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May you know you are treasured like a jewel in the palm of the hand of God, and loved like the infant cradled in Her arms.

“The snowman in the yard is frozen hard, he’s a sorry sight to see. If he had a brain, he’d complain. Bet he wishes he were me.”

Each year, sometime during Advent, I call my best friend, Denise, and sing into her ear the words above – it’s some alternate opening for Let it Snow and it’s been a longstanding custom that I just break into song at her at least once a year. I’m a break into song kinda gal, so it usually happens way more than anyone wants… but what are you gonna do? I gotta be me. 🙂

So, it’s that time of year. Any day now I’m gonna do it. And she’ll probably join in too! I’m going to visit her for over New Year’s this year. She and Jim and their three munchkins (Colin, Devin and Brenna) live in Arizona – out near the desert. The last time I was there for New Year’s we had a bonfire in the back yard, toasted marshmallows and watched shooting stars while holding onto wriggling little folks. I’m hoping we get to do that again!

The anticipation of being with loved ones is sweet. Ketchup commercials aside, it really does fill up one’s heart to have something lovely to be waiting for and expecting.

If you’re waiting for Christmas – or Christ’s coming again, you might like some of the Advent reflections at the Bruderhof website. They’re amazing!

http://www.bruderhof.com/eprise/main/articles/advent-caravan.htm

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Dip deeply into this rich season!

I hope I don’t get in trouble for telling you that my family is a big bunch of cheaters. We love to play games and we watch very carefully to see who’s stacking the deck; who’s sneaking a peek at the cards or moving the little Monopoly shoe a tad too many spaces?

You should also know I’m a big fan of Christmas. (Recently I posted a poll on our family website about favorite Christmas characters. All the usual suspects were there, Rudolph, Santa, Jesus, Ralphie. My sister responded that her favorite Christmas character wasn’t in the list. She meant me.)

So, when a well-meaning soul tells me I should really be present to Advent and not jump right into the Christmas spirit, I suspect they think I’m cheating.

I remember a Christmas in the early 70’s. I got Battleship, the classic naval game of seek and destroy. “You sunk my battleship!” The refrain from the commercial echoes as I remember playing this game with my older brother, Pete.

Pete and I were, um, how to say this, arch-enemies, for the most part during our childhood. Three years older than me, we were perfectly separated by age, if by perfect you mean that he had the upper hand and I was an annoying little sister! This is how we were: he’d punch me; I’d tattle. He’d punch me for tattling; I’d call him a creep. Then he’d punch me and I’d, well, you get the picture.

“Plays well with others?” Not so much with us. So, it’s a rare and good memory our playing this game that Christmas morning.

Anyway, so there we are playing Battleship together: a perfect game for the two warring kids. Sitting on the floor near the tree, we’re wearing blue t-shirts with our first names emblazoned on the front and our last names on the back in white. A classic photo has all six of us lined up against the faux wood paneling wearing these t-shirts from our Great-Aunt Anne. This is what I love about Christmas. For one day, at least, we all try to get along. Pete and I playing a game lounging on that shag carpet surrounded by wrapping paper remnants and empty shirt boxes.

That was also the year my Mom got a Polaroid Instamatic camera. It was magic, maybe you remember it, a photo developing right before your eyes. This was high technology! Mom snapped photo after photo that day. Well, there they are sitting on the bookcase and Pete gets up, periodically, to check out the new ones. I don’t realize until I’ve lost my last two-peg patrol boat that something fishy has been going on. Uh, huh, there’s a picture of my side of that board up there! It’s Christmas, however. So after the brief storm, we laugh and go on to play another game. I still love this memory.

We sing “O Come, Emmanuel” and pray for Jesus to return with justice. Still, Jesus was already born. As we celebrate this season of expectation, I also celebrate that Christ has been born already. I celebrate Advent in the midst of preparing for Christmas. I listen to Christmas music from Thanksgiving on, (if I can hold out that long,) and I pray with Advent reflections. I put up my Great Grandmother’s shiny aluminum tree and I light the advent candles.

When my brother and I played together that Christmas, no matter how imperfectly, we were living Christmas. And that is a treasured moment in my collection of holiday memories. Living Christmas helped us to move on from our sibling animosity; we found a way to laugh and play the game again. I don’t think it’s cheating to celebrate Christmas everyday.

“My deepest vocation,” Henri Nouwen says, “is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.” Here’s one.

I attended mass recently at the Cathedral, and even though the space is lovely and the worship good, since I had been in an ebb time, spiritually speaking, I didn’t expect to run smack into the Holy Spirit.
“The body of Christ,” he said, offering me the Host. Truly the priest before me believed it. I could see the faith, the hope, the expectation in the eyes which met mine. I always like a priest who will meet your eyes when saying to you, “The Body of Christ.” This moment is so intimate. This sharing of what is most essential to our faith. Most essential to our lives.

