Sunday, December 23, 2018

a very charlie brownish advent...

Last night Di asked, "How does it feel NOT to be leading Christmas celebrations this year?" That's a lively question - perfect for the closing this phase of our mini-Advent get away. (After the L'Arche Christmas pageant this afternoon we head back to the USA to join our extended family for the festivities.) Over the next 90 minutes at dinner we spoke together of our personal and public experiences with this holiday, how this year feels so very different for us both, and raises questions that we trust can be clarified as 2019 takes shape.

Clearly, I do not miss leading public worship this year. I thought I would as it has been central to my theological and personal observance of this season. But for now: no. I am at peace mostly resting in this season. Both of us look forward to being in worship as grandparents with our children and grandchildren on Christmas Eve. I have no desire to critique the preacher's Christmas message or carp about the flow (or lack thereof) of the liturgy. I have not prepared a stealth Christmas homily to share with the guests at Tuesday's feast. Nor have I any real desire to do anything but quietly soak up the blessings however they may arrive. Now I simply want to sit with our grand babies and sing carols with them - not at them - side by side. I want to help with caring for the little ones while momma and poppa set the table. i want to pick up the trash after the gifts are open and simply soak up the whole experience as thoroughly sacred knowing it will never come again. 

In many ways, this is the first year I have been free to practice what I once preached for decades: watch, wait, listen and receive the blessings that are sure to come in surprising and hidden ways. God is being born where we least expect to find the holy. In the past, there were rehearsals to organize, liturgies to write, trees to buy, meals to plan, pastoral emergencies to honor and so much more. Not so right now. And that is how Advent has unfolded for me: quietly, privately and with almost no expectations. To be totally honest, without the weight of my expectations and those of others, I feel rested and free. Like the late Henri Nouwen wrote:

Where is God? God is where we are weak, vulnerable, small and dependent. God is where the poor are, the hungry, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless. How can we come to know God when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence, and power? I increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need.

This year, more than in year's past, I am finally trusting this to be true. Another change that is rising to the surface this year has to do with how we mark the festival. In the past, the ritual of decorating the house has been important to our family. Not only do we all enjoy creating beautiful and warm environments for guests and family, but after so many years our decorations are ripe with history. There are sentimental memories, to be sure, as well as important family stories worth telling and retelling as ornaments are unwrapped and added to this year's tree. As I realized during last night's conversation, my theology of this holy season has not changed much - maybe gone a little deeper - but what I don't yet know is how to practice it. What is my older, retired, grandfather spirituality of this season that used to be so public and is now profoundly private? That's still to be revealed. I am rather moved by Robert Bly's oblique insight on this in his poem, "Think in ways you've never thought before."

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

Next year? It will likely all be different. Less travel for sure. More time with the family, too. Maybe even a new home? Lots of changes are on the horizon. One constant that kept popping up this Advent was my old friend Vince Guaraldi: at home on the CD player, in clubs, on the street, in shops and on the guitars of holiday buskers at the market everyone was playing tunes from "A Charlie Brown Christmas." And mostly "O Christmas Tree," too. Whatever else that music means for others, its feels slightly blue to me. Not sad and certainly not despairing. But indigo. A little bit playful with the tradition, a little be weary of how little time remains. Very Charlie Brownish - humble, alone, tender and looking for deeper connections.

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