It’s a gray day, one of those types where the clouds hang heavy and seem to block out all sunlight. Inside a cozy lamp-lit room, I am sitting in a circle of ministers training to be spiritual directors and practicing the art of listening. Around the circle, person after person tells a story from their life that is personal.
With each telling, I notice layers of transformation and transition; I hear about the wonder of discovery and the lightness of hope. A phrase comes to mind: the goodness of gray. I jot the words into my notebook and open my heart wide. Although this happened weeks before Advent, “the goodness of gray” remained a constant suggestion, a companion in the season of searching, longing and waiting.
We are people who long for simplicity, who often ache for clearly defined borders and lines. Even though we may know that complexity and conversion is healthy and natural, we are comfortable with what’s predictable, what we know, what feels safe.
There may have been times when answers were easy, when we knew what to expect. For some it was the patterns of childhood, the days of easy answers and comfort zones. For others, we found solace in the rituals of our religion or what was considered proper and polite. Our memories might be hazy, but nostalgia convinces that there was a time when much stood strong on solid ground. Elected leaders compromised. Polarities were unusual. Religious life was defined. Democracy was functional. Unity and peace were valued and Churches were places of refuge and calm.
Now, we don’t know about much. Nearly everything we are familiar with — from the structures of Church and society, to technology and the ecosystems sustaining us — seems to be in transition, in flux. What we forget, though, is that… [This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for Carl McColman’s blogat Patheos. Continue reading here.]
“I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”– John 10:10b
Merry Christmas! God is with us! And, this God who is with us- Baby Jesus- has given us the greatest gift of all: life! I believe that life abundant means that life is packed full with all bliss and burdens being human offers.
This December, my Advent and now-Christmas spirit kept switching channels. Due to the circumstances of my life and the events of our world, my inner-spaces and accompanying emotions flitted around like a spinning top. Really, I was on a journey through the valleys and peaks of life; there truly was a lot of the Jesus-named “life to the fullest” stuff.
December began with a week long awaiting for the birth of my new nephew. The first major life peak I dealt with was nervous anticipation unlike any I had ever felt before. The beautiful baby boy arrived on the 7th. Ecstatic joy, gratitude and awe came right with him. Plus, that same day, I also learned that a darling little girl who I love has leukemia. My heart broke with sadness.
More life: my work load snowballed, it was mid-quarter at the school where I work. Grades were due again. Enter heightened stress and exhaustion. After my grades were submitted and I sighed with relief, the layers of life became more meshed. The fun of Christmas was nearing but the harsh reality of suffering and tragedy still hung heavy.
Mid-month, I was like most humans: horrified and depressed about the news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wanted to scream and compel everyone to throw guns away and pour their money and energy toward compassion and mental health. I wanted to wrap my new nephew in my imagined fairytale safety cloak so that no gun could ever come within a mile of him. Never before had a felt so protective yet full of grief.
Instead, I had to do what many of us did: pray a lot, cry a little, and then push my fire-y feelings into my daily grind; the regular hard labor for Gospel peace and justice. Meanwhile, in my classroom and around the high school, everyone seemed to be getting antsy because Christmas was getting closer. I wondered if we were numb or ignoring suffering, or just eager to be joyful and celebrate the Nativity. Around the school we ate too much sugar, started singing carols and decorated as if our lives depended on it.
Where I live, the sisters and I sang and danced to carols on the radio, laughed and played games, baked cookies, made homemade candies, whipped up a feast, and exchanged gifts with much joy. The jolliness of the Christmas spirit had somehow had found its way into our hearts despite our consciousness of the expanse of human suffering.
I was merry too, as I drove off to be with my family for my new nephew’s baptism and Christmas celebrations. Fa-la-la-la-la-ling I went into Midwestern snows with a trunk packed with gifts and freshly made Christmas goodies. The radio didn’t stay stuck on the cheery Christmas carols, however.
With horror, I listened to how the national debate on gun violence had evolved one week from the Sandy Hook massacre. No longer were we talking about mental health, our violent culture and the need to change our gun laws. No instead, to my disgust, I was hearing the proposal for more guns, security and a suggestion that teachers should be armed. I was so angry I thought I would be sick. So then, onward to Christmas and baptismal feasts and joy did I go, slightly stained with the awfulness of cynicism and sarcasm because of the direction that the national gun debate turned.
The baptism and Christmas celebrations were beautiful and blessed, of course. I was honored to become a godmother again. I sang Christmas hymns to the new baby. I cherished every second I had with the living masterpiece that somehow, miraculously was made up many of the same genes that I am. My family stuffed our bodies with wonderful farm food and then burned off the calories by laughing so hard our sides hurt. And, of course, the prayerful liturgy was deep and peaceful. As we meditated on Christ’s coming to change and empower us, I felt God embrace the wideness of the fullness life. The Christmas happenings and the Holy Spirit provided a deep consolation.
Yesterday was also the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The fun and excitement of my Christmas Every Day experiment announcement, was squished between my prayer for all the thousands of children who die everyday from unjust causes throughout the world. I started to understand what I was getting myself into.
Living Christmas Every Day will mean that I will awkwardly flop around as I try to do what all of us are called to do. I shall celebrate that our God is with us through all things, especially in the suffering and pain.
Christmas Every Day means that as I will be more intentional about living the Christmas spirit than I am normally. And, that Christmas spirit that I’ll be living with isn’t all sweet and good. In fact, the story of Christ’s coming itself includes great violence and horror.
Christmas Every Day means that I shall carry all of what is true, good and hard about being human. My constant fun celebrating shall be colored with the wholeness of what life is and how God is with us, especially in the raw hurt.
Yes, Merry Christmas, may it be a real Christmas too, a celebration conscious that life to the fullest is packed with joy and pain together.
When Herod realized he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: A loud voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and she would not be consoled since they were no more. Matt 2:15 -18
Our Christmas feast is a time of children. For a few short days, the laws of logic are suspended and the whole world conspires to make the innocent dreams of children come true. This year in her Santa letter, my niece asked for real fairy wings that fly and fairy dust that she could use whenever she wanted. Our faces become softer by candlelight and love is tangible.
Today we celebrate the feast of children – but of the holy innocents, the martyrs caught by a tyrant’s rage. I almost feel we should remember this feast daily because in our world the holy innocents are countless and the carnage staggering.
AIDS, malaria, war, hunger, child slavery, child labor, abuse, neglect. The very fabric of our global reality often leaves the most innocent the most vulnerable.
The Christmas season is the feast of the child: the miracle of God made flesh at the point of utter and total despair on human love. This Feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us not only of the love and the protection of the children we hold most dear; but we must also weave the fabric of justice in the world to protect the dignity of every child. To forget this is to deny the holy spirit of Christmas.