Waiting in Line

This year it seems there are lines wherever I go. Waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. Waiting in line at the drive-through restaurant. Waiting in line outside of the DMV. Waiting in line for a Covid-19 test. Waiting in line. Patiently. Six feet apart.

Recently when I was grousing about all the ‘waiting-in-line’ my beautiful wife remembered that when she was a secretary at a parish in Wisconsin, Sister Dorothy with whom she worked, always told her, “The poor must wait in line.”

The poor must wait in line. Wait in line for healthcare at over-worked and under-staffed clinics; wait in line for food at pantries which are often depleted before they can be served; wait in line for shelter and a safe place to rest; wait in line for refuge and asylum from violence; wait in line for justice.

During Advent I wait. I wait for the coming of Christ in my heart. As Catholic Christians we are supposed to have a “preference for the poor”. I seldom think about what those words truly mean.  “As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental ‘option for the poor’—to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor”.

Perhaps this year is a good time to reflect on my own spiritual poverty. Maybe I can stand in line in solidarity with my poor sisters and brothers. Maybe I can do my small part to ease the suffering of so many. When I throw those few coins into the Salvation Army bucket I will pray for the poor person who may receive some part of my small gift. When I donate food to a pantry I will ask God to bring blessing to whomever may be nourished by that meal. When I give to charity this year I will try to put a face on the person who will benefit from my donation and pray that they are afforded dignity while being served. I will support candidates and causes that serve the under-served in our nation.

This has been a year of waiting-in-line. And if I stop complaining and quiet myself during my wait, I might just catch a glimpse of heaven this Advent season. I hope that you do as well.

Peace,

Denis

Be Watchful; Be Ready

During the four weeks of Advent we are supposed to be waiting for Jesus. And most years I am too busy to settle myself into contemplation of Christ’s coming. But this year is different. We are shopping on line. All the Christmas baking is done. The house is already decorated. We are not traveling. We are not entertaining.  There are few gifts to wrap because everything is being delivered by Amazon. And still I find little time for Jesus. So it seems all my “too busy” excuses of Christmases past were just rubbish.

This year I have plenty of time to quiet myself and listen for His voice. Instead I grumble about not having MY CHRISTMAS. The Christmas that I WANT with all our extended family; with Christmas cocktail parties; with Christmas concerts; with Christmas pageants; with Christmas shopping. After all isn’t that what Jesus wants, too? You know, normal Christmas with all the pomp and circumstance and just enough time to squeeze in a little “holiness” like Midnight Mass or a Novena to make it all seem sanctified.

But here I am in 2020, with plenty of time to pray and reflect on Christ’s coming: Christ coming into our world as a helpless infant; Christ coming into our world today as the love that surrounds us and sustains us; Christ coming at the end of time to save us and bring us home. I’ve complained about all the disruptions, pain and loss that Covid-19 has brought to our world. And I’ve readily used it as an excuse to not do some things I might have otherwise done. But I cannot use it as an excuse for not celebrating Advent and Christmas this year. I have the time!

I’m certain that the first Christmas wasn’t exactly what Mary and Joseph had planned but events beyond their control forced them to travel to Bethlehem. Mary’s joy was not diminished because she gave birth to Jesus amidst the most humble of circumstances. Neither should our joy be diminished by circumstances beyond our control. The corona virus and all it’s related heartache has had a profound effect on all of us this year but still our Savior comes. Perhaps I can use this time of uncertainty to remain watchful and ready.

Aristotle is credited with saying, “To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.” Maybe a cold, harsh winter is what I need. Maybe freezing my backside off will make me appreciate the warmth and beauty of my home and stop my complaining about what I have missed this year.

Mostly I pray that a long cold winter will help me embrace the coming spring and create room in my heart for His love.

Peace,

Denis

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8

Coping and Copying

Recently I reached out to some friends to see how they were managing during this most unusual year. Of course, calling 2020 an usual year is the understatement of this unusual year. And now I’ve done it again; unusual. Clearly I need a better adjective – perhaps abysmal or abnormal or outlandish or freakish or monstrous, but none of those words truly do justice to the pain, disruption, and misery of 2020. Eight years ago we lived in England and my British friends consider 2020 a terrible inconvenience. My American friends consider it a sh*t-show; not nearly as eloquent but certainly to the point.

While inquiring how friends are coping, I’ve learned a lot about resilience, good nature, humor, perseverance, hope, love, and faith.

Here are some of the comments my friends have shared:

“Summer is here with its ‘heat warnings’ and ‘water restrictions’. We thank God for AC and don’t venture out for walks, unless it’s early in the morning or late in the evening.”

“It helps that Missouri is one of six states with no open container law!”

“I cope with humor. I haven’t had a haircut since February and my hair gets frizzy in humidity. I am worried about my memory. Every time I see my reflection I think that although I don’t remember putting my finger in a wall socket, I must have.”

We have closed the office and are all working from home. My wife’s office closed before mine so she commandeered the study. I am reduced to working at the kitchen table. Schools are closed now, and with the boys locked up, they have turned feral!”

“Sure miss you guys. Hope to be able to get together soon.”

“I just finished one of our “chat sessions” where a dozen of us were on Zoom. It isn’t perfect but it is surely a good solution.”

“I miss friends and all of the activities we enjoyed. We are just watching and waiting.”

“We are just driving around. Pretty much the only thing we can do safely.”

“These are very difficult times, but we will be okay with God’s help and our friends holding us up in prayer.”

So, my friends are coping, each in their own way, and I am trying to cope by copying some of their positive attitudes and gentle humor. I am also trying to remain hopeful and prayerful. It certainly helps to know that even though we are not physically together, we are NEVER apart in spirit and love.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay hopeful.

Peace,

Denis

It’s A Rainy Day

“Save it for a rainy day”. We’ve all heard the expression. To put something aside to use in time of need or adversity. The maxim has been around since the 1500’s, when it was put as follows: ‘Wold he haue me kepe nothing against a raynye day?’ from “The Dictionary of Cliches” by James Rogers.

Today is a rainy day. And for me it’s time to let go of some of what I’ve been putting aside.

Another shooting. Another 26 lives lost. This time in a Baptist Church in a small town in Texas. The list of mass shootings in our country is exhaustive. The terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan which killed eight people was just last week. Our government is in a quagmire of allegations of corruption and misdeeds and deceit. Indictments will no doubt continue as this current administration appears to unravel. The Democratic National Committee is embroiled in its own alleged wrongdoings. Sexual harassment scandals have rocked the entertainment industry. Political parties are polarized and racial tensions seem at an all-time high. Natural disasters have taken immeasurable tolls in terms of lives and property in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Texas, California and Mexico.

Today is a rainy day. And I suppose that I have indeed been putting things away for this rainy day: Kindness. Caring. Generosity. Thoughtfulness. Humility. Love.

rainy dayI’ve been hording all the goodness in my life. Keeping it all to myself. Honestly I feel privileged because, in all this chaos, I have more happiness in my life than most others. I suppose I have been selfish. While grateful for my blessings, I often dismiss them as just a part of my good life. I sometimes forget how much I have been given. How truly blessed I am. I have a spouse that loves me and stands beside me through thick and thin. I have children and grandchildren who fill my heart with love beyond measure. And I have friends who walk this journey with me every day and carry me when I can’t go on.

My life is far from perfect but it is much more than I deserve.

I won’t bury my head in the sand and pretend that the world is not a dangerous place. But instead of griping about the latest political scandal or wringing my hands over my feeling of helplessness while so many suffer, I will try to remain positive. I will pray for those in need. I will lend a hand when and where I can.

I will be thankful, thoughtful, and kind. Because today is a rainy day and we all could use a little sunshine.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Is Still Alive!

Last week my 8 year-old granddaughter said, “My friends at school say that President Trump is going to build a wall around Mexico.” “Pawpaw, does that mean you can’t go to your office in Mexico City anymore?” “Or if you go there, you won’t be able to come home?”

anna-meNot exactly sure how to explain the situation to her, I said, “No Anna, it means something different.” I told her that I would be fine and my friends and work-mates from Mexico could still visit here. My words seemed hollow and I could see the fear in her eyes and felt certain that my explanation fell short of reassuring her.

Fear. What an ugly experience. And now, so many are living in fear. Fear of deportation. Fear of being denied immigration. Fear of separation from loved ones. Fear of banishment. Fear of death.

What about the fear of terrorism? Fear of unknown or unwanted persons who could do harm to our nation; our cities; our homes. Do we build walls and create borders and more restrictions to keep out anyone who is deemed a threat? And what is the criteria for exclusion? Religion? Skin color? Language? Dress? Who decides?

I think of my own great-grandmother who made the perilous journey alone from her homeland, at only thirteen years of age, to build a better life for herself. My very existence depended on her acceptance into this great nation. Today because of her lack of education and inability to prove herself worthy of finding gainful employment, she would doubtless be denied access.

How can I have hope for a future that seems so dismal? How do I tell my beautiful granddaughter that her unbridled love and pureness of heart may not be enough to cure the evils of this world? I can’t. I won’t.

I need her to believe that good conquers evil; that justice is for all; that hope is still alive. And I will follow her example by loving without question and always looking for good in everyone. I will pray, not just for my friends but for my enemies as well. I will stand up for those who can no longer stand. I will speak for those who no longer have a voice. I will fight racism and sexism at every opportunity. I will respect ALL life.

And I will face another day. A better day. Hope is still alive. I know this because Anna tells me so, without ever speaking a word.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Be Strong

Strength. That thing of mighty men and women. Muscle and endurance; toughness and resiliency; brute force and persistence; never-ending and never-failing.

And yet, without warning, we can lose all of our strength. It can be swept away in a heartbeat with a few words. A diagnosis. A tragedy. A lost opportunity. A lost job. A lost loved one.

In a moment’s notice our strength can be sapped. Our hope can be diminished. Our greatest fears can be realized. Our fight can seem lost. We become demoralized and frightened. We are suddenly as helpless as infants and we struggle to find our way. The “why?” keeps ringing in our ears.

be-strongSo we pray and we cry and we hold on to one another. And somehow we survive. Perhaps not in the way we had hoped. Maybe not as long as we would like. But we survive. Strength returns. Different strength. Renewed strength. And we are changed. Our misfortune gives us the wisdom to cherish what is good and right in our lives. Our suffering reminds us that our blessings always outweigh our pain. We are lifted by the love and prayers of others and as the Alleluias ring out at Christmas, we know that we are never alone. When we light the pink candle this Sunday on our Advent wreaths we are reminded that in our longing there is also hope.  O Come Emmanuel!

I often wonder why Christ came to Earth as a poor child. Why not as an Emperor/King? Or like a superhero? Why not as an Omnipotent God blazing in glory and power and might? And as I often do, I suppose I miss the point. As humans, we have an amazing capability of adapting to our environment and more importantly our circumstances. Jesus came to Earth as much a human as me. A baby who was feeble, week, helpless and frightened. My Savior walked my walk and gave His life for mine. Jesus knew how to be strong. My