After praising my finding a sense of home here on the island, what the hell am I doing traveling to Atlanta?
I am asking myself the same thing as I wind my way up the interminable I-16, through Metter and Dublin to the South of God hub of Macon, where Mercer shines. Then, on up I-75 to the Big Peach. Why? It’s complicated.
I am hoping your holiday season is filled with joy and connection. It is fun for me, now that I am not responsible for any Christmas Eve responsibilities for the occasional visitors to the Episcopal stage. I used to feel a particular burden for the outsider, who wandered into a church on Christmas Eve, looking for something he/she could not name. Because, that had been me.
No live-television production of the Christmas Eve liturgy to orchestrate, coming from the Cathedral in Atlanta on WSB, with Monica Kaufman’s 1, 2, 3 intro.
No three service extravaganza from a northern Atlanta suburb.
No packed services from Christ Church, Tyler with a touching Silent Night sung after Christmas Eve communion, in a candle-lit church.
All of those services will go on without me, and my accompanying blood, sweat, and tears. Life goes on, as does the craziness, without me, a good spiritual lesson for priest-types.
I may be back in my Camelot as my monastery church is closed for renovations.
I hope you find a familiar place to celebrate this joyous season of love, with those you care about most. And keep in mind those who may face the holiday sans a dear companion, or friend. I know a few that I will be thinking about this year particularly.
So in this holiday mix, let me share a few presents of thoughts.
First, after my last article, one of my good friends, and faithful parishioners at Christ Church, made a perfect comment. Bobby Fry said, “David came to love Tyler, and Tyler came to love David….at least most!” Perfect. I responded that he called it right. And, that I take pride in the enemies I made….and I am not making a list, and checking it twice. Though, you know who you are! Although, some are dead. Selah, as my hero, Furman Bisher, who now resides in the Christ Church, Frederica graveyard, would say. It’s on his headstone there. It’s a Hebrew liturgical instruction to “pause”. I need a lot of Selaha!
Bobby’s comment reminds me of the Festscrift which was written to honor my mentor, Carlyle Marney by his congregation at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte. Inside the cover, it says: To Carlyle Marney, from those who loved him, and some who didn’t. Truer words.
Second, use the hiatus of these next two weeks to reconnect. That connection may come in the opportunities afforded by families gathered for holiday. Don’t let the pressure of the moment distract you from the opportunity dead-head in front of you. Take the extra effort to get the alone time with someone who you need to talk with, and rather than exchanging presents, invest the time in some good questions as to what is going on in their lives, and then listen, leaning into their answer. There’s nothing quite like being “heard” and thereby understood. In this crazy time, the gift of being with someone who really “gets” you may be the best present they received.
Another way to approach these two weeks surrounding Christmas is to become a little more intentional. Like Santa, make that damn list! I natively prefer to go on instincts, responding “n the moment”, and there will be time for that. But (big “but”), taking the time to make a list of folks to reach out to in this special time of year can be a game-changer.
Two years ago, I got organized and reached out to some old neighborhood friends, classmates, college friends….all who remain in my heart, but through time and space, I had lost. What a gift to them, perhaps, but in fact, a gift to yourself. That year, I reached out to two “Fellows” from the Center for Faith Development, two Dominican priests, that I had not talked to for over thirty years. They were pivotal in my discernment of vocation and held a special place in my heart. A simple phone call reconnected us, and brought precious memories to the fore. Such efforts don’t always yield such results, but I have a pretty good batting average.
This year, I chased down an old friend who delivered both of my children, Dr. Steve Moreland. He was a member of the Cathedral at the time and did yeoman’s work on the Outreach committee. We were so close that he is one of the folks we asked to be the godfather to our daughter, just before we loaded the covered wagon for Texas. We spent over an hour on the phone catching up. It was my favorite time so far this season.
So, make that list, and your intention to reach out during this magical time. I remind you that if you miss the connection during press of Christmas day, the season has twelve days….remember the lords a leaping and maids a milking! I trust it would be a worthy investment, even better than what your broker is telling you to do.
Third, try leaning into your week with encouragement. I am taking a hint from my Franciscan order in an intentional effort to love. I know that word, “love”, feels worn out for me. But, recently I have tried to make that love real by putting it in the framework of encouragement. For the past few months, I begin my week with my planner looking for opportunities to be encouraging to people that are in my orbit. The “prompt” surprisingly tunes my eyes and ears for occasions to offer words of encouragement to those in the thick of life.
You might begin by trying it on for a day to see if it works for you. I was surprised that if I enter my day with that intention in my spirit, the opportunities seem to “pop”. I am pretty sure such opportunities have always been bountiful but it took me being attentive. And the good thing, the added bonus, is that it feels so good giving these words of encouragement. Give it a try.
Finally, here’s a gift I was given in a moment of my quiet time on my back deck during this Advent season. I was investing twenty minutes each day to being silent, meditating in the middle of the day. It’s been a hectic time, so the gift of centering quietness is a definitely needed “pause for the cause”. Selah.
In one of my sessions, I ended it as I heard some weird sound coming from my left. With my eyes closed, I found my solitude disturbed by this intrusion of noise. As the coastal breeze brushed my cheek, I wondered what rare species of bird this could be. A pileated woodpecker, a blue heron? My ornithological wits were coming up with zero ideas for what bird this could be, and so I slowly opened my eyes.
There to my immediate left was no bird at all. It was a squirrel, sitting beside a planted pot. As he looked me over, he seemed to be as curious about me as I was with him. I had never heard a squirrel make sounds like this particular fellow. He had gotten my attention. As he scampered away, my attention was transferred to some small flowers in the pot. In a bed of green, these small flowers seems to radiate the color purple.
The color was dazzling, but minute as it emanated from a tiny flower, drawing in my attention. The free-association took me to an old text penned by Georgia author, Alice Walker, in her classic, The Color Purple. I used it in one of my first sermons at the Cathedral, which got rave reviews…..several people called the Dean raving about my audacity.
I had referred to a particular, peculiar passage as the young girl tells of a comment made by an older, and much wiser young woman: I think it pisses God off if you walk by a field and don’t notice the color purple.
That one line grabbed me. And still does. There are so many wonders, so much beauty around us that we simply miss in our hurried lives. These small viola flowers reached out to remind me of this spiritual truth. Prompted by a squirrel sound, conveyed a simple flower, there is an abundance of beauty in this world we share.
And so, in response, I have taken up an odd practice as an antidote to my spiritual amnesia. I am training my eyes to spy the color purple in the days ahead. When I see it, I intend to pause, to breathe, to give thanks for the world that our Creator has gifted us. Selah.
Purple. Pause. Ponder, Praise.
I’m just hoping I don’t run into Barney the Dinosaur.
Hope you have a wonder-full season of Christmas as we open ourselves to the Mystery of God’s presence among us. Pause, please. Selah.