Sunday, November 26, 2006

The season of bated breath

Well, we had Thanksgiving. The turkey is gone now, having provided a lot of nice sandwiches. The plastic container of leftover stuffing has been nibbled away to nothing. Before our daughter went back to college this afternoon, I bribed her to put together the Christmas tree (a job I hate but she enjoys, and I won't see her again till after her finals). So now in our living room, we are celebrating "Christoween": on the mantel are small pumpkins and gourds, and next to them the naked Christmas tree. Oh well. Things in our house never happen in a tidy fashion.

And so Advent is about to begin. Time rushes by so quickly at this time of year that it is no wonder our lives become disordered. And yet -- of course I never felt this when I was young -- is there not a profound stillness at the heart of Advent, almost as though the world is holding its breath? Can we pause to feel this stillness of expectation, or will we miss it again this year?

Andre Louf, writing in The Cistercian Way, describes a monk's night vigil in a way that suggests to me the hushed waiting of Advent:

"Every morning, even while it is still night, the monk rises joyfully
to await the wonders that the Lord will work that day. But he does
not keep watch only for himself. He watches indeed lest Jesus come
to visit him during the day which is dawning, but he watches also
on behalf of the Church and the whole world. As he waits for the dawn,
he is on the alert for the slightest signs which could announce the
imminent return of Jesus at the end of time. Jesus is always near
and always on the point of returning ... It is then in the name of
the whole world that the monk sets himself to wait in prayer."

I pray that I may find some time, during this busy season, in which to wait in silence and darkness for Jesus's coming, and to remember that I should greet every morning as if He will come ... today ... now.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Chilly, with rain and exhaustion

Every year I have a tendency to forget (until abruptly reminded) that fall and spring here can be windy and rainy. Saturday was lovely, but yesterday and today we have had a drenching rain and wind. It's warmish, but the rain just chills you anyway.

And of course the rain and general gloom are exacerbated by the fact that it's Monday. Life is full, too full. By the time I get to Sunday night, I feel as though I have run a marathon. Last night I was beyond tired, and I still have no clean clothes. I wonder how many others feel this way?

Why are we living like this? What happened to the 4-day work week that the pundits promised us, back in the 60s or 70s? Perhaps now it is time for my diatribe on modern life, and my unfavorable comparison of my life with my mother's.

My mother was the person I didn't want to grow up to be. I felt particular horror at the idea of becoming a homemaker. So I worked like mad, getting two master's degrees, and letting a kindly day-care provider raise my children for ten years. And now I have a nice 403B(7) account for retirement, but the last thirty years have been a blur. Where did they go?

Now the contrast. My mother may have relied on my father to make the money, but she made the life. The house was clean. Food was cooked, and not eaten out of microwave containers. We had two cars. We had nice, two-week vacations every year. Money was never a problem. My mother had the time to change the drapes and bedspreads every spring and fall. She decorated lavishly for holidays. Birthdays were a big deal.

Was she fulfilled? I don't know. Thirty years ago, I'd have said no. Now I'm saying probably. She had been a banker prior to my birth, but never displayed any desire to go back to work. Not one iota.

Now there's my husband and I. The house is a disaster, even with a cleaning person every two weeks. The sink is piled with dishes. We can't keep our doctors' appointments straight. I cook a huge pot of something on a Sunday, and we nibble at it all week. Microwave pizza is the standard fallback when the leftovers are gone, or have grown green fuzz. Forget changing the drapes and bedspreads for spring and fall; the beds never get made, so there would be little point. The Christmas tree is so much trouble that I loathe it, and bribe my adult children to put it up. Christmas for me would be fine with a wreath on the door and a candle in the window. Birthdays? No one is ever home. When they turn up, they get their check.

Is this what I wanted? Did I really think I could have the gracious family life that I grew up with when I'm teetering on the edge of exhaustion all the time?

But I guess I brought it on myself, didn't I? Be careful what you wish for ....

Monday, November 06, 2006

Just me and my "cell" ...

Fr. Hugh Feiss, O.S.B., writing in Essential Monastic Wisdom, has this to say about the appeal of the study, den, or monastic cell:

"It is one thing to love one's room because one is so
stressed out by work, crowds, talking, rushing from
one appointment to the next, answering phone messages,
that one's room is a place where one can collapse in peace.
It is another thing to find somewhere a place of silence
and creativity, where one can listen for the voice of God
and think one's own thoughts and be one's own self."

Hmmm ... This made me think. I do have a room, up at the top of my house, where I go to read, think, and pray. It's pretty comfortable, probably too comfortable. In addition to my desk and laptop computer, there's a wall of built-in bookshelves (rapidly getting full), a comfy chair with an ottoman, good reading lights, and a window to look out. In addition, numerous tchotchkes: candles (who can function without candles?), pictures of the kids on two walls, the random icon or two. I am making the clutter sound minimal, but it really isn't. Almost every little thing that give me comfort is there.

I'm wondering now which of Fr. Feiss's statements really applies to me: am I hiding in my room, surrounded by comfortable, happy clutter, or am I listening for God and being more myself? Probably both -- it strikes me that they are not mutually exclusive. Certainly I do retreat up there from the din of sports on TV (and much of the year there is nothing on at our house but sports); but maybe retreat precedes listening. I really function altogether better in the quiet. I have been known to read Evening Prayer on the commuter train ... but it's not the same as my room.

So maybe I will try to be less cosy there, and more attentive.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Saints' Day

I got to the train late this morning, after dealing with my three dear dogs and their various medicinal needs. I hate being late, so I arrived winded and annoyed on the elevated platform, having just missed a commuter train, and plopped down on a bench. The neighborhood trees, dressed in the remnants of their fall colors, were right at my eye level, shades of dusty red and dull gold. A fine morning mist overlay them all. As I watched, however, the morning sun broke through, and the colors, which had been sullen before, suddenly burst into flame. Even the tattered leaves about to fall were shining like the sun.

"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." We forget this at our peril. It's so easy for me to get caught up in the rat race, and in so doing, become my own personal rat, in my own little spinning wheel. People are not meant to live like this, and I must resolve to make more effort not to. More easily said than done, of course.

Tonight, at our All Saints' service, we will slow down for a time, and remember. The names of all our loved ones who have gone before us will be solemnly read out while candles are lighted. As a child, my favorite holiday (next to Christmas, of course, because of the presents!) was Halloween. As soon as school resumed in the fall, we started to draw pumpkins on orange construction paper, and to cut out colored leaves to put on the classroom window. All Saints' Day was not on my radar then. As an adult, however, I've discovered it to be one of my favorite days, and this service to be one of the best we do all year. In the spirit of Samhain (the Celtic precursor of Halloween, on which night the veil between this world and the next was said to be very thin), the saints will seem especially close tonight.