Merry Christmas: the story in the world’s heart

Re-blogged from December 24, 2015.
IMG_0925.jpg
The Holy Family in a creche scene in Greccio, Italy, 2014. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

There is an ancient story that is our common heartbeat. It speaks to us, deeply, quietly and simply; its whispers are heard in the rhythms of our ordinary lives, in between the rushing activity of our regular days. As we move together and alone, the power of this ancient story is known and felt in the cracks and creases of our common heart.

We’ve been waiting for this feast for four weeks. We’ve been waiting for this for thousands of years. We’ve been waiting in the dark, lighting candles, and turning calendar pages to count down the days. We are Advent people; we were made to be people of joyful anticipation. We are communities who persist in…

[This is the beginning of a column I wrote for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Love, Sister Julia

Fear, darkness, and Advent

Lately a certain Gospel instruction is has been grinding challenge into my life, really giving my heart a doozy of a talking to.

Jesus says it a lot, in many different ways:

Do not be afraid. (Luke 1:30; Mark 5:36; Mark 6:50)

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? (Matthew 6:27)

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. (Matthew 6:34)

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life. (Matthew 6:25)

Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus is, after all, a very encouraging savior, a source of strength. He needs us to be brave if we’re going to do the hard work of building up the kingdom of peace and justice in the here and now.

Plus, it makes sense that the Gospel would be packed with messages telling us to persevere in faith. By the time the Gospels were written down—a few decades after Jesus walked the earth—those early Christians were dealing with some pretty intense fear. Uprisings and persecutions were becoming common. The Roman Empire was increasing its control, getting more oppressive to anyone who wasn’t … well … Roman. With such heavy darkness, it must have felt like the world was falling apart. Sort of reminds me of the world we’re living in today.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/r2BhlllGqoQ

Jesus’ demands are not about darkness, though. We are children of Light.

I get it: to be a Christian means I am a person full of vibrant hope, love, and faith in God. Like a ceaseless trust that God can handle anything and shine light and peace into any situation. I know Jesus is trustworthy.

Yet. The “Be not afraid” words straight from Jesus’ heart stir up a gray space inside me; a place where I am not letting my trust in God illumine my faith life. Ultimately, anxiety corrodes the place where God’s light could glow bright.

In the past few months I have been reminded that my anxiety out-of-order is neurological, a condition made by realities beyond my control: genetics, trauma, biomechanics. I wake in the dark of the night with my heart pounding, my body vibrating with restless energy. My mind races with irrational thoughts; electric brain waves I struggle to redirect toward hope, trust and acceptance. My muscles cramp with tension; pinch nerves. Tears of pain moisten my eyelashes. I am afraid of things that I can’t even name and my body lets me know it.

Some might argue there’s good reason to worry. The news doesn’t sound good; happy headlines are hard to find. From Aleppo to South Sudan to the cracking corners in communities throughout the United States, the trouble only seems to be getting worse.

Faced with burdens and commissioned for Christ, we’re overwhelmed. Hearts are heavy with abundant hurt and there are many wounds to tend to. It continues to feel as things will just keep getting worse before they get better. Genuine cries and terrified screams are causing racket in our hearts and dreams as we do as we’re called to do: move toward the pain with servant hearts open wide.

When my body begins to manifest the anxiety that somehow settles into me, it can take hours for me to know relief, to relax into the dark, to rest and calm down. Often, what causes the most comfort when I am in the thick of fear is the calm of silence, the stillness of solitude and wide open spaces, like expansive skies.

At times, within the gaps of seconds ticking, I somehow come to gradually feel a holy, healing Presence; a fleeting consciousness that I am not ever alone; that Jesus himself knew—knows—the darkness and fear. (That’s Emmanuel, God with us.) Other times, my racing heart and shallow breath either normalize gradually or cause me to pass out from exhaustion.

Because the fear is real and intense, I find myself thinking of holy folks who have dealt with it well; who have modeled for me trust in God. I think of how the Holy Family were no strangers to a climate of fear, a culture of death. I imagine how oppressed the common person in Nazareth must have felt as they tried to survive on subsistence farming and continued to pay heavy taxes for fear of torture, robbery, murder, or the kidnapping and raping of their children. Certainly, they were desperate for a Messiah, a redeemer to liberate them. I meditate on how a very pregnant Mary must have felt; filled with discomfort and concern as she awaited the arrival of her son. I consider how uncertain Joseph must have felt; how he worked to remain steady and kind even while his heart and gut flipped in fear. I pray with Jesus squirming within the dark womb.

Joseph_Flickr
Photo credit: Flickr

There are other words in the Bible that give me strength, that calm my fears—important messages first given to the early Church:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

Yes: no matter how strong our fear or how deep the darkness, we are children of Light. During the darkest days of the year (at least in the Northern hemisphere) we look for the light in the darkness, we decorate our homes with glowing bulbs, we observe the nature of light. We imitate the rays of light that unite together and illumine a way to peace, providing hope to all.

The story in the world’s heart

 

IMG_0925.jpg
The Holy Family in a creche scene in Greccio, Italy, 2014. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

 

There is an ancient story that is our common heartbeat. It speaks to us, deeply, quietly and simply; its whispers are heard in the rhythms of our ordinary lives, in between the rushing activity of our regular days. As we move together and alone, the power of this ancient story is known and felt in the cracks and creases of our common heart.

