There’s still time!

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For the last few years we’ve spent our Christmas holidays in a house we have near Nashville, TN. After selling our place in Chicago at the height of the housing boom we bought this house in the middle of nowhere to escape the big city. We wanted a change of pace, a new view outside our windows, a fresh perspective and we got that. Unfortunately, a few things happened after that- First, we discovered that we’re not “country” people. Living full-time in the middle of nowhere was making us crazy. Second, the bottom fell out of the housing market which meant we could not sell the luxury log home on 18 acres in the middle of nowhere.

Lucky for us we stumbled on the vacation rental track. We organized the place to optimize the experience and began to rent the house on a regular basis. It worked out so well we were able to make our way back to Chicago over time. But we always find our way down to Nashville to spend time when the rental calendar allows in the spring and summer and at Christmas and New Year’s.

The Christmas trip always sneaks up on me.

I try to keep mindful of the season, to foster a sense of wonder and waiting. I try to keep my mind focused on why I celebrate this particular holiday and generally I fail pretty well. I find myself distracted and worried. Then as I begin to shift the balance back, taking care to still meet my holiday obligations of gift giving and travel planning I find I am drowning in all of it. There are moments, lots of moments, that are beautiful and mindful and real, even in the chaos of the travel and holiday madness and I’m thankful for that.

Today, a few days away from the feast of the Nativity I open my email while sitting in a comfy chair in between arrivals of family members and friends visiting. I am catching up so that I can clear my plate for the next days again. No less than five emails in the box start with “There’s still time!” My heart jumps a little, I know I have forgotten someone or something. I might have left the lights on in the house. I might have gotten confused on which gift was for Chet and which was for Henry. I might have forgotten to get anything at all for Miles. There’s lots to do to get ready, to prepare. The emails want me to know that there is STILL TIME!

And then I’m panicked. I think they count on that. Same day delivery and last-minute shopping was made for people like me who float a little aimless this time of year, procrastinators and seasonal hopefuls. But instead of caving today, only a handful of days before Christmas, I’m going to change the context as much as I can because there is still time- not for shopping and cooking and cleaning and wrapping. Those things will cycle through quickly. If a gift isn’t wrapped we don’t miss all that much. If a sink has dishes when the guests arrive or the countertop a bit sticky we’ll all survive no worse for the wear really, but if I move through this next few days losing track of the reason I celebrate this feast then it wears away at me, it tears down the purpose and the resolve and the motivation to move forward. This context of knowing why I continue to inch ahead is fuel for the journey, now and tomorrow and the next day and the next. It’s where the joy is born, where the celebration is rooted, where the beautiful moments reside. And I want to be there as much and as often as I can.

There’s still time.

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just waiting…

Last year at this time of year I wrote about Advent for Atheists. This Advent I find I’m ruminating on much the same theme and so, here I go…

For Christians, Advent is meant to be a time of preparation, of hope, peace and joy. We are most specifically preparing ourselves for Christmas or perhaps more accurately we are retelling the story of Christ, preparing ourselves once again for the “coming” of Christ into our midst. It is a sacramental time, a waiting place.

We have a specific “waiting” in mind but this doesn’t mean that all people, everywhere, regardless of faith claim are not also waiting for something. It makes me think of one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, “Oh the places you’ll go!” I love this one for one section in particular, the part in the book in which the fine Dr details “The Waiting Place.”

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

My kids and I sit and stare at this page all the time. We try to guess what each of these people are doing while they wait, we wonder who is waiting for what. My favorite is the guy in the yellow hood. He’s quite the mystery, that one.

I happen to think the waiting place has a lot to offer us. The nice and yet the tough thing about Advent is that we wait whether we want to or not. We don’t really have a choice in it. Advent is simply an awareness that we are, in fact, waiting. The calendar moves the way it’s going to move. The thing that speeds it up is the busyness we choose. We find things to fill up that time, to make it pass without pain. I’m coming to the conclusion lately that having it pass without pain doesn’t serve me quite as well as I thought it might.

I’m realizing now that medicating the waiting time only leads me to feeling let down, disappointed and angry when all is said and done. I end up with moments of reflection later that start less often with “wasn’t it great when….” and more with”I wish I had…”  and that is what I’m working to avoid. Perhaps that’s a good way for us all, Christian or otherwise, to move through seasons of waiting whether they hold religious overtones or not. Perhaps all waiting has a sacred bent to it, an opportunity to practice something important while we wait, something embracing the mystery and the mundane all at the same time. Dr Suess would say that “Everyone is just waiting” but that guy in the yellow hood….he knows there’s more to it than that. I’m with him.

playing favorites against the avalanche…

It’s poetry Tuesday and of course I’m playing favorites. I do that. Ask anyone.  It isn’t that I am not open to new poets. It’s more that I’m fighting hard against the oncoming avalanche that appears to eat up Advent every single year.  As much as I hope to sit safely, high up in the lodge before a roaring fire each Advent I look down at my feet around mid December to find I’m knee-deep in beautiful, bitter cold snow and the wall of white is rushing toward me at alarming speed. It is then that I realize the snow consists of expectations and responsibilities, real and imagined. I contemplate my options, run like Hell or stand and let it hit me, full on. I may never feel the impact, who knows.

At this moment I find the third way- a small cave in the side of the hill, maybe not even a cave but a deep indentation in the rock, like a cupped palm waiting for a curved body, just big enough to hold me, protect me in some fashion. It’s not a lodge but it’ll do.  And so, rather than seek out new information, new poets, new choices I’m taking the well-worn and familiar favorites. You needed to be reminded of this poem anyhow. I can sense that.

