A brief collage of my December adventures!
A brief collage of my December adventures!
December always comes raring in. Thanksgiving is over, our families have left, we’re still feeling a little full. The air is crisp, and snow can be smelled on the horizon. December first comes on suddenly amidst end of year projects and parties, holiday shopping and decorating, lists and more lists, oh, and Christmas cards. In that first week is my birthday, Chanukah (this year), the letter with the schedules from church, some sort of special day at school that I’ve already forgotten about, but need to buy something for, and in this year, two birthday parties for my daughter to attend and seeing Aquaman a week earlier (tonight, in fact.)
It’s not my least favorite month, but it’s probably one of the busiest, and I think I may have finally learned not to overschedule myself, although I do have many extra medical appointments before 2019 comes and resets my deductible. But the good news is I get one more hour of therapy (at no cost) and my mammogram and colonoscopy both came back all good, which I’m thankful for.
My birthday adventure began with mass and breakfast and then I took myself to the movies: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald, and then dinner and cake with my family. They don’t like when I say this, but I like when my birthday falls on a weekday when they’re all at school or work. It gives me some private celebratory time that I don’t have to feel guilty about. Some years I’ve gone to a upscale shopping plaza, twice I’ve gone to the movies, although usually I go to Starbucks to relax and write and then go ornament shopping for myself at Target. I think this was the first birthday in recent memory that I didn’t find myself at Target. I also get to do all of this while not rushing around like a chicken without a head, and I’m still home by the time the kids get home from school.
I also had two retreats, one letting go of clutter workshop, and one Cursillo group meeting. All of these set me back on a calming, spiritual path. Sometimes we all need that reminder, and the Advent reflections are perfect for that reset. Unlike Lent, the focus is on waiting and anticipating as opposed to the penitential aspect of Lent. Advent feels refreshing and uplifting; a new start, like the beginning of the new year, only weeks away on the calendar, but already having begun for the Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic liturgical calendars. The Cursillo group is new to me. After having been introduced to the idea and the local people (called cursillistas), I am very much looking forward to next fall when I will undertake my own weekend and join with the group. It had been mentioned to me last year, and when I looked into it a bit more I realized that it is exactly what my inner being is looking for. The local group is lovely and they’ve welcomed me to their monthly get-together, so I can start some of the prayerful parts.
Our tree is up, although no lights and no ornaments. I don’t mind the half finished way our decorating looks this weekend. Our house is always cluttered, and it’s gotten a little worse this month, but when the tree is half done and the ornaments are still in the box, and the lights are strewn around the tree, but not on, it makes the normal clutter look like decorating clutter, and it gives us a pass. At least in my head it does.
This year is also a little confusing. It’s the first year that my son will be living on his own, and will need to come visit for the holidays, so I’m not sure how decorating and celebrating will go. I’m trying to be open about schedules, but it’sw hard with the other family members who have been doing things the same way for the last twelve years (for my husband since his childhood since we’ve adapted most of his family traditions into our family). Last year, my son was working three jobs, and since he’s in public service (first responder) and is required to work the holidays with extended shifts, we moved everything up one day. We celebrated Christmas Eve the day before and on Christmas Eve we had our traditional Christmas dinner and opened our presents. By Christmas Day, we were not sure what we were supposed to do. We still had a wonderful holiday, and I have no doubts we will again this year because we’re working around the most important factors – our family time together.
I had a bunch of pictures that I wanted to share, but I think I’ll save them for next week’s post, and simply leave this one of the Blessed Mother. She has become one of my go-go patrons. She comforts and uplifts me.
Last year I was all gung-ho about Advent. I think it may have been the first time I had a real understanding of what it was all about. Coming from secular Christmas to religious Christmas took me from the Santa countdown to the more solemn, restfulness of Advent. Or is it restlessness? Having the excitement build without the harriedness of worrying about presents or stockings or dinner was a true revelation. All of that will manage to happen regardless. The realization that Christmas could be had without the crazy or at least with a lot of the crazy at bey was eye-opening and very satisfying.
