Sorry it’s been so long between posts. I’m sure all three of you can forgive me.
Today, the Christmas season officially ends. I know most of us probably packed up and moved on a while ago, but us Catholics are supposed to celebrate the Christmas season all the way through the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.
My wife and I almost made it; we caved and took down our decorations on Wednesday (mostly because I had to get on the roof and that was going to be the last day of good weather for a while). But there’s one part of the Christmas cleanup I wish we’d waited on.
Throwing out the Christmas tree.
Don’t get me wrong, it was time for that tree to go. It was dead and brown and crunchy and ripe for catching fire. But I still should have waited.
Now, why the real tree? Why put up with the hassle of needles and water and more needles when the fake ones are cleaner, more cost effective, more symmetrical, pre-lit, and water-free?
This is what I am taking away from Christmas this year, the one thing that has come up over and over in my heart and prayer, ever since a good friend of mine shared an inspiring reading from Fr. Carron (of Communion and Liberation fame) on the topic.
The trouble with real Christmas trees is the same trouble I have with all these damn people around: They make demands on me.
Advent is a time of preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ. You know how when you’re preparing and cleaning your house for guests, you find dirt in places you never even knew existed? Well, that’s how preparing my heart was this year. It was a time of realizing that dust and filth had gathered in some of the odd corners of my heart, some of the places I never thought to look, some of the places I assumed were okay or that I never really thought of at all.
I’ve found that there’s this part of me that whispers one phrase over and over, and it’s a voice I’ve unfortunately been listening to more and more of. All it says is, “You’d be better off without them.”
I think if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us sinners have some form of this. Our wife makes a comment, and we roll our eyes or bite her head off. And why? Because we think, “You know, I really don’t need someone telling me that/asking that of me/suggesting that/being that way. It’s awfully nice of me to put up with her.”
Our kids cry and crap on themselves and need to eat everyday, and there’s some little corner of yourself (maybe not a big one, but one nonetheless) that is frustrated by this constant need for me to have to worry about.
We get pissed at the guy driving slowly in the passing lane because he should know how to drive and I have places to be, dammit.
We get upset by the roommate who comes in and changes the channel or the sibling who comes in and changes the subject or the parent who comes in and wakes us up.
Why? Because they are making demands on us, causing or asking us to act in ways that do not provide any obvious physical or emotional pleasure.
Lately, I am overwhelmed by the idea that every time someone asks me to do something that doesn’t actually please me, something that doesn’t make me feel comfortable or important or noticed, something inside of me thinks, “Man, I could be doing something so much better/more important/more meaningful if they would just leave me alone.”
It’s the same with the Christmas trees.
We don’t like to spend the time to go pick one out, set it up, water it, and clean up after it, because we think “I’ve got better things to do than worry about a stupid tree.”
And maybe we’re right. Maybe we do have better things to worry about than a tree. But when we take that attitude towards those around us, we miss out on the life right before our eyes. We miss out on what joy it can bring us, but WAY MORE IMPORTANTLY, we miss out on the beauty of the fact that it is alive, that it is a miracle in and of itself, that it is good simply because it is.
The fact that we are surrounded by life is the one thing that should never grow mundane. But not only can this happen from sheer overexposure, but we sometimes intentionally numb ourselves to this by escaping into addictions, by minimizing complex persons into sins we can judge and gossip about, by simply willing them into nonexistence by substituting our shows and websites for them.
I do this. And I want to try to stop.
I want to be aware of the magnitude around me, the fascinatingly complex and intricately detailed masterpieces of persons that I am engulfed in on a daily basis.
I want to be like Mary.
I want to say yes to the life God has put in me, and I want to be aware and in tune to all that happens in my presence and “ponder these things in [my] heart” as she did.
She accepted the demands placed on her by all these persons, by the Father-God who gave her a Vocation, by the Son-God whom she nursed and cleaned and raised, by the Spirit-God who gave her strength as she witnessed the horrors free-willed persons were capable of as they tortured and killed her only boy.
That’s what’s remarkable about her. She was in it. She was present to it all. She didn’t hide from persons around her even though she knew pain and discomfort and unimaginable sufferings were to come (“and a sword will pierce even your soul”). She just lived, with faith and trust that I can only dream of.
This is what the coming of Christ has meant to me this year. It has been a reawakening to the beauty, truth, and goodness I am always soaked in. It has been a chance to see how often I disengage from reality because it bothers me. It has been a reminder that life is just plain better when I am present to the mysteries around me.
It’s been an opportunity to smell pine and see the glow of lights and be washed in memories from handmade ornaments, all of which is only possible when I allow life, even life that makes demands on me and isn’t prepackaged or perfect, into my home and into my heart.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas. May we learn from our Mother and become present to the life of Christ around us.