The Exchange by Steve Bell

Advent, a season of renunciation? Yes – and for a very good reason. In this third Advent meditation, Steve Bell makes a thoughtful exploration of the path leading up to a meaningful Christmas, a reflection that has its musical expression in the song “Fashion for Me,” which appears in his excellent Advent-Christmas-Epiphany album Keening for the Dawn. I am very appreciative of Steve’s contributions to Hieropraxis this season. You can read the first and second ones here, and a fascinating account here of how the Keening for the Dawn album came to be - as part of a collaboration with Malcolm Guite, whose sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons has also just been published.

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The Exchange by Steve Bell

Recently I have found myself to be  increasingly alienated (emotionally and spiritually) from the whole Advent / Christmas season.Last fall, I picked up and started reading a book of daily reflections called Divine Intimacy – Meditations on the Interior Life For Every Day of the Liturgical Year.  The book is a gift from a friend and the reflections begin with Advent season. I don’t usually find these sorts of books to be all that helpful, but I was looking for something to bridge the gulf in a meaningful way, so I began to read.

I was quite surprised by the first week of readings. They didn’t focus on the coming Christ at all; no swaddling, no cooing, no announcing, singing, reveling; no prescription for ritual candle lighting or wreath making. Rather, the language was of abnegation and renunciation. The author, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, is steeped in an older, almost forgotten tradition which understands Advent almost like it does Lent  as a somber season of preparation that begins with a fearless inventory and renunciation of inordinate attachments for the sake of a greater love. There was nothing warming or comforting about these readings.

Most great gains require the renunciation of lesser ones. This is particularly evident in sports where elite athletes will forswear certain pleasures and privileges (food, drink, etc.) in order to achieve an athletic goal. We also know this from marriage. My youngest son got married last weekend. Among other things, marriage recognizes that there is a level of love and intimacy that is only possible by renouncing all others. My wife and I proudly witnessed my son “forsake all others” so that he may gain his beloved. Sadly, this means a certain forsaking of us, his parents. He will no longer live in our home and animate our lives with his affection, escapades and humor. Something has been lost so that a greater good may occur.

It is similar with the acquisition of Christ. It begins with renunciation of all other attachments. We must forswear the lesser attachments that fragment us, and recollect ourselves in order to present ourselves wholly to Christ; only then will his coming (the gift of himself) have much meaning. If Christmas is really an exchange, which I believe it is, it is important to understand that we can’t give away what we don’t possess.

Years ago, I wrote in a song:


Fashion for me a desert of peace

A land that is empty of endless disease

With no-one to suffer, hate or appease

With nothing to covet, desire or compete

But You alone.

CS Lewis once famously quipped, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Perhaps, the recovery of a meaningful Christmas requires that I first step away from the crowd of distractions to do a fearless inventory of disordered affections,  and then  follow with a sincere renunciation of those affections for the sake of a much higher love, that is, Christ. Coupled with earnest prayer that God will indeed recollect my fragmented soul so that I may, having full possesion, give it away, Christmas may yet offer an exchange of love beyond what we can imagine.


complete lyric:



music and lyric Steve Bell

Fashion for me a desert of peace

A land that is empty of endless disease

With  no-one to suffer hate or appease

With nothing to covet, desire or compete

But you  alone


Grant to me lord by your sovereign hand

To wander forever in this boundless land

Where all of my yearnings  fears and demands

Are abandoned and lost  to the great desert sands

Surrounding me


Fashion for me a desert of peace

Where Father, Son and Spirit meet

Together as one, together release me

Free from sin, to enter in to life forever more



Fashion for us a  city of love

Where the lamb and the lion together lie down*

Where all of the long-lost pilgrims are found

Rejoicing in song for the Savior is crowned

As Lord and King


Grant to us lord by your sovereign hand

A city of joy in the heart of the land

A home for the weary alien man

The fatherless children, the widow who’s hands

Are tired and worn


Fashion for us a city of love

Where Father, Son and Spirit live

Together as one, together allow us

Free to take, and celebrate the life forever more



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