Misty Thoughts

Amsterdam Airport - Christmas season 2011
Amsterdam Airport – Christmas season 2011

The world has been covered in mist the last few days, hushing the noise and softening the sharp edges of everything. It has suited me, this quiet. I am contemplating much these days, it seems, and have come to neither firm conclusions nor well-defined questions. The sickness that invaded my body also quieted the external, and softened the focus to a very narrow world, the world of me and a very few others. Being sick does that. It weeds out the extraneous, the big historical things happening, and narrows my focus to this one breath, this one struggle for comfort, this one coughing fit. No energy, whether physical, mental, or emotional, is left for riots 1,000 miles away, shootings on the far side of the continent, the loud rhetoric of politicians, for fussing and drama between friends, family or co-workers.

My energy has been spent on prayer and on getting well, and for surviving the work day, with the occasional moment spared for a friend or family members. There is precious little left.

My prayers have been simple as well. “Lord, have mercy.” “Lord, help me, please.” “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me.” “Holy Saint Nicholas, pray for me.” “Holy Saint Birgid, help me. Pray for me.” “O Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” When I am irritable and filled with self-pity, I have prayed for forgiveness and to keep my mouth shut. Simple  thanks for the blessing that is Gracie, for the comfort of hot tea, and quick prayers for friends and families who are brought to mind. Nothing lengthy or eloquent. Prayers for strength to get through the day, the hour, the minute, prayers for sleep, prayer to quiet the racking cough…

I have a general sense of my unworthiness. This is not a bad thing, this is a good thing, this recognition that I have far to go, and the recognition of my daily need for repentance. And it is gratitude that in my lowly estate, God is there, that He loves me and is gracious and merciful, and that His love is all-surpassing and lovely.

I read something recently (and cannot recall where to give appropriate credit) that it is not the great and grand things that need changing (though they do need a-changing), but that if each of us were to make the small changes, here and where we are, each of us in our own small corner of the world, that all the world would be put to rights. That is both the wonder of simplicity and the wonder of grandeur that we have in front of us.

What if I am faced with a single problem a single relationship, a single situation to make better today and do not do it? I am looking back in my life and see so many times when I had no idea what God was doing, what He was saying in the seemingly foolish and crazy things He asked me to do. What if those tasks were appointed to me to make that one moment better and that pointed all of creation in a new way through that singular moment?  Or, what if I choose NOT to do the crazy, the foolish, or simply the thing I don’t want to do and all of creation tips in the other way.  What if all of creation is constantly making these little adjustments as each of us does or does not do our own tasks?

I read some time ago about one of the problems with Toyota brand automobiles being made in the United States was the puzzling increase in problems they were having when Toyota was accustomed to fantastic quality and reliability. As it turns out, the engineering specifications were being met, but because of a different mindset, the overall quality of the cars was quite different.  In a Japanese factory, each portion of the factory was striving to meet the quality line nearest to perfection, and overall the car was of much higher quality.  In the U.S., the custom was to meet the minimum standard.  As each portion of the manufacturing process met the minimum standard, overall there was a much wider gap in the overall standards, because meeting the minimum in each area had not been contemplated before.

I may not be saying this well, but I am thinking that in the same way, each of us is given these tasks to do.  If I as an individual do them as well as I possibly can, as near to perfection as I can, I have raised the overall level for the entirety of the whole. If I phone it in, I am making it so that everyone else has to work even harder to make the whole thing hum along efficiently.

And really, this isn’t about reaching perfection.  Don’t we know by now that the striving for perfection is a futile effort? This is about doing the best we can in the corner of the world to which we have been assigned.  That is, let me struggle my best at prayer, not so that I am some spiritual giant, but because I have need of this wholeness, this oneness with God, I need to know him, and I need his help in every way.

I am longing to find the time to be finished with work, with my Russian studies, with my Anthropology coursework, and have time to work out what I am thinking in my Timmy story. It is key I think.

I have been too grandiose in my thinking about the whole problem of Timmy and the other Listers as they try to sing rightly the song of the Universe.


A Very Secular Christmas to You

My Facebook feed is filled these days with pictures of folks in red and green, children dressed up next to decorated trees and mantles, and ads for everything from fancy pajamas to cars to bar accessories.  My texts are filled with special offers from retailers, and my inbox is filled with the same.

The cable guide is awash in so-called Christmas movies, what we call sappy-crappy, all light and improbable romance stories that center around one or the other hating Christmas, Santa granting special wishes, etc., etc.  This year it is worse than ever, it seems to me.  There is so little real HEART in these things, and, worse, so rarely anything remotely celebrating or honoring or even mentioning the birth of Christ, which is, the “reason for the season” as some would say.

We aren’t doing gifts this year (except for tokens to the kids and grandkids), and even that has me thinking.  What is with this tradition of gift-giving?  Is it really an honoring of the gifts the Magi gave to the Christ-child?  Is it a remembrance of the gifts given by the real Saint Nicholas?  I find it hard to imagine how sexy pajamas or a luxury car are in any way going to remind you of the incarnation or of the blessing of generosity to the truly destitute.

It is true that we like to have reasons to give gifts to the people we love, but I feel like we have turned Christmas into an advertising gimmick, not a church service.  Christ Mass, is a church service.

I have been blessed to get to know people from many foreign countries, and recently I was sitting with some of them over a cup of tea when a gentleman lamented that they detest the massive displays of lights on people’s homes (although the one we were discussing was, to my mind, tasteful and understated).  I asked what it was like in Ireland this time of year.  Not like this. “But I suppose the U.S. cultural imperialism will change that.”  Although he and his family are U.S. citizens, it is clear that not everything about his adopted country is pleasing.

I’ve thought a lot about that offhand comment in an otherwise ordinary conversation, and I hope it isn’t true, though I fear it may be. There are things to embrace about our culture, but the lights and emphasis on decorations and shopping and the advertising madness is at the expense of solemnity and reverence, even among those of us who are believers.  It’s easy to get caught up in the nonsense at the expense of the divine–to watch sappy-crappy when I could be praying or reading scripture or doing something productive; to vegetate when I should meditate, to spend money on frivolities when there are hurting people all over the world who could use my help.

Ah, I’m preaching to myself, dear reader.  I am recognizing the depths of my frivolity, how I have taken the sacred and through my lack of attention and honor, desecrated it.  Well, I aim to take my Christmas back, to recognize and meditate on what it means to have God incarnate, to have God with us, to have God humble himself to become a human.   I aim to repent, to turn around and face that manger.