“The mountain is a white whale and the lanes are lined with ice. The trees have stars in their branches and all the fields sparkle. The night seems to listen to the owls’ carols as the dogs growl in their sleep. The spirits are abroad. It is Christmas. Christmas! Was there ever such a magical word to a child? A word with a world in it, a word containing a silver moon and the crackle of burning twigs, flying things and kings led by stars, berries and gold and pheasant feathers. A word with the darkness of fir forests in it.”
–Horatio Clare, The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal
I discovered a YouTube site called Sing the Hours that offers Morning and Evening (Vespers) Prayer from the Divine Office. The guy sings, the text of hymns, psalms and prayers is displayed, and some of the prayers are in Latin. Simple, moving, easy to follow along–this has been especially nice during Advent.
I had cataract surgery on my left eye Monday and before my early-morning post-op checkup on Tuesday, was thrilled to discover that December 13 is the feast day of St. Lucy. The whole thing went very smoothly, and the operative fact here is that I ASKED FOR HELP. I had a friend drive me both to the surgery and (another friend) for the checkup. This is huge as I would just as soon have walked the 5 miles or called an uber and gone by myself. “Contrary action,” as we say in recovery circles.
It’s good to give–but why is it so fiendishly difficult for some of us to receive: to impose, to “bother,” to make a pest of ourselves (or so we tell ourselves?)
Meanwhile I’m deep into the Ignatian Exercises. This morning the reading was Ezekiel 26:35-39:
I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and to carefully observe My ordinances.
28 Then you will live in the land that I gave your forefathers; you will be My people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will summon the grain and make it plentiful, and I will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will also make the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field plentiful, so that you will no longer bear reproach among the nations on account of famine.
Having returned from my two-week road trip to California to a whirlwind of backed-up work, Advent, an Irish passport application, eye surgery, etc., I finally have a bit of room really to process. It was a big trip. My heart was so full, just about every second, for the people, the landscape, the whole sweep of the time I lived there–and the trip was also incredibly arduous, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Now that I’m back, I’m truly accepting that Arizona is not California–and why should it be? I consciously, deliberately moved to the desert. And “What did you come to the desert to see?” Christ asked the disciples of John. “A reed shaken by the wind? A man dressed in fine clothes?” (Matthew 11:7-8).
I’m not sure what I came to the desert to see, but I know it has something to do with my heart turning from stone to flesh. Let me be 1000% present HERE, every moment, is my thought. What can I learn? What can I receive–and what can I OFFER?
“From all your idols I will cleanse you”…Sometimes our idols are the people, places, things, ideas with which we surround ourselves. Who would I be, for example, without the culture of a great city, or friends who “get” me, or my affiliation with a particular political party, or the tribe of my family, colleagues, long-time neighbors or even fellow parishioners who know, trust and appreciate me?
All those things are or can be wonderful and we can be doing important work, and yet my deepest identity can’t rest in any of those things. My deepest identity is in Christ, as all who love him and have died in prisons, memory care facilities, battlefields, and torture chambers know; as all who love him and have lived far from home or in convents, monasteries, leper colonies (Fr. Damien), know; and really as every human being who thinks long and hard enough about it knows.
And to consciously, deliberately live that out–to take up that particular cross (which is definitely not for everyone, just as for example raising a family was not my particular cross to take up)–is…something. It’s one way of working toward the Kingdom. It’s one way of being in solidarity with all the millions and millions of people in the world who don’t have a choice in those matters.
Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings but like everywhere else in the world, it gets light late and dark early this time of year. I’ve been waking around 3:30 or 4, do my morning Ignatian hour, then the Office, then open that day’s doors on my two Advent calendars, and the day is launched.
Tuesday through Friday, as often as I can, I set out for the U of A Newman Center mid-afternoon, take a long walk, and arrive in time for 5 pm Evening Prayer and Mass. I’ve come to love this humble chapel, always with 5 or 10 or 20 students in attendance. Yesterday I noticed I could see Jesus on the Cross in back of the altar WAY MORE CLEARLY with my new eye! (“What do you want from me?” Jesus asked the blind man. “Lord, restore my sight”…)
Stand by for news of the workshop I will offer, on succeeding weekends, on the Vocation of the Artist at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, Ireland, September, 2023! That’s right. I will be presiding from what appears to be an enchanted castle.
Like I said–Christmas.