For the past several weeks, I’ve been wanting to write here, but to no avail. Each time I sat down with ideas in mind –good ones even – the words wouldn’t come. I’d bang away on the keyboard for an hour or more and end up with nothing to show for it – just a bunch of half-formed paragraphs and half-baked ideas. I’d finally walk away, dissatisfied, but also certain that if the words weren’t coming, there was a reason for it.
About the same time in fact, the week before Advent started, my spiritual director asked me what I wanted from God for Christmas this year. With just a moment’s thought, I said: Clarity. I want to know the next right step.
She then asked a more difficult follow up question:
What would you have to let go of in the coming weeks to make room to actually receive the clarity you want? What in you has to die, so that the Christ can be born?
Oh, I thought, that is a harder question.
So about the same time I was trying to write to you, I started to write in an Advent prayer journal. I began to pour out all the things that have kept me from seeing things clearly. In contrast to my lack of words on this blog, that journal is filled with page after page of my heart and soul: thoughts, questions, reflections, wisdom gathered from countless sources. There are images, links to music, poetry, long excerpts from books I’m making my way through.1 I even thought I might cheat a little and pull something from the journal to post. But the right words wouldn’t come, even though they were right in front of me. They weren’t yet mine to share.
I remember once hearing a female pastor say that when she speaks, she tries to preach from her scar, not her wound. I think I’ve always held that up as a model. Before I tell you about anything, I want the dilemma solved, the lesson learned, the mess cleaned up. That’s probably why I haven’t written much this fall. It’s been a difficult season for a lot of reasons, ones I’m not ready to share yet. But as Christmas approaches, so too does clarity.
My Christmas wish has come true, at least partly. I still don’t know what “the next right step” is, but I’m a lot less worried than I was a month ago. This reminder from Diana Butler Bass helped:
We need not fear the dark. Instead, wait there. Even on the longest night. Watch. For you cannot rush the darkness. But you can light some candles. Sing some songs. Recite poetry. Say prayers. And trust that waiting is active — making you ready for what comes next.
I believe that when the times comes, I’ll know the next right step and I’ll take it, but it doesn’t look like my Advent will be over when Christmas Day arrives. Instead, I’ll keep waiting and preparing for the gift that just keeps on giving: the wisdom of Love. As Christmas races toward us and Advent draws to a close (whether you celebrate it consciously, or not), I want to share just a few more words from the wise Frederick Buechner.
We all pray, whether we think of it as praying or not. The odd silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, or something very good or very bad. The “Ah-h-h-h!” that sometimes floats up out of us as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the skyrocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else’s pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else’s joy. Whatever words or sounds we use for sighing with over our own lives. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to ourselves, but to something even more familiar than ourselves and even more strange than the world.…
Whatever else it may or may not be, prayer is at least talking to yourself, and that’s in itself not always a bad idea.
Talk to yourself about your own life, about what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do, and about who you are and who you wish you were and who the people you love are and the people you don’t love too. Talk to yourself about what matters most to you, because if you don’t, you may forget what matters most to you.
Even if you don’t believe anybody’s listening, at least you’ll be listening.
Believe Somebody is listening. Believe in miracles.
I pray that you find a Christmas miracle this season – through talking (and listening) to the deepest truths of your own heart, or those of a family member, friend or stranger. I pray you will recognize the sound of prayer in laughter, music, or conversation, in the majesty of a tree, the soft glow of candlelight, or the beauty of a sunset walk. And know, I’ll be praying with you.
I hope this final week of Advent brings you that which you have been expectantly waiting for and that you discover where the Love of Christ has been born in your life this year.
- If you are interested in my Advent biography:
- Hollis, James. The Middle Passage and Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life
- Ostaseski, Frank. The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Fully Living
- Salzberg, Sharon. Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection
I also want to share our family’s video Christmas card/project. While I cherish the tradition of hand-written Christmas cards, almost a decade ago I handed the reins to Tim for our annual holiday greeting. While I get to write any time I like, he only gets to produce a few home movies a year. It’s also become a favorite family tradition, so for as long our kids, now 20, 19 and 15 years old are still having a blast making it, we’ll keep doing it.
This year’s card is an homage to Tim’s favorite surf film from the 80s called The Performers. Though you may not get the film references, we hope you’ll enjoy this snapshot of each of the Kirkpatricks clowning around and doing what they love. It’s rather long, so no pressure at all to watch it. It’s simply a labor of love.
Team Kirks: Christmas 2017
<p>Team Kirks 2017 Christmas Card</p>