In the weeks leading up to Christmas, encompassing the season we call Advent, our scripture readings at Mass have for centuries inspired some of the world’s most famous paintings. Every significant artist has tackled at one time or another the biblical scenes of Mary and the Annunciation, the Visitation, the shepherds in the fields, Joseph’s dream, the nativity, hosts of angels in the sky, and on and on.
These paintings touch our souls spiritually in a way that words can never do. But when combined with the actual scriptures or reflections on them, they offer a powerfully straight path into our hearts for the Spirit to enter.
Many of us use the season of Advent to practice some form of daily spiritual prayer or contemplation. The number of resources to help are infinite. Today, I’d like to talk about a couple new resources (both published by Novalis) that use both the printed word and the visual to help us enter more deeply into our relationship with God and truly prepare our hearts for the coming of His Son.
One of our Novalis annual resources that sometimes gets taken for granted is called Word Made Flesh: Daily Reflections for Advent. This year, the author, Les Miller, has taken the daily Advent reflections a step further by combining them with selections of famous paintings and offering us a short form of Lectio Divina (literally, holy reading).
Images from Henry Ossawa Tanner (Annunciation), Luca Giordano (The Dream of St. Joseph), Sassoferrato (Madonna in Prayer), Guido Reni (St. Joseph and the Christ Child), Peter Brueghel the Younger (Census at Bethlehem), Domenico Ghirlandaio (The Visitation) and Georges de la Tour (Adoration of the Shepherds) offer a powerful focus for our own contemplation of the incredible nature of God’s gift to the world. Miller ties these images to his own reflections on the daily readings to prod us into a deeper understanding of the Divine.
Miller goes a step further, however, by reminding us that we have just gone through the Year of St. Joseph. The perspective of Jesus’s father on earth brings a more human dimension to the events surrounding the story of Christ’s birth.
Michael McGirr uses more prosaic imagery to underline his seasonal reflections in Doorways into Hope and Joy at Advent and Christmas. This 96-page book includes colourful, quirky and often arresting photos of the quotidian such as doors, mail boxes, windows, etc., to provide different perspectives for considering the message of the Gospel.
By tying the divine to the daily stuff of our lives, McGirr seeks to give us new portals into the divine relationship. Each door (of all kinds for each day of the Advent and Christmas season) reveals a simple experience and asks us to recognize the many ways in which God can enter into our lives.
Each of these resources requires a small commitment of 10 to 15 minutes a day in which we pull away from the business of our lives and give this sweet time of prayer and contemplation wholly over to the spiritual part of our beings. They can be an inspiring and welcoming way to keep the joy and hope of Immanuel in the centre of our lives.
Joseph Sinasac is Publishing Director at Novalis. He has been involved with religious communications for more than 40 years as an author, journalist, editor and TV and radio commentator on all things Catholic. He continues to be excited by the commitment and passion of the Catholics he meets in his daily work.