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Moping Through December: Journal Snippets, Trump Syndrome, and the Birth of Christ

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Moping Through December: Journal Snippets, Trump Syndrome, and the Birth of Christ

I often feel that I have to put a positive spin on life, look for the light in the darkness, seek out the redemptive element of every story. In a sense, this is my natural inclination: I’m a sunny person. I see it as a gift I can share. Which may be why I haven’t written much in December.

I got nothin’.

I’ve been sick for three-plus weeks, running a fever for days at a time, night-time coughing fits, etc. I’ve had multiple cold sores and my stress-induced Irritable Bowel Syndrome is acting up for the first time since my mother died eight years ago.

I suspect this is Donald Trump Syndrome.

From My Journal, Dec. 6

“Maybe it sounds silly, but I think this is Trump-stress. Just like the post-stress sicknesses after college exam time. Only it’s the fate of the world at stake. You, Dear Reader, looking back from your all-knowing perch in the future, will know just how historic and how disastrous this election proved to be. But I do not. Maybe you think I’m over-reacting. Maybe you think I’m prophetic (OK, maybe not). Maybe you are shaking your head thinking, “She doesn’t know the half of it.” The fear is real, from my perspective. I wish I trusted God more.

In a funny way, at least my body now matches my spirit: raw, downtrodden, drained. Maybe this physical illness needs to be part of my overall healing. Or maybe I’m just trying to assign spiritual meaning to the common cold.”

I know what I must do to stay sane in the coming years. There’s a clear connection between my emotional balance and my spiritual practices — prayer, meditation, silence, spiritual community, writing, fasting. Most especially frequent fasts from social media. Every single time I get on social media or see the news, I get upset.

The president-elect is daily proving himself to be exactly who we feared he would be: an impulsive, vindictive Narcissist driven only by ego and money. He throws around threats of a renewed nuclear arms race on Twitter, and I have a few “Christian” friends who apparently think that’s OK. They tell me not to take what he says literally. Really? I cannot bear it. 

From My Journal, Dec 10

“Ah, rest. It’s Advent Quiet Day at Cedar Ridge. I’m starting with my journal, then meditation, then I’ll walk the labyrinth.

Entering In

Entering In

Several people look to be sleeping already. We are all so over-tired.

mary

janie

Grateful to be here. The Barn is lovely, all decorated for Christmas. Twinkling trees, garlands of lights, hanging stars of red, white, and gold.

star

This morning in small group, someone asked me if my sister is my only sibling. In the three years since Biff died, that’s the first time I’ve gotten that question. I think I said,”I had a brother but he died three years ago.” But that doesn’t feel right. I still have a brother — he is a very real part of my life. And he died.”

I’m sure part of my funk has been the anniversary on the 23rd. But I’m so much better this year. I am no longer in grief-survival mode, I am in re-forming and moving-ahead mode. At least I was.

Now I’m in Trump-survival mode. He’s just made clear his plans to purge the Energy Department of anyone who has worked on climate change. Anyone who might disagree with him. He wants no leaks, I’m sure, as he goes about dismantling our climate programs. He has no moral compass.

From My Journal, Dec 25

“Christ is born! Emmanuel, God with us. God is here, always, forever, no matter what. Impossible for us to grasp, but a hope to reach for, nonetheless.

50-ways

Today is a gift I’m giving the Christ-child. I’m staying off the computer to focus on God. Last night I watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ — I hope it always makes me cry.

jimmy-stewart

After communing with Jimmy Stewart, I went out after dark and decorated my front fence and crepe myrtle. It’s bright and cheerful and put me in the Christmas spirit after the candlelight service at Cedar Ridge. I am doing well, missing departed family, but glad for this season to celebrate a great light in the darkness. Now more than ever.”

Thanks for the WordPress word prompt, moping. Quite appropriate.

Warning: Advent Virus!

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This warning comes via an anonymous email. While it sounds too dire to believe, I think we should all be on the lookout for it:

† † †

“Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:

  • A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.

  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.

  • A loss of interest in judging other people.

  • A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.

  • A loss of interest in conflict.

  • A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)

  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.

  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.

  • Frequent attacks of smiling.

  • An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.

  • An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.”

duckie

Surrendering to Magical Moments

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So you want to believe in magic, do you? That’s the conclusion I draw from the unusually high interest in my last post, The Magical Now, second only to my June post explaining spirituality to Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia.

Or maybe there are just a lot of folks off work this week with extra time to read random blogs.

Whatever the reason, my response as a blogger must be to draft another post with the word “magical” in the title because it’s all about views and likes and followers and statistics. Right? One must build one’s “platform.”

Not so much. That’s what I was told when I started blogging, but the stats goal has proved less than inspiring — hardly worth emptying your heart onto the page week after week, year after year. Catchy titles or no, blogging, for me, is mostly about connecting: with people, with ideas, and with spirit.

Which brings us back to magic.

Magic is about connection. Connecting the dots, connecting the seen with the unseen, connecting with elements or spirits or entities greater than ourselves.

