The Art of Advent: Series Launch

Jane Williams, The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany (London: SPCK, 2018). Softcover, 176 pages. £9.99.

 

Transpositions editors, reflectors, and readers so enjoyed the series we did on The Art of Lent by Sister Wendy Beckett earlier this year that we did not want to pass up the opportunity to reflect on SPCK’s other seasonal book, The Art of Advent. [1] Identical in size to its predecessor for Lent (14 x 16 cm), it packs a similar punch. In roughly 150 pages, Williams (whose husband is Rowan Williams), the Assistant Dean and Lecturer in Systematic Theology at St Mellitus College, captures many themes related to Advent, matching each with a famous painting. She provides her own commentary followed by questions for further reflection and a prayer, making this book an excellent resource for independent or group study. Organising by daily topics instead of weekly themes as Beckett chose to do in The Art of Lent, Williams appears to cover greater territory in the four weeks making up the season of Advent than Beckett did in the six weeks of Lent. While Williams’s offering is rich and varied, the Advent retreatant/pilgrim in me longs for more stillness and silence than the daily pages offer in total. For this reason, I find it more spiritually nourishing to sit with just one or two topics (‘days’ in the book) per week. This approach allows one to revisit this book during Advent each year with a different focus, enabling deeper reflection and providing an opportunity to discover ‘new’ images and insights. Considering that the daily reflections, paintings, and prayers continue through Epiphany, it is well worth taking one’s time in the four weeks of Advent to selectively choose the topics one engages.

We have done just that with this book. In conjunction with an Advent reflection series running at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (just down the street from the School of Divinity here in St Andrews) and initiated by the Reverend Professor Trevor Hart, Rector of the church and co-founder of ITIA, we will focus this series on Days 19 to 25 (pages 74 to 101) – the O Antiphons — familiar to many from their inclusion in the various verses of the seasonal hymn ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’.

During the last week of Advent, the ‘O Antiphons’ said during Evening Prayer herald the resplendent and prophetic Old Testament titles of the soon-to-come King. Following each title is a special petition in light of it:

O Sapientia (Wisdom), Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai (Law), Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us.

O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), Come and save us and do not delay.

O Clavis David (Key of David), Come and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O Oriens (Dayspring), Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Rex Gentium (King of the Nations), Come and save humankind whom you formed out of clay.

O Emmanuel (God with Us), Come and save us, O Lord our God!

The ancient monks who first assembled the O Antiphons were very creative with the order in which they are prayed. Interestingly, if one takes the first letter of each antiphon (in the Latin) starting from the last to the first, the word ERO CRAS is formed, which translates, ‘Tomorrow I will come’. It is a liturgical tradition started in the earliest centuries of the Church and continues today with those who pray the Divine Office.

Our series begins this week, two weeks before Advent, in order to set the tone and include more reflections in what is a very short liturgical season, especially with the busyness in the run up to Christmas.

The series also incorporates some original artwork. Using a simple method with simple materials (aluminum foil and a thumb tack), Liv Nino, an ITIA Transept artist, has made tin-punch designs based on each of the images to be reflected upon in our series. These pieces enhance the Advent mood in which light penetrates darkness, thereby revealing God’s plan and our hope for creation. A photo of these pieces will accompany the reflection each week.

Advent is the marking of a new season, a new year, but instead of fanfare, it comes with a simple, humble directive: ‘Wait’. Advent urges us to await and look forward to the final glorious fulfillment of God’s promise to ‘make all things new’, a fulfillment that begins with the light that comes into the world and shines in the midst of the world’s current darkness. The Transpositions editors wish you a reflective, still, and hopeful Advent in anticipation of the inbreaking of the Light of the World and the Radiant Dawn to come.

 


Image Credit

William Blake, Frontspiece, Europe: A Prophecy (Copy D, Object 1; Bentley 1, Erdman I, Keynes I) (The Ancient of Days) 1794: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Europe_a_Prophecy,_copy_D,_object_1_(Bentley_1,_Erdman_i,_Keynes_i)_British_Museum.jpg.

Notes

[1] Sister Wendy Beckett, The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter (London: SPCK, 2017); and Jane Williams, The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany (London: SPCK, 2018), respectively. For Transpositions’ The Art of Lent series, see: http://www.transpositions.co.uk/the-art-of-lent-series-launch/.

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