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Are you an optimist or a pessimist? The difference between the two is often defined by the old “is the glass half full or half empty?” conundrum. Guess what? Turns out it doesn’t matter what you think about the glass. We are all, deep down, optimists, or we wouldn’t be here.

Reading the news can get you down. It does me, anyway. Just scanning the headlines convinces me that the world is a dark, ugly, little place full of small-minded, uneducated people who just want to watch the world burn and toast marshmallows on the flames. But the news doesn’t tell the whole truth. Not that the news is in any way “fake” — a phrase I detest — but simply that it cannot cover the complex entirety of the modern human condition. Even I can spot the better headline: “Man Kills Dozens” will always triumph over “Man Happily Distributes Free Lemonade and Hugs.”

But you turned up this morning for all of this news — bad and good (mostly bad) — didn’t you? You got out of bed. You put on your socks (or omitted them; it’s kind of too hot for socks). You gave your body fuel and opened your front door. Congratulations! You are officially an optimist. And pretty darned brave, to boot.

Do you think it takes more than just showing up to show courage? Maybe. But for any thinking person it’s more than enough. To watch bad things happen and still say, “You know what? I’m going out there anyway” is a testament to human resilience. After being ejected from the Garden of Eden, did Adam and Eve just pack it in and give up? Nope. Even though they’d lost access to unbridled happiness, they went on anyway. This kind of steel is precisely what God knew we would need to function in the world.

So if you’re here today, reading this, and just trying to bumble through life, I salute you. Thank you for continuing to take a chance on the world. Thank you for not giving up or giving in. The world needs you. I need you. Don’t give up. Despite what it says in the news or anywhere else, most of us are just like you. We’re trying. It is the stuff of superheroes, of saints. It is brave.

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It is the Mobius strip of faith: God is most present to us when we are most present for ourselves. Easier said than done. Most of us can scarcely afford to be present: We are too hard at work doing, our every waking moment a list to be dutifully checked off. The only time our souls get taken out of mothballs is for a few flickering seconds a week, perhaps during church services, perhaps in a moment of astonishment at what spring has wrought, perhaps in a loving embrace.

The medical community has voiced alarm at the amount of time most of us sit during the day. Sitting raised blood pressure, they warn. Desk workers suffer heart attacks at a higher rate than active workers. So goes it with our souls. Used infrequently, they wither. It is only in their regular exercise that we find peace.

How does one exercise one’s soul? Through the act of being present. Present to the world around us, to our bodies, to other people, to God. In other words: Wake up, you sleepyheads! Rub your eyes! Get out of bed! All this stuff that’s happening around you is just that — stuff. The focus you bring to it, now that’s living.

Imagine taking one day during which you are forced to provide an intention for your every action. The results would either stultify or stun you. Yes, a lot of what we do is born of practicality: earning a living, eating, drinking, sleeping when tired. It is easy to begin to believe that all of that stuff is a life. It isn’t. Life boils down to the moments that you decide to see, to experience, to be here now. And when you show up, surprise! You’ll find God was waiting for you all along.

Today, I’d like you to ask yourselves the following questions (based on a TED talk by Hank Green): Who am I? What do I do? Who do I do it for? Who benefits from what I do? Don’t like the answers? Change them.

Dare to awaken to even a portion of your own life. You will find yourself there; but what’s more, you’ll find God.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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