Magic is also about control, or the hope of control. The official definition of magic is “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” Ah, yes, the illusion of control. How well I remember it. 

Surrendering to the Season

The enchantment that reigns during this ‘in-between,” liminal Christmas week is of the connection variety, not the control variety. It’s spiritual, more than magical. It’s about surrendering the need to control, and connecting to the peace and love of the season.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have some control. You do. You have choices.

This week, you can choose to slow down enough to notice the spiritual. Allow the waters of your soul to calm so that you can see past the surface to what’s underneath.

You can choose to open your hands and accept the gift of grace that’s offered at this time of year. You may not be able to “influence the course of events” through magic, but you might find a touch of what the bible calls “the peace that passes all understanding.”

“The Darkness Draws Back”

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Marcellus waxes eloquent about this “gracious” season “wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,” and “the bird of dawning singeth all night long;” the rooster’s crowing keeps the powers of darkness at bay.

Horatio responds, “So have I heard, and do in part believe.” Like many of us, Horatio kind of wants to believe, but he can’t quite allow his mind to surrender to the truth he senses in his spirit.

One of my favorite lines in the bible is a man telling Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” He recognizes that we need divine help to release our illusions of control, to let go of our agendas, to be still and stand in the threshold between this world and the next, hands unclenched and wide open.

I like how author Frederick Buechner frames the choice we have this week:

“At Christmastime it is hard even for the unbeliever not to believe in something if not in everything. Peace on earth, good will to men; a dream of innocence that is good to hold on to even if it is only a dream; the mystery of being a child; the possibility of hope . . . For a moment or two, the darkness of disenchantment, cynicism, doubt, draw back at least a little, and all the usual worldly witcheries lose something of their power to charm. Maybe we cannot manage to believe with all our hearts. But as long as the moments last, we can believe that this is of all things the thing most worth believing. And that may not be as far as it sounds from what belief is.”

May your magical moments last. Happy new year!

magical tree

A magical tree, encountered in a magical land

I Wish You Joy! (And Maybe Merry Christmas.)

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I wish you joy this Christmas day, whether or not you celebrate Christmas, whether or not you consider yourself a Christian, whether or not you get angry if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas.

Mind you, I am not wishing you a Merry Christmas, unless you would like me to, in which case, I wish you the merriest of Christmases! Otherwise, I wish you joy: big, robust, impossible-to-resist joy.

Of course, being a follower of Jesus, I consider the Christmas message and the state of joy very closely related. The bible says — and my experience is — that when you are truly connected to the spirit of God, you will experience complete joy, along with love and peace and patience all kinds of other good stuff that you can’t buy and wrap up in packages.

photo (28)

The Joy of Jesus

Throughout the Bible, Jesus brought joy wherever he went, beginning with the Christmas story. Angels heralded his arrival as tidings of great joy to all people, lowly shepherds celebrated, and the magi were overjoyed at the star over Bethlehem.

Later, Jesus hung out at big dinner parties with “undesirables,” celebrated at weddings, and cooked out on the beach with friends. He turned water into wine at a wedding party, and when faced with hungry crowds of thousands, he handed out endless bread and fish, showing that God’s abundance and capacity for celebration never runs out. His enemies even accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard! Despite being homeless and hated by many, Jesus surely knew how to bring joy.

laughing jesus

Imagine the joy that followed this guy as he healed people from every kind of brokenness and illness. He told them to leave their baggage behind, to go and be free from shame. He freed people bound by unhealthy exclusive religion, releasing them from legalistic rules and toxic preconceived notions about God.

The Non-Joy of Too Many “Christians”

That’s why it’s so sad that today, many people who consider themselves Christians (never mind that Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion) have lost their joy and put themselves back into bondage. They appear to believe it’s their job to judge other people in a serious, somber, and sometimes angry manner, constantly warning about the wages of sin. An Onward Christian Soldier attitude: life is a battle, suit up. Attack!

How is that reflecting Jesus? Even at Christmas, these people wage a campaign of negativity and victimhood and resentment: “There’s a war on Christmas, poor us!” Trust me, I know what it’s like to have your faith mocked, to have your beliefs attacked, to feel belittled by people you love, behind your back and on Facebook.

But Christians: get over it. You shouldn’t become part of this divisiveness. Pray that you would be filled with love and compassion and forgiveness, not pettiness. The peace of Jesus doesn’t come from this world, and our joy does not depend on other people.

Followers of Christ should be leading a counter-cultural campaign of joy against the darkness and division in the world, not an angry pity party.

I saw a bill-board in Pennsylvania yesterday: a big “Happy Holidays” crossed out and “Merry Christmas” written over the top of it. Really? REALLY?

Jesus-filled people should be wishing everyone joy in a way that brings joy, not in an aggressive way intended to make people angry. How dumb (or worse, mean-spirited) is that? The joy of Jesus is not an exclusive joy or a joy that creates divisions; it comes from love, not anger or fear.

love thy neighbor

Party On!

Here’s the thing: There’s a cosmic party going on, and everyone belongs! It’s a joyful place right here, right now, not just in some puffy, pink-clouded after-life, and it is much stronger than the dark side of the Force. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God,” and he said that everyone is welcome.

