Book review: ‘Oriens: A Pilgrimage Through Advent and Christmas 2022’
“Oriens: A Pilgrimage Through Advent and Christmas 2022.” By Father Joel Sember. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2022. 352 pages. Paperback: $19.95; Kindle: $14.99; ebook: $14.99.
Given the rush and noise that our culture expects of us in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I usually make a point each year of seeking out a source for Advent meditations; for me, it’s important to spend time in calm and quiet in order to appreciate the true meaning of the season.
In the past, the sources I have discovered have been good, but brief. Generally, they include a Scripture passage, a short prayer and perhaps a question or two to ponder, and they take up very little space on the corner of my desk.
So imagine my surprise – and ultimate delight – when I discovered “Oriens: A Pilgrimage Through Advent and Christmas” by Father Joel Sember. This edition, for 2022, is the latest in a series that Father Sember has written, and it is unlike any book of Advent meditations that I have ever experienced.
To begin with, it is more than 300 pages long (so much for brief.) Secondly, it doesn’t stop at Christmas Day, but continues throughout the entire Christmas season until the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2 (long after the culture has moved on to Valentine’s Day decorations on the shelves.) And finally, rather than present the reader with pre-packaged meditations, prayers and questions, Father Sember allows plenty of time and space to discover our own thoughts and conversations with God, which the reader is encouraged to write down. In effect, Father Sember leads the readers to compose their own book of meditation.
Did I say readers? This book is more of a pilgrimage, and if you choose to use it during Advent and Christmas, you actually become a pilgrim on the way. That part is no accident. In his introduction, Father Sember explains his own experience with pilgrimage; while still a seminarian, he walked the Camino Portugues, the shorter version of the famous 500- mile Camino de Santiago that runs across Spain to the burial place of St. James the Apostle. It was, for him, a life-changing experience. “A walking pilgrimage is about more than the destination,” he says, “it’s a journey of the heart. It changes you in ways you never expected.”
It is an experience he shares in this book. “We all struggle with Advent,” he admits. “The Church is telling us to slow down, but the world is telling us, ‘Hurry up’.” The point of ‘Oriens’ is to help us reduce our speed and take the season one step at a time. “Think of this book as a Camino guidebook,” he explains. “It will show you how to step off the busy Christmas bus and walk the Advent road one day at a time. You will learn that Advent and Christmas are more than a destination; they involve a journey of the heart.”
As in the previous editions, Father Sember begins by teaching the reader how to pray using lectio divina as well as imaginative prayer. He also includes Scripture passages – although, he admits, some of them may be a bit unexpected – and different biblical figures as companions along the way. Even though the reader is encouraged to “walk” the entire ten weeks with him, Father Sember also notes that “it’s your journey and you can quit any time.” However, he also points out the benefits of completing as much of the walk as possible, especially days and weeks that take place after Christmas. “We need those extra days,” he says. “None of the people who saw the Christ Child in person understood the true meaning of Christmas. It was only in the days and years afterward that the “dawn from on high” began to rise in their hearts.”
In the end, the book is what you make of it. “We each make our own journey,” he concludes, “and every journey is unique, but no one walks alone. Buen Camino!”
Father Joel Sember was ordained a priest in 2007 for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He has extensive experience as a parish priest and two years of service in campus ministry. He made a 30-day Ignatian silent retreat and later completed the Spiritual Direction Training Program through the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska. He has completed a dozen walking pilgrimages. He currently serves as pastor in the Antigo Area Catholic Churches, Wisconsin.