The Pattern

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Thanksgiving Day.

On this Thanksgiving day, I am grateful for the good things in my life, of course, but I am also grateful for what God can make of the bad things that happen. I am not grateful for bad things in themselves, but they are often doorways to grace and new life. After darkness comes light. After Winter comes Spring. After death comes life. I am grateful for this wonderful pattern built into reality by its author, the giver of life.

Christmas In November

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I love Christmas,…when it comes. It is mid-November; not even Thanksgiving; not even Advent. At the nursing home, they’ve already put up a manger, a Christmas tree, and green boughs and lights everywhere. The halls are filled with Christmas music. Yesterday, people were wishing me “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas.” I felt uneasy with it all. There was an expectation for me to join in the merriment of this “Christmas”, but it is mid-November; not even Thanksgiving; not even Advent. I don’t understand why we do this.

In the afternoon, as I tried to write orders in charts, a group of 12 elderly ladies came in wearing Santa hats and Christmas sweaters. They began singing Christmas carols; mostly secular tunes. There was general frivolity and ho-ho-ho-ing. Everyone was shouting “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas.” I wondered if they expect to sustain this fervor daily for another 6 weeks; as if the elderly residents aren’t confused enough already. Again, I felt uneasy with it all. It is November. The trees are still orange and red and brown. It is not Christmas on any liturgical calendar. (You know, that religion-Jesus-Incarnation-Christianity thing?)

Then, the ladies started singing about a reindeer with a shiny nose, so I quickly completed my work and headed for the door. As I was heading out a woman came in, all cheery and filled with the November Christmas spirit, and asked, “Doesn’t this make you want to dance?” I replied, “It makes me want to leave the building.” Over my shoulder, I heard her angrily exclaim, “Grump!…Scrooge!” Then I heard a nurse come to my defense: “You don’t understand, he must be Jewish.” (I am not.) As the door closed behind me, I heard the woman say, “Oh,…I didn’t know. That was intolerant of me.”

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What have we become? It is mid-November; not even Thanksgiving; not even Advent. Online, friends are posting on social media that they have their Christmas trees up and they are celebrating with Christmas music. They’re looking forward to getting out to the stores as soon as their Thanksgiving meal is finished up. What is this? It is mid-November; not even Thanksgiving; not even Advent.

I guess my response to Christmas in November, with all its gaudy and banal glitter, is to go deeper into prayer and communion with God; to seek always and in all circumstances the one Person necessary; to give thanks for life’s many blessings when Thanksgiving comes; to wait during Advent for the coming light of the world; and to celebrate when Christmas comes. In December.

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Kristallnacht

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November 9th

Today is Kristallnacht: the night of broken glass. November 9, 1938, was the beginning of two days and nights of state-sponsored violence against German Jews, and the beginning of the wholesale genocide known as the Shoah.

Beginning with Kristallnacht, the synagogues of Europe were destroyed and the holy Torah scrolls were burned. Once books are burned, then people will be burned. The destruction of sacred places (places of worship, homes, schools, and people) is the destruction of our own God-given human nature, which in its original goodness is holy. If hatred dwells in us, God does not, and we are much less for it.

Let us always remember that a small spark of ignorance and hatred can become a raging flame that destroys everything, and a small spark of awareness and love can become a purifying flame that brings God’s light into the world. The choice is ours.

Tonight, our family will place a candle in the window as a symbol of light over darkness and love over hate, and we will remember.

Suffering

Things happen. Sometimes, suffering is unavoidable and unfair. (My dad used to say: “The fair only comes to town once a year.”) Even Jesus prayed to be relieved of his suffering if it was possible. When suffering is inevitable, the best we can do (must do) is pray for help from God, ask for help from friends, and bear it well. Or not so well. Sometimes, we have to fall apart. But… no escape…no blame…no false pride. Just prayer and faith and love. And some anger and crying along the way. Things happen. Then things change.

 

Joy

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(for my sister)

I think that at last

you have come to your true self

and you are finally happy.

The suffering of the past

has become the joy of the present.

In the quiet hours of solitude

in nature’s gentle company

you have heard

the still small voice

that has been with you

from the beginning.

An arrival of sorts

before a final departure.

And, after all, you are glad

to know

this is what it has been about,

all along.

The Sin of “Usefulness”

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Anytime we view other human or non-human beings strictly as objects or commodities to be confined and controlled in the name of efficiency and usefulness, we have gone down a dangerous path. All beings, all things, are not the same but they are equal in having their own unique dignity and worth, endowed by their creator, beyond any value we can assign to them. Nature has a utilitarian value, but that is not its only value. When we reduce the natural world and its inhabitants to only a backdrop for the human drama, we reduce God, God’s creation, and ourselves to something less than what is actually being given.

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Strict self-centered and utilitarian thinking casts us out of the garden and into the hellish world of diminished and sub-human existence. It also drags the soil, the water, the air, and the animals down into that mire with us. If this isn’t sinning, what is?

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We are tenants here, not the landlord. Our ideas of God and nature have always been too small, and they always will be. Rather than justifying our mistakes, accepting them is the first step toward healing.

Fifty-Seven

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Today is my 57th birthday and, after thinking about my wife’s question, I decided what I want for my birthday is to climb that tree; the very tall, old, white pine that towers over the prairie and the house. That one. And so, with jeans and work gloves on, I begin my birthday wish; climbing the old pine tree. (Perhaps the tree is also 57-years-old.)

On this fine October afternoon, while the sun is shining and the landscape is awash in color, I ascend through branches and needles and sap, until I reach a suitable height of 30 or 40 feet. Looking down on our home and our land from up in the sky gives me a perspective I would never have if I played it safe and respectable down on the ground.

Sometimes you just have to climb a tree. Your birthday is a great time to do it. No one was too alarmed or too embarrassed, and I have fulfilled my own birthday wish. No harm was done. No bones were broken. Nothing wrong with that. The body gets old, but the soul does not. Someday my body will be earth-bound, but my soul will not be. What will I do next year?

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“It’s impossible not to remember wild and want it back.” – Mary Oliver