“Amen,” I said and my spirit responded to the spirit of belief evidenced in this man’s eyes: tears came to mine. These moments are such gifts. When the belief we see in another triggers our own deepest beliefs, our hope and our truth.

What made this most amazing to me was who the priest was and how just moments before I had been trying to figure out a way not to go to him for communion.

This mass was being celebrated with the cardinals of the United States in a prelude to a fundraising dinner for the Catholic University of America. Helping a friend set up for the liturgy, it seemed appropriate to stay and celebrate with those who would come out on a rainy day in support of Catholic education in America.
As the liturgy unfolded it became clear that Cardinal Law was to head the line to which my section of pews would file. Now, no matter what you think of the sexual abuse scandals that are calling the Church to reform, Cardinal Law has certainly been made the poster boy for appalling prelate behavior. And I’m no different from anyone else in my aversion to contamination by other’s scandal and sin. So, as I saw people a few rows up, sneak out the opposite side to another line, I think I know why and I was tempted to join them.

So, what does one do in moments of indecision like this? Well, I sent up a prayer to God to help me. I prayed to be able to approach this priest, this cardinal of our Church, with as much faith in the Eucharist as I could muster. I prayed for the openness to be able to meet his eyes and treat him as I would want to be treated if my sins were made public in the way his have been.

I walked slowly behind the other communicants. I prayed all the way up the aisle.
The host held out under sad eyes, the hope and expectation relayed in a moment’s glance. What is the Body of Christ? Or rather, who is? Surely this priest was the body of Christ in that moment: the wounded Christ. Jesus was guilty and innocent. Guilty of inciting insurrection, of criticizing the authorities. Innocent, however, of any sin that merited death; a final cutting off from the community.

Ah, but that was then, you say. We wouldn’t do that today, of course. Yet, I’m sure if I had been there, I would have been one of the crowd screaming “crucify him.” I’ve got that in me. I’m aware that I am the teeniest bit judgmental. I like to think I’m not, but then I notice myself thinking oh, so negative thoughts about some drivers or people with 17 items in their shopping cart in the 10-item lane.
Jesus said love your enemies. Annie Dillard reminds us, “There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: a people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death”.

Jesus didn’t skip death and what was that all about if not to show us that there can be resurrection after the death; whatever the death looks like?

I’m comforted by words from chapter two of Isaiah: “In days to come, The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain…. That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.’” We don’t have the answers yet: the instruction is still to come. I, for one, hope I’m climbing the right mountain. That moment with Cardinal Law – that moment gives me hope that I’m on the right mountain. But who can know for sure?

Good Grounds colum for the San Francisco Catholic newspaper
June 2003

Last Saturday I caught an old TV movie, A Very Brady Christmas. I’m a sucker for Christmas movies. In the Brady’s syrupy Christmas drama, Cindy (the youngest girl, just like me) was maneuvering that change from child to adult in her relationships with her picture perfect family. Ultimately, she had to stand up and say, “I’m an adult and I’d like to be treated like one.” Because she had a script, she also had all the right words, as did the family characters around her. Not so easy in the real world, I think.

A friend of mine recently told me that she was going home (back east) for Christmas. She said it rather wistfully, so I asked if there was a problem. “My faith community is here. I go home and no one will go to midnight mass with me and even if they did, it’s in some church that means something to them, not so much to me.”

This sounded all too familiar. When I was in graduate school, I came to be very connected with the Arizona State University faith community. Yet, each year, I’d travel to my mother’s house to be with family on Christmas Eve and day. I’d attend midnight mass at the local parish and sometimes be joined by a bit of my family. There I’d find myself thinking about the ASU community where I had helped create the Christmas environment, or a good friend lectoring at midnight mass for the first time.

Finally, one year, when I was about 27, I decided I wanted to stay and celebrate mass with my yearlong faith community. I approached my mother (and older sisters –the other power wielders in my family) with trepidation as I hoped to have some opportunity to celebrate Christmas with the family, but also to be appreciated as an adult making a healthy decision about her own life. What surprised me was how easily the conversation was. I had thought they’d treat me like a kid and be upset, however, since I approached the situation as an adult they treated me like one too. Who knew?

So, we celebrated a family gathering a week before the Holy Day. I stayed and celebrated mass with my faith community and a day or so later went to Mom’s. Since then, the question comes up in November who’s going to be where for Christmas. For the kids who have kids of their own and those who live far away, the question is whether or not they can make it out to California, plan to stay home with their own intimate family, or might they travel to their in-laws. Now there is no “command attendance” about our Christmases together. And I think I’m lucky when I can be with my current faith community (my sisters) and my family all in the space of a few days. While I’m rarely with family on Christmas Eve anymore, I’m there, often, on Christmas day.

