“…rest and be replenished….”

Nativity Icon Antiochan

My husband teased me early this morning, that I hadn’t blogged in awhile.  And the first comment that popped into my head was my response, “Well, I have been a little busy lately.”  And I realized that I have been busy – busy at getting things done with an imposed deadline of my own making.  I wanted to have all my gifts purchased, wrapped, and under the tree by Monday – yesterday.  I also wanted to have all my gifts shipped and all my Christmas cards in the mail, by Monday – yesterday.  And freakishly weird for me, I actually accomplished that goal.  As I left the post office with a grumbling 14-year-old in tow, I was so excited!  It was very windy at the time (60 mph) and cold (about 37) and as we bundled up to complete our list of errands, I was happy.  My son says, “Why are you so happy and why are you smiling so much?”  And I had to explain to him how happy I was that I set myself some goals and I met them, totally met them.  How often does that happen in life? My husband is under a lot of stress this week at work.  He is at a new job and there was no one in his position since the company established this location (it is a large company) and there were tasks that had been “on the board” for the past 2-3 years that had never been attempted.  He started in on them and is slowly checking them off his list, and now the company is expecting the entire list to be done – by FRIDAY.  He is kind of chuckling to himself that they’ve waited three years, so what’s the rush?  Well, they also have someone in place capable of completing these tasks and are excited about it and want them done.  So he trudged off this morning, in the falling snow, to try and get his staff motivated to finish by Friday, all these tasks they have before them.  And I think that after 5pm on Friday, he’s gonna be one happy husband!  Because with my silly little list being done, I am floating!  It’s all relative, as I am sort of the CEO of our little domestic Church, and I keep things on track, just like he does at work.  So I am looking forward to the weekend, when his tasks are completed and the pressure is off a little bit, just in time to welcome his Mom and Brother, who are flying in for the Christmas holiday with us.  It feels good to complete something.

And as I was pondering that, I realized how happy Our Lord must feel when one of us completes our journey, and He is there, to welcome us Home.

Luke 15:3-7   He told them this parable:
“Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it?  When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”

We have all been bombarded this week with death.  The horrible act of violence this young man perpetrated on his own mother, and then the others he chose to kill.  I cannot comment fully on this issue, as I feel it has been commented on almost too much.  I did read an amazing article by Sarah Palin, who suggested we need to develop a personal relationship with Our Lord and stop relying on Washington or Hollywood to fill the void in our lives.  And I cannot help but agree with that sentiment.  The Feast of the Holy Innocents takes place in the Eastern Churches on December 29th, which happens to be our Wedding Anniversary.  I am sure there are lots of funny and amusing parallels there, but I cannot place them right at this moment.  In the Western Churches, that date is occasionally the Feast of the Holy Family.  When we were married in 1984, I was already feeling that “biological clock” clamoring loudly in my head, and was thrilled to realize I was pregnant after about a month of married life.  (Our middle son is currently experiencing exactly the same thing! God is good!).  We welcomed our first child, our son, in October and because of family being available, etc. we had him Baptized on our 1-year anniversary, which happened to be the Feast of the Holy Family that year.  It was the most exciting thing when our Priest (Fr. Johnson, Memory Eternal) laid our newborn son in the manger scene, in the Crib of Christ, just after he was baptized.  And it turned into a family tradition, in that all three of our sons were also baptized on December 29th.  And so for me, when we went over to the Eastern, Byzantine Church, switching it up to the Feast of the Holy Innocents never really touched me, as my marriage always celebrated birth and baptism on that date!  On our 25th anniversary, we renewed our vows in a Crowning Ceremony (it was so beautiful) with a wonderful reception at our Parish Hall.  And as I was printing invitations, I wanted to add an icon of the date.  The only ones I could find were horrifically reminiscent of the slaughter of babies.  And being so pro-life and so infused with the joy of marriage and baptism, I just could not use that Icon.  So, I found this lovely painting of the Holy Family, fleeing into Egypt.

ROTF2And for me, this really puts into focus what we are all experiencing right now.  We are rushing into Christmas, completing tasks.  We have so many expectations to fill – our employer’s, our spouse’s, our children’s, friends and extended family members. I took the following commentary on this work from a blog by Kate Bernadette Benedict:

“Some periods of non-doing overtake us against us against our will, though. Indeed, depression, spiritual dryness, creative block, cause a paralysis of the will. Another “Rest on the Flight” painting—Luc Olivier Merson’s of 1879—stands in contrast to the earlier idyllic images. It is an austere desert scene of almost complete sterility. Joseph, his face obscured by a hood, sleeps on the sands under a vast and starless sky. Nearby, his pack animal grazes on the few sparse shoots that have somehow grown in that desiccated place. Most arrestingly, Mary reclines with her babe on a great stone sphinx dominating a third of the picture. The child Jesus gives off the painting’s only light, and the eye finds that light automatically, following it, finally, to the blind, uplifted head of the sphinx itself. Stark, modern, terrifying, it is an extreme image, suggesting the dark night of the soul. They are experienced by anyone who quests, the dark nights when something vital in you sleeps, something feral in you starves.

Yet the implication of the painting is a hopeful one. Merson shows us that the divine child shines whether one’s eyes are closed or open. In the depths of the dark night lies the promise of morning when, having rested, the Holy Family will wake and move on, leaving the blind sphinx of an old order behind in the dust. However unendurably a dark night plagues us, however much it keeps us from our urgent endeavors, still it may be the vital interlude when the divine child of inspiration makes itself manifest. When we rise from that sleep, we will return to the world of work and doing with new inventiveness; life may even take a surprising course.

Our quests, no matter how vibrant and purposeful, will be thwarted if we pursue them too severely. Like the Holy Family on their divine mission, we must rest and be replenished if we are ever to reach Egypt, and all that means of sanctuary, survival, vocation, redemption, accomplishment.”

And I am taking a moment to blog, and yes, we are all busy (today it’s rushing off into the snowing city to get my dogs groomed and then off to a Civil Air Patrol meeting this evening across town) and yes, we all have pressures.  But as this commentary says, sometimes we need to take a rest and be at peace, just as the quiet peace of this painting shares with us, and we come from our rest, rejuvenated and able to tackle all these little tasks we have set for ourselves.  And I remember this painting quite often, seeing the Blessed Mother cradling her Son in the great Sphinx of Egypt, on her way to a new life in a new place. There also, sleeping near them, is St. Joseph, keeping an eye on his Holy Family.  As the author says, the only light in the painting is emanating from the Christ Child. And for me, in amongst the hurry of Christmas and the tragedy of Connecticut, the Light is from Christ.  And I deftly cling to that and it makes me smile; in the wind and the craziness of the Post Office and rushing through the rain and snow, here and there, I smile.  In my mind’s eye, I am completing tasks and I am working my way to that glorious celebration of the Birth of Christ; and yet, I try to be still at moments and recall the rest of the Holy Family as they rushed away from the evil that was Herod and into a new life in Egypt.   As we wind our way towards Christmas, I pray we all stop a moment to rest from this craziness, and the recent horrors, and find our peace in the only Light worth contemplating, the Light of Christ.

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