A Universal Plea
Prayer is our topic for this series of discussions during Advent and while we may think of prayer as a purely religious thing, history bears witness that it really is something else. In its simplest definition, prayer is an entreaty, a plea, a request. What makes it different from any other request is that a prayer has a level of earnestness associated with it. Earnestness is not a word used much these days and yet, it is a word that is changing the course of history and has for thousands of years.
We are only two days into this series and I have already received my first question about it. Thank you for reading and for your questions! The purpose of this blog is to start conversations, dialogues about life and how we live. Thusly, I really do welcome and encourage all questions. This one was really quite simple – Why discuss prayer during Advent? The answer, like my decision on this topic, was not as easy as one might deduce.
Calendars are organizational tools and the church calendar is no different. The Roman calendar eventually had twelve months in it, an evolution of other calendars tried throughout the history of the Roman Empire. The Hebrew calendar has thirteen months in it. The difference between the two is that the Roman calendar was based on the sun while the Hebrew calendar was based on the moon. If one assumes a month is four weeks long, then a year of 52 weeks divides into thirteen months very easily. Of course, the year being 365 days means that those 52 weeks are not going to encompass all the days. That is why some months on the Roman calendar were longer than others and the decision of which months were longer was often based on politics.
The Church calendar, the calendar I use for divisions of topics for this blog, is based upon both the Roman and Hebrew calendars. It relies on changes in both the moon and the sun. Christmas, the date of December 25th, was determined based on the Winter Solstice. During the earliest years of the Church, it occurred on December 25th. It was considered the birth of the sun because, after the Winter Solstice, the days grow longer and the sun would appear to ancient man to grow. For the early Christian Church, a group of Jewish believers who recognized the man known as Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah and Christ, the son of God, the symbolism between the natural “sun” and the religious “son” was too good to ignore. In more modern times the date of the Winter Solstice occurs between December 21-23 but is now beginning to move earlier to include December 20th. Christmas, however, has remained a fixed date on December 25th.
There are remnants of the Hebrew calendar still evident in the modern calendar, however. Easter is not a fixed date and changes every year. The date for Easter is based upon the phases of the moon. Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Vernal Equinox or Spring Solstice. The Jewish festival of Passover is also celebrated during this time.
Advent is the season on the church calendar that precedes Christmas. It is the first season of the calendar and the name of it means “coming”. It may seem a contradiction in terms since most people think of Advent as the season in which we prepare for the coming of Jesus and his birth at Christmas but Advent is the season which is most closely related to the Hebrew people. It is during Advent that we recognize and remember with our own Advent rituals the yearning of the Jewish people as they awaited their promised Messiah.
Not everyone who reads this blog is either Jewish or Christian and I am very grateful for that. This has theological overtones as well as spiritual discussions but I hope it reflects the universality of the human race. Not all of my closest friends have had the same religious affiliation that I do and some have had none at all. I firmly and decidedly believe that such affiliations do not make us good people. That is determined by how we live, how we treat others.
We all have our own uniqueness but we also all have a great deal in common. I think we can all think of some time in our life where we needed help; maybe even a time when we really, really needed help. It is those moments of request, earnest and heartfelt requesting that unite us. We all get hungry, cold, scared, and even sick. We also all are born with the ability to experience happiness and joy. Regretfully, while we all experience the conditions of need, not everyone gets a chance to experience the conditions of positive emotion.
A prayer is not just a question for aid. A prayer is not always in the form of a question at all. At times, a prayer is a cry for help, earnest and immediate. It can also be an exclamation of gratitude, although some would say such prayers are accompanied by hidden requests that such good times continue. There are also prayers of remembrance and again one might say they carry a subconscious hope that the person praying is also remembered by the deity to whom the prayer is offered.
One of the hallmarks of the Advent season in the liturgical services is this opening sentence: “Lord, open our lips”. As a child, I can remember thinking “But if you do, Lord, I am going to get in trouble.” A small child talking during the church service was not encouraged, you see. How often do we think a similar thought, I wonder? Not about a deity but about our fellow man? If we open our lips and lives to really live our faith, do we fear being denounced by society? A fashion trend is simply a habit that has caught on and become popular. What is we made being nice and living goodness a fashion trend?
There are, of course, other opening sentences used for Advent. Two of the most common include one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. There is no other place one can go for so many prayers of antiquity than the book known as the Bible which contains both the Old and New Testaments.
“Watch, for you do not know the hour…when…cometh. (Mark 13:35, 36) “In the wilderness, prepare the way…” (Isaiah 40:3) These are the two often-used opening sentences, although I have not quoted them in their entirety here. We all have needed help at some time and been scared. Prayer is the first reaction for most in those situations. It is a universal response mankind has engaged in since the beginning of time. We need to watch because we do not know what tomorrow holds, or even twelve hours from now. We need to live goodness and mercy because we all at some point in our life feel we are stuck in a wilderness of sorts.
Advent is about earnest yearnings and the requests of our hearts. Advent is a time of preparing, not just for the coming of Christmas but for the rest of our lives. During this series we will discuss prayer in the form of dance, of jewelry, of art, and of our souls. We all have hopes. We all have dreams. Far too often we go through life thinking about what we do not have instead of what we do. Prayer is also about gratitude, a gratitude that lets us recognize our own potential. Advent is a time of prayer because prayer is a universal plea that comes from the soul. It is something we have in common, the fact that we all have a time in which we will utter a universal plea to that which we feel but cannot fully see, that we can feel but cannot create on our own. Advent recognizes the human in all of us and the need for humanity in the world.