There’s a random post going around Facebook, asking people to list 10 things you might not know about them. It has been interesting reading about my friends and acquaintances. It is a sign of the times that we have so many people in our lives, but when it comes down to it, there isn’t the depth we used to have in relationships. I am opining here, so I know there will be objections! And that is okay, too. In my humble view, our world has become so instant and so automated, that quite often, there is much we do not really know about the people we interact with. Quite often I have been told people date, have a relationship, and break up – all either online or through texting someone. I find that absurd in some ways, and infinitely sad in other ways. And the other part is the instantaneousness and shallowness of it all.
We do not converse any longer, we chat. We do not write or read, we text. We do not sit down to dinner and actually talk to each other, rather everyone is on their phones and we snatch a quick bite to eat. A friend suggested this article to me and I just read it. “18 Things Everyone Should Start Making Time for Again.” (http://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2013/11/18-things-everyone-should-start-making-time-for-again/). I commented to my friend that just reading it was like a sigh, or a pause; like a breath of fresh air. It is depressing to think we even need a list like this, but it is also wonderful! It brings into the light things we do not often think about. One of my favorites was #3 – Thinking before responding. You can actually watch people in conversations and see (sometimes I feel I can hear the gears turning in their heads) them formulating their response before the speaker has even fully expressed their idea or position on something.
Another point she made was #13 – Making sure relationships are based on spending time with people. This speaks to our digital, instant, rapid-paced culture. There is nothing like a cup of tea shared with a good friend, taking hours and hours to talk about our lives. I miss the friends I have who enabled me to sit and chat with them. Those moments of my life are some of my most treasured.
Tomorrow we being our Advent Fast (well, we really start today). Today is the Feast Day of St.Philip and the Fast is often referred to as St. Philip’s Fast. Regardless of the title, this marks 40 days until Christmas. This year has sped by so rapidly, it is hard to comprehend it. We have had such an upheaval since the Holiday Season of 2012. Thanksgiving last year we were hosting my god daughter for several days, and attended a dinner at some very dear friends’ home. It was one of the most memorable Thanksgivings for all of us. A peculiar mix of people at the table, wonderful food traditions shared, great wine, and some of the best conversations, ever! The joy, laughter, and love experienced that day will stay with me always; I loved that day. And Christmas of 2012, we hosted extended family in our home and it was lovely. It was a difficult Christmas, as it was the first without my father-in-law, but it was wonderful to sit with his brother and sister-in-law, as well as my mother- and brother-in-law, and share stories about him and his early life, and to hold each other up in our own grief over his passing. It is hard to believe we are entering into the preparation phase for holidays so soon.
All of this lead me to think on my relationship with God. If I look back on all the things, events, and people who have made up my lifetime, the rapidity with which the years have passed by me, I find that God is the constant – as we pray in the Anaphora during Divine Liturgy:
“It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same…”
And as I prepare to enter into that wonderful season of Christmas cookies, Gingerbread House-wars (a fun family tradition), hanging lights and decorating trees, I know that the constant in all of it is my relationship with God. He is smiling when we celebrate His Birth with all these fun traditions. He smiles when we light our homes and our towns in honor of His coming to earth and walking among us. And we simply cannot cheat ourselves, our families, our friends, and our countries, out of the fullness of knowledge of this season. We cannot text or Skype this. We cannot chintz each other on superficial conversation and sappy songs about “White Christmas”-es or Candy Canes. We need to take the time; make the effort to delve more deeply into the celebration of Christ’s birth.
The manger scene of my memory depicts the Birth of Christ in a wooden stable, surrounded by hay, animals, and a wooden manger. The star of Bethlehem hangs over the stable and the local shepherds make their way to the stable, answering the summons of the angels. The night is quiet, clear, crisp, and filled with millions of glowing stars. Mary and Joseph sit near the manger, where the Christ Child lays, keeping warm. And on that first night, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated – the first community gathered around Our Lord. That wonderful, sappy, silly memory comes to life each year with those we bring with us, into this celebration. We each become a character in a lived-out manger scene.
I pray we all enter this season cleansed with a good, and holy, confession. We should all invite others to share this season with us – we can share food, our table, our homes, ourselves with one another, in a harkening back to that first evening at that small stable; that evening with a small baby even shepherds knew was special, even angels declared special, even the stars of the heavens pointed to! We can slow down and enter into a world that never knew the internet or text messaging. We can stop the gluttony of this world and simplify our lives in ways that express fasting – perhaps not just in food, but in behavior and action. We can prepare to receive Our Lord as a baby, offering us salvation in the form of a Child. We know what is to come – His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. But for now, let us feel the joy of His Birth, His coming to live and walk among us. I know that with the birth of my new grand daughter, imagining the Birth of Christ is so very simple. I pray we can all remember the joy of holding a newborn child and the fears we felt for our own children – and remember the tremulous gift Mary and Joseph offered to us all through the shepherds; this quiet Birth of their Son, Our Savior.
My prayer for myself and my family, friends, and community is that we look with wonder, and the eyes of children, at this wonderful season of lights, and smells, and sounds. Let us fast from the craziness, the hustle and bustle that usually surrounds us, the noisiness of this world, and remember the quiet, clear night Christ was Born. In quiet preparation and hearts clear of sin and filled with love and wonder, I pray to welcome this New Child, this Heart of the World, into my heart once again.