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  • Nothing worse than a sour-faced, grumpy, mean Christian! Celebration is to be at the heart of Christian community.

Among your duties ...

Down near the bottom of the crossed-out list


of things you have to do today,


between "green thread" and "broccoli," you find


that you have penciled "sunlight."


Resting on the page, the word is beautiful. It touches you


as if you had a friend and sunlight were a present


sent from someplace distant as this morning — to cheer you up,


and to remind you that, among your duties, pleasure is a thing


that also needs accomplishing.

(Tony Hoagland, 1953 – 2018)

Beauty makes us feel more alive ...

I just took a walk through our neighborhood with my dog, Stella.

The sun is shining in a blue sky. The birds are singing. The crusty, dirt-tinged mounds of snow and ice are gradually melting, revealing trash and brown grass and the once-hidden sidewalks.

I listened to a podcast of an interview of an Irish poet named John O'Donohue and something I heard struck me:

"Beauty," he said, "is that which, when we encounter it, leaves us feeling more alive."

What a thoughtful, lovely definition. What a stark contrast to most definitions of beauty which too often feel shallow and unobtainable and reserved for those who can pay.

As I walked, I asked myself, "What makes you feel alive, Alice?"

The answers were easy: The spring sun on my face. The cool wind in my hair. My old, faithful dog trotting happily next to me. My mom's kind, aging face. My friends' compassion. The pile of books on my chair.

I made a small resolution to seek beauty at every turn, realizing God gifts beauty to us to bring life to our souls. It can be found anywhere. It is never reserved solely for the well-off.

The apostle Paul knew this. He writes to the church at Philippi:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

If you can, get outside sometime this week. It will make you feel more alive. Spring is making its grand entrance. Beauty is everywhere for those who have eyes to see.

 

The little charms that adorn the day ...

Best quote ever to start the weekend:

The best reason to take your time is that this time is the only time you'll ever have. You must take it or it will be taken from you. It is telling that the phrase 'taking your time' is synonymous with slowing down. If we want to live fully, we do best to slow down. I don't suggest we turn back the clock, trying to retrieve a bygone era when life was slower. We couldn't, even if we wanted to. But I don't believe we should want to. We should revel in our electronically supercharged, unbounded world. But, to make the most out of this new world, to avoid feeling overbooked, overstretched, and about to snap, to make modern life become better than life has ever been, a person must learn how to do what matters most first. Otherwise, you will bulldoze over life's best moments. You won't notice the little charms that adorn each day, nor will you ever transform the mundane into the extraordinary.

(Excerpt from Crazybusy, by Edward M. Hallowell, MD)

May you... do what matters most first.

May you... refuse to bulldoze over life's best moments.

May you... notice all the little charms that adorn this day.

May you... by being present and slowing down a bit, watch the mundane get transformed into the ordinary!

AMEN.

 

 

Pause and look ...

I read a fabulous essay this past weekend about the season of Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas Day. (See essay here - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/30/opinion/sunday/christmas-season-advent-celebration.html)

What struck me most was the author's gentle encouragement, before we break out into our quintessential American frenetic celebration, "first to pause and look, with complete honesty, at the darkness."

She writes:

To observe Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.

Too many of us see the four weeks before Christmas Day as merely an opportunity to buy gifts, decorate, attend parties and prepare for family gatherings. All good things.

But what if that is ALL we do?

What if - due to perceived time constraints - we simply feel we cannot slow down long enough to look around and face our reality?

Even more likely, what if we refuse to face the darkness - within and without - because it is frankly too painful to face? Because it makes us feel too much existential angst?

If we refuse to face the darkness, I believe, as does the author of this essay, that our celebration of what Christmas stands for, the event it celebrates, is dramatically diminished. There is a falsity to it. A fakeness. It becomes merely a shallow dip into overindulgent materialism and phony merriment.

There is much darkness all around... hungry refugees, war, political antagonism, climate catastrophe, family estrangement, disease, denial, corruption.

There is much darkness within... arrogance, selfishness, greed, lust, meanness, hoarding, a coarseness toward the poor, toward our neighbor, toward those we love.

I know it may seem morose to ponder these things. I get it.  Yet the invitation this challenging essay offers compels me to sit in my own darkness for a season and to ponder my powerless over it; to ponder my powerlessness over the darkness all around me.

