Advent Resolutions

In yesterday’s news: A new microwave technique will kill spores and keep bread mould-free for sixty days. Americans throw out 40 percent of the food they buy, including 33 percent of the bread.

The Euro zone unemployment rate has reached 11.7 percent, a new high. But the inflation rate dropped 0.3 percent in November. The German Bundestag approved a 44-billion Euro bailout for Greece by a vote of 473 to 100 with 11 abstentions. Ice sheet melting has raised world sea levels by between 7.3 and 14.9 millimeters since 1992.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, age 63, will pay out $6 million to a New York hotel maid, age 33, to settle her civil suit. At least 66 people died from 4 bombings in 3 cities around Iraq.

There’s more. The U.S. birth rate fell 8 percent between 2007 and 2010, overall, but 14 percent among foreign-born, and 23 percent among Mexican immigrant women. In 2010, it was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. It was 122.7 in 1957.

And that was the BBC. I hadn’t got to the news aggregators yet, being distracted. There were urgent emails; my website was under cyber-attack; the phone was ringing. My neighbor’s snooze-control works: the alarm goes off at 10-minute intervals, for hours. Is she in Florida, or should I call an ambulance? One email list to which I mistakenly subscribed offered the latest numbers from a “world freedom index.”

Gentle reader may perhaps detect non sequiturs in the narrative above (non sequituri?) – unless my argument is about what happens when one gets up in the morning, in which case everything follows naturally. Yesterday was the Feast of Saint Andrew, and tomorrow will be the first Sunday in Advent. Let us try to make sense.

For the Christian liturgical year is re-starting. Some decades ago, on the analogy of the secular New Year, I took it into my head to make annual resolutions each year on Saint Andrew’s. Partly, my reasoning was “Scotch,” and practical: better if Advent follows, than the New Year’s binge. One’s resolutions may have a chance of lasting through the first night.

Like most people, perhaps, I make approximately the same resolutions each year. And this, even though I resolved, around 1992, to make no resolutions about drinking or smoking or eating. Such resolutions are tawdry, I resolved. They play into the culture, in which guilt associated with dieting has replaced guilt associated with sin.

Resolutions should instead be directed towards personal behavior that is morally rather than physically deleterious. That in turn will help focus the mind on objects other than social disapproval. For given a culture like this, who needs social approval?

        Lancelot Andrewes, English School, c. 1660

Sound the gong for a subtlety here. One should, I am persuaded not only by my conscience but by my priest, try to avoid giving scandal. For if one is known to be “a Catholic,” one might just possibly have some slight exemplary influence on others reviewing their own denominational status, and should not go out of one’s way to give Catholics a bad name.

This alas cuts across my native mischievousness, which likes to leave an impression of scandal even where there is none in fact. (I inherited this from my father, whose indifference to public opinion was heroic.)

So let us consider a resolution inoffensive, yet not prim: “In the next year, I will try to ignore numbers.” Some may well prove impossible to ignore, and the perfect may be the enemy of the good. The telephone number to my ancient mama’s bedside should be remembered. Bank statements should be occasionally reviewed. The calendar itself contains numbers, and appointments are expressed in times of day.

One needs to specify disregard for the gratuitous numbers that fill one’s head from media and Internet: the ungodly “vision of the world” in which truth is statisticized. Through bad habit, one unconsciously buys into this vision of the world, in which death itself is replaced by numbers.

In my line of being, for reasons too boring to relate, it is not really practical to ignore the news entirely. But in the very reading of the news, a resolved, consciously enforced, growing disregard for numbers would be useful.

Quite apart from transferring one’s attention from what the media reveal to what they conceal (most even of diurnal reality), there is the moral issue of dependency: that craving for more numbers, numbers, numbers that corrupts the soul. Worse than “licker” or “backy” or saturated fats, it addles reason.

Conversely, where numbers are unavoidable, make them count.

Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline – to say nothing of Matins and the night watches. Somewhere in the monasteries, we believe on fairly good information, the Liturgia Horarum is still sung, descending from the Desert Fathers of Egypt.

As an Anglican, years ago, I became intensely aware of these Hours, my imagination captured by the Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes. His comprehensive prayer, entitled “The Dial,” constructed entirely from Biblical passages and the old Greek Horologion, reviews the times of day mentioned in the life of Our Lord. It still wheels through my head. It begins, in the Brightman translation: “Thou who hast put the times and seasons in thine own power: grant that we make our prayer unto Thee in a time convenient and when Thou mayest be found, / and save us.”

Most of us do not live in monasteries. Some of us do not even get to Mass every day. Yet, as I found making resolutions many Advents ago, it is possible so to arrange one’s daily schedule that the Hours serve as breaks or bookmarks, and are acknowledged if only in one-sentence prayers.

Each year, it seems, I resolve anew to better organize myself around this temporal scheme, by which, even if they are inaudible, the bells from Christendom can still be heard.


David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: