Monday, February 16, 2009

Another gentle holiday...

Today is Presidents Day in the United States - an odd little holiday that once evoked the legacies of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln - but is now mostly the start of a three day weekend and public school vacations. I find it another gentle holiday - and I'm grateful. These little holidays, unlike Independence Day or the whole Christmas season, give me time to pause, reflect and return thanks.

Writer Marilynne Robinson writes like these gentle holidays. It takes time and commitment to enter her prose for she evokes a way of living that is deliberate, real and bathed in Christ's spirit of compassion. Slowly and intentionally, she asks the reader to pause, pay attention and notice what both your heart and mind are saying: like the mystics, she invites us into a long, loving look at what is real. A true contemplative.

One of her on-going observations - in both her novels and essays - has to do with how many of us in the US have lost our sense of the common good. She would ask us to cautiously recall how our Puritan ancestors ached to build a commonwealth. It was imperfect, to be sure; but when judged by the standards of the day, rather than ideological obsessions to an anachronistic political correctness, these old saints did pretty well. And it was their understanding that all people are sinners who yearn for the grace of God that empowered them to live into their best selves.

American holidays like this often take me back to "Northern Exposure," that carefully collected cache of TV stories well told that also encourage contemplation - albeit in an entertaining and market driven way! My favorite episode, "Thanksgiving" from 1992, is a wonderful paradoxical mix of yearning for community, spiritual confusion and grace. You may recall that the Native American folk of the town mix their "Day of the Dead" festival with the Anglo Thanksgiving. They throw tomatoes at the white folk - marking them with gentle signs of death and anger and blood - and in a "trickster" like way transform their sadness into joy.

After the community-wide parade that is filled with images of death and genocide, everyone gathers together for a feast. And as St. Luke suggests, every one's eyes are opened with the breaking of the bread. History is not changed - or forgotten - it is owned and then transformed into something more than sorrow and shame.

And then there is an old friend, Laurie Anderson... she gets it right, too. Rest well.

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