Advent 2015: Greetings from the desert

December 14, 2015

East Longmeadow United Methodist Church member Theda Cornbower shares “season’s greetings from the desert” telling the story of Advent at this Massachusetts church.

The sanctuary in East Longmeadow UMC has been transformed into a desert, complete with sand dunes, cacti, and desert animals for the Advent Season. The Advent wreath is depicted by cascading rocks holding the Advent candles.
Why a desert? Rev. Kelly Turney, pastor at ELUMC, in the December Methodist Messenger (the church’s newsletter) explains it best:

“The biblical people find themselves in deserts quite often—be it literal ones like Sinai, where the people of faith wandered for forty years asking, ‘What will become of us?’ Or the more metaphoric ones, like the time Jacob used a rock for a pillow and dreamed of visiting angels, or those times of exile when their temple home was destroyed, or the wilderness where Jesus was driven and ministered to it. But we, also, have had our desert experiences.

“Can the holidays with its cheer and festivities be its own kind of desert?  Do the trappings of the season satisfy or is there a need to clear away the clutter and excess and seek a more barren landscape?  Is there wisdom and refreshment to be found in a more arid place?

”This Advent, we hear from the ancient tradition of the Desert Monastics speaking to our life today. The Desert Fathers and Mothers, who lived in the Egyptian wastelands in the 4th & 5th centuries have come to be seen as the Olympians of the spiritual life. They are a powerful source of Christian wisdom and the companion to our own Advent spiritual journey.”

The children have searched this unusual desert for the seven different animals hiding among the dunes.  Each week Armadillo Ray “chats” with the children and an animal from this desert as they try to understand the moon. The children are enchanted.
Marian Tombri designed and is working on the sand mandala.
Worshipers are invited to participate slowly, deliberately, meditatively in creating a community sand mandala in the Chapel throughout Advent. Mandala, which means “circle,” is an ancient symbol representing the universe.  Sand mandalas, part of the Tibetan culture, are not only lovely and colorful pieces of art, they are also meaningful offerings that ponder and celebrate the beauty of existence. They remind us that the winds of change are always present, that nothing is set in stone. Once finished, it will be swirled away and the grains of sand will be captured in prayer jars. Marian Tombri designed the mandala.

Pastor Kelly has also extended an invitation for all persons to take an oasis of breathing room and refreshment in the desert landscape of busy-ness this season.  On Thursday mornings they meet at a local coffee shop for the spiritual doodling practice Zentangle. This easy-to-learn, contemplative art offers a fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns.

As Pastor Kelly said, “If we imagine ourselves as a nomadic people traveling together to visit the Christ child born anew into this world, we will know the saving grace of a power beyond us, among us, and within us.”  

The desert at first glance appears to be an arid, barren place; if we but take the time to search we will find solace there, we will find beauty blooming there. That’s why we have a desert at East Longmeadow UMC for the Advent season.