This year however is, I don’t know how to describe it. I’m not ambivalent and i’m looking forward to the next few weeks of anticipation. I have a wonderful devotional book written by an acquaintance, and three days in, she’s expressing what I’m feeling, but there’s something missing. Is it because my house is a mess? Is it the constant noise of the kids? The never ending “what’s for dinner”, the ‘are we there yet’ of the weekday.1
I wake up each day unsure of what i want from the day. If I don’t attend the 9am mass for whatever reason, I typically don’t do morning prayers. It feels odd to me. I don’t know why that is. It may have more to do with how I’m perceived in my house.l Could I just simply go downstairs each morning, light one of my scented candles, hold a talisman or my rosary and give myself over to G-d? It feels foreign. It sounds so simple and yet in my mind it feels impossible.
I’d be interrupted. I’d be questioned. Not in a terrible, judgmental way, but starting something new is the impossibility. Seemingly.
Climbing Mt. Everest is impossible.
Running a four minute mile is impossible.
Eating one Lay’s potato chip is impossible.
Spending a few moments in G-d’s presence shouldn’t be.
I could try it out tomorrow, couldn’t I?
Instead of beginning my day with Facebook and Instagram, emails and Twitter as I usually do, instead of bemoaning the state of affairs of this country, perhaps I could pad downstairs, boil some water for a cup of tea, light a candle and read the two minute devotional. When that’s complete, I can read the day’s Scripture readings. Then just sit for a time. Finish up with the rosary.
I think that sounds like a plan. Maybe that’s all I needed – a plan.
I tend to be self-defeatist. It’s too late to start. I started late so what’s the point? Advent is only four days in (at this writing). There are still eighteen days to go. That’s more than four-fifths of the season.
As you read this, today’s Scriptures are:
Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 85, and Luke 5:17-26.
A few thoughts I had on them as they came upon me:
bloom, joyful song, strengthen, make firm. Be strong, fear not. no beast of prey. “They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”
– – –
kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss.
– – –
lowered the man on the stretcher – where there’s a will, there’s a way. “we have seen incredible things today.”
– – –
Don’t we see incredible things every day? Or is just that we’re hyper-aware during Advent?
Is it possible that when we’re told to slow down, we have a knee-jerk reaction and start a new to-do list?
We are our own worst enemy.
We can be self-sacrificing, but we are also so easily self-sabotaging. My personal foible is the television and the clutter. The television can be my therapy, one of my coping tools, but it also keeps me from writing. I get stuck in a vortex of television as meditation. My son clutters my office, and when I see it, instead of simply moving it where he’ll see it and take care of it, I’ll leave it for him and then do nothing productive because I’m being bombarded with the clutter.
Perhaps, if I can be hyper-aware about the incredible things, i can be hyper-aware of these things, and ignore my base instinct of can’t, and just do.
Even just sitting in the presence, eyeing the flickering light of the candle, feeling the warmth of the tea on my palms through the porcelain, hearing yesterday’s choir during mass in my head, anticipating the coming of Jesus, and remembering what he has personally brought to my own life.
It is a short Advent, but it’s not too late to start something positive. It is never too late for that.
December used to be cold and miserable. Snow and wind, sleet and hail. And as the climate changed so did December. I never worked on my birthday. From college on, no classes, no work. One birthday I went on a job interview and for a drug test. I almost got into a head on collision. That should have been a sign.
I usually take the day to myself, have a Starbucks breakfast, go shopping, stop by into Target and get one or two Christmas ornaments, a Moose, a Mary, something for someone, maybe even write.
This year, it’s Sunday, so I’ll stay home with the family, quietly, although…
Mercury in retrograde? Is that good or bad?
Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s approaching quickly; too quickly.
But it’s still early in December, still time to enjoy the quiet before the last minute rush, before school recesses, holiday parties, last minute wrapping.
The quiet of the house is a reminder that quiet can be found throughout December. Light a candle, read a book, say a prayer. Have a cup of tea. Every day is an opportunity to slow down and look past the noise and see what’s really important.
Day two of Advent calls. Editing Nano calls. The kids call.
But I think I’ll light a candle and drink this tea.
What role does music play in your faith life? What role does Mary have in your Christian discipleship?
From Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Birhsop Robert F. Morneau
Music plays such a profound role in the church I attend, both the physical parish and the church of my heart. We are blessed with a beautiful choir and our musical director is so talented and has such an amazing voice. For the Immaculate Conception, he sang Ave Maria, and each Christmas I look forward to his singing of O, Holy Night. It defies description and takes my breath away.
I have always been a fan of Gregorian chants and Welsh choirs are the voices of angels.
