morning Office, Midday Office, Vespers Office and Compline for every day of the year, I’ll admit I’m more inclined to pause for Vespers when the afternoons are short and the evening gathers in just about the time I’m sitting down to have my tea. Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime has a whole section dedicated to Advent and Christmas Week, which adds such richness to my holiday prayer times. And if you’re just looking for a dedicated devotional to guide you through the Benedictine rule of fixed-hour prayer from Advent through Epiphany, Christmastide is the perfect ‘condensed’ version.
Also by Phyllis Tickle, this book has become an indispensable part of Philip’s and my Advent and Christmas readings as a couple. In this collection of stories, Phyllis gives readers a glimpse into life on the farm where she and her husband, Sam, raised their six children amid a milieu of cattle and fowl and forces of nature—I cannot even begin to express how much I love and relate to this book. With presence and eloquence, Tickle calls our attention to the everyday parables with which the watchful life is fraught, and it’s nothing short of breathtaking. There’s a short tale for each Sunday in Advent, along with the liturgical observances of Christmas Week and Epiphany, and although I’ve read them all many times, I usually can’t get through them without tears. Tickle drives her meanings home with a precision that’s never heavy-handed, and I always feel more aware of my own world after spending time in hers.
Malcolm Guite is one of the most brilliant and devout minds of our age, and in this devotional anthology he guides his readers through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany with a poem a day and a brief but absolutely razor-sharp exposition of the poem’s incarnational themes. I’ve learned more about writing poetry by perusing Malcolm’s insights on reading poetry than just about anywhere else. But more than that, Malcolm pulls back the veil on human expression and shows us the living splendor glowing just beneath the surface. There’s a hint of the Story running through each and every truly creative act—and in this very special, and very unique devotional, that story rings out loud and clear.
This lovely gem was written by my very gifted friend, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, and if you long to make connection with the significance of the liturgical calendar but didn’t grow up in that tradition, this book is for you. Even if you did, Kimberlee’s insights into the wealth and texture of the church year will kindle your devotional observances afresh. I absolutely love the way she weaves the seasons together into a living tapestry that narrates the story of redemption. And since the church year commences with the first Sunday in Advent, now is the perfect time to fall in step with Kimberlee’s round of contemplation, celebration, personal reflection and corporate joy.
A collaborative work by two friends—and two of the most sensitive female minds in modern writing—this book is a beautiful exchange between renowned poet Luci Shaw and the great Madeleine L’Engle. Alternating between poetry and prose, reminiscence and prescient insight, L’Engle and Shaw imagine the Incarnation in ways old and new. It’s simply gorgeous, as is only to be expected from these two. What’s more, its collaborative nature (between two writers we so admire!) was a huge source of inspiration for Laura and me to found the Golden Hours site.
I can hardly believe that Golden Hours is one week old today! Laura and I have been blessed–and somewhat overwhelmed–by the warmth with which our little offering has been received, and I want you all to know how much your enthusiasm means to us!
And in the spirit of celebration, I’d like to give away a lovely, pristine copy of Phyllis Tickle’s What the Heart Already Knows. We’d love to get the word out on Golden Hours, so to enter, simply share one of the pieces you like here on Facebook or re-post one of our Instagram pictures, and then come back and let us know where you posted it in the comments.
While you’re at it, we’d love it if you’d share with us some Advent reading recommendations of your own. Every one of the books on my current list came as a gift or recommendation of a friend, so I’m always keen to hear what others are reading!
The winner will be drawn on the evening of Wednesday, December 7.
Happy reading, friends! 🙂
(p.s. This post contains affiliate links. None of these reviews were solicited, and these opinions are entirely my own.)