Friday, November 30, 2012

More of the basic procedures with the Advent Jesse Tree

Evening by evening, after you light the candle(s) near your Jesse Tree, consider doing the following:

·      Either recite this brief prayer:
o  Parent: You, O Lord, are my lamp.
o  Children: My God, you make my darkness bright.

or try singing an Advent hymn (you could look for online versions of any of the following: "Come, O come, Emmanuel"; "Come, thou long-expected Jesus"; "The King shall come when morning dawns"; "On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry")

·      Read the day’s story aloud to your children. As they get older, you may want to switch to reading the original stories from the Bible.

·      Ask one of the children to hang the appropriate symbol.  If you have several children, you can alternate who lights candles, who hangs a symbol, who does the closing blessing, who puts out the candle.  Try to include everyone each evening.

·      After hanging the day’s symbolic ornament, say the following brief blessing:

o  Parent: In this Advent season, Lord, help us to hear and heed these stories as we prepare for the Holy Birth on Christmas.
o  Child: God bless us all. Amen.

·      Put out the candles, unless you want to leave them burning until bedtime and ask one of the children extinguish them then.

Note: Don’t feel you have to do every reading, or that you have to follow this particular set of rituals. Find your own comfort level, using this simply as a resource to develop your own family activities.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Zeke and the Jesse Tree

By looking at our cat Zeke trying to steal ornaments, you can get a sense of the size of the branch we use for our Jesse Tree, and some of our rather primitive symbols.  Years ago when our children were young, one of their friends looked at the dead branch with its paper ornaments and asked in horror, "Is that your Christmas tree?" Micah explained that no, this was a Jesse Tree, not a Christmas tree, and proceeded to share some of the stories that went with the symbols. Later, when he was in an 8th grade Humanities class, he aced work on Judeo-Christian Scriptures because he already knew all the stories. 

What to Do: Basic Procedures for Creating an Advent Jesse Tree

If this is the first year you create a Jesse Tree, you’ll need to make the symbolic ornaments to hang on the “tree”, either day by day or in a marathon crafts session.  I’ll offer potential symbols for each story, but you might want to come up with your own; many families use a rainbow for Noah's story, for example, but one of my sons loves animals so we had giraffes.  To make the symbols, we used colored construction paper and felt tipped pens, or cut out and glued felt, or we used found materials.  For Isaac's sticks, for example, we bundled a small bunch of twigs together, and for Rahab's cord, we used a piece of red ribbon.  You can’t get it wrong.

Go for a walk with your children to look for a branch from a bush or tree that you can "plant" in a flower pot filled with sand or place in a sturdy vase. On the first night of Advent, or on whatever night you begin, instead of hanging a symbol on the Jesse Tree you will "plant" it. 

Then each night, light a candle or two near where you put the Jesse Tree and tell one of the stories.  (If you are comfortable doing so, have one of the children light the candle, but keep it far enough away from the tree to avoid a fire.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

GETTING READY FOR CHRISTMAS: practicing faith at home during Advent

When my kids were little, the Jesse Tree ritual helped counter the cultural pressure to see Christmas as nothing but "What do I get? What will be under the tree for me?"

By making "ornaments" to symbolize stories from Scripture and then hanging them on a small branch we cut ahead of time, we found the Jesse Tree to be a family ritual which gave the gift of Scripture to our children and allowed the old stories to etch themselves into their memories. It's a fine companion to the traditional Advent Calendar, an additional buffer to the commercial kidnapping of Christmas.

Incorporating the Jesse Tree into Advent simply involves retelling a story from Scripture each day (or on those days you can make time) during Advent, and then making some sort of symbol to represent that story (an "ornament") to hang on the branch. Our "ornaments" were construction paper, or felt and glue, or found objects -- we were not an artistic bunch. Some families create much more elaborate (or at least attractive) Jesse Tree ornaments. Note the photo of our Jesse Tree -- and be convinced that even the artistically challenged can do this, or be inspired to, um, do better.

The human need for ritual and for story runs deep; as parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends, we should meet that need in our children, and the Advent season provides a time when sensitivity to story is heightened even in secular circles.  Think, for example, how many "old favorite" movies and cartoon specials are repeated on television year after year during Advent.

Madeleine L'Engle used to talk about the ancient magic of telling stories around tribal fires at night. Even within our contemporary homes, we can recreate this sense of awe and wonder.  The Jesse Tree ritual of lighting a candle and telling a story unites those participating.  The more ritual and story we can incorporate into family life, the deeper the sense of community we share with one another.  Psychotherapist Thomas Moore says "increase of imagination is always an increase in soul," and by enlivening our children's imaginations with these ancient stories we can help them see themselves as part of God's ongoing creation, as part of salvation history.

In the days ahead, I'll do more to explain the process of creating a Jesse Tree, and then through Advent provide brief retellings of stories from Scripture to share with our children.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Star of Wonder display at Maine's Diocesan Convention -- and a happy customer! The book was a bestseller at the Cathedral Shop during Convention, and some of the kids attending had fun with the coloring pages from the website -- you can see some of them on the table display. My favorite comments came from those who recognized the book's message that God is always with us, no matter how old we get to be. That seems a good reminder during these days of recovery from the hurricane, and as we prepare for a national election.