It is not only hymns and church music that brings me spirituality. I have an affinity for modern, albeit alternative music that lets me travel in my mind to many places and thoughts. My current favorite is the Hamilton soundtrack and my collection of Supernatural and The Walking Dead music. They truly do feed my soul in ways that only writing typically does.
If the flute is being played, we dance. At Christmas parties and wedding celebrations we eat and drink in moderation. If a dirge sounds, we mourn the loss of a loved one or repent of our sins by doing penance, by practicing asceticism.
From Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas:Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Bishop Robert F. Morneau
We’ve had this difficulty all year – of trying to discern when to dance and when to mourn. This whole year has been a long, drawn out pop culture funeral beginning with David Bowie and Alan Rickman followed by Prince and Muhammad Ali, and continuing most recently with Florence Henderson and John Glenn. Some of them have been harder on my heart than others, but so much of my childhood has been disappearing before my eyes.
It is always difficult to continue living our daily lives with so much sorrow hanging over us. Each death brought me down, but I got back up. We get ourselves back up and we keep going. Because that’s what we do.
After my mother-in-law was hit by a car and almost died three years ago, we thought she’d live forever. She wasn’t supposed to walk or leave the hospital, and she did. As hard as it was, and as long as it took, she was home, she was walking and she was doing great. She is the epitome of energy and independence and inspiration. We are fortunate that my daughter seems to have inherited all of that from her.
We were stunned while on a visit after school let out that she passed away suddenly at the end of June. We were with her earlier in the day, talking, joking, she admiring my daughter’s taste in clothes as well as the discount we got in buying it. Bargains and garage sales made her happy.
Her passing made all the others less significant, and it’s taken a lot to get through it.Thanksgiving without her was difficult and I know that Christmas will be even harder. We didn’t see her for Christmas, but we spoke to her throughout the day. She is missed every day. Her birthday is in a few weeks, and we will continue to struggle with this loss that is so deep and devastating.
Each of us has to decide on what or whom we will build our spiritual security.
-From the Reflection portion of Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Bishop Robert F. Morneau
While we’re in anticipation of the birth of Christ, it is a good time to evaluate or re-evaluate our own spiritual security and/or foundation.
Today is World AIDS Day, and while things are much better than they once were, there is still a long way to go as we strive to help those afflicted and find a cure.
Two days ago was Giving Tuesday, a charitable follow up to Black Friday. Before the end of the year, our family will contribute to:
my local church parish or St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Three of these have stemmed from the recent election here in the United States. Find where you want to support with your money, time, and talents and discuss your reasons with your children. Let them make their own suggestions for charitable contributions.
I’m pretty clear on my spiritual foundation and when I have concerns or a lack of faith, I find a way to think more about it and get through that period.
I’m enjoying praying and meditating privately on a daily basis.
I’d like to share this article that I read this morning on Vox:
How “immediate” is your response to God’s morning call to follow in his way? Who are the individuals, whose feet are beautiful as Isaiah says, who have brought to you the good news?
– From Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Bishop Robert F. Morneau
When I was first encouraged through signs to visit my current church, it was simply for a quiet place to think and to ask for G-d’s help. I didn’t know Jesus, but I figured He wouldn’t mind my using His house to speak to G-d.
There was no intention to hear a call or seek out something other than guidance, and even then I was really looking for a place to find my own guidance away from the everyday.
I randomly opened a missal and read a passage. When that passage was exactly what I needed to read, I cried.
It wasn’t until days later that I heard the call. Something in me had changed, and I was ready. I didn’t know it until after, but I was ready to hear it, and when it came, in bright light and deafening silence, it was astonishing.
I continued to come more often, and for anyone who reads this page regularly, it is clear where that calling has brought me.
In those early days, there were two individuals who encouraged me through their prayers and music, and through them I was able to let myself be open to the call. Ben provided the music and in his own prescient way only reiterated what I was already thinking and feeling. Tim, who is now in seminary for the Lutheran Church prayed for me and encouraged me to take that first step and attend a Mass. Things changed quite suddenly after that.
They were led to me by Jesus and He allowed me to be open to their guidance, whether any of us consciously knew it or not.
In all its struggle, that year was a blessing that brought so many more blessings.
This Advent it is good to look back at how we’ve gotten where we are, and to draw the map on our hearts to where we’re heading in the next few weeks and months.
This is the first week of Advent, the four or five weeks culminating in the Nativity and the birth of Jesus. It is a time of waiting, of searching, of journeying, always moving forward but not forgetting what and where we’ve come from.
