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Why did Jesus have to be born during the holidays?

That’s a joke, of course. But it hints at a concern that becomes more and more clear to me with each passing year: At a time when we should be contemplating the great mysteries of our faith, we become too busy with holiday planning to do anything of the sort.

Well, the holidays are over now. Things have settled down for the most part. And I am left wondering: What happened to the Christ in Christmas?

Oh, he was there on Christmas Eve, during Mass. I remember feeling the physical presence of him keenly on our shared birthday. And then I got busy. And who got shoved aside in favor of planning and baking and socializing? You guessed it.

This is entirely my fault. I am certain there are people who are able to mix the social with the personal, who can see God clearly in everything they do, in the people they are with and the festivities set before them. I’m not one of them.

I require contemplation, quiet and serenity to access my spiritual side. The holidays aren’t exactly conducive to those requirements, at least not for me. So God gets set aside.

I’ve decided that my theme for the coming year will be “assent.” Assenting to God’s plans for me no matter what they are or how frightening the prospect. Fully letting go of my own plans for my life and placing myself entirely into God’s hands. Like Mary’s own fiat: I want to say “thy will be done” and mean it.

But that means letting God in at all times, not just selectively, when the time is right. (Okay, it involves more than that, but one problem at a time.) How is an introvert like me going to deal with living in the world while also removing myself from it? I can’t, after all, have it both ways.

How do you keep God present in your life, even when things are at their busiest? How do you live in a state of tension between being present to living and present to God?

I really want to know, readers. Clearly, if I’m going to give God the “yes” I want to give, I’ve got to have a plan. So tell me — how does one live a spiritual life and a temporal life simultaneously?

Because becoming a hermit is looking really good to me right now.

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In her marvelous book “Entering the Castle: Finding the Inner Path to God and Your Soul’s Purpose” by Caroline Byss, the author discusses how and when we hear God speaking to us. First, she says, one must have one’s spiritual defenses down. That is, we must drop the social and sometimes cynical face we wear in the world and totally immerse ourselves in feeling — which is precisely why so many of us find ourselves thinking of God while looking at nature. You have to get past yourself to hear the voice of God.

Which is precisely the problem with contemplation, whether in prayer, meditation or simple holy quietude. We expect to hear God at these times, but often don’t. Why? We’re ready. We’re open. Shouldn’t God leap at the chance to be listened to?

God is not a TV show: You can’t stream God on demand. God speaks when God wishes to speak, not on our time, but on God’s. Of course we’d like to control the flow of communication. We humans love to control things. You’d think we’d have learned by now that we are quite powerless in the grand scheme of things. For all of our scheming and scrambling, we still die. We still hurt. For all our talismans and superimposed myth-making (lucky numbers! psychic connections!), we know nothing.

Today is the national day of prayer. This year’s theme: Hope. Hope’s a tricky little imp. It’s difficult to keep hold of hope when you can’t hear God, when you’re waiting for a message that has not come. Hope may be the most easily lost commodity on Earth. But that’s what makes it so important, so dear.

Here’s hoping we hear God when God speaks to us. Here’s hoping our defenses are down, that we remain in a constant state of willingness. Because whether God whispers or roars, God always has something to say to us. Prick up your ears! Let’s all pray today for the ability to hear and strength to obey.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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