FYI: I've neglected my blog in recent months, so I'm posting some stuff I've sent out to my church during that time. This explains why some of the links and topics are somewhat dated. Here they are for the purposes of posterity.
It's not always appropriate for the minister to share her or his struggles with their congregation. Despite the intimacy between clergy and congregation, there's just stuff a minister needs to share with a select audience and to find support from sources that respect the boundaries that make good ministry happen. So, I'll just share this much--it's been a challenging year for my family and I've struggled with finding joy this Christmas.
Four weeks ago before the first Sunday of Advent, I realized I hadn't ordered new candles for the Advent wreath and last year's candles were down to puny little stumps. Thank God J. Donnelly Catholic book store is only a short drive away--and thank you Catholics for being able to sustain a brick and mortar store in this virtual economy!!! While I waited for the clerk to bring the candles up from the back, I scanned their inventory. Amidst the bazillion Mary statues, the myriad saint medals and confirmation tchotchkes (and yes, the tacky figurines of Santa kneeling at the manger--I already have two of them in my tacky Jesus collection, so I resisted the urge to buy another), I spotted a small book laying on the counter.
The book is one of those kind that are put out by the press of a various monastery or abbey--I always imagine some poor monk or nun cranking up an ancient printing press (but they probably outsource it to Malaysia now). It's titled Christmas Therapy by Karen Katafiasz. I have an aversion to anything resembling Christian self-help, but for some reason I picked it up and looked at it. It contains thirty thoughts for the day about Christmas paired with an almost schmarmy but somehow still charming illustration of elves struggling to enjoy Christmas. Granted all the elves seem to be Caucasian and heterosexual, but it's an American Catholic bookstore, what can you expect? At the back there is a listing of an entire series of "Elf Help" books. The name "Elf Help" made me laugh out loud for some reason. I can't speak for any of the others, but this one touched a spot deep down in my Grinch-y heart.
So, I bought it--for my wife, Jennifer--not for me, no sir! I thought she might enjoy it, since she's much more disciplined about reading daily meditations, yoga, prayer, and pretty much everything else than I am. She suggested that we could read it together each morning and simply sit with the thought for a moment and if anything comes to mind worth sharing we would do so. It sounded like a lot of effort to me, but I agreed--trapped by my own generosity which happened to mask my own needful-ness.
It turns out a little "Christmas Therapy" has been pretty darn helpful. I don't mean to project that what has been helpful to me will be helpful to you this Christmas, but I pass it along, just in case you, like me, wish joy would come a bit easier this Christmas. Here are a few of the daily thoughts that were meaningful to me:
#1--"Christmas is more than a deadline or a day on the calendar. It is a journey of the spirit--from darkness to light, from chaos to peace, from separateness to the union of love."
#4--You don't have to fulfill others' expectations about what Christmas should be. Consider whether your plans and preparations will enhance your celebration or whether they're only a response to family or cultural pressures. Free yourself to create a more meaningful observance.
#6--Simplify your celebration. Big is not always best. Expensive is not always valuable. Time-consuming is not always lasting.
#10--Relinquish superhuman efforts to produce Christmas-card-perfect holiday celebrations. Christmas is about God becoming human--not humans becoming gods.
#11--Relinquish expectations for holidays that are without conflict or problems or challenges. Christmas is about God embracing human life--with all its shortcomings, mistakes, and struggles.
#17--Take care of yourself during holiday family gatherings. Sometimes family togetherness doesn't feel good because of negative patterns that started long ago. Stay centered and detach yourself from old unhealthy behavior.
#22--If this Christmas season is not all it was in former years, remember that in God's time all the joy and wonder of the past are present in this moment too. Happiness once experienced is yours forever.
#23--When death or distance or circumstance separates you from loved ones, keep them close in thought. You may want to celebrate a ritual in their honor or change your familiar routine to ease the pain.
#27--Christmas is God's affirmation of the goodness of being human. Honor the sacredness of your own humanity by experiencing life deeply and passionately.
I hope to see you on Christmas Eve, but I know many of you are travelling or are spending important time with family, so be good to yourself, be good to others, remember Emmanuel means "God with us" and God is with you no matter what your Christmas does or does not look like.
Grace and Peace,