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An early hand-coloured engraving of a carnationHallo again to all.

The colour purple* is traditionally used in churches during the season of Advent, representing the coming kingdom of Christ. Purple, a royal colour, was costly to produce and rare. Purple seemed a natural pairing of colour and concept.

But Advent, despite its emphasis on the parousia and the Four Last Things, isn't usually treated as a sort of stand-alone liturgical season as much as it perhaps should be. It's inextricably linked to Christmastide, to Our Lord's incarnation. If we were writing the Anglican Liturgical Colouring Book, we'd be inclined to assign incarnadine as the seasonal colour of Advent. Incarnadine is a sort of crimson colour, like blood. On the basis of its etymology alone — caro being Latin for flesh — it seems right as a visible herald of the incarnation.

We're firmly of the persuasion that Advent in not a penitential season, but a solemn meditative one. As such, we see a value in holding in mind the astounding concept of incarnation throughout Advent — in addition to grand but somewhat remote themes of Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. Incarnadine, the word, the colour, for us holds the tension of Advent: the waiting, the watching, the anticipation of a birth, the foreknowledge of a death. Incarnadine signifies both the blood of birth and death and heralds not only Our Lord's nativity but His Good Friday as well.

If Christmastide ought to be the time to celebrate the fulness of the incarnation, that blessed season seems far too short and far too rightly merry to encompass all the facets of incarnation. If we can't help borrowing some of Advent's Kingdom to anticipate Bethlehem's manger (What are the O Antiphons but an extended and beautiful count-down?), perhaps we could blur the mysterious royal purple of Advent into a crimson magenta incarnadine as the days grow nearer to that wondrous birth. And if there is an Advent flower, surely it should be the spicy deep clove-scented carnation...

My father at the dictionary-stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand

His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word "Carnation." Then he bends

So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word
As if he touched a single key and heard

A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
"The obligation due to everything
That's smaller than the universe." I bring

My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle's eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly

Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study's gloom
Where, as scholar bends about a tomb

To read what's buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch "Beloved" X by X
My dangerous, bright needle's point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

I cannot read. My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as "Christ's flowers" knowing I

Can give no explanation but "Because."
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does

Where following each X I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads "A pink variety of Clove,

Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,

He turns the page to "Clove" and reads aloud:
"The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud."
Then twice, as if he hasn't understood,

He reads, "From French, for clou, meaning a nail."
He gazes, motionless, "Meaning a nail."
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,

I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth "Beloved," but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,

The needle strikes my finger to the bone,
I lift my hand, it is myself I've sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,

I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, "Daddy Daddy"—
My father's hand touches the injury

As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ's when I was four.

Supernatural Love
by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

See you next week.

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Last updated: 11 December 2005

*Some churches choose to use Sarum blue during Advent.

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