Monday, 21 December 2015

Same Old, Same Old WOW!

The worn-out story of Christmas is told again this week, acted out in ridiculous and charming children’s pageants, or solemnly revered at artistic crèches by priests with incense wafting. Our familiarity can blind us to any connection with modern life.
At the same time, thousands ignore or scorn what they consider a fairy tale for naïve adults, the equivalent of Santa Claus with his flying reindeer.
It’s challenging to see beyond our culture’s conflation of consumerism with its strangely seasonal compassion for the poor. Is Christ's birth worth celebrating?

In fact, the old bible story has contemporary spiritual themes: our yearning for positive change, our perpetual struggle against destructive egotism, and our battle between fear and hope. The characters in the nativity drama, like other ordinary people in bible stories, show us our human options.

Mary, for instance, was shocked by her private situation, an unwed pregnancy in a patriarchal tribe. Somehow she decided to stand firm and trust her own encounter with God’s outrageous promises.

Joseph was confused and embarrassed by his fiancee’s circumstance. Despite his social conditioning, he, too, went with God’s counter-cultural advice.

Sheep herders on the night shift were changed from nobodies to insiders when they heard gob-smacking news about a nearby miracle. Instead of pooh-poohing their wild vision of angels shouting, “Don’t be afraid anymore. God has a peace plan!” they ran off to see if it was true.

Foreign scholars were wise enough to be humble in their pursuit of knowledge and eventually discovered the unimaginable. 

Lacking such wisdom or humility, King Herod in his corrupting robes of power, gave in to ego’s lure. Hundreds of babies were murdered because of his raging tantrum. He gained nothing.

Anna and Simeon waited for decades, longing for a dream to come true; would their world ever be delivered from oppression? They refused to give up on God.

Common, but always miraculous, a newborn baby lay in naked vulnerability. Did Eternal Love in fact risk everything for brand new possibilities?

These characters made their choices as we keep making ours. In disaster, or ease, or tedium, may we hear, “Don’t be afraid. There’s great news! You’re not in this alone.”

Welcome to Christmas, dear Reader.

Monday, 14 December 2015

You Are

You are
…in the winsome sound of a men’s choir singing with utter precision the pensive Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?” 

…in the servant attitude of a teenager willing to travel between towns to wash windows and put up a Christmas tree for his older relatives.

…in the fierce confidence of a little girl who’s going to be a tiger for the church’s Christmas pageant.

You are the empathy of a worker at the deli counter, her slow pace keeping me waiting until she handed me sliced corned beef with a friendly smile and complimented my jacket. I walked away and then did a u-turn to thank her for her cheerfulness. When I told her about my husband’s illness, saying that her attitude had lifted my spirits, she frowned with concern and cooed hope for us.

…in the rescuing initiative of neighbours who united to sponsor a family of war refugees for immigration to Canada. 

…in the reassuring welcome of an easy-going radiation tech who greets cancer patients with a grin.

You are
…in the vulnerability of a rough-looking beggar who approached our group for money outside a downtown restaurant where we had enjoyed salmon and crème caramel at our annual Christmas dinner. 

…in the generous spirit of an atheist friend who chose a Christmas card for me that sparkles in huge red and green letters, “GOD IS GOOD”. 

Please, High Holy Mystery of Love, help us to recognize  where You are in our messed up world.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Careful Editing

( Dear friends who subscribe to my blog by email, please note that it’s a prettier read if you go to my blogsite instead of your inbox. One day I will switch to a better method of access.)

Writers all struggle with the editing process, even if their only editor is themselves. What should I put out there to readers and what needs deleting?

For instance, it seems nervy to describe in public my own grief and confusion during my husband’s brain cancer illness, when our story pales beside others far worse. Mid-Eastern  refugees are living in unsanitary tent cities. Those mothers hold their sick babies close while fathers guard the family's worldly possessions in a bundle about the size of my garbage can.
Our family's current challenge is nothing compared to theirs. The stress of facing a medical team who rattle off incomprehensible jargon and hand over wads of instructions while leaving the exam room does not equal the terror of facing armed soldiers who bar a border crossing. 

Edit carefully.
I don't want readers distracted by my words of self-doubt such as above, or to feel they need to respond with advice, to save me somehow from any negativity. 
But I firmly believe that mixed feelings about life are natural and healthy. Writers from King David through to Ann Lamott have described the seesaw between glory and gloom. Devout followers of Jesus remember that Jesus himself felt abandoned by God. 

Ideally, we consciously choose what to do with our emotions. Like many, I sometimes decide to write them out, not just in a private journal but in public. It’s a sacred wonder that my personal stories occasionally encourage others. What an honour!

I hope readers give at least equal attention to my joy in the ongoing sparks that can illuminate a dim day with bright delight.
Here are some recent shiny moments.
One neighbour bought a grocery item we needed, saving me an extra hair-raising drive through Toronto’s traffic. Another took my wristwatch to have a new battery installed, shortening my list of tiresome tasks. Of course these are errands I could have done for myself, but my days are newly tiring so a neighbour’s favour helps keep me functioning.

Women at church sent my husband and myself each a cozy “prayer shawl”, hand-knit with love. Wrapped in the woolly warmth we feel God’s consolation.

Last week, my husband enjoyed two nights beside Lake Ontario at a corner-windowed hotel room, upgraded by a sympathetic manager. He needed a day away to regroup, and found the 36 hours calming and inspiring. He reminded me that hotel rooms are more comfortable than convents. :-))

While he was away, I spent the day following my inclinations, one hour walking an outdoor labyrinth while listening for Sophia*, another hour happily buying gifts at a beautiful Nature store, and several hours reading. 

Recently we had fun taking grandchildren to see the animated Christmas window displays that include a charming underfloor mouse-house. We ate a one-star meal at a deli where we played our family's traditional “Pass the sugar packet” waiting game, and smiled at a six year old’s refusal to order a hotdog because the Children's Menu described it as “beef”, an idea that was confusing and off-putting to her. 

At a Christmas coffee party with new church friends
I received lots of lingering hugs and enjoyed seeing the elaborate Christmas decorations in the host’s gorgeous home. My aesthetic sense appreciated the break from hospital waiting rooms.

A member of my husband’s book club brought us an unusual present, a Ganesha mask. This friend thought of us because the Hindu god is known for help during difficulty. 

I wish I could divide up all my resources and supportive relationships to share them out with the thousands in Lebanon or in Toronto hospitals who lack such riches. 
I will do what I can to help, pray to accept life’s confusing fusion, and keep on celebrating. 
Thanks be to God.

* “Sophia” is an English version of the name that means wisdom. Wisdom is personified in the Bible book, Proverbs, Chapter 8, so some of us use it as one of many names for God.