Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas! It's here!

Christ of the cosmos, living Word,
come to heal and save...
Incognito, in our streets,
beneath the concrete,
between the cracks,
behind the curtains,
within the dreams,
in ageing memories,
in childhood wonder,
in secret ponds, in broken hearts,
in Bethlehem stable,
still small voice,
Word of God, amongst us.

-- Brian Woodcock & Jan Pickard

With great love and hope, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent's four essential truths

It's happening. We're here. The fourth week of Advent. For me the season rode in smoothly, not at all like a bumpy donkey ride or a nighttime flight by foot. I sang in a choir, sent Christmas cards early, enjoyed my tree, shopped for simple gifts, and reflected a lot about a good many things.

So before we're all swept away in the holiday hubbub, I just wanted to share the four essential truths I encountered throughout the season (my own emphases added). They paused me when I needed contemplation, prodded me when I needed action.

Like digesting that inadequacy is no barrier for God:
I myself am very glad that the divine child was born in a stable, because my soul is very much like a stable, filled with strange unsatisfied longings, with guilt and animal-like impulses, tormented by anxiety, inadequacy and pain. If the Holy One could be born in such a place, that One can be born in me also. I am not excluded. -- Morton Kelsey
Or considering that from insecurity comes strength:
Every birth is an unequivocal "yes" to life. We enter the complexities on earth without any assurance that our lives will be smooth and we won't have difficulties. We don't know whether we will have a disability, experience the trauma of an earthquake or fire, or struggle with addiction, or feel deep loneliness. Yet in spite of the insecurities, the unknowns, all the possible things, that could go wrong, we are somehow willing to risk for life, we are willing to risk for love. Today, in the midst of the busyness of Christmas preparations, take a moment to appreciate the courage it takes to say yes. -- Patrice J. Tuohy
Or practicing the discipline of intentional silence:
In the midst of all the holiday business and drama these five simple and profound phrases from a woman who lives in Cairo, Egypt should give us pause, or maybe even better a jolt, to our souls.

“Silence your body to listen to words.
“Silence your tongue to listen to thoughts.
“Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart beating.
“Silence your heart to listen to your spirit.
“Silence your spirit to listen to His Spirit.”

-- Le padre ver livre, quoting Mama Maggie Gobran
Or simply remembering -- grasping? -- our full worth and potential in God's eyes:
... All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. -- Luke 1:65-66 (about the birth of John the Baptist)
Maybe these excerpts can do the same for you in these waning Advent days. Happy waiting, y'all. But even happier realizing.

Prayer #193: Soulstice

In these, the final midnight moments of a waiting season, let's not rush the revelation. Instead, let's carry our blankets to the hilltop and stake out seats to watch the sun steal over the horizon, ray by piercing ray, until our eyes water from its brilliance and we forget that it was ever dark or that we were ever cold.

For You are almost here, and we are almost ready.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

My raging case of Christmas Guilt

Christmas Guilt. It starts with a gentle call to notice and participate in good acts around us ...

... grows into a pointed urge to drop the emphasis on "stuff" ...

... and ends with a hands-on-hips, face-the-music, flame-throwing appeal to let go of our material dependency and re-focus on the greater call of the season.

Here's how my internal thought process goes at this time of year after watching videos like these:
  • Hi Conscience, this is Brain.
  • Oh hey.
  • So, I contributed to Adopt-a-Family at church and made a couple year-end donations ... I'm good, right?
  • Well, how much did you spend on that vs. what you spent in gifts for family, friends, and Fella?
  • Does that matter?
  • I think it does.
  • I don't think it's any of your business.
  • Fine.
  • (awkward silence) It's about more than money, anyway. I also listened exclusively to religious music and spent quality time with my loved ones. And I wasn't extravagant -- definitely stayed within my means.
  • The same means you could have shared with others?
  • (pause) I am so over you.
Seriously, though ... how much am I called to do? I do my best to focus my energy on the season's inherent spiritual call. I tithe. I donate. I spend time with people. I avoid malls, commercials, and vapid pop music. And I still feel a little itchy.

