Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmastide Approaches

Loving Creator, help us be people of ceaseless hope.
Help us live this moment – really live it, not just endure it.
Because this very moment, for all its imperfection and frustration,
is pregnant with all sorts of possibilities,
is pregnant with light, is pregnant with peace,
is pregnant with Christ.
May we give birth again to a love that has no conditions.
May we bring to birth more light within us
so that we can illumine and transform the world
with compassion, justice, and peace.


Yes, it's upon us! That wondrous season of the Christian liturgical year in which we celebrate in a particularly mindful way God's gift of transforming presence in and through humanity; a presence most resolutely and beautifully embodied in Jesus of Nazareth.

Specifically, Christmastide refers to the time from Christmas Eve to the feast of the Presentation of Jesus. It's a period of time also known as the Forty Days of Christmas, with the first twelve days known as the Twelve Days of Christmas or Yuletide.

The spiritual significance of the season predates the overlaying of Christian terminology and mythology that began 2000 years ago. Theodore Richards, in his book Cosmosophia: Cosmology, Mysticism, and the Birth of a New Myth, reminds us of this with both insight and eloquence. With added links, here is what Richards says:

I write as the winter solstice and Christmas approach. The days have become short and cold. . . . Sunlight, abundant only a few months ago, is scarce. But soon, just after the solstice, the days will begin to grow long. Many of the religious cosmologies [or worldviews] of the West have celebrated the solstice as a return of the Sun, the birth of the divine at the darkest hour. It is, for each of us, at the darkest hour that we must be able to find our inner light. Christmas is celebrated on December 25, the mythic date of Horus' birth, not because there is any evidence that Jesus was born on that date, but because it makes sense that the divine should come to be present among humanity at the time of our greatest feelings of fear and disconnection. . . . [T]he winter solstice or Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate rebirth because it serves as a moment to unify the paradox of individual and the Universal. It represents both the birth of the Universe itself and the rebirth – a recognition, really – of our own divinity, our divine spark, the fullness of the cosmic wisdom we each possess and express in our own way.

In the wisdom traditions which, like a great subterranean river, undergird and nourish the religions of humanity, this recognition and embodiment of our divine spark is understood as an awakening, a breakthrough, a path of liberation and transformation. Catholic writer Angie O'Gorman reflects all of this when she notes:

Christmas can help us readjust, help us see the Divine more transparently in life, in places where we would least expect. A barn, for example, a baby. The Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is a call, our belief in it a commitment, to seek awareness of the Divine free of the impediments of culture, class or even catechism. That process calls for a degree of openness most of us rarely embrace or even know as possible. Yet I have a feeling the Divine is so imminent, so within the essence of things, that it is only a matter of learned blindness that keeps us from seeing. It is not something natural to us to be so dense. We can do better. We can break through.

Indeed! And Christmastide serves as a powerful and beautiful reminder of the sacred's call to "breakthrough," and thus our potential to embody in the all-too frequent bleakness and brutality of our world the same spirit of transforming love and justice that Jesus embodied.

A longing to celebrate this wondrous spiritual truth inspired my friend and housemate Tim and I to host a small gathering of friends for a Holiday/Solstice/Christmas Party on the evening of December 13, 2013.

We invited our guests to bring something creative to share – a poem, a reading, a song, a favorite photo, or maybe even an interpretive dance! – that was somehow related to the wintry weather, the winter solstice (which takes place tomorrow, December 21), Advent and/or Christmas. Not surprisingly, one of the best parts of the evening was when we shared our "party gifts" of beauty and wisdom.

Above: My dear friend Kathleen, leading us all in a rousing rendition of a song celebrating the winter solstice.

Winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
Together we gather.
There's nowhere I'd rather be than with you
on this winter solstice,
the longest night of the year.

Above: Friends Kate McDonald, CSJ; Brigid McDonald, CSJ; Kathleen Ruona; Mary O'Brien, CSJ; Theresa O'Brien, CSJ; Sue Ann Martinson; Rita McDonald, CSJ; and Darlene White – December 13, 2013.

Left: With my friend Jane Arens, CSJ – December 13, 2013.

Since angels are part of the traditional Christmas story, I opted to share a scene from the TV mini-series Angels in America as my "party gift." It was that beautiful scene when the two seemingly very different characters – the gay, AIDS-afflicted Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) and the Mormon mother Hannah Pitt (Meryl Streep) – find common ground in both their gentle challenging and their supporting of one another. It's also the scene in which Hannah offers the following definition of an angel, one which I find very meaningful.

An angel is a belief, with wings, and arms that can carry you. It's not to be afraid of. And if it can't hold you up, seek for something new.

Above: With my friend Mike – December 14, 2013.

On the afternoon of Thursday, December 19, 2013, I attended a holiday party with colleagues associated with my part-time job with a meals-on-wheels program in south Minneapolis (left).

This gathering took place at a colleague's home in an apartment complex on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis. As you can see from the photos above and below, the views from this apartment are quite something.