At a meeting with a bunch of young adults the other night I asked, how they had negotiated their adult family relationships around the holidays. The resounding answer from most in the group was “I haven’t.” Whew. Some said that their siblings had made that leap through marriage and children. (That’s a lot just to be seen as an adult in the family.) I was reminded that often the understanding that’s missing about young adults is that the key word in that phrase isn’t “young,” it’s “adult.”

Our young adult model, Jesus, however, never had to negotiate this Christmas holiday dilemma: they wouldn’t have had his birthday party without him, would they? Jesus is, however, a model of one who made this transition with grace and honesty too. Telling us that his mother and brothers and sisters are those who hear the word of God and act on it. Jesus became an adult by acting like one. He named his adult responsibilities and he acted on them, whether or not others understood or appreciated this.

I was able, by grace and intention, to negotiate that move from childhood expectations to adult relationship in this one area of our family life. Ah, still, though, there are areas where being the youngest girl means something by way of expectations and treatment. And more or less, that’s the way I like it: it all depends on whether I have to do the dishes.

Good Grounds column for the San Francisco Catholic newspaper
December, 2002

My mother knits slippers. I’m one of six children (yes, just like the Brady Bunch – I’m Cindy) and I love my mother’s slippers. When I come home, I put them on. I don’t put on shoes until I have to. Knitted slippers are comfortable, warm, travel well and slide over the kitchen floor in a satisfying ice-skating-without-the-broken-ankle kind of way. Also they connect me to my mom.

Last October my mother was re-diagnosed with breast cancer. After surviving (beautifully) for twenty years, her cancer returned in a number of organs. It’s serious enough that chemo is a way of life now, not a temporary treatment. I’m fortunate enough to live just 45 minutes away from her and to have the freedom to spend weekends with her on a regular basis.

I realized one day that if the slippers were going to continue, someone was going have to learn to knit in my generation. So, over one of my weekends, she taught me how to carry on this tradition.

I started with a scarf or two and moved up to the slippers slowly. Over the last year, knitting has become a tremendous gift to me. It’s relaxing, creative, meditative, and comforting all at once. I knit while watching TV, while waiting for my flight (yes, you can take knitting needles on flights again) and sitting in the back of the room at large gatherings.

I knit with Mom whenever I can. We talk, she tells me stories about her childhood; we talk about my brothers and sisters and the changes in their lives, and we talk about me and my plans, the community of sisters I live with that my mom has adopted as her slipper recipients each Christmas.

Turns out there are lots of other benefits from knitting. Knitting is a health booster as it slows down your heart rate, relaxes the body and gets creative juices flowing. When I knit, I don’t snack my hands are already active. That’s a health benefit too!

Whenever I’m knitting in public something interesting happens. Someone, usually a young adult, but sometimes a child or an older person, asks me what I’m making and after we chat for a bit, the comment comes it’s predictable, “I wish I could do that.”

What’s missing for them, sometimes, is someone to teach them. Knitting is an age-old craft, one that has been handed down through generations. Typically done by women, often men find it just as meaningful. Is it a lost craft? I don’t think so. Recently I read that Julia Roberts, Winona Rider, Hilary Swank among others have taken up knitting. It’s “cool” to knit, it seems.

Knitting is tradition. When I knit I feel connected not only to my mom, but to the women in my family who came before. When I was a child, my grandmother knitted afghans for all six of us. After a house fire destroyed some of them my great Aunt Liz replaced them with new ones. I keep that red afghan on my bed to this day. I think now what a gift it will be when I’m able to knit afghans for my nieces and nephews. Connecting the generations, connecting to the past and feeling rooted in the family tradition are benefits I get from this ancient task.

Many young adults, like me, are yearning for tradition. Feeling connected to that which came before, that which roots us in faith and community is a human desire. For a generation that has never known (experientially) anything but a post Vatican II Catholic Church, reaching back into the tradition for meaningful practices and prayers can be seen as an effort to appropriate our ancient richness.

What we need are people who will sit and talk and share stories and practices. Like my mom who shares herself and her life with me as we knit and purl together, we need companions on the journey willing to take the time to sit down and talk and share the richness they’ve experienced while listening to how we put in words what we hope for the tradition too.

The tradition of our faith is a gift we share. A gift we bring to life when we build upon the past in the new generations. The memories are rich and will be richer still if we take the time to share them together and knit new ones in on the way.

Good Grounds column for the San Francisco Catholic Newspaper
November 22, 2002

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