Anticipation

Thinking at this time of year about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I wonder what it was like for a woman to be pregnant in those days.  Would Mary have been fearful, anticipating trouble and even the possibility of dying, or would she have been excited, anticipating the new life and wondering what this baby would be like?  I feel virtually certain she never anticipated watching this expected child die by crucifixion.

Anticipation is a tricky thing.  The free and open delight of anticipation is a joy.  I have a photograph of my then two-year-old son watching for the coming of a fireman’s parade.  His face radiates presence and joy.  He had no particular expectations or attachment to what had to happen.  He was just into it.

On the other hand, we can focus so much on what is to come that we miss what is happening in the present.  We can also anticipate negative things, being fearful and anxious, trying to hold onto control, struggling with perfectionism.  This kind of anticipation steals life and squashes the possibility of joy.  Of course, it can be a fact that hard things will happen.   Yet even in such circumstances one can find a peace that allows one to live in anticipation, not of what is to come, but in each moment with the presence and joy that is possible.

At Christmas time it matters what we anticipate.  Anticipating (maybe expecting) happy children and wonderful presents, or too much to do, family feuds, and food you don’t eat will color the whole season.  What we expect to happen usually misses the mark.  What would it be like if we let go of anticipation characterized by expectations, fears, and controlling, and with openness and wonder anticipated Christ’s coming, within ourselves or around us?

Queries:

What is anticipation like for you?

What is the meaning of Christmas for you?  Does it, or could it, include life-giving anticipation?

Prayer:

Take time in the busyness of this season to reflect on your experience of Christmas and make room for the New One to be born.

For further reflection:

“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. . . .” (See Isaiah 40: 3-5.)

“The shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place. . . .” (See Luke 2: 8-20.)

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The Desert

On a recent trip I drove through desert in Nevada and southern California, including the Mojave Desert.  An unfamiliar landscape, it appeared dry and barren, especially compared to the lush green of an eastern spring in which there has been plenty of rain.  Disconcerting and maybe even dull at first, this vast space of flat land surrounded by high and rugged mountains, with undulating sands in some areas and big boulders in others, gradually revealed its beauty. Each cactus, shrub, or patch of grass had its own place and was easily appreciated one bit at a time—a stark contrast with North Carolina weeds, grass, flowers, shrubs, and trees all in the same area.

After the time in the desert it occurs to me that my life at home is more like the eastern landscape in which I live, with an abundance of activities, relationships, responsibilities, and riches. So many that I can easily go from one thing to the next to the next, with no space in between.  What would life look like with the spaciousness of the desert?

While there I did one thing at a time.  I was truly present in the moment.  I wasn’t overwhelmed with stimuli.  I had time to absorb each new thing.  At the same time there is in the desert the vastness, openness, and vulnerability that one experiences—with no close boundaries and no place to hide.  And the uncertainty about where, if anywhere, there might be life-giving water, and with nothing but sun and stars to give one direction.

These experiences seem like invitations—to value and not fear emptiness, to take time to absorb the gifts of the day, to find opportunities to let go the busyness and jumble of ordinary life, to find spaciousness.  And with the invitations come the challenges of vulnerability, uncertainty about where to find the basics of life, and the need for a guide.

Queries:

What kind of external, physical landscape speaks most to your soul?  What does that tell you?

What invitations are you hearing?  Are you in touch with your Guide?

Prayer:

Practice a prayer of letting go, being with God in spaciousness.  You may want to use a mantra (a phrase, perhaps from scripture) to repeat, or you may use a sacred word symbolizing your intent to be open to the divine. When you notice yourself thinking, simply let go and return to repeating that word.

For further reflection:

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”. . . (Isaiah 43:19).

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty’” (see John 4: 1-42).

Losses

The recent death of the husband of my eldest cousin brought its own sadness and also, since I have a large family, the awareness that this loss is just the beginning of a long string of losses. In addition, being of a certain age, I am experiencing losses or diminishments routinely. Where is comfort or healing?

Admittedly my first response is protest. I don’t like it! I don’t want to lose what is dear to me! This protest can feel like screaming into the wind, throwing snowballs into a vacuum of nothingness. The facts don’t change. Yet protest, if deeply felt and directed to God, can bring healing, when we are surprisingly met by a loving presence in the midst of the anger, hurt, and fear. I remember as a little girl being so upset by something, crying my heartbreak, and sitting in front of my mother who would quietly stroke my cheek until I calmed. We can get closed in a box of hurt and pain, but Presence and Love open a door into new and ongoing life.

We also experience that Presence and Love through family and friends who stand by our side in times of loss. Anything that recognizes, accepts, and shares my loss matters. I remember years ago when friends went to the trouble to drive over an hour to attend the memorial service for my father-in-law. We were touched and comforted in that place where death and resurrection coexist. I also remember being comforted by cards that were sent me when my mother died—reading and re-reading them, even just seeing the stack of them.

Most amazing are the gifts that come through the pain of losses and diminishments. Only after my mother died did I come to know the depth of her love for me. I can say the lack of earlier awareness is sad. And also I can rejoice that I can spend the rest of my life knowing and living in the fullness of her love. In addition, I can have compassion for those who don’t yet know how much I love them—and compassion for me in not knowing how to let them know. Here is grace and wisdom. As Richard Rohr said, “grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.” The only way to lose is “to swim on the surface of things, where we never see, find, or desire God or love.”

Queries:

What losses or diminishments have you encountered or do you fear?

How does your faith support you in the midst of losses?

Prayer:

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God” (Psalm 62:5). You may want to put your feelings about losses in the form of a psalm. Do not hesitate to protest.

For further reference:

“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever” (See Psalm 44: 20-26).

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).