The season of preparation for Christmastide is, of course, that of Advent – the "season of blessed paradox!" Over at Bondings 2.0, the excellent blogsite of New Ways Ministry, a special Advent series of posts is currently underway (see here, here, and here). I close this Advent/Christmastide post at The Wild Reed by sharing New Ways Ministry's Associate Director Matthew Myers' beautiful (and challenging!) reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent.

“Slay the wicked.” ”Crush the oppressor.” ”Coming wrath.” ”Unquenchable fire.” In today’s readings, Isaiah and John the Baptist use some strong language about God’s impending judgment and wrath. And I like it.

I would not mind seeing some hardcore divine judgment fall upon people who perpetrate evil in our world. I am tired of reading in the news about hungry children, homeless families, corrupt politicians, war-torn countries, and corporate greed. I am angry that the strong and influential exploit the weak and unknown. How long, O Lord, until the oppressors are crushed and the wicked are slain?

However, contrary to Isaiah, John the Baptist, and my own deeply flawed heart, judgment and wrath are not the way of Jesus or the God he proclaimed.

Through Jesus, we see that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). God overwhelms all of us with love that exceeds our ability to sin – that is mercy! It is not asked for or deserved, but freely and lavishly given. Judgment and wrath bring only sadness and death into our world, not life – and our God is one of abundant life. Mercy brings true justice and wholeness into our world.

What does this mean to us? As Catholic LGBT people and allies, we can create a more inclusive Church by welcoming God’s abundant mercy into our own hearts, and then by sharing that love with others–particularly with those fellow Catholics who may say disparaging things or create discriminatory policies against LGBT people. It is our own experience of undeserved mercy that compels us to generously extend mercy to others.

For example, if a bishop or pastor condemns marriage equality, I think denouncing him as a bigot who hates lesbian and gay people is not consistent with what Jesus taught. Our culture encourages us to attack those who disagree with us, but angry words and vitriol will only magnify and perpetuate the mistrust and rancor in our Church. Instead, perhaps we should focus on building relationships – invite the bishop or pastor to have coffee or lunch to share our stories. Send him a Christmas card with a family photo. If he keeps us at arm’s length, we should keep the doors open by periodically reaching out to him. Our task is to build bridges rather than throw stones.

Our loving witness and patient invitation to dialogue will give others the opportunity to experience God’s mercy – and possibly change their hearts about LGBT people. We pursue justice for LGBT people by changing hearts through showing mercy in personal interactions, not through judgment and wrath.

There is power in mercy. As we continue our Advent preparations, perhaps we can reflect on how God’s “mercy triumphs over justice” in our own lives – and how we can show mercy to others.

– Matthew Myers
"Choosing Between Mercy and Judgment"
Bondings 2.0
December 8, 2013

Wishing each and every one of my readers
a deeply meaningful and transformative Christmastide!

– Michael

12/22/13 UPDATE: For the fourth and final reflection in New Ways Ministry's Advent series, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Advent Now – Roger Karbam (National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2013).
An Advent Reflection Inspired by Pope Francis – Sarah Christian (Millennial, December 19, 2013).
Advent: The Light is Coming – Thom Curnutte (Faith in the 21st Century, December 18, 2013).
A Friend's Advent Journey to the God of Peace – John Dear (National Catholic Reporter, December 17, 2013).
Preparing for Christmas: Giving First to Those in Need – Tony Magliano (National Catholic Reporter, December 9, 2013).
Christmas Calls Us to Be Present – Jamie Manson (National Catholic Reporter, December 23, 2013).
Queer Cheer for Christmas: Making the Yuletide Gay – Kittridge Cherry (Jesus in Love Blog, December 18, 2013).
Winter SolsticeThe Leveret (December 21, 2009).
Eight Enlightening Facts About the Winter Solstice – Todd Wasserman (Mashable, December 20, 2013).
Yule: Winter SolsticeThe White Goddess (December 21, 2013).
Sol InvictusThe Leveret (December 21, 2012).
46 Most Iconic LGBT Moments of 2013 – Elizabeth Plank (, December 18, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Advent: The Season of Blessed Paradox
Advent 2012: Rejoice?
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 1)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 2)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 3)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 4)
Mystics Full of Grace
Thoughts on Transformation
Thoughts of Waiting . . . and a Resolution
Advent: Renewing Our Connection to the Sacred
The Centered Life As An Advent Life
My Advent Prayer for the Church
Advent Thoughts (2007)
Letting God Loose
Something to Cherish (2012)
A Christmas Message of Hope . . . from Uganda (2011)
Quote of the Day – December 26, 2010
Christmas in Australia (2010)
John Dear on Celebrating the Birth of the Nonviolent Jesus
A Bush Christmas (2009)
A Story of Searching and Discovery
The Christmas Truce of 1914
Clarity and Hope: A Christmas Reflection (2007)
An Australian Christmas (2006)
A Christmas Reflection by James Carroll

Photography: Michael J. Bayly.

No comments: