One of the sacred mysteries that often eludes secular control-types in or outside of the church involves worship - particularly preparing for our various high holy days. What I have discerned after nearly 40 years of practice is that I need to be attentive to the Spirit with: a) extended silence without busy work; b) time to "walk around with the Scriptures" as the late Ray Brown used to advise to hear what they are saying at a deep level; c) a measure of solitude to listen to what God is saying within my own heart (a la Henri Nouwen); and d) lots of prayer. As an intuitive with a mystical bent, filling-out-the-forms or phoning it in doesn't cut it for me at this time of year - or during Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension Day or Pentecost either. In fact, I have never once taken an old sermon and re-issued it. Never. I may have reapplied lessons that I've learned or reworked time-tested stories. And I am sure I have repeated myself out loud from time to time, too. But NEVER has it been acceptable to simply fill-in-the-blanks even during Ordinary Time! And sadly, this is not the work model that defines most of contemporary life.
When I started in this gig, I often became frantic as the High Holy Days dawned. Until my dying day, I must beg forgiveness from my children for becoming too tightly wound, snappish and harsh. I hated to be around myself so I can only guess what they experienced! Eventually, I started to let go of trying to say too much on Christmas Eve - and trying to look like I was busy. For a number of years I simply let the lessons and carols speak of God's grace and beauty. From time to time, the woes of this world demanded a prophetic word at Christmas so I gave that a shot - especially during the last two years. But, as a rule, I learned not to say too much and to give myself LOTS of quiet time and space - often physically away from the grind of the local church - so that I might hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Anything less is crazy-making for me.
I know that those who don't "do" worship don't get this. It is counter-intuitive to the multi-tasking, one-size-fits all frenzy that defines the current business model. Like Henri Nouwen used to say, "Please don't start a conversation off by saying, 'I know you are sooo busy but... If I am too busy to listen to you - or the Spirit of the Lord - then I am NOT doing my job." To be sure, at this time of year there are often those who try to make their lack of planning into my emergencies. I'm hip to those games and rarely fall into that trap. All the more reason to step back and let the quiet call the shots.
So here's the insight I have learned after trying to do Christmas Eve in every wrong way possible: this is a little, small, tender and quiet holiday. The polar opposite of the secular hoopla. It is all about the baby. Yes, babies are earthy and demanding, vulnerable and afraid, who demand an enormous amount of energy in order to love and care for them well. Nevertheless, this is not a time for too much. It is a time, as the carol says, "to come and adore him." Let that be enough. That's why for the past 15 years, I often get away from the grind for a few days to prepare my heart for adoration. If I don't, I can't hear the still small voice of the Lord trying to bring comfort and joy into all the season's demands. Driving to and from Ottawa has become for me an almost monastic time for prayer. And this year, it was just what the doctor ordered.
Now I am ready. Now I have taken the time to be still and know that the Lord is still the God of heaven and earth. Now, like the Psalmist sang, I have quieted my heart like a child resting upon her mother's breast. And I can sing faithfully: O come let us adore him.
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