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The 2014 mixed choir cantata at the Old Shrine of St. Ferdinand, Florissant, Mo.

Last Sunday, we sang our Christmas cantata with several other church choirs at a local historic landmark, the first church west of the Mississippi.  Before we started, I decided to avail myself of the facilities. Just as I walked past the soundboard, two little boys asked where the bathroom is. The guy working sound had things to get done but seemed reluctant to let the pair go back alone so I volunteered to escort them, all the while wondering — Why me?

Since there was a line, I got to spend several minutes answering questions about all things Catholic. I know Lori is laughing at this because I’m 100% Presbyterian.  I’ve picked up a wee bit of Catholic knowledge from her over the years but a wee bit isn’t all that much if the questions get too deep.  Fortunately, these were pretty basic if a bit rapid fire.

Them:  What’s this thing on a chain?

Me:     That’s for incense.

Them: Look at that little door way over there.  Why can’t we open it?

Me:  There’s a lock.  See?

Them:  What’s in there anyway?

Me:  The priest puts . . . .

Them:  “You’re sure we can’t open it? Cause I could crawl under that and get to it.”

We decided to let them cut in line so that we could return them to Grandma. After they scampered off to squeeze past the sound board and to the sanctuary, I turned around.  Hey!  What’s through that open door? Ooo, dozens of labeled drawers in front of a spiral staircase going up above the sanctuary.

I turned around to see one of the men from the Baptist choir laughing. Maybe I wasn’t there to keep the kids out of trouble as much as they were there to keep me out of trouble? I was definitely too focused to get nosey. It may not have been entirely voluntary, but with some help, I was on my best Christmas behavior.

Stay out of trouble, and may you all have a Blessed Christmas celebrating the coming of Christ!

–SueBE

He will come again perhaps in snow
or baked earth like the first time,
no one knows.
And if today,
what would he make
of sleighs and bells,
garlands, garish green
and red everywhere?
Perhaps he would shake his head
and chuckle at the foibles of his siblings.
Or point out, with rather more force,
“That’s a lot of hoopla
for a baby born in a manger.”
I myself would turn it all away,
all the tinsel and trimmings,
for a single moment of pure love.
That is what he came for,
and that is what he died for.
And so I say:
To beings everywhere —
You are greatly loved.
Believe it.
(That sharp uptick in your heart —
that right there is Christmas.)

 

A friend of my son’s was hit by a car earlier this year and was seriously injured. He survived, but had to have surgery, physical therapy and doctor visits. His aunt said to him, “God must have a plan for your life, since you survived something like this.”

I understand this way of thinking. It’s one thing if it’s a car crash or something else that’s beyond your control. But it gets tricky when people start to invoke God’s imprimatur on their own issues.

I saw an article quoting Kim Kardashian that God made her gain a lot of weight while she was pregnant. “He was saying, ‘Kim, you think you’re so hot, but look what I can do to you.’”  Forget the drum roll. May I have an eye-roll, please?

In an interview about the infamous Ray Rice video, his wife, Janay, is quoted as saying, “God chose me and Ray for a reason.” I had to put my coffee cup down, as I was sure I would drop it.

Okay. She’s saying that it was in God’s plan for her then-boyfriend to punch her in the face, knock her unconscious, drag her out of the elevator and drop her on the floor. And then, you see, they would get the chance to educate the world about domestic violence!

I know we’re all supposed to be adults, so I’ll try to put this as tactfully as possible. If you eat BLTs and milkshakes (full disclosure: these were my own go-to vices while expecting) for nine months straight? If someone you’re dating beats you unconscious and you still marry him? If you know what you’re doing is immoral, illegal, irresponsible…pick one… and you still want to blame God for your actions?

I know I’m from Jersey and tend to get sassy, saucy and occasionally salty. But let me say this simply, with no drama in my delivery.

Ahem.

Sorry; no. That’s on you.

Christmas hopeAs I write this, Christmas is just over one week away. The new outdoor lights are still in their boxes in a chair in the living room. Christmas cards, also still in their boxes, are either in my office or in the dining room. I just finished a crocheted gift this morning but still need to work the tails into it and two others. Another handmade gift is in the molds, setting and hardening.

Christmas perfection? Not even close.

I know a lot of women who would be yanking out their hair right about now, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is not about perfection. At least it isn’t about human perfection and that’s a good thing because we are far from perfect.

Christmas is our time to celebrate God sending Christ into our lives. It is a reminder that even when things are deep and dark, there is a sliver of hope.

What does this have to do with prayer?  No, I’m not going to tell you to pray so that you can better focus on what this season is truly about.  I’m going to ask you to think about the things that you pray about.  Think especially hard on your unanswered prayers.

Are you sure they’re unanswered?  When God sent the world what it needed most of all, he sent a tiny baby. A baby isn’t a warrior messiah.  A baby isn’t a preacher, a teacher or a healer. A baby is a small, vulnerable hope for tomorrow.

Now think again about those prayers.  Are you absolutely certain that they are unanswered? Perhaps your answer is there, small and vulnerable, a hope for tomorrow.

–SueBE

Someone once said that at age 50, you have the face you deserve. Now, who that someone was is up to debate: Some say Coco Chanel, others George Orwell. Some give the nod to Lincoln (and change the “expiration date” to 40 instead of 50). One website even credits Joan Collins with the witticism. Me, I tend to be Team Coco. It sounds like the sort of thing she would have said, perhaps between designing chic little black dresses and scolding people about their accessory choices.

I’ve had cause to consider this quotation as I stare down the barrel at the rapidly approaching bullet that is my 50th birthday. Do people really have the faces they deserve? One could argue that money, as usual, effects exceptions to the rule — if one has a clever plastic surgeon, that is. It would also be appropriate to note that life isn’t fair, and the results of this unfairness often show up on the kindest and best of visages. When my brother was just barely out of toddler-hood, he cracked his head open after tripping on a jump rope (to be fair, my sister and I were chasing him). He has the scar to this day. I have a similar scar on my lower lip, the product of a childhood incident with a sharpened pencil and prolonged spinning. (What was I thinking? Knowing me, I was thinking the pencil was a magic wand, and I was a twirling fairy, and, well, splat…an unhappy ending.)

Truly bad things happen to good people, with surprising regularity. Still, one could argue (and I intend to) that none of get what we really deserve. Because someone took the weight for us.

Whether or not you believe in the Adam and Eve story, you must admit that we humans have been both blessed and cursed by Free Will. Given the choice, we often do awful things. Whether those things fall into the category of unlawful fruit-eating or violence against one another, it does not matter. The black mark on our souls is there from the start. Most of us do little to mitigate it.

And that could have been all she wrote. (Not me, silly. I mean “that might have been the last word on the matter.”) Except for three exceptional blessings: Baptism (to wash away Original Sin), Reconciliation (the process of confessing and being forgiven one’s sins) and — most crucially — Christ’s death and resurrection, which guaranteed for all of us the possibility of the most stunningly unearned outcome of all: An eternity with God in heaven.

No matter how unfair life is, to our faces or our fortunes, we have a miraculous reprieve available to us. Jesus suffered and died for us so we, all of us sinners, throughout the ages, could have the very best of presents: More time, the best time, time free from all the petty concerns of this earth.

So maybe I do have the face I deserve. Or not. But I certainly have so much more — the hope of heaven. And that’s a pretty good comfort to cling to, no matter what life throws my way.

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” the police officer said, hiking up his pants and pacing slowly. “I just want to make sure I understand the situation.” It seemed as if he was talking to a jury, not a family that had just lost a loved one, minutes ago.

He was training a new officer, and it became clear that he was trying to impress the rookie with his “command” of the scene.

As he spoke, I realized that I knew this man.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” I said, and told him my name. “We went to high school together.”

He shrugged slightly, smirked and widened his eyes dramatically. “Geez. You got so big!” he said to me. He laughed as if to say, I’m so bad to say that, but it’s true!

Silently seething, I almost reflexively responded that I’d just had a child, but I realized you should never justify yourself. Bad behavior is just that. It’s unacceptable.

Outwardly calm, I did the math in my head. He could make this process even more painful if I got up in his grill, as we say in Jersey. Which I so wanted to do.

“You’re not one to talk, bud,” I said, pointing to the burgeoning buttons on his uniform, which might have fit a few years ago. But at this point, he looked like a sausage in a casing.

We semi-smiled and chuckled mirthlessly, knowing we’d both just insulted the heck out of each other, but tacitly agreeing to call it a draw.

Society had decided this guy was in charge right now. There in my parents’ home, with my dad lying cold in the other room. There in the house where I grew up. How can someone “pull rank” on you in your own home?

He went back to interrogating my mother about how my father – all of 90 pounds after being ravaged by cancer – had died. I guess the hospital bed, commode, wheelchair and medications would have been puzzling to anyone but Columbo, perhaps. This truly seemed to be a great mystery.

The thing that struck me the most about this ordeal was the fact that he was not a stunod (more colorful Jerseyisms) in high school. He wasn’t a friend of mine; we had a few classes in common, but from what I could surmise, he was an okay sort.

What happened?

Does the badge always change you? Does power corrupt people?

This may be oversimplifying the recent spate of police-civilian incidents, but I don’t see it as black vs. white. It’s not even the authority establishment against everyone else. It’s light and darkness. Compassion vs. callousness. Both are inside each of us, and it’s what we choose to tap into at any given time. I’m praying that somehow, some way…we could all turn the light on at the same time. And keep it on. Now that would be a shining sight to see.

Again, not my church choir but this is the anthem that we sang today. A medieval anthem sound.

–SueBE

Make space for quiet and prayer in times of tragedy.

Make space for quiet and prayer in times of tragedy.

I’d love to say that I’ve filled my Advent thus far with meditation and contemplation about the coming of Christ.  Unfortunately, it isn’t true. Advent may be a time of waiting but I’ve just been waiting for things to calm down.

As I’ve said before, I live just outside of Ferguson.  As the district attorney announced that the police officer who shot and killed the young man in August would not be indicted, riots broke out.  No, not protests.  Riots.  Burning buildings, flipping over police cars, looting.  Riots.

Just as this calmed down, my father had the nerve to be admitted to the hospital through the ER. Waiting in the ER is one thing.  Waiting when the place is crawling with high-strung emergency workers is another thing altogether.

Not enough drama in my life at this point, I also had a book due. I know?  Couldn’t my publisher have planned better and given me a calmer, quieter deadline?

But in the middle of all of this insanity, I realized that this is the world that Christ came into.  Although we picture a quiet night with shepherds and angels, Christ came into a world full of tension between Roman and Jew. He came into a world where the haves feasted until they had to vomit so they could feast some more while the have nots combed through harvested fields looking for enough to feed their families.

Instead of waiting until things calm down to find Christ, I need to find him amid the furor. It is time to light a Christmas candle and snag a few quiet moments. I can’t expect more than a few but in those moments I can listen for the still small voice calling to me. That voice that is calling me to share his hope with those that have none, the voice that is whispering to me to share his joy with those who know only despair.  I am waiting to discover the details, but like Lori I know that they will come.

–SueBE

Stop me if I’ve told this one before (Ha! As if you could stop me!): My husband and I were leaving the doctor’s office when the kind receptionist apologized for our wait. “That okay,” said hubby, “I brought a book.” “That’s okay,” I replied, “I have a vivid imagination.”

What I meant, of course, is that I can occupy myself practically endlessly with just the machinations of my own kooky brain. Still, that doesn’t always make waiting easy. Sure, I waited three years for kitchen counters (and I cook every blessed day), but just waiting for Yahoo to get it together this morning and SHOW ME MY BLOODY MAIL made me go all kinds of cuckoo. Waiting can be insufferable sometimes.

Advent, the liturgical season leading up to Christmas, is a time of waiting, too. We are called to “stay awake,” and “keep watch,” but for what? For a savior that was born a long time ago? No. For a savior that is returning — and for the march of Providence (sometimes it feels like a tiptoe) in our lives, leading us to our spiritual destinies.

Where are we going? How do we get there? Persons of faith know their desired destination — heaven — but getting there is another kettle of fish altogether. Yes, we have Jesus’ own words to help us: Feed the poor, shelter the homeless, be kind and merciful, forgive one another. This is all bricks-and-mortar stuff. But the specific way in which we reach enlightenment…that’s different for each of us.

I spend a good deal of time wondering if I’m on the right path. Am I using my gifts to my fullest ability? Am I giving enough? What is God calling me to do now? These are not easy questions to answer. I often strain to hear the voice of God. But I also have faith that I did not get where I am now on my own. I am here for a reason — God must want me here. I just need to figure out why.

If you, too, are in a “holding pattern” in your life, wondering which way to go, be of good cheer. Advent is your season. Be patient and listen, but also know that you did not arrive at your current destination by chance. God is leading, guiding. All you have to do is stay awake. And maybe bring a book.

Mayim Bialik, an actress on the sitcom, the Big Bang Theory, showed up at an event dressed conservatively. The caption in a magazine read, “Because she’s an Orthodox Jew, Bialik is forced to dress modestly.”

Huh. That got my dander up. My point is, what’s wrong with dressing modestly? Unless you’re Amish, or, I don’t know, the Queen of England, people look askance at those who dress modestly.

It seems to me that most of the younger generation of stars are habitually unable to find their pants in the morning. “Chronic Pants Loss” must be a thing now. Why else would they show up, as Beyoncé does with astonishing regularity, with only a sparkly top and sheer hose when performing on stage? Surely she can afford slacks, with all of her money, and Jay-Z’s combined. At least a pair of capris!

Don’t get me started, already. I suppose I’m getting to be an old fogey, but here’s some advice for Miley Cyrus. You’re going to be seeing the chiropractor in your golden years, that’s for sure! Twerking? I don’t think so. In my world, that’s called an involuntary spasm. I think there’s a pill for that, dearie. And – confidentially – it’s really not pretty to look at either.

All that said, I really don’t have a beef with any of these celebrities trying to express themselves in whatever way they see fit. It’s still a free country. When I was young, I wore many an outfit that made my mother shake her head, so I know it’s part of the process of finding yourself and your own style. These young folks can dress any way they see fit, but by the same token, no one else should be made to feel bad for choosing to dress modestly.

It’s a big, wide world, and there’s room enough for all of us – Modest Mayim, Blouse-only Beyoncé, and me, sitting here in my Sensible Shoes and Comfy Cardigan. Now, this is living!

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