Thursday, December 24, 2009

Blessed Christmas Eve

A Christmas Carol
G.K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown.
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

I love this poem for many reasons.  This year, it captures beautifully the reality of my Advent and Christmas season.  I love this poem because of the dichotomy within it.  There is the dichotomy between the infant babe and the Almighty Savior; the weary world and cunning kings and the truth and beauty of Christ.

Dichotomy suits me well this year.  I can live with it.  Well, let's say I have no choice but to live with it.  My Christmas celebration is dichotomous:  on the one hand, I am joyful to celebrate Advent, to prepare my heart and spirit for the coming of Christ, and to participate in the traditions of the season.  

On the other hand, we have our first Christmas without the entire family. Furball just returned from taking gifts and dinner to JSB.  He wasn't received well, but was greeted with rage.  Mental illness has its grip and we have learned to mitigate its impact on us all.  So, we try to remain patient with this harsh reality, and continue to pray for his deliverance.

Pony Girl probably won't be with us tonight either.  She is 18-years-old and not so sure about this Jesus thing.   I told her I would love her to come to church with us tonight, but don't want her to if it's because she thinks I want her to be there.  I mean it, too.  It sucks the joy right out of you to watch someone in church who is there because you made them come.  I also think it "bruises the fruit" in an evangelical sense of the word. I've learned not to provide fodder for rebellion when it's not necessary to do so.

The "Scary Midwestern Lutheran Sect" bruised this fruit when I was her age.  The fundamental, closed-minded, right-wing synod sent me into the desert for a very long time.  I see she is on a similar path.  She is dear, but she is highly doubtful.  God was patient with me and I have learned from my own experience to be patient with the spiritual journey of another.   I believe that doubt - and even denial - is a sound response to faith.  Read the Bible and you'll find it there in abundance.  Christ knows how to respond to doubt and denial in more powerful ways than I.  So, I will be patient with her.

So much in my world is weary today.  There is cunning and sternness all around me.  So much is harsh.  But, a long time ago, a woman in my prayer group told me during the roughest times to "Keep looking for Christ in the midst of it all."  I didn't realize it at the time, but it was one of the most helpful exhortations I have received.

So, I am watching for Christ:  A few moments ago, I received a phone call from Sweet Miss P, a dear friend with a 60-year-old son with schizophrenia.  She called to check on us all, sympathized with the situation with JSB, and agreed with me that it "is what it is."  We wished each other a Merry Christmas and expressed love for each other.

I am going to fix Furball and myself a lovely supper of bouillabaisse this evening and celebrate the coming of Christ.  I am going to light all of the candles in my Advent wreath, listen to my favorite sacred music, and worship the savior.  And as we walk home from church on this beautiful December night, I will imagine the Infant Christ on his sweet mother's lap and think of Chesterton's beautiful words: all the flowers looked up at him, and all the stars looked down.


 Merry Christmas everyone.  Remember to look for Christ in the midst of it all...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have Mercy On Me

As I was in the midst of attacking the laundry mountain, the phone rang.  Caller ID named a little convenience store in a tiny hamlet ten miles or so away.  

I knew it had to be JSB.  How did he get from his town 40 miles away to this town 10 miles away.  With no car.  With 20 inches or so of snow on the ground.  And why?

It had already been a long day, mostly spent "doing" for one child or the other.  I was looking forward to leveling the mountain of laundry and enjoying a warm soak and some hot tea.  But, not to be.

I don't like to bring him into my home when he's unmedicated.  I never know what state of mind he is in, nor what the voices in his head are telling him.  Especially what they are telling him about me.

He was very subdued when I picked him up and expressed concern about his health.  He's lost a lot of weight.  He's lonely and wants a relationship.  He claims no memories of his childhood and wants to know why his birth certificate is false. (It isn't).

I tried to validate as much as I could without upsetting him.  Because I always want to deliver him to the hospital and have learned the hard way that I can't force him to treat his illness.  It only makes things worse. 


He's in a calm frame of mind, so I bring him home and fix him hamburgers.  JSB is more interested in getting on the computer and "networking."   He's not interested in food or conversation anymore - just the internet.  When he tells me he's going to an inappropriate site, I tell him no and that it's time for me to take him home before the roads freeze.

Then, the voices.  I can tell when he's talking to them, because at first it seems like he is speaking to me.  But he is speaking so quietly, that I can't hear.  When I ask him to repeat, he gets very, very agitated.  So, I have learned to try to ignore.  It's unnerving to overhear the "conversations" he has about me.  Sometimes very unnerving.

The car ride to his apartment was unsettling.  He was now back to his stance of me as enemy, speaking softly to the voices about how I have ruined his life.  He yells at me to shut up and calls me some name which makes no sense to me.  So, I have a silent conversation with Christ.  "Lord, Jesus Christ,  Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  The Jesus Prayer.  I repeat it over and over and over.  Without ceasing.

It's the only thing I can think to do.  It's an ancient prayer called the "prayer of the heart."  A way to pray without ceasing, to go into the heart where you encounter Divine Reality.  On the 25-minute drive, JSB carries on with voices outside of reality, while I descend into the reality of Christ, and silently pray for the both of us.

