Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, November 28, 2021

That breathless hush

Thursday November 25, 2021


Happy New Year!!! No, I haven’t been transported to some distant science-fiction planet – this Sunday is the beginning of the liturgical year for the Christian church in the western world. 

            To be more specific, it’s the first Sunday of Advent, the period preceding Christmas. Advent always starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Because Christmas comes on a Saturday this year, Advent is unusually long. 

            Of course, most churches in the western world use the Gregorian calendar, which begins the year on January 1. But… that’s not universal. Different cultures, and especially different religions, have their own calendars. 

            The Eastern Churches still follow the Julian calendar, devised by Caesar himself before he was assassinated, which sets Christmas on our January 7. Their Old New Year, therefore, waits until our January 14.

            The Baha’i religion follows the ancient Iranian calendar, which sets the New Year, or Nowruz, as March 20, 2022.

            Caution: I claim no expertise here – I glean these days from the internet, which is not always 100% reliable. 

            Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains begin their year with Diwali, October 24 this coming year. Although Vaisakhi, the anniversary of the founding of Sikhism in 1699, on April 14, also serves as the beginning of the Hindu solar year. 


A moment’s silence

            So why would the Christian year not simply match a calendar year?

            Because religions honour their tradition more than secular standards. So the Christian liturgical year doesn’t match the school year starting in September, the Gregorian year, or even the solar year, which would probably start on a solstice.

            A related question, then – why start with Advent?

            Imagine a concert. The orchestra has come out onto the stage. The string section has its bows ready. The brasses have taken a deep breath. The tympanist has her mallets poised. 

            A breathless hush hangs over the concert hall. Everyone waits for the baton to fall, for the music to start.

            That silence is crucial. 

            In the days before Covid-19 regulations drove choirs into hibernation, I learned that the rests, the silences, are just as important as the notes. When everyone is in full song, a wrong note may not be noticed.  But if anyone sings any note at all during a rest, it’s painfully obvious. 

            The rests were when the choir united. For that one instant, we stopped singing as one, we breathed as one, we began again as one. We were no longer a collection of diverse bodies. We became a single living breathing organism. 

            That, I think, was what author Fred Buechner meant in his adroit re-phrasing of a familiar cliché. He described the birth of Jesus, after Advent’s period of preparation, as the moment when “all heaven broke loose.”

            Maybe it’s hard to think of Advent as a breathless hush. Often, it feels more like frenzy. Christmas shopping. Desperate pleas to fund charities. Here in B.C., with our highways severed by storms, we contend with shortages of gasoline, vegetables, dairy products, and turkeys. Travel schedules become nightmares. 

            All the more reason to take a few minutes, every day, to practice silence. For a few moments each day, to hold our breath in anticipation, waiting for the moment when the baton drops, when all heaven breaks loose. 


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

            To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





This column has been delayed in its sending forth. I’ll explain why in next week’s Sharp Edges mailing. 


Most of you liked the thoughts on friendship, in last week’s column. 


Pastors, as John Shaffer noted, live in a difficult situation for making friends: “One of my church administrators advised us not to have close friendships within the churches we served.  At the time that seemed odd to me, as it was where our contacts were located.  I decided not to deny myself friendships if they became available.  In time, I learned the wisdom of his advice.  Some ‘friendships’ back-fired, when they made that friendship extra clear to my successors in ministry. 

            “When I retired and stayed in the church and community, one woman insisted on continuing to refer to me as her pastor, which made problems with my successor.  Finally she asked me what I wanted to be called and I said:  ‘Your holiness.’  She was then able to refer to me by my name:  John.  Victory at last.”


Heather Sandilands would agree: “I often lament I don't have a lot of friends, the way you describe. But a few is often enough.  I, too, moved around a great deal, making and releasing friends along the way.  I am very grateful for Facebook because I have reconnected with real friends from my past... it's like we picked up from where we left off.”


Bob Rollwagen: “Friends can be for life and always be arms-length. Last weekend I linked with two classmates for the 1970s, one in Eastern Poland and the other in Thunder Bay, Canada. We caught up on family gossiping, tales about others in BC and LA. It was fun. Occasionally I visit a pre-teen childhood friend in my home town when I visit family. We enjoy memories of wilderness camping and canoeing and many other mutual or personal circumstances. There are church friends, theatre friends, music friends, cottage friends and even colleagues that have become friends. 

            “Many of these groups cross or have shared interests. Often we dine together, or FaceTime because COVID makes virtual necessary. All my friends are vaccinated and wear masks as required. I am sure that is not the only reason I see them as friends.”


Bob Mason: “American pastor and author, John Zehring, reports how an English magazine offered a prize for the best definition of Friend. The winning entry was " A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out".

            “He also notes that the Native American word for friend means "One who carries my sorrows on his back," while a small boy said "A friend is someone who knows all about you, and likes you just the same".  And Jennie Churchill is said to have taught her son Winston, "Treat your friends as you do your pictures. and place them in their best light."

            “Each of these descriptions can be applied to Jesus, as our best friend.”


Steve Roney took a different view: “I certainly agree with you that friendship is important, However, if you, with John Macmurray, are saying that friendship is what Jesus was referring to as the Kingdom of God, I’m not with you. 

            “Friendship is certainly not the only human experience that can appear at any moment, yet is already here and known. 

            “Friendship does not seem to require God to incarnate and die for us. Friendship is familiar to all mankind. The oldest known connected narrative, the Epic of Gilgamesh, is largely the story of a friendship, between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Nothing new about the Gospel, then.”


Isabel Gibson got it: “That's a lovely concept -- friendship as (an expression of) the kingdom.

            “My second-longest-standing friend's mother had all sorts of friends into her old age: old friends, of course, but also newer ones with whom she worked on crossword puzzles on the phone, or went for coffee with, or saw at church, or, or, or. 

            “She got it.”


And Tom Watson applied my thoughts to his own recent experience: “I lost four close, long-time friends last year. I know about the ache of absence. One's no longer there to text back and forth during a baseball game. One's no longer there to play band gigs with. One's no longer there as a bridge partner. One's no longer there to talk computer lingo with. It underlines the importance of making new friends as we go along.”




Psalm paraphrase


Abraham bargained with God to try to save the people of Sodom. Moses talked God out of destroying the Israelites, by persuading God that the Egyptians would consider God a failure if the Israelites died in the desert. Obviously, it's okay to argue with God. Like a skilled negotiator or a lawyer, we must be ready to use all the tactics available to us. So here’s another version of Psalm 25.


1          To you, Lord, I plead my case.

2          I trust you, God; don't let me down.
You won't let me make a fool of myself.
Lord, don't let others lord it over me. 

3          You wouldn't humiliate your loyal helpers, would you?
Save your heavy hand for those who don't care about you.


4          I want to be your friend, Lord.
 want to do things your way. 

5          So take my hand, and lead me through life's potholes and pitfalls.
You are the only one who can save me;
You are what I have been looking for, all my life. 


6          Don't do it just for my sake.
Do it for your own reputation as a loving God.

7          Don't count my past mistakes against me.
Be true to yourself -- you are a loving God,
so show me love, lord of my life. 


8          Because you are perfect, you can take pity on less perfect people;

9          You can train the fumble-footed to follow your footsteps. 

10        Your ways all lead to love and faithfulness,
And those who keep faith with you will not forget it.


You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.





If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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            I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of the web links.

            Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



            I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: New Year, Advent, baton

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