My church gives out a small meditation/reflection book for Advent (and also for Lent), and it is the perfect size for a five minute read. As I mentioned on Sunday, it is the opportunity to either read it and begin your day or take a longer time and meditate on it, perhaps discover your own reflection.
I won’t guarantee a daily reflecton, but as I read each day’s pages, I may write some thoughts down and share them here.
This week is the first week of Advent, but it is also filled with other meaningful days: Today begins the Novena of the Immaculate Conception, the nine day prayer period that concludes with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In addition to a holy day of obligation, this is also my church’s patron. I read the prayer for the today’s first day, and will pray it each day until the feast day. I will also pray the rosary, one of the links to the Holy Mother.
We also have a series of half days from school, the penultimate episode for the mid-season of The Walking Dead, mid-season finales of all our other shows, my niece’s Sweet 16 birthday, my daughter’s winter concert with chorus, and my 50th birthday in four days.I have four more of my 50 Reflections to complete before then, and a wonderful birthday surprise to share that my family gave me this past weekend. (I mentioned some of it in my reflection called Adventure that posted on Sunday.)
Today’s Meditation Questions/Suggestions for discernment from the Robert F. Morneau book, pictured above:
What happens to your heart when you are looked at in a loving way? When you look at others is it a stare and critical analysis, or is it a childlike look of affection?
I find myself doing both the critical stare and the look of affection at various times throughout the days. I enjoy watching my two youngest children sitting side by side, one on their tablet, the other reading a book with three other books piled next to her, not fighting, not yelling, not arguing. There are even moments that we need them to do a chore or errand, and we leave them be because it’s so nice to have the brotherly and sisterly peace that is so often missing at their ages as they compete and try each other’s patience.
It’s important to be able to recognize the critical stare and sort out if it’s warranted, even in a small way. I try to pull myself back from that judgment and look away, then start again for a more compassionate thought process.
I know that with our current political climate, I am having a much more difficult time not being judgmental and angry, but I have been walking away more, and instead of 24/7 cable news, I’ve been picking a few programs for a few minutes a day to catch up on breaking news and I save important articles to read before I post or make comments. I’ve only had one breakdown/rant and I refuse to go back to where I was as a political junkie in 2012 when I quit cold turkey. I plan on being politically active and advocate for my beliefs, but in keeping that critical stare at bay, I can think more, discern more, let G-d lead, and act more.
Advent is waiting, and waiting is okay. It is the time we need to gather ourselves, both physically and spiritually to greet this new year, to collect our thoughts, meditate on what’s important, and meet Jesus in his birth. G-d will meet us where we are; we need to meet him as well, and then journey together.
One of the things I became re-acquainted with when I began to attend Mass at the Catholic Church was the liturgical calendar. I had never realized that just like an Asian New Year and a Jewish New Year, there was also a Catholic New Year, and it begins with Advent.
Once Thanksgiving is over, many move into Christmas mode. After all, it is the Christmas season.
There is the misconception.
The Christmas season doesn’t actually begin until Christmas Eve, the Vigil of the Nativity. The song, The Twelve Days of Christmas…well, those twelve days begin on December 26 and conclude on January 6, also known as Three Kings Day, Los Posadas, Epiphany, and Twelfth Night. That was the traditional day to receive presents. When I was involved in medieval re-enacting, we often gave gifts and celebrated Twelfth Night.
After Thanksgiving, begins the season of Advent, the time of waiting; waiting for the birth of the Christ child. Like Lent it is an anticipatory time. We reflect on the past year that’s concluded. We begin a new Gospel cycle. This is the A year – Matthew. I am very fond of Matthew. It was his Gospel year when I first joined the church and I took a great lecture series on his gospel. I learned a great deal and so I became very attached to him.
Today, our church gave out a Daily Reflection book for Advent and Christmas. This one is compact and gives you something each day to read. It takes about five minutes or so, and you can meditate longer if you have the time and the inclination. Personally, I’m going to try and sit quietly with a cup of tea while I read and reflect.
I read the Introduction and then turned the book over to read the description on the back. The blurb recommending the book at the top caught my eye, and then I realized that the blurb was written by my godmother. A surprise that brought a smile to my face.
The Advent wreath is up, the banners are changed, the colors are purple, the incense is fragrant. Now the waiting begins, and a new search for something wonderful on this Advent journey.
Later in the week, I will share some other resources for your Advent journey.