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?
“Get up! Go into the world and live in the flow of Love. Forgive, show mercy, be compassionate, care for the poor, tend to the earth as family; find your inner wholeness in the Love of God, and create new wholes in your midst, in your communities, your workplaces, at shopping malls, and jazz fests. Live in the energy of the Spirit; let yourself be led…. Stop playing with your toys, your electronic gadgets… Do not lose yourself to consumer products that blind your vision, or distract your attention from the whole. Get up because you are too old to be asleep… Grow up because it is time to move on. The world is begging for new and more abundant life. The life of the world is your life, and your life belongs to the whole of Life. Stop trying to preserve yourself; lose yourself in something more than yourself…Live to the point of tears and don’t be saddened by sin, misunderstanding, weakness, and hate. Omega Love [God] is in our midst, and this Love is our power, our hope and our future. Remain in this Love…Be the co-creator you are made to be; emblazon the world with the grandeur of God.”
Okay, admittedly, it might take me a little longer than this Advent season to live into this call, but as I wrapped up Ilia Delio’s brilliant Making All Things New: Catholicty, Cosmology, Consicousness this past week, I knew I had found my marching orders for 2017 and beyond.
In the face of so much division and adversity in our nation, it can feel overwhelming to figure out, “What is mine to do?” the question I asked last month. But that’s what I love about Delio’s list. Anything that takes you out of your comfort zone and adds Love, life, energy, goodness and wholeness (understood as healing and holiness) to the world is yours to do! The only thing we can’t do is shrug our shoulders and go on with business as usual. Delio’s exhortation reminds me of Joan Chittister’s response to people who ask her what they should do to make the world a better place. “Do something!” she pleads.
It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
This season, if you are waiting in expectant hope for something new or better to come along, keep this call in mind. Print it out. Tape it on your bathroom mirror. Stick it over your coffee maker, or tea kettle. Read it every morning. Reflect on it every night and realize:
We are the something better we’ve been waiting for.
Merry Christmas!Happy Hanukah!Joyous Kwanzaa to you, my dear friends! And if none of those apply, Happy Holidays!I wish you an abundance of whatever it is that warms your heart, tickles your fancy, fills you with gratitude, and encourages you to start anew.
Christmas is only a few short weeks away. Nineteen days to prepare, shop, bake and decorate. I was blown away at how quickly everyone got their Christmas stuff out and up and displayed on Instagram and Facebook last weekend. The turkey carcass from Thanksgiving dinner was still warm by the time the lights were on the tree. I’m not criticizing! I admire an ability to work on a full stomach. It’s just not the way I work.
I tend to put the Christmas cheer on a slow burn, much to Molly’s dismay. There have been years where the tree isn’t even bought until the 20th. Presents are kept in closets and cubbyholes until I get around to wrapping them on the 23rd. Some of this delay is simply practical. December is the busiest month of the year for Tim at the surf shop. My semester ends mid-December and I am inundated with finals and papers to grade. The kids are typically in school until the third week. Throw in a couple soccer tournaments, Christmas parties and holiday events and who has the time to decorate?
This year, most of those factors still exist, but more so than ever, I find myself holding back from the Christmas “spirit.” Instead, I’m immersing myself in Advent and the mystery of the Incarnation. If I could, I would wrap my house in deep purple. It would stay dark and candle-lit and smell like pine needles. I would transport us to the top of a snowy mountain where we could sit quietly and reflect on what it means to give birth to Christ in and through our very selves. Of course, Tim and the kids would hightail it out of there the first chance they got, hopping on toboggans to the nearest gingerbread village they could find.
Trying to keep them away from the joy of December, Christmas carols and cookies is more Grinch than Mother Mary, so decorating, baking and singing will commence tomorrow morning. I hate to hold back anybody’s good time, but in my own quiet time, in my reading, writing, and meditating, I am going to hold on to the mystery of the Incarnation that is pressing so deeply on my heart these days.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born from and through Mary, but the Christ is born in each of us, over and over again, throughout time and across every continent, in every gender and age, regardless of purity, sanctity or professed faith tradition. All is takes is a willing heart.
Every act of Love is an act of incarnation.
God is Love and Christ is the physical manifestation of God, so whenever we Love, truly, actively and deeply, we are bringing Christ to the world. God is incarnated through us.
Mary said Yes to giving birth to Jesus, because she Loved God. She trusted that God’s Love would sustain her through the shame and pain and instability the Incarnation would cause her. The result, she was assured, would be something wondrous, greater than anything the world had ever known. Love like this, in flesh and blood, would change everything.
