Update from the Community

Dear Friends:

Like all of you, over the last two years the Brothers have been taking precautions against the Corona virus. However, in spite of everything we have done, some Brothers have recently tested positive. Following the advice of our medical advisors we have taken a number of steps to lessen the impact of the virus on the community, including suspending corporate worship for the time being.

We appreciate your prayers and concern and look forward to being back online at the appropriate time.

If you would like to share a prayer for the Community you can add below.
In the meantime please know that we hold you in our prayers.

Faithfully in Christ the Healer,

James Koester SSJE
Superior

Advent Episode 2: Advent Colors

My mom used to tell the story that when I was a little boy, I enjoyed looking at family photo albums. One of the things that piqued my curiosity was the sudden transition from black and white pictures to those in full color. This seemed to mirror my experience of television shows in my early youth. One day I asked my parents, “What was it like living in a world without color?” After a quick chuckle, mom explained that the world had always had color but it wasn’t until the innovation of color film that we were able to take color pictures. I was both relieved and disappointed; relieved that my parents had always been able to experience color, and disappointed that color wasn’t some miracle of God that had occurred in my parent’s lifetime.

Yet, color is an amazing creation of God, and it plays an enormous role in our lives. Color helps to convey information, such as we see with traffic lights, where the simple signals of red, yellow, and green help us to avoid accidents. Color helps us discern whether an animal or plant is poisonous. Color enhances our experience of seasons: the pale then full-bodied greens of spring and summer and the reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn. Colors help to show our group affiliations, as we convey our pride in a sports team or national identity. Colors may even express and influence our moods. Many of us have a favorite color that gives insight into our personality which we may express in our choice of clothing, the walls in our favorite room, or the car we drive. Our colors connect directly to our identity and can shape how others relate to us.

This is even true in our relationship with God. I would say that color is an ‘angel in the architecture’ of our spiritual lives, because the iconic nature of colors points the way into a deeper mystery. In the architecture of our churches and especially our liturgy, colors convey the good news of the gospel and therefore enhance our worship of God. Each church season has its own set of colors that help us to enter into the mystery of God at a deeper level. For example, in our monastery church, the feast of a martyr (someone who gave their life in witness to the truth of the gospel) is signified by red, which is the color of blood. Green’s symbolism of life and vitality is on display during the season after Pentecost, when we live out the ordinary day-to-day of our lives in the light of our faith. The green we see in our church stretches out into the world beyond its doors as we encounter the trees in full leaf, the weekly cutting of our lawns, bushes and shrubs punctuated by flowers of different colors.

Advent follows suit with its own combination of colors. One color your local parish might use is violet, which has often been a penitential color. We see violet primarily in Lent which is a season of fasting and repentance that leads up to Holy Week and Easter. We also see violet in Advent because it is a season of introspection and preparation. As we await the celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, we read in scripture about the need for repentance as well as the need to make room for our focus on the life of Jesus, especially as we see him in the faces of our neighbors. In Matthew’s gospel we hear John the Baptist exclaim: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The word repent literally means ‘to turn’: turn from self-seeking and selfish attitudes towards a world and life that are bigger than we are; turn from hording God’s gifts to a posture of stewardship and sharing those gifts with others.

At SSJE, our tradition is to use the color blue in Advent. Our church is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary who cooperated with God in giving birth to Jesus, the human face of God in our midst. Traditionally, blue is the color associated with Mary and so our primary space of worship is imbued with the color blue as the sun shines through the stained glass. The altar is also draped in blue with accents of earthy green and rose (which we’ll talk more about next week) and match the vestments worn by the priest.

But blue is also the color of the water and the sky, the depths and the heights of creation. When the sun is high in the sky, we experience a brilliant blue as we gaze upwards into infinity. As the sun sets, the blue gets deeper and darker until we experience it as utter darkness, mystery, and uncertainty. The deepest, darkest, blue-black of night is when we ponder our finitude as sleep becomes a metaphor for death. We have faith that we will rise again with the coming of the light as the deepest black of the sky gives way again to blue as the sun rises an brings forth a new day.

There is an old bluegrass gospel song from the hills of southern Appalachia (where I’m from) that says, “The darkest hour is just before dawn.” This is a wonderful metaphor for Advent as we await the coming of the ‘Light of the world’ in the face of Jesus. The word “Advent” means ‘coming,’ and so this season, we both celebrate Jesus’ first Advent among humanity, and await his second Advent, when all shall live together as children of the most-high and the darkness shall give way to a brilliant blue spanning from the depths to the heights.

What colors do you associate with Advent? Think of what colors inform your experience of God in this season: Do you experience Advent in the violet of preparation or in the deepest depths and heights of the color blue? How is the experience of liturgical color an ‘angel in the architecture’ for you?