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Advent is a season of anticipation. We await the coming of Christ, pure God and pure human, in the person of a newborn babe. But we know that, don’t we? We’ve heard the Christmas story a hundred times — probably more. Maybe it’s time to try something new.

In her Advent booklet, “Daybreaks,” author Paula D’Arcy challenges us to approach God in a startlingly innovative way: Without demands, without preconceptions, without an agenda. All we need do is walk forward. Or simply wait in silence. Sound easy? Ay, but there’s the rub.

I can’t remember a time when I came to God without a laundry list of desires, hopes, fears, plans and petitions. I expect things from God. I expect a response. I expect that I know what I want and need, both for myself and those I love.

But do I? As a good friend of mine likes to say, “How’s that working for you?” To which I can only reply, “So-so.” To come before God prepared with an agenda provides a false sense of control over my life. It helps me feel organized, prepared, on track. I’ve never been comfortable traveling my life’s journey without a map or even a compass, but now I see that the moments where I’ve allowed myself to jump off a proverbial cliff without a parachute have been the most satisfying and spiritually rewarding times in my life. That’s a big pill for a control freak to swallow.

What if we approach Advent, which is after all, the start of a new canonical year in the Catholic Church and directly prefaces our calendar New Year, without a list? What if, instead of knowing what we’re waiting for, we forget all that and see what happens instead? What if we abolish resolutions and admit that we just don’t know?

And, most importantly, what if we commit to walking toward Jesus without our usual burden of expectations? Maybe we’ll find him in the manger, just as we thought. Or maybe we’ll find him in the last place we think to look: in the face of a stranger, in the words of those we disagree with.

It takes strength to take a journey without knowing its end. But if the magi can do it, why can’t we?

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I have to admit that my husband is so much better at this than I am.  I think about everything I didn’t accomplish yesterday.  I try to correlate all I have to do tomorrow.  My biggest concern is that I would probably be more efficient if I lived in the now.

But that’s not truly the important issue, is it?  The issue is what we miss when we ignore now as we focus on today and tomorrow.

Fortunately we have the perfect now moment going on today.  We will be attending a wedding.  Today we will be celebrating.

Tomorrow?  There will be time enough for that when it gets here.

–SueBE

They say there are two primal reactions to any situation: fight or flight. Let me suggest a third: holding for a moment, letting God make the decision for you. As fearful as you are, as stressful as the situation might be, God will hold you up. It is a moment I often forget to take, as used as I am to thinking I am in total control of my life (a laughable concept). But a necessary one. As usual, I illustrate in poetry:

Plunge in.
The water’s cold,
so cold it stops your heart
for a moment. And then
you come back into yourself,
all at once, water — wet, breath — held,
eyes — open, to clear blue impossibilities.
You will panic or be at peace;
it doesn’t matter which,
except in terms of long-term survival.
You will swim, after a fashion, or not.
It will be easier if you let your body go,
but that requires a yes you may not be ready for.
Try to say it anyway. The tide will lift you,
even if the yes is a lie.

Turns out the Texas shooter abused his wife, his child and various animals. Then there’s the guy who snapped a woman’s neck and gouged out her eyes for daring to reject his marriage proposal. And the ongoing accusations of exploitation and rape by Hollywood power brokers against women and children. Seems like hurting someone smaller and weaker than yourself is so endemic, it’s become part and parcel of ordinary life.

It probably always was, of course. Landowners abused serfs. Queens abused ladies-in-waiting. Children attack smaller children. It’s a jungle out there, folks, in the truest sense of the metaphor: Unless you’re an apex predator, watch out.

If you want to know where God is in all of this, look down, to the smallest and weakest of us. God always stands with the abused, the poor, the people on the fringes. That’s where God lives. Don’t believe me? Read the Sermon on the Mount again. Count the number of times and ways Jesus says that the last will be first, and the first, last. Picture poor Lazarus in paradise while Mr. Dives smolders away for all of eternity. And (at least from what we know), Dives never actively abused Lazarus; he just ignored him. How much greater will the punishment be for those who do mete out abuse?

So what can be done? Must we patiently wait for the next life for justice? Me, I’m going to pray The Litany of Nonviolence, written by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN. Feel free to add your voice.

Provident God,
aware of our own brokenness,
we ask the gift of courage
to identify how and where we are in need of conversion
in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain.
Grant us the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those
whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege.
Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply
so others may have their just share of Earth’s resources.

Deliver us from the silence
that gives consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant us the desire, and the courage,
to risk speaking and acting for the common good.

Deliver us from the violence
of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength,
to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.

God of love, mercy and justice,
acknowledging our complicity
in those attitudes, action and words which perpetuate violence,
we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.
Amen.

In the eighth grade, my best friend had a crush on the class’s most unavailable boy — unavailable in that he was dating one of the more popular girls in our class. I remember my mother telling my friend that she was so much prettier than the girl in question, but my friend didn’t see it. Probably because children (teens included) lack far-sightedness: While the “girlfriend” had almost certainly done her “blooming” already, my friend had barely begun to nudge at the edges of her life-long flowering. At 52, she is still in her prime, and as any reader of Muriel Sparks knows, “Prime is best.”

It takes time to wake up to the possibilities of ourselves and to allow the negative grip that others have on us to diminish. I think that’s why so many young people feel depression and act out on it — they can’t see the way ahead. Time is the one gift we cannot bestow on another, and it’s just the gift so many need.

In my own life, I had nightmares for years about a bully from high school. I went to an all-girls’ school, and while we did not have to contend with toxic masculinity, I am here to tell you that toxicity is just as lethal in the female of the species. In our school it took shape in passive-aggressive cattiness, sudden shifts in friendship and verbal abuse. I let this person take roost in my subconscious for years because I was afraid of her. And then a funny thing happened: Time passed.