I need to stare all the darkness squarely in the face.

Only then will my soul "exceedingly rejoice" when Christmas Day breaks afresh.

Jesus, the light of the world, the only light strong enough to defeat the darkness without and the darkness within... Jesus is born. 

Rejoice!

AMEN.

Hunger is the best condiment ...

A bit more from the Advent essay I referenced in my last post...

Author and Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren writes:

American culture insists that we run at breathless pace from sugar-laced celebration to celebration -- three months of Christmas to the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, Cinco de Mayo, Fourth of July, and on and on. We suffer from a collective consumerist mania that demands we remain optimistic, shiny, happy and having fun, fun, fun.

But life isn't a Disney Cruise.

The tyranny of relentless mandatory celebration leaves us exhausted and often, ironically, feeling emptier. Many of us suffer 'holiday blues,' and I wonder whether this phenomenon is made worse by the incessant demand for cheer -- the collective lie that through enough work and positivity, we can perfect our lives and our world.

We need communal rhythms that make deliberate space for both grief and joy. For me, the old saying rings true: Hunger is the best condiment. Abstaining, for a moment, from the clamor of compulsive jollification, and instead leaning into the reality of human tragedy and of my own need and brokenness, allows my experience of glory at Christmastime to feel not only more emotionally sustainable but also more vivid, vital and cherished.

I love the phrase "tyranny of relentless mandatory celebration." I feel the weariness of that in my own life after too many big events, too many overflowing platters of rich food, too much loud, clangy music. Too many rounds of The Carol of the Bells, if you know what I mean.

What if we used the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to eke out a small bit of space to reflect?

To reflect on our own internal darkness and need...

To reflect on the world around us and to work to see it as it really is - achingly beautiful and heartbreakingly broken...

To reflect on the desperate need of humanity for Someone larger than ourselves to rescue us, to redeem us, to restore this whirling planet to its original intent...

To reflect on our collective need for a Savior...

If we can do this - find time to reflect - perhaps the Christmas story of a baby born in a stable on a cold winter's night might strike us as the exact kind of miracle we all need.

With laughter in his eyes ...

"Advent begins in the dark and yearns for the light.

Advent aches for the day when we shall not learn war anymore.

Advent yearns for 'the last day, when Jesus Christ shall come in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead.'

And when he comes, we shall sob.

Sob with relief at his return. 

Sob with humiliation and sadness at what we have done to one another.

But he shall not turn away to let us get ourselves together. 

He shall gather us up in his arms, with laughter in his eyes, and rise with us to life immortal. 

And our dark hearts will no longer be dark.

Our deepest desire will be to be ruled by him, who rules with grace.

We will love him because he has loved us.

We may long for his judgment and authority because he once visited us in great humility.

The darkness of your heart beckoned him, and he came for you."

(From Faith Once Delivered, by Paul N. Walker)

The only proper response ...

Sharon's Christmas Prayer - by John Shea

She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity

convinced every word

was revelation.

She said

they were so poor

they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

to eat

and they went a long way from home

without getting lost. The lady rode

a donkey, the man walked, and the baby

was inside the lady.

They had to stay in a stable

with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)

but the Three Rich Men found them

because a star lited the roof.

Shepherds came and you could 

pet the sheep but not feed them.

Then the baby was borned.

And do you know who he was?

Her quarter eyes inflated

to silver dollars.

The baby was God.

 

And she jumped in the air

whirled round, dove into the sofa

and buried her head under the cushion

which is the only proper response

to the Good News of the Incarnation.

I am very proud ...

Why did God descend, take on flesh, be born in a manger to a simple peasant girl?

Why?

Shakespeare, in Hamlet, nails it in his self-diagnosis, which - in the end - is the diagnosis of all of us.

This is us.

This is me:

I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.

Thank you, William Shakespeare, for being sparsely brilliant with words.

For reminding me afresh that I cannot save myself, but need a Force, a Goodness larger and fiercer than my own, to invade this dark world, my own dark soul...

Before the celebration next week, we must reckon with the reason for it all.

It is not "those politicians," "those crooked CEOs," "those people who are other than me," who are the problem.

It is me.

It is you.

It is us.