Why? Has the recession made others' needs greater and more apparent than ever? Am I growing older and wiser to the world around me? Or is this because I'm Catholic, and we like guilt?

Partially these reasons, and likely something bigger. The little Linus inside my chest is looping his 'That's what Christmas is all about' monologue and reminding me that it's more than a season, it's a way of life. As Richard Beck notes in his excellent blog post (via Amy Moffitt again), "I truly want people to spend time working on their relationship with God. I just want them to do it by taking the time to care about the person standing right in front of them."

I think that might be it. Every December I go one step further than I might the rest of the year to serve others, and it feels wonderful, but then I let the effort into another well-intentioned ghost of Christmas past. Well, not this year. Let's make the next one a year of perpetual #goodspotting, a year of less stuff, and a year rife with conspiracies of the most loving kind.

Prayer #192: Bow

Bows on presents we wish to open give joy for a minute. Bows to a throne we wish to approach give joy for a lifetime. So bend my knees lower, stretch my arms as wide as they go, and face me in a new direction, so I can worship with abandon and draw closer to all You ask of me.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

A paean to the unexceptional

Behold! My recent spate of unexceptionality:
  • I opened the door at Cosi and gouged out the top of my foot. Bled my way through ordering a salad.
  • I cooked a chicken in a pot in the oven. Pulled out the pot, set it on the stove. Forget pot had been in oven and grabbed handle with my bare hand. Spent rest of the night with an ice pack strapped to my palm.
  • I joined the Festival Singers at church for a special Advent performance. At my audition, the director told me I was breathy but could fix that with a little help from my voice teacher. Note: I've been working on support with my voice teacher for three years.
  • I decided to bake cookies for a work event. Pulled out every conceivable utensil and spread them all over the kitchen. When I was adding flour to the batter, I turned the mixer on too soon and sprayed flour across the floor, counter, and my pants.
  • I went to a Step II class at the gym. Should've known better than to start at level two. Ended up marching in place for a good third of the class, and spent the other two-thirds avoiding eye contact with the other, coordinated attendees. Am ashamed to admit I gloated when one guy fell on the floor.
  • I put my dirty dishes in the fridge.
What's hardest about these moments for me (besides the near-brushes with hospitalization) is how remind-y they are about my shortcomings. Like I need more public examples of my gracelessness, my impatience, my inability to bake the same thing twice.

Worse, these are mild. Sit them next to other situations of the past week -- trying to manage a second person when I haven't figured out managing the first yet, preferring Top Chef to a phone chat with Fella, willfully procrastinating on (or ignoring) my creative writing -- and it makes the Step II debacle look like a raging success.

Where's the Advent in all this, I've asked myself. What could God possibly want with such ineptitude, such measliness?

And then I read this:
The miracle of all miracles is that God loves the lowly ... God is not ashamed of human lowliness, but goes right into the middle of it, chooses someone as an instrument and performs miracles right there, where they are last expected. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If God's not ashamed, then why am I? If God felt (as the Advent tradition shares) that becoming human is good enough for Him, then why isn't being human good enough for me?

My unexceptionality is itself unexceptional, and thus not worthy of worry, because it's the human condition. And when I forget this, I'll just go to Step to remember.

Prayer #191: Paean to the Unexceptional

How unexceptionable that I am unexceptional.

How commonplace my commonality, how typical my type. No great shakes am I, not even a mediocre wiggle. I came in second place in the second-rate runoff. I am so so-so that no one would bother writing home about me -- just this run-of-the-mill pedestrian they passed, unacknowledged, on the street.

What then about my undistinguished life distinguishes me to You?

In your eyes I am radical poetry masquerading as prose. I appear as routine, but am really revolt. To You it is unexceptionable to say I am anything less than exceptional.

So how are we -- together -- to prove You right?