The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

This phrase from “O Little town of Bethlehem” has stayed with me through the Advent-Christmas season, and was “writ large” you might say, in the violence at the Capitol on January 6.   The phrase “are met in thee tonight” in the context of the Christmas carol doesn’t suggest violence, a crashing together of hopes and fears from all sides, but has always had a sort of poignance, a tribute to human suffering and human dreams, and God’s answer to our disparate, desperate, dissonant ways of life, hopes and dreams for peace and happiness.

“How still we see thee lie….”A classic Christmas card: dark blue velvet sky, the twinkling of stars, and a ray of light shining down on the silhouette of a rough structure with a father and mother and baby under its roof.

Perhaps you and I are beyond the “sweet baby Jesus” approach to Christmas. We aren’t so much taken with the birth as such, we’re not visitors at the stable, we are farther along in the story, watching and  listening for  the Christ in history, the meaning of our nearer past and present.

Tragedy is too much with us, and with the vast unfiltered instancy of the internet we know more than our hearts can take, and fear is not so much of the unknown as the partially known. We have  seen unprecedented joblessness and hunger, fires and floods. We have argued over true and and alternative facts and who and what can really be trusted. The pillars of democracy are shaking, our proud view of our nation as defender of freedom in the world has taken a pounding. Assumptions of patriotic unity and Christian values, the guarantee of success as the product of hard work, the potential for good through more sophisticated technology cannot be counted on. The hopes and fears of all the years have taken on considerably more weight  and peril.

The Christmas season is spent, and we’re taking down ornaments and lights, wreaths and creches, and have begun Ordinary Time.  But these times are far from ordinary. This new year has already brought rates of pandemic that are exhausting our resources and our health providers.    A mob assault on the Capitol shakes our national stability, stokes fears of democracy coming apart at the seams.  We don’t see an end to these perils, only more contagion.

In our liturgical year, there is always a return to the beginnings, and the assurance of God’s dynamic presence as we remember and are made present again to the mystery of salvation.

So we begin again. The birth, the epiphany, the flight, the return, the baptism and revelation of God’s naming: Beloved.  This man, this curiously ordinary Beloved comes and bids us follow.,  a step at a time, day at a time, a short parable, a quiet cure, a believer here and a resister there, a fear quenched, a boundary crossed, a sin forgiven, a meal with followers. None of it shouts “Miracle! Spotlight!”   And then comes betrayal and death.  The hopes and fears of all the years swallowed in darkness. But Jesus is the Christ, and more than a promise—a Presence in the breath of the Spirit,  Word made flesh and with us always.

The Mystery of Incarnation  is manifest yet hidden, present and absent, moments of heightened appearance followed by a fading into everydayness.  Emmanuel is the name of divine creativity woven into our flesh; loving accompaniment through it all, despite our fears, failures and inattention, our casual cruelties to each other and the earth our home.

T.S. Eliot wrote of hints and guesses. “The hint half guessed, the gift half-understood, is Incarnation.”* The rocks and stones are singing and the Spirit groaning with us in one great act of giving birth that encompasses Bethlehem and Galilee and Jerusalem and Calvary and the Garden, that crosses every border, speaks every language and holds all the hopes and fears of all the years and our constant plea: O come to us, abide with us, our God, Emmanuel.

*The Dry Salvages

Posted in News, Weekly Word

A Reflection for Epiphany

JANUARY 3, 2021, MATTHEW 2:1-12

Preaching by Sr. Theresa Fox, OP

The story of the magi is the story of a journey. Astrologers followed a star and came from the east to give homage to the newborn king of the Jews. They studied the skies. When they found something new they looked for its meaning. What this particular star meant, they weren’t quite sure. So they came seeking, looking for some sort of sign of what that star could tell them.

Along the way they must have pondered what this journey might offer them. Would it give them new knowledge? Would they find some hidden wisdom? They didn’t know. They only knew that they were on the journey and if they were open then the journey would show them the way. In time they would learn more about the star and the purpose of their journey.

