Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day After Christmas?

December 26, 2010

Dear Friends,

Each year at Christmas a friend identifies herself as a direct descendent of Scrooge. Her favorite carol (she says) is a musical gem that she herself composed. The lyrics consist of multiple repetitions of, “Bah humbug on Christmas Day”, sung with operatic fervor in a key much too high for her alto voice.

This year she expanded the lyrics to include several verses of “Double Bah Humbug on the day after Christmas,” to be sung preferably, as she noted, “in high C.”

“What's this 'day after Christmas' business?” I asked her.

“It's trash and clutter, empty boxes, packing peanuts all over the carpet, and the fridge filled with leftover food nobody wants to eat,” she said with a grin. Then she added, with a smile that carried more sober thought than joke, “Most of all, I hate those orphan bows and scraps of ribbon lying around looking forlorn and useless.”

We laughed but we were talking about a serious truth.

Christmas can be a heart–bruising marathon, and the day after Christmas no joke at all. Even cynics and consumer–watchful realists can find Christmas a surprisingly tricky experience to manage.

Unrecognized and unwelcomed longings filter through the music; unmet expectations hide in the implicit promise of beribboned packages. Distracted with tinsel and lights we may not hear our dim wordless hope: “This year– this year, maybe it will all come true. That dream– that dream, that relationship I have longed for – this year maybe it will all come true.”

Then comes the day after Christmas.

Annoying as the debris left by our consumer excesses may be, the trigger for serious “day after” holiday blues is ourselves. We wake up on the day after Christmas to find that we are – all of us – just who we were the day before Christmas.

Imperfect families have remained imperfect. No seasonal magic seduced unloving hearts to love, or prompted selfish hearts to generosity. No spirit of the season altered the acid of criticism into acceptance and grace.

We are who we were, with old uncertainties and ambivalences, with the same frustrating mix of love and selfishness, of greed and generosities.

When we realize this, we feel foolish and embarrassed. We feel childish for having permitted ourselves –even for a instant– to wish for magic to change us. On the day after Christmas we remind ourselves sternly that we are adults who no longer listen for the sound of reindeer on the roof.

But at this point it is easy to substitute one error for another. Longing for change is not the problem.

It is the great good news of Advent that change has come– a great change that makes more change yet to come now possible.
The difficulty lies in the fact that the change we long for is not a simple package. The slow difficult movement away from self–absorption toward concern for others, from brittle inauthenticity to painful imperfect reality requires more than wishful thinking.

The promise of change lies at the heart of the season. This promise is rooted in mystery, however; not in magic. Transformation that lasts grows from relationship with the Person whose birthday the season celebrates.

They called that baby “Immanuel,” (God with us). Because of Him, we can celebrate Christmas and the day after Christmas lifelong.

How are you marking the days after Christmas in your life?

Grateful with you for the only trustworthy source of change.

See you next week.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Change in Bethlehem


Dec. 19, 2010

Advent greetings, friends,

A word about change from Madeleine l’Engle:

The Bethlehem Explosion

The chemistry lab at school
was in an old greenhouse
surrounded by ancient live oaks
garnished with Spanish moss.

The experiment I remember best
was pouring a quart of clear fluid
into a glass jar, and dropping into it,
grain by grain, salt-sized crystals,
until they layered
like white sand on the floor of the jar.

One more grain—and suddenly—
water and crystal burst
into a living, moving pattern,
a silent, quietly violent explosion.
The teacher told us that only when
we supersaturated the solution,
would come the precipitation.

The little town
was like the glass jar in our lab.
One by one they came, grain by grain,
all those of the house of David,
like grains of sand to be counted.

The inn was full. When Joseph knocked,
His wife was already in labour; there was no room
Even for compassion. Until the barn was offered.
That was the precipitating factor. A child was born,
and the pattern changed forever, the cosmos
shaken with that silent explosion.

Madeleine l’Engle,
From A Cry Like a Bell

Where do you see evidence of that “silent explosion” in your life?

Still living into that cosmos changing event,


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Praise sorrows?


December 12, 2010

Dear friends,

We have thought together about the ways in which gratitude functions as a change agent. I discovered this idea expressed in a different and thought-provoking form in Anterooms, Richard Wilbur’s new collection of poetry.

The fourth poem in the collection is titled “Psalm.” The first of its five stanzas reads:

Give thanks for all things
On the plucked lute, and likewise
The harp of ten strings.

The concluding stanza:

Then in grave relief
Praise too our sorrows on the
Cello of shared grief.

Think about this change: stripped of narcissistic individualism, our sorrows are also to be praised, voiced through the “cello of shared grief.”

There is something powerfully moving in this image: my personal grief heard first as an unaccompanied strident solo, then mellowed and muted into one of many voices in the dark rich sound of the “cello of shared grief.”

Do you view sorrow as a solitary activity?

Comforted tonight to know my sorrow is not mine alone; I rest, hearing the night music of shared grief.

See you next week.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Batteries not included

December 5, 2010

Dear friends,

People in stores and shopping malls demonstrate interesting behaviors, many of which appear much the same from year to year. However, each year the advertising ploys designed to capture the interest (and money) of these potential customers change. While the goal (to sell) remains the same, the method of attracting attention changes--novelty to catch the potential buyer's eye, then the "new carrot" to encourage sales. Exposed to this process, the wise customer continues, however, to read the fine print. "Let the buyer beware," may be old advice, but it remains good advice none the less. Besides, the fine print is often quite interesting.

This year I've been struck by the increasing numbers of toy boxes (both for adult toys and toys for children) on which the cover of the box pictures the toy it contains in action, performing some amazing feat flawlessly, effortlessly. The small print, however, advises: batteries not included.

At first, when I thought about that particular fine print, the whole process seemed odd somehow. There seemed some measure of absurdity in presenting an object as valuable enough to buy while, at the same time, the seller advises (albeit in small letters) that the object is useless unless the buyer supplies the necessary energy to enable it to function.

On second thought, I found myself thinking about change (surprised?) and the way in which our willingness to supply the necessary energy is an essential component. Some things in life as in toy stores simply aren't designed to work unless we supply the batteries.

Somewhere in a book I read as a child there was a story of a shepherd who heard the angels sing, but argued with his fellow shepherds when they decided to go into Bethlehem to see if indeed there was a baby in the manger as the angels had told them. This shepherd said something like this: "It's cold, and I'm tired, and you are silly to go all that distance in the dark to see a baby. Go if you want to be so silly, but I'm staying here and sleeping. You'll be sorry tomorrow when it's time to move the sheep. You'll wish you too had gone to bed."

In the story, of course, it was the shepherd who stayed behind that became forever regretful. As I remember it, the story closed with the shepherd, now old, telling his grandson sadly, "It was not too far to the village. I could have walked there. I don't know now why I didn't go."

Immanuel born--God come to be with us--God to be seen in human form in Bethlehem barn!!!

Advent now as then offers us the excitement of discovery and new knowledge of God. While in God's generosity the option is freely offered, the energy to enter into the process remains our choice. The opportunity for change is there--however, the potential participant should be advised: energy needed: batteries are not supplied.

Where are you investing your energy this Advent season?

Risking with you the wise tiredness from walking once more to see that Baby's face.
See you next week.


PS The five interviews I did with Haddon Robinson and Alice Mathews on RBC will be aired Dec. 27-30. You can find your local radio stations that will carry these by contacting Katy Pent at Discovery House Publishers. Will try to give you a direct link to RBC Ministries next week. I found Haddon and Alice to be delightful hosts, and insightful about More Than An Aspirin. No author can ask for more than that. Hope you will listen in.