Here we are in December, the last dance of 2015, with the 8 days of Hanukkah and the 4 weeks of Advent taking to the floor, orchids in bloom in the oak tree, snow coming to the north country;  and the band playing on.


Thor c. 1000 Reykjavik

Frankly, I find December difficult.  The banality of the global culture of consumption and display comes out in full force, especially here in the U.S.  At the same time, our most profound celebrations of light in the darkness arrive. And all of the violence of our time seems just that much more visible.

The inevitable car sporting antlers and a red “nose” jars loose so many questions in my mind that I miss the humor in it.  Is this person genuinely happy about, and eager to add to, all of the terrible Christmas music and wreaths and candy canes and tinsel that seem to be everywhere?  Or is she poking fun at all of that?  Is he embracing the bog of distraction of the season? Or is she thumbing her nose in a gesture of defiance?  And why am I upset by it all?

Part of my reaction is certainly personal.  I’ll spare you the psychological details, except to say that I am particularly susceptible to distraction, and struggle to stay focused.   Paying attention to the ordinary, actual life we are given is not easy–especially in December– when there are so many ways to divert oneself and get lost in the promises and sparkle, in the rants and emotional rides, in the coveting and comfort-seeking all around us.

“We are none of us very good at attention,” says Fr. Laurence Freeman, “because our minds wander and we live in probably the most distracted culture that has ever existed in history.  Distraction has always been a problem for human beings, but we’ve mastered the art of distraction.  Our TV, our internet, our phones, our constant snacking, our constant running around, our constant mental and visual stimulation…. So, you either give up and run away, or you decide you are going to start developing [the] quality of attention.” (From “Street Wise,” a talk given at Camillus House in Miami, 2/7/2014)

What I need in December, and year-round for that matter, is to defy the usual in order to pay attention to the ordinary-

Sainte Foy a Conques

Sainte Foy a Conques

-to life as it really is.  I need to inure myself to the beckonings and busyness that surround us, in order to rest in the presence.

Isn’t it always in the mess and poverty and darkness, in the confusion of unsolved problems, in doing the laundry or the dishes or tending to babies or puppies, that we find light and new life?  Can the extraordinary–the light, the presence of God, hope, awareness–take shape anywhere else than in the ordinary?

In his introduction to The Wisdom of the Desert, Thomas Merton writes:

The [monks] had come into the desert to be themselves, their ordinary selves, and to forget a world that divided them from themselves….  The Coptic hermits who left the world as though escaping from a wreck, did not merely intend to save themselves.  They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage….

We must liberate ourselves, in our own way, from involvement in a world that is plunging to disaster.  But our world is different from theirs.  Our involvement in it is more complete.  Our danger is far more desperate….  We cannot do exactly what they did.  But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains, and cast off the domination of alien compulsions, to find our true selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build, on earth, the Kingdom of God…. we need to learn from these men [and women] of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion and strike out fearlessly into the unknown. (pp. 23-24)

So, amid the oh-so familiar, but deeply alien, compulsions of this December, I send you love.  I’m here working at paying attention so that I don’t miss this ordinary life, or its transformation–or any other miracles!


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