We’ve been waiting for this feast for four weeks. We’ve been waiting for this for thousands of years. We’ve been waiting in the dark, lighting candles, and turning calendar pages to count down the days. We are Advent people; we were made to be people of joyful anticipation. We are communities who persist in…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Love, Sister Julia

 

Who is your family?

Guest blogger: Sister Sarah Hennessey

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family.  We remember Jesus did not zoom into human existence in a space pod or appear on a mountaintop shining in gold. He came in family.  Mary is more than her “yes.”  She lived the daily joys and sorrows of family.  Joseph is more than worker or protector.  He lived the loves and hurts of family.

When we put up our nativity scenes, while Joseph, Mary and Jesus are at the center they are not alone.  Shepherds, sheep, cows, children, kings, and angels, complete the scene.  This too is a moment of family.

Our bus broke down on my 50 hour ride to Guadalajara.  A large group of strangers, we were stranded by the roadside for hours.  I remembered my guitar was in the luggage and suddenly our bus driver was serenading us with ranchero tunes and our bilingual group of strangers became united in song.  A moment of family.

One of my friends was getting on the bus to work when she realized she had lost her money.  The bus driver kicked her off.  A homeless man who was standing on the street saw her strife and gave her enough money to get to work.  A moment of family.

Last year when our town was hit by a flood, without even a plea for volunteers, people of all ages showed up to fill sand bags.  I was so glad when the whole hockey team appeared.  One man pulled up in his pickup to receive some bags and said, “I don’t know how to thank you.  You are saving my house.”  A moment of family.

Last month I went to a bowling alley for a benefit for a two year old in our parish who is fighting cancer.  As I was buying my ticket I noticed the t-shirts being worn by the volunteers.  All the women wore shirts that said “Moms don’t let moms fight cancer alone.”  All the men wore shirts that said, “Dads don’t led dads fight cancer alone.”  A moment of family.

So on this feast day of the Holy Family, let Mary and Joseph and Jesus be your guide and remember all the times in your life that have become a moment of family.

Prayer to the Holy Family

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, like you we are members of the Father’s family. We pray that our family love may reflect his love on its openness to all people. May we forgive even when not forgiven, and be patient with others’ weaknesses.

Jesus, give us peace, unit and strength to meet the difficulties of daily living. May we use our family resources to improve the quality of life for ourselves and all people. Let us show joy in serving, for whatever we do for others, we do for you.

Mary, inspire us, that our love may be strong but not possessive. Let our willingness to give depend on the needs of others rather than on the cost of giving.

Joseph, help us to be attentive to the Father’s will. Let us be ready, as you were, to act whenever he calls us.

Joseph’s dreams and the meaning of life

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod had died, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream
to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel,
for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”
He rose, took the child and his mother,
and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea
in place of his father Herod,
he was afraid to go back there.
And because he had been warned in a dream,
he departed for the region of Galilee.
He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth,
so that what had been spoken through the prophets
might be fulfilled,
He shall be called a Nazorean. -Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

A few years ago one of my seeking friends called me a lot to have discussions about the meaning of life.  “I just don’t get it Julia,” she would say.  “Why are we born, if our death is inevitable?”  Her insightful question is certainly valid, and undoubtedly common.  Because my friend is normal, I was embarrassed to admit that I had never really thought about the question before.

I don’t think that I have ever worried about the meaning of life because I made a choice when I was a child.  Early on I decided what life’s meaning is for me.  Now I know how to say it: the point of all this living is relationship.  It’s so true for me and it guides all my actions.  When I am lazy or selfish, a mantra bubbles up from inside, like a signpost directing me where to turn:  the point of life is relationship. It’s all about relationship.

Then, guided by the Truth and challenge of relationship, I turn away from my ego and my desire to hide.  I choose to relate.  I shut up and unplug and listen to God within and around and tell God my deepest secrets. We get closer and I am reminded that good relationships always take a lot of work and time.

My friendship with God then turns me out again; I orient toward the other in community, friendship, family, city, creation, neighbor.  I sit with my elder sister and laugh and love. I talk to my siblings on the phone. I listen to the stranger, even when I feel like I should rush.  I pray with my friends and cry with the suffering.  I ask my students questions. I gaze at the moon because I know she is my sister and I pray for the earth because she is certainly my mother, in a way.   Over and over, I struggle to let go of my agendas and notice how the moments of  my days beg me to pay attention to other beautiful elements in God’s kingdom.

Because I relate to all sorts of people I am forced to stretch and grow.  My perspectives change and I am required to leave the ordinary behind.  I let God give me new encounters and accept the fact that I never get to be the same.  I now understand that considering relationship the meaning of life is not only Christian and Trinitarian, but Franciscan.  And, as scientists are now discovering and teaching, it is human.  So, it’s a good thing I am one.

Joseph got this, it seems.  Because he was friends with God and was familiar with His voice, it was very clear to him when his dreams were from God.  Because he understood the language, he could follow the directions and then so lovingly care for the Blessed Mother Mary and the Holy Child Jesus.  He chose to obey, because the relationships with his wife and his Son mattered most.

Like Joseph teaches, when we let dreams direct us we aren’t picking what’s comfortable, or even about what makes sense. Even though it may seem impractical, when we let our relationship with God and others guide us, we’ll quickly realize that we are dancing with the holy and becoming a blessing to others.

There’s a great beauty in the blessing.  When we let relationships be our meaning we are free to be a holy family.  Thanks be to God!

Photo from Flickr sharing http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidking/2117259520/in/photostream/