The Magi found that in the course of their journey that they were changed. Things were different than they thought they would be. They couldn’t go back the way they came. That wouldn’t work anymore. They had changed in the process. They needed to find a new way.

We too are on a journey – we call it life. This journey has taken us to the place where we are now. It has made us the persons we have become. We have so often thought that we know the road ahead. For example, it was usually easy to plan Christmas because it would be like it was last year. But this year, this covid-19 has thrown a wrench into our plans, into our life. This Christmas has been so different. There are times we wish that we could get back to the way things were before.

Like the Magi, we too are being changed by our journey, by this pandemic. Life isn’t, and probably never will be, the way it used to be. How have we changed in the process? What new have we learned about ourselves? What have we experienced in the process of “staying in place”? Have we grown? Or have we just complained about what we aren’t able to do anymore?

The year 2020 is over. With the beginning of a new year we can, like the Magi, “depart (or begin) by a new way”. We can take advantage of the time of covid-19 to see what God might be asking of us. Is this a time to grow more deeply in our spiritual life? Is it a time to simplify, maybe to let go of some of the frivolous activities that used to take up our spare time?  Is it a time to reach out to others to let them know of our love, or to tend to their needs? Is it a time to…?

 

Posted in Weekly Word

What Does God Want for Christmas?

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

For the last few years now, I have used my December blog space to consider what I want for Christmas. And every year, I start off with the same problem: why would I ask for anything when I have so much? It feels oddly uncomfortable to say I want this or I want that for Christmas.

This year — being like no other year– gives me pause to ask the question in a different way. What might God want for Christmas? (hint: its not gold, frankincense or myrrh).

First, I think God would want more patience with the pandemic. It’s been a long weary year and most of us are tired of having to wear a mask and distance socially, agitated at times for not be able to do the normal things of human life (like hugs).  Especially over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Will we remember how to hug again?  I think so, it’s a natural thing, a normal thing, and all we will need do is practice.   God knows that this pandemic will end. We will return to something like what used to be normal. We just don’t know when. So maybe God might want patience for us and with us as we bear down now into a new phase of isolation over the holidays and winter’s cold nights.

Second, I think God would want more money.  More money to pass around to shop owners, restauranteurs, grocery clerks, delivery people, those whose livelihoods have been so deeply wounded by the economic catastrophe of the pandemic. So, I pray that Congress will get its act together and do what needs to be done. Help people who continue to hurt. If God had the money, I know it would be given to the right people.

Third, I think that what God wants for Christmas is a large heaping helping of memory.  Memory of times when family was fun, when snow days were real days off, when we reached into our past and find something joyful to tell a story about or just smile over.  Remember that?  Memory is a healing balm on our souls that helps to smooth over and bring to wholeness the wounded places, the absent friends, the lost loved ones. So, in God’s honor this year, I invite you to tell more stories, tell them like they happened yesterday.  Memories are the best way to lift the blues, the sadness and the weariness of our times.  If revenge is a dish best served cold, then memories are a dish best served warm and plentiful. Don’t just think of your good times alone, tell someone else a story from your childhood. Or better yet, your adolescence, those are the really funny stories.

Most of all, I think what God wants for Christmas is to be God, to be in charge of the universe and of course, God is!  We are not in charge. I certainly am not in charge. We are doing our best to let God be God and God is only asking us to remember better times when we laughed more, sat closer together on the couch, shared food from the same place. God is asking us to be patient, to share what we have with others. To take care of each other as best we can.

Dear God,

All I want for Christmas is you.

Amen.

Posted in Weekly Word

Advent: Attention Must be Paid

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

“Attention must be paid….attention, attention must be paid!”

These words, from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, carry a wife’s torment over the lifetime she has spent with her ever hopeful, never successful Willy Loman, who has died. The urgent pleading of that voice is what I hear this Advent. There’s a drive, an edgy energy that makes the standard “watch and wait” seem anemic. I want to act, protest, give service, and in this time of staying in place, I feel frustration within the bubble of safety I inhabit.

