Tag: November 2016

Advent Gratitude: The Liturgical Year Begins as Darkness Grows

 

shutterstock_251257738“the glory is fallen out of / the sky the last immortal / leaf / is // dead and the gold / year / a formal spasm / in the // dust / this is the passing of all shining things” … into the night so dark no night could be darker than, the cold so cold, no cold could be colder than; the journey through “The mile still left when all have reached / Their tether’s end: that mile / Where the Child lies hid.”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overmaster it. But neither has light overmastered the darkness: lights do not shine in darkness unless darkness predominates; when there’s mostly light, we see the darkness as residual shadows, not as the ambient state.

Darkness is in one sense the enemy of God, of Christ who is Light, whose dawn at Easter irreparably shatters the dark of death and hell, the light of the eighth, eternal day, shining for all days before and after:

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I wasn’t going to contribute this month. I’m task-saturated, sleep deprived (and sobriety deprived, while I”m “not sleeping,” so it’s on me), harried, juggling multiple balls made out of glass and filled with nitroglycerine.  Shouldn’t have worried about it; this post wrote itself. Preview Open

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Conjuring Gratitude Out of Nothing

 

shutterstock_432970087I spend my Saturdays working as a therapist at a behavioral hospital, primarily serving detoxing heroin addicts and suicidal teenagers. I often ask myself what I’m still doing there. It doesn’t pay very well, and it’s not a very tightly-run organization. There’s very little coordination. Staff always try to pass off problems they don’t know how to solve themselves. The patients are always at a low point in life — that’s why they’re there, after all — and a lot of them take their misery out on you. Some days, we practically make the schedule up as we go along. The atmosphere is frequently one of tension, desperation, and fear of what will happen next. Staff overworked and overwhelmed and patients about to snap.

I stay for a few reasons. Inertia, I suppose. The bonds you build with colleagues when you spend long hours in close quarters under stressful circumstances. A little extra cash. Free cafeteria meals with more food groups than whatever I would cook at home. In my more self-congratulatory moments, I like to tell myself I’m also doing something good for people, being there for them through the worst of times. Hoping that while their internal worlds might be torment, and their current surroundings aren’t so pleasant either, the time I spend with them might provide some small comfort or ray of hope.

I also rather enjoy my status at the place. Since I only work one day a week as a PRN employee, I’m not held accountable for much of anything. I never see the bosses. I can essentially show up and leave whenever I want. My coworkers are always happy to see me, not only because of my winning personality, but because anything I do is something off their plate (even if I don’t work very hard). All the real responsibility goes to the full-time staff so, if I encounter anything hard I can just say, “Hmmm, you’d have to ask the weekday therapist about that.” Even if something bad happened and they let me go, it wouldn’t seriously disrupt my life. So despite the stressful setting, there’s an odd sort of freedom about my limited role.

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[F]or he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. ~Matthew 5:45b Somehow we survive on this small blue planet, we fragile bipeds vulnerable to the elements, to disease, to time, and to each other. Logically, our lot is sustained misery, ended only by a merciful death. Yet […]

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I have been reading a good book lately about how Saint Augustine dealt with the search for happiness and how he went about ordering his desires so that a person could be truly happy. That got me thinking about how I need to order my desires to keep them in balance and that got me […]

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Group Writing, Gratitude: In the Beginning

 

shutterstock_501749167I was born a Jew—barely. My folks had escaped the burdens of family demands in Massachusetts when I was four years old, and struck out for new adventures in California. At that point, they had pretty much abandoned formal Jewish practice. I have memories of a Christmas tree in the house one year; mom said we had to choose between the tree and Hanukah—eight presents won out … going to synagogue on Yom Kippur and having the highlight be my father, deeply asleep, flying out of his seat when the rabbi spoke about the “text” (my father’s nickname was Tex) … putting up blue and white streamers and Jewish stars for Hanukah … making a minimal attempt at a seder, ensuring that dinner wasn’t too late … and studying Hebrew, which I enjoyed as an opportunity to learn a new language. It was all quaint and interesting. And I lived distant from any spiritual connection, not even knowing that something was missing.

Then opportunities to reconnect to Judaism showed up, except I didn’t notice them. In my junior year of college I had the opportunity to study abroad. I considered Germany, since I had studied German for many years. Then I noticed Israel had been added to the program a year before. Now that sounded like an adventure. I almost married an American-Israeli soldier. But I backed out. He was a sweet man, but I was too far from home and too young to make that commitment. I was intrigued by Israel, and loved it, but not enough to leave my friends and family. Still it was a great cultural experience … only a cultural experience. Another opportunity to re-connect to Judaism drifted away.

Then I married a gentile. He was perfectly happy with my practicing any way I wished, and even participated and helped me prepare. Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity to go deeper, I had no idea that there was something deeper to explore. After a couple of attempts at creating a minimal seder and a Hanukah (where we indulged in opening all our gifts in one night, at my insistence), I lost interest … and lost one more opportunity to reconnect to my faith.