Our December heat wave made the news as far away as in France, with the thermometer climbing to a toasty 72° F. on Christmas Eve. A French friend emailed that she’d seen pictures of people walking around in shorts in Boston and New York. Although shorts aren’t part of our attire, we did dispense with sweaters and jackets and opened wide our new windows, which, unlike the old ones, open and close with ease. The squirrels got fat, the bears didn’t hibernate and the geese and robins began flying north. As of this writing, there is a light dusting of snow, and the pond is just beginning to freeze. The personal comfort has been nice, but we cringe at what this may portend in terms of rising sea levels.
We usually avoid scheduling workshops and days of recollection during the winter months, but given the mild weather, we decided to host an Advent day of recollection for oblates on December 12. As usual, Sr. Donald gave the talks, Sr. Miriam cooked a delicious dinner, and Kathy and Sr. Sheila worked “backstage” to make sure everything was set up and happened smoothly and on time. We had also planned a day of introduction to mindfulness with Nancy Billias, but she was obliged to cancel because of a death in her family. We hope to be able to reschedule her workshop sometime this spring. We tend to discourage guests during the winter months, especially those unsteady on their feet, but as the warm days continued, the guest house was in use most of the time, with just sufficient time between guests to enable us to do the laundry and clean up.
Throughout Advent, Kathy and our friend John from down the road continued their study of the Book of Ruth with Sr. Sheila. The emphasis was on the passage from death to life, as revealed in the literary structure of the book, based on the analysis of André Chouraqui.
The commercial Christmas frenzy seems to start earlier each year, with Advent being eclipsed by “the Christmas season” that in the popular mind-set culminates and ends on December 25. In the face of this trend, we remain stalwartly counter-cultural, in concert with our chaplain, who keeps reminding parishioners that “This is the Advent season. The Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve.” To the surprise of our neighbors and guests, we wait until the final days of Advent to put up our tree and install crèches in the chapel and refectory. On the other hand, as a concession to good neighborly relations, we do feel obliged to emerge occasionally from our “waiting in silence”, even though it’s a bit of a strain for this community of introverts.
Our Christmas Eve liturgy begins with Vespers at 4:00. Matins follows at 6:00, which we sing from beginning to end, with the exception of the final collect. To hold our attention, and so that no one feels nervous about singing a solo, we all chant the readings together (in Latin), including the hauntingly beautiful Gospel tone of the genealogy, so reminiscent of the Hebrew chant for the genealogy at the end of the Book of Ruth. After a two hour break, we have “mass in the night” at 9:00, followed by a little party in the refectory to which Father Dwyer and guests are invited. On Christmas morning, we go to the parish for mass, after which we host friends for Christmas dinner who would otherwise be spending the holiday alone.
We’ve barely caught our breath and it’s already Epiphany, moved to the nearest Sunday in these parts. Ash Wednesday will be here before we know it – on February 10, no less! What to do about St. Scholastica? Combine her solemnity with Mardi Gras on the 9th, or with Our Lady of Lourdes on the 11th?
For the moment, we send you all our best wishes for a blessed Epiphany season and a very happy and grace-filled New Year!