Huddle in here with me, lots of room…

 

Advent

-Scott Cairns

Well, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas—everywhere, children eyeing the bright lights and colorful goods, traffic a good deal worse than usual and most adults in view looking a little puzzled, blinking their eyes against the assault of stammering bulbs and public displays of goodwill. We were all embarrassed, frankly, the haves and the have-nots—all of us aware something had gone far wrong with an entire season, something had eluded us. And, well, it was strenuous, trying to recall what it was that had charmed us so, back when we were much smaller and more oblivious than not concerning the weather, mass marketing, the insufficiently hidden faces behind those white beards and other jolly gear. And there was something else: a general diminishment whose symptoms included the Xs in Xmas, shortened tempers, and the aggressive abandon with which most celebrants seemed to push their shiny cars about. All of this seemed to accumulate like wet snow, or like the fog with which our habitual inversion tried to choke us, or to blank us out altogether, so that, of a given night, all that appeared over the mess we had made of the season was what might be described as a nearly obscured radiance, just visible through the gauze, either the moon disguised by a winter veil, or some lost star—isolated, distant, sadly dismissing of us, and of all our expertly managed scene.

-from the Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected

(buy this book if you want to live….I mean, if you want to live well)

fotos: sacrifice…

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I’ve taken to juicing one meal a day as part of my Advent journey. It’s meant to be a kind of sacrificial act, scaling back during a time of year which preaches consumption.

I’m discovering that it feels less like sacrifice than I had expected. I don’t feel deprived. Instead, taking the time to fuel my body this way, with care and concern, feels like an indulgence. Self care does that to me, unfortunately. Inevitably I start to wonder if I’m doing it wrong rather than trust that taking care of my body is both vital and enjoyable. It’s a knee jerk response I hope to pull out by its roots one day soon.

long distance…

who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man

It’s been a few months since we made the big move to Chicago. We’ve been back to visit a couple of times in those months and I am glad to say I was able to connect with friends while there. It’s only been a few months. I was surprised at the feeling I got driving into the city, seeing our house down there, hugging friends I hadn’t seen this Fall. It seems too early to have to point to landmarks and say, “remember when we lived here and we did that?” but I guess it isn’t too early. Sometimes we don’t realize how much we’re missing a person or a place until we’re back there, visiting, remembering, hugging. I wondered as I did this with the kids on our most recent trip whether I was trying to cement something important into my soul, to not forget and to remember well. I think we humans are prone to forget important things. It seems the further away we move from something or someone, the easier it is for us to forget.

I have this in my head today as I consider “Advent,”  this idea that we are long distance lovers of the story of Christ’s coming to Earth. The word “Advent” itself comes from the Latin, with no mysterious meaning at all in my estimation. Unlike a number of words in our inherited vernacular, Advent states it’s purpose clearly, “Coming.”  It is an active word, looking forward, expectant.

It is speculated that the season of Advent was begun sometime in the 4th century. Records of the early church show sermons and references to this season of preparation, this time of repentance, hope, joy and peace. In the Eastern and Western churches Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ, to get our heads around the idea that the Messiah did arrive, to remember the circumstances which led to this rather astonishing event, God becoming Man and dwelling among us. It’s kind of  a big deal for those of us who follow the narrative of the Christian faith.

This is the crux of it here for those of us who believe this happened and this is also the difficulty. In a season which has come to mean a time of consumerism run rampant, we forget. We’re so far from the physical event of Christ it’s not hard to forget, even with all the landmarks we try to put into place to remind us what we’re doing here, we still forget.  I know I forget because I get caught up in buying the right gifts, buying enough gifts, not letting the tree die in the first three days of putting it up, worrying about family dynamics, planning holiday menus, finding things that have been put away for a year in the midst of a big move and don’t even get me started on Christmas cards and letters- my personal pet peeve but that’s a story for another day of Advent.

I’d love to say that the decking of the halls is stacked against me when it comes to recognizing the landmarks of Advent but that’s too easy an excuse. The landmarks are what they are. The tree has its symbolism, the lights and the gift giving have no intention apart from mine. I make meaning from the landmarks just as the landmarks in a place I’m far from have meaning because I subscribe to them, because I remember them. The places and the people in Nashville share a history with me, visiting them again when we’ve been apart for  a length of time has meaning when we bring it to the table. No matter how the geography changes (and it does change) what I’m realizing today, as I begin this season of Advent, is that the history that landmark represents remains intact if I am able to see it, to embrace it and to say “remember when this happened?” My hope this season is to put myself back into the story at Advent, not to simply celebrate that this whole “became Man and dwelt among us” thing happened but to realize what I’ve been too busy to remember all year, to recognize what I’ve been missing over this long distance.

sound and water…

Last year at this time I wrote a poem around the theme of Advent. It was my first and so far my only Advent related poem. I thought I’d give myself an assignment in this season of preparation to write each day of December some small thing regarding Advent. For the most part, I’m doing this because I hate to shop and I’m not skilled at cooking and for some reason whenever I think of holidays all I can visualize is shopping and cooking…and that’s plain wrong.

So to kick off this Advent writing gig I’ll post the poem I wrote last year…and see where it takes us.

 

Advent: sound and water

 

the season shift

not always conveyed

by weather or intention

I yield then

to other channels-

shopping or television,

blinking lights

adding population

to otherwise bare porches

pulsing noise

into my arms

coursing into my veins

a river I cannot ride

only swim

only drown

until, through the din

of sound and water

it comes-

 

a small child,

voice cutting through

the low hanging trees

of branches stinging

the singing rocks

the timbre ringing

takes my face

between two soft hands

each time I look away

with tenderness and

firm conviction

intoning-

look here

see this now

©2010adc