Item description for Stepping Stones to Bethlehem: Daily Reflections for Advent by Jack McArdle...
In our everyday world, each of us takes responsibility for our own preparations for Christmas. After all, in that everyday world, we have to do our own shoppping, buy our own gifts, put up the decorations, and set up the Christmas tree. It is precisely because of the pressures of all these chores that this book is prepared and presented. Jack McArdle presents here a short reflection for each day. While not claiming anything profound or original in these reflections, Jack hopes that a sentence here or there might stir up further reflection when the booklet has been laid aside. The second part contains a suggestion or two about someting that might get the reader's particular atteniton on that day. Jack avoided being too specific in these, trusting the goodwill of the reader to take the suggestions offered., and to mediate them down into the specific. To do so is the test of our sincerity. We all can be very good at generalities and, if sincerity is absent, we tend to remain at that stage. The final part of each day's offering is a short prayer.Once again, this is just intended as a kick-off point, from which further prayers and expressions of the same disposition might possibly come into the heart at a later time in the day. The words are not important; rather it is the intent contained in the words. Some of our 'better' prayers quite often don't require words.
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Words in due season... Mar 26, 2004
Jack McArdle's book, `Stepping Stones to Bethlehem', is a book to consider getting someone for an Advent gift - notice that I did not say Christmas gift, but rather Advent. How often do we rush through the Advent season without realising its presence? With advertising beginning as early as Halloween in some parts of the world, the rush toward the Christmas season seems to gather more and more steam each year; the traditions of Advent wreaths, carols and calendars seems to be a dying trend. McArdle's book is a welcome resource in the effort to take time to reflect on the importance of the season, the Advent season.
This is a book intended for daily reflection. Beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, McArdle follows the same basic pattern for most days: a brief meditation, a suggestion for action, and a prayer. The meditations are broad and ecumenical in approach - they do not require the reader to be Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. They are derived from many sources - reflections upon key issues and ideas (hope, journeys, speaking, even reflection itself); McArdle's own experiences (travels to the Holy Land, for example); or biblical themes and persons (the manger, the wise men, Mary). The very first reflection, for the first Sunday of Advent, is entitled `Waken up!', the call we have to keep watch and wait for the arrival, the Advent, of the Christ-child, the messiah, in Bethlehem. The days grow darker and colder until the noticeable light of Christmas morn; the final reflection is for Christmas day, a time of joy and celebration in community, that can be made richer from the experience of having journeyed through the season not just with the countdown of how-many-shopping-days left, but also how many days until the true Advent.
The actions after each reflection are simple but meaningful. Sometimes they call for silence and stillness, sometimes for more active and energetic things. Some are somewhat perplexing - for example, one action asks if you (the readers) have your baptismal certificates - not just know that you have had them, but actually have them, so you can see it, touch it, read it and understand it? How seriously do we take this symbol of faith? What does it mean that many of us (most of us, perhaps) don't have the document any more?
The prayers are heartfelt, meaningful and deeply moving. They are the kind that are tied to the reflection and action pieces, but also will do well as stand-alone prayers - I shall incorporate these prayers into my chaplaincy services next Advent season.
Setting a time for doing these readings, actions and prayers each day can help to develop a spiritual practice that can extend beyond the confines of the Advent season. It can be a gift to oneself, just as McArdle's gift of words and spirit are generous offerings to us as readers. The book itself is a mere 118 pages, small pages at that - the actual reading each day can less than five minutes time span, but this would be to deny oneself the richness of the experience of living the words into being. Just as the subject is the Incarnate Word, so too can these words become incarnate in our own lives by a prayerful reading, even a lectio divina.
Columba Press (name for St. Columba, 'the dove of the church') is a growing press based in Ireland, begun in 1985 with three titles relating to religious and spiritual themes. Since then, they have grown substantially and now publish across a broad range of areas, including pastoral resources, spirituality, theology, the arts, and history. With over 200 books in print, they add another 30 or so each year. Additionally, they are the British/Irish/European distributors for many other titles in the same fields.