That’s what I’m celebrating at Christmas: There’s an open door, come on in. Just ignore those misguided, cheerless “Christians” in the corner. Celebrate with the rest of us!

Joy to the world! And joy to you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

Advent Happens, Love Happens

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I’m happy lately, feeling as if I’m in the zone, using my gifts, and helping people. And you can’t beat that.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve rededicated myself to a regular practice of prayer and meditation over the past few months. Last week, I gave a sermon about “becoming prayer” — prayer not so much as something you do, but as a state of being.

In the interest of practicing what I preach, and having learned that pastoral work is more about being a centered, compassionate human being than it is about book learnin’ and fancy words, I am dedicating myself this Advent to truly reaching for God’s heart, opening myself to that spirit of love that comes only through prayer.

The love that keeps going through the darkness, the love that never folds in on itself even when it hurts to stay open, the love that loves even the unlovely. Especially the unlovely.

The love that breaks down our defenses and cleans out our ego-crap and prepares a place for God in our hearts. Advent love.

In our responsive prayer at church yesterday — the first Sunday in Advent — we used the phrase, “slipping from regular time into Advent.” I love this image of a gentle but certain transition. Advent happens. God happens.

The church of Jesus slips into this ancient-but-new season together, a communal season of the spirit, a season of reflection and celebration. These days everybody talks about their spirituality as if it’s an individual personal growth thing, which it is, but Jesus said that he came to empower us to be One in the spirit of Love, so Christian spirituality is also a community thing. Slipping out of “regular time” and into Advent time is something we do as a spiritual family.

To celebrate the start of Advent, I want to share this lovely but challenging prayer by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.

“May the sounds of Advent stir a longing in your people, O God. Come again to set us free from the dullness of routine and the poverty of our imaginations. Break the patterns which bind us to small commitments and to the stale answers we have given to questions of no importance. Let the Advent trumpet blow, let the walls of our defenses crumble, and make a place in our lives for the freshness of your love, well-lived in the Spirit, and still given to all who know their need and dare receive it. Amen.”

May love happen for you this Advent!

Preparing for Advent

Preparing for Advent

Adoration Happens: Advent Eve

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I’m trying to avoid Christmas music until Advent, which starts tomorrow. I don’t have a TV, so it’s not impossible, but it does mean staying out of stores and abstaining from the radio completely. It’s silly, really, my meaningless protest against the extended Christmas season that creeps across the calendar pages, earlier and earlier each autumn, all in the service of greed, consumption, and profit margins.

I stage this rebellion most years, but by the time we reach so-called Black Friday – one of the most abhorrent plagues in America – it’s a fool’s errand, trying to avoid the jingly jangly carols.

This morning as I was driving around the D.C. beltway, I accidentally broke my own abstinence and began warbling, “Oh come let us adore him…”

Adoration happens.

I guess it’s Advent Eve.

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I want to be more mindful of Advent this year, the season during which those who follow Jesus (or say they do) prepare for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ: the day “love came down,” as we say. I know, I know, it’s not really his “birthday;” we don’t know when that was. But early Christians piggy-backed on a Roman pagan celebration, so there were parties all around: still are.

Anyway, I’m going to write about Advent this month, so prepare yourselves, my non-Jesus-type friends.

Right now, though, I’m off to my fourth celebratory feast of the week. Just wrapping up Thanksgiving before entering Advent.

The New Year’s Post That Wasn’t

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How I wish I could write! What kind of blogger doesn’t produce a New Year’s post? I wonder — can I call it writer’s block if I’m not even trying to write? I mean, doesn’t one need to be experiencing some sort of inner warfare in order claim a creative  block? If I just don’t feel like it, does that count?

Don’t know. Don’t care. I know that sounds like depression, but I can’t blame that at the moment either. There’s no deep poetic brooding going on in my subconscious.

I’ve just been busy, doing no-fun things like cleaning out the house of my deceased brother and mother and stacking and re-stacking piles of papers labeled “Mom’s trust” and “Biff’s estate” and “funeral expenses,” while sitting on hold with various mutual fund managers and lawyers.

More than that, though, I’ve been living my life, spending time with friends and laughing until my face hurts, celebrating Christmas with my nephew and his family in a funky old artist’s colony in Pennsylvania, and planning a New Year’s trip to Philly for further frivolity.

Christmas in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania

Christmas in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania

December has featured four-hour lunches, spontaneous potlucks with the neighbors, back-to-back holiday parties, and live performances of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker.

I’ve spent entire afternoons reading great literary fiction (Carson McCullers, Margaret Laurence), and also some crap (I confess an addiction to John Grisham). I’ve been drinking expensive organic cabernet and watching old episodes of Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason, along with the obligatory black and white Christmas movies.

So sue me. I’ve recovered from the magnitude-seven grumpiness that shook me as I approached the December 23rd anniversary of my brother’s passing, and I am now celebrating having survived a whole year without him. I deserve to do whatever the heck I feel like doing.

Happy 2015!!

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