By the time we reach his apartment, he is angry.  The car door slams shut.  I am in prayerful silence, knowing that the Divine is at work.  Somehow.

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I watch through the window to make sure he is not locked out of his apartment.  Then, I head home in silence.  Praying without ceasing.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gaudete in Domino semper - Rejoice in the Lord Always!

On this third Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday, we "lighten up" during this penitential season, and Rejoice in the Coming of the Lord.  What an appropriate day for a little miracle!

Okay, so maybe this year's Christmas miracle is as unlikely as the King of Creation coming to earth as a poverty-stricken infant born in a manger. 

I wrote of my miracle last year and my son's experience in church on Christmas Eve here.  

This year, JSB desperately needs to go back on medication to treat his schizophrenia-induced psychosis.  This holiday season has been a challenge because we have not been able to celebrate with him due to his illness.

Here's where this year's miracle comes in.  I have been praying - intentionally and unceasingly - for JSB to be delivered from this nightmare.  It's funny when you pray for something like this, you think you know what God needs to do.  "Just get him to snap out of it, okay God?"

Sorry for the hubris, Almighty Creator.  I am grateful for your mercy and forgiveness, not to mention your patience.

Remember, I have to tell myself, He sent a baby more than two thousand years ago to redeem humanity struggling in the darkness.  The King of Kings was babe in an animal trough.  

Why do I look to the heavens for transcendent miracles, when God has demonstrated over and over again that He is willing to condescend and come to us as one of us?  Mind you, I love the transcendent.  But, I am reminded to look for God and His miracles in unlikely places.

So, today, he sends me hope in the form of a man who survives schizophrenia, has been down JSB's road, and wants to help.  The first gift is to us, JSB's parents.  To see this man stable, articulate, and living a good life makes my heart leap with joy.  It reminds me of John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth's womb when he heard Mary's voice.

This new friend was able to give us insight into what JSB is experiencing right now.  That's something that only one who has experienced the negative and positive symptoms of schizophrenia can come close to comprehending.  

Another gift to us is the hope we feel when we look into the eyes of this man who is living proof that a good life is possible with severe mental illness.  His parents are blessings to us as well.  Few people "get it."  Many friends are wonderful and I am blessed over and over by their presence and I would be lost without them.  

But we are members of an exclusive club.  To be able to talk with someone about the things we experience and have experienced without worrying about judgment, stigma, and people drawing back in ..... (fill in the blank), is something we cherish.  Wow, parallel Mary and Elizabeth again.  What a blessing their friendship must have been.  How wonderful that God gave them their Sacred missions and blessed friendship. 

This calls for another Visitation piece.....

The other gift is the hope and relationship this man can potentially offer to JSB.  He is going to write to him, introduce himself and share his story.  And open the door to relationship. Of course there is no guarantee that JSB will immediately grasp this opportunity.  I know that full well.  But, the situation is ripe with potential.

And if things don't work out the way I want them to, it doesn't diminish the miracle.  It's God's miracle, not mine. So, look for them in unexpected places, in unexpected people.  And then Rejoice in the Lord!  Always!

Amen.  Alleluia!

Saturday, December 12, 2009


You hollow us out, God,
so that we may carry you,
and you endlessly fill us
only to be emptied again.

Make smooth our inward spaces
and sturdy,
that we may hold you
with less resistance
and bear you
with deeper grace. 

Jan L. Richardson; Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

God Breaks Through

As part of my Advent discipline, my dear Arty Friend and I planned a contemplative retreat for Advent.  We've worked together on many such ventures over the years and it has always been a joy.

Planning times set apart for spiritual reflection are like a prayer to me; a spiritual discipline.  I am always reminded of how much I love deep contemplation of the mystery that is God.

We winnow writings by powerfully thoughtful and brilliant theologians; pore over sacred art, and prayerfully weave together great works of art, literature, theological reflection and music.  We hope to put together an afternoon of prayerful reflection and renewal for those who bless us with their fellowship.  My goal is to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit for those who will join us in our time set apart with God.

This year, we considered the angelic revelations to Zechariah, Mary.....

..and Joseph..

I love the idea that an Angel who has stood before God now stands before us, heralding God's desire for us.  In the cold darkness of this worldly life, God sends an emissary to compel us to fear not, to listen, and follow this heavenly direction.  "This is what I want you to do..." He says through the Angel.

 Of course, the message is never simple.  Don't be are going to do something impossible.......

Uh, okay?  But there is something so powerful, so compelling, so Holy.....

...that the faithful recipient of Angelic news can only surrender, obey, and submit to the Word of God.....

...and even though you are too old to bear children, you bear the one who will Prepare the Way.... risk your honor and future to be the Christ Bearer....... believe the unbelievable and stand in as an earthly father....
The story still gives me chills.  
I yearn for those encounters and glimpses of heavenly direction, especially when life is cold and dark like winter.  The Angels still come. God still breaks through and reveals what He desires of us.
But, am I listening?  Do I have the faith and courage to boldly submit to something so alarmingly unconventional, radical, and earth shattering?  

I pray I follow the example of Mary with my response:  "Be it unto me according to thy word."

Blessed is she who believed.

I wish you a Blessed Advent.

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