Let’s be brave like Mary this time of year. Instead of going nonstop, let’s wait. Let’s sit quietly in our homes sometimes, maybe for a few minutes in the evening by the light of our tree, maybe with a cup of tea on our couch in the morning. Let’s be still and listen for where God is asking us to bring Love into the world through our own flesh and blood.
With God, who knows what that request will look like?
For me, the 2013 holiday season has begun like an event in the Olympic Games of Stress, hosted by my least favorite city, Crazytown USA. Perhaps it was the late Thanksgiving date and over-hyped Black Friday, or the 800-mile car trip we took over the last four days to visit family in Northern California . Perhaps it’s the week ahead and the ten papers I have to grade, the three soccer games for one kid, the four days of practice for another, the two days of auditions for the third, or the one out of town 40th birthday party coming up on Friday night. Perhaps it’s my mounting anxiety about the presents I haven’t bought, the Christmas card we haven’t created and the last time Tim and I had a date night and any intimate conversation.
I know it can be helpful to make a list of things you have to do, but just writing those sentences sent my heart racing, and not in a good way (except that last item).
Because I was feeling behind, I broke my general rule about shopping on Sundays, and went out early to check a couple things off my list. I came home and decided to do anything humanly possible to avoid shopping on future weekends in December. No matter what I can accomplish, or purchase, it can’t be worth what the experience brings out in me. While I didn’t actually spray mace, elbow people out of the way, or come to blows over a parking space, the truth is I wanted to and that scares me.
I’m taking it as a sign that I’m not quite on track to really mean it when I wish friends and strangers a “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays” and I figure I can’t be the only one.
Though much of my Catholic guilt has fallen by the wayside, there is one tradition I cherish and I think it might help me out here. It is called the season of Advent and it begins today and lasts for the next three Sundays before Christmas. While Christmas is a time of celebrating, Advent is a time of preparing.
Here is a short video explaining the Advent season. It’s only two minutes long.
When I watched it this morning upon my return from Crazytown, I found myself breathing easier. I remembered that I don’t have to be joyful yet. I’m preparing to be joyful. I don’t have to be ready. I am getting ready. I don’t have to be done. December is just beginning. There is time, even when I’m feeling rushed. There is space, even when my heart is cramped. There is love, even when I am doing my best hard-hearted, Grinch impersonation.
The only way to prepare for Christmas is to make the time and space for Love to appear and I already know how to do that. It’s what I’ve been working on the last couple years on a daily basis. When Love feels far away, I go for a walk in the early morning. I make the time to sit in silence, or read a good book. I write in my journal, hug my children and hold Tim’s hand. I listen to beautiful music, have a cup of tea, or enjoy a glass of wine with a friend (as opposed to tossing one back out of necessity).
I think that is how I will try to prepare for Christmas this year. I will try to anticipate what is ahead of me, without letting it rob me of the moment I am in right now.
During this season of joyful noise and celebrating, shopping and baking, my Christmas gift to you is silence.
There is so much to be done this time of year, so many things vying for your time and resources. When I thought about what I would like for Christmas, I knew it would be less – less of everything – and so I thought the kindest thing I could do is not add my too-many words to your already busy schedule. We are taking a couple weeks off, but let me leave you with this image.
Our house looks like Buddy, the elf, came and decorated. Kiko and Finn think it’s a little much, but Molly G is in heaven. She sleeps in her Santa hat and her snowflake footie pajamas. She turns on every twinkly light in the house whenever she walks in the door. Whether it’s too much or just right, I don’t care. Her Christmas energy could power a small city and I know it won’t last forever. I am savoring her enthusiasm and joy.
To balance out the Christmas crazy, I sit still by our tree in the silence of the early mornings. I center myself in Love and remember the best Advent advice I’ve ever heard:
Be a womb.
It’s the only way Love can be born. IF we can be open to something new, IF we can bear the growing pains that come from being stretched beyond our comfort zones, IF we can promise not to rush people and circumstances into what we want them to be, instead letting them gradually become who and what they are meant to be, IF we can do all this, we will bring Love into the world.
That is my goal for the next month: to be a womb, a warm, safe, life-giving place where Love is born.
“Be a womb” is courtesy of Loretta Ross-Gotta from her essay “To Be a Virgin.”
If you do want more words, I have a few excellent suggestions.
The first is an sermon called “Pregnant Old Ladies and Other Signs that God’s Story is Better Than the One We Tell Ourselves,” by the lovely and amazing Nadia Bolz-Weaver.
Occupy Advent is on Facebook and they are delivering a daily dose of inspiration, which is witty, irreverent and spiritual. I am so glad I “liked” their page.