I hear a litany of woes, and the response is always “attention must be paid!”

Black lives matter. Attention must be paid. Loved ones are dying of the coronavirus terrified and alone. Attention must be paid.

Six hundred children, ripped from their parents, who cannot be found. Attention must be paid.

Thousands of workers have lost their jobs, can’t pay their bills, face eviction, wait in miles-long lines of cars for enough food to make it through the week. Attention must be paid.

The discord and rancor in our political situation has been ratcheted up to new and frightening levels. Attention must be paid.

Our earth is being burned and plundered, its future a desperate matter. Attention must be paid.

I know you have more to add. This litany could be so much longer.

Attention must be paid. But how do we see clearly in the darkness and the smoke? How can we hear over the blaring and wailing? How do we bring words of clarity, comfort, hope, and peace when the weight of human tragedy overwhelms and dispirits us–even as we practice social distancing? Shall we turn off the news and expect inner calm? How can we claim to be bringers of peace when we are in flight?  How can we be lights in darkness when we walk in shrouds of sorrow and fear ourselves?

The virus keeps us housebound. But withdrawal will not do. Attention must be paid.  Our frustration builds.  We aspire to respond with the energy and engagement of Dominic, joyful friar, preacher of Grace. So we must observe him as he takes on the world at his feet, and listens to the trouble and the sorrow of Languedoc, its peasants oppressed by poverty and disease and their fields ruined by the clashes of local overlords, vulnerable to prophets of questionable Christian practice.  We must join him in his nights of tears.

His tears rose out of these encounters and his awareness of the little he could offer. He took it all in, suffered it, ached with its burden, and prostrated himself before God, allowing God the freedom to transform his pain for others into Words of Grace.

Contemplative engagement. This is Dominic’s gift to us, the watching and waiting, allowing the “muchness” of it all to enter us, then placing the agonies of our brothers and sisters, our own failings and our helpless hearts before God. And in the darkness granting God the space to transform and send us as Words of Grace and Peace. There is so much more to see and hear and grasp: God active in the past, present and future of humankind. We preach the mystery of Incarnation. Christ has come, is coming, will come–enfleshing God’s passion for entanglement with a groaning creation and a searching humankind. Whatever our limitations we cannot sidestep God’s engagement with us. Attention must be paid! Advent calls us into darkness and out of darkness to witness to the Christening of our world.

Posted in Weekly Word

Hope: A Big Thing Found in Small Ways

Sr. Pat Thomas, OP
Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

“Hope is a resource and fundamental to our basic well being.” I know that most people reading this would say that our hope comes from the Lord. Yes, so very true but in the midst of our flawed humanity how do we find that hope, how do we see it in any tangible way? Theresa of Avila has told us that we are the voice, the hands, the feet of Christ therefore people should see that hope in us. That means, friendS, there will be no despairing for you, no despondency, not now and not ever. Seriously? How  can any of us find hope or be hope for any one else while we are in the midst of the craziness of this world as much as everyone else??

There are a myriad of ways, but I will just name one. Could we look to elected leaders for hope? Did someone out there just choke up a little? No doubt. But consider how leaders could be signs of hope. What if they all agreed? What if they ALL did one small thing—-wear a mask! From the smallest town to the halls of Capitol Hill how many people whom we call leaders are seen not wearing masks? How can we even begin to have hope that the life span of this virus can be shortened if a simple thing like a mask becomes the greatest obstacle to our personal freedom?

Leaders stand up, put on a mask when you are with other people and be the examples of hope that we need. I suppose it sounds ludicrous that such an action could be a witness to hope, but who knows????

In the spirit of this Thanksgiving season, I am so grateful for the local leadership in New Orleans who has leaned on science with a good dose of caring for the common good as much as possible. The decisions they have been making are not liked by all, that is expected; but they do not back down in the face of the realities we must accept these days. Thank you to all of them. Are you grateful for the leadership you’re being shown or the leadership you are showing? Keep it up!

Posted in Weekly Word