Specifically, social media happened. And it was here that I learned the truth: She was just another struggling human being. She had no power over me or anyone else. Her life was no picnic. No one’s is. And with that knowledge, she lost her hold on my psyche. I don’t dream about her anymore. I feel, if not empathy, sympathy for her. And all it took was the passage of years.

I have a young friend who is currently contending with nightmares about a person who deeply hurt her. I long to hug her and tell her that it will take time, but healing is not only possible but probable. God has given us such a gift in time. It is not a gift we can instantaneously take advantage of, however. But maybe that’s the beauty of it. In the dark days of struggle, we learn about ourselves. And we are forced to turn outwards toward God if we are to survive at all.

I hope my young friend will keep reaching outwards and allow time to show her that those who loom large today can evaporate into nothingness tomorrow. All we need do is wake up to the power and possibility we each possess. All it takes is time. And God has that well in hand.

When I was a kid, time passed slowly. A single day at school — a single math class! — could drag on into eternity. Sure, some things went too quickly — Christmas, summer. But for the most part, time was inexorable: When would I finally be done with school? When would I be a grownup? For Pete’s sake, what is taking so long?

Nowadays, time flies by me in panic-inducing rushes. How is it Thursday already? What happened to October? Wait — what do you mean your little boy is a college graduate? Wasn’t he a baby last week? If I could just reach out and stop time for a minute, just a minute…!

It’s enough to give a girl vertigo. (Or, in this case, a middle-aged woman. But wasn’t I a girl just yesterday?)

A strange old woman
haunts my mirror. I do not know her.
A thief has stolen thirty years of my life.
His crime goes unpunished.
God gave me a bag of time;
I just now noticed it has been leaking.
What to do to stanch the hemorrhage?
Make a mindful moment. And another.
String them like beads. Feel them
with your fingers. Then let go.
God will catch the train as it leaps from the trestle.
On that day, there will finally be enough time.

The #MeToo movement has reached ubiquity: We all know what it means when a woman (or man) posts these words to social media. Ruth gave a powerful breakdown of the situation. In fact, she changed the way I thought about my own history. I believed I could never forgive the men who have harassed or assaulted me over the years. But then a funny thing happened — I made a list.

I listed all the times I could remember someone making me feel unsafe, or someone physically or verbally assaulting me. Over the days, the list grew. It is now quite substantial. But in making the list, the power these people had over me dropped to zero.

Maybe it’s seeing their names, or the lack of them — some names I never knew, some I’ve forgotten, like “Warehouse Creep” and “King of Bear Country.” Just faceless, nameless ghosts. Not even worth remembering. In other cases, it was a matter of perspective. I can look back now on the man who kept calling me “Kiddo” and rubbing my thigh on a car ride home from the first (and last) time I babysat his 6-year-old son, who spent the entire night talking about big breasted women — as if such a thing could mean anything to a child that young — and think, “How little he must have had in his life!” It’s almost sad.

Ruth is dead right: These people aren’t brimming with machismo and confidence. They are insecure. A real man doesn’t need to harass women to get attention. How frightened they must be! How alone! I found myself praying for them: That they find ways to get the attention they want through other means; that they can learn to feel important not by subjugating others but by doing positive things.

But most of all, I pray for a world where no girl or woman has to make a list like mine. Because although making it was cathartic, it’s not a task I would wish on anyone. Because no woman should have to have a list. Because it shouldn’t happen to begin with. Because being sad and pathetic is no excuse.

Forgiveness is divine. But wouldn’t it be nicer if there were nothing to forgive?

Wildfires in California, mass shootings, disease, distress, acts of God…the last few weeks have pushed us all to the very brink. It is almost shocking that we can still be shocked. And yet.

When I am upset, the words pile up in my head in messy heaps, struggle like fish vying to surface. My brain bubbles and freezes, too knotted up to make sense of things. Sometimes, when life has you all but beat, there is nothing you can do but pray.

Where is the sense in senseless?
How do you mean for us to parse
a life sentence that confounds us?
Where noun is chaos and verb can
never be undone? What then?
Now is the time for old words,
rich in thous and thees.
When nothing comes
but humble prayer,
the rest, at last,
is silence.

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

The other day, I watched a church service live-stream on Facebook. It occurred to me that I was seeing the exact moment of the lie taking place – yet no one was lying on purpose. The pastor asked if anyone wanted to accept Christ, and many came forward to pray. At the end, he said, “Congratulations! Now you’re born again! All things are made new!”

The lie is in the mood music they’re playing. The warm, welcoming church workers guiding people into their religion. The parishioners nodding as if you’re doing a great thing, this is a big step, your life is about to completely transform!

But that’s the lie of it. That’s the production. The musical number of it.

We expect all vestiges of our former life to just fall away. For all of our insecurities and problems to disappear. Poof! For this encouraging crowd of fellow believers to be there for us always, patting us on the back and giving us a high-five.

Not that anybody’s lying about what faith can do for you. It truly can change your life completely. But that’s the heart-work. That’s work you and God do together, and it happens over time, like a scroll unfurling. No one else can do it for you, and there is no magic prayer to make it happen instantly.

When I took the altar call years ago, in my mind it was more like the “alter call,” as if it would completely change my life instantly. What I came to conclude is that you walk the path with God and maybe alchemizes into of course. Is that you, God? solidifies into a firm foundation of faith.

It’s like that “Just Say No to Drugs” commercial from years ago, that showed an egg frying in a pan, with the voiceover, “this is your brain on drugs.”

In our version, we’ll show the sun rising, flowers blooming, and the earth turning. Massive, mystical, magical happenings – the only common denominator is the One holding it all together.

Good people, This is your soul on God.

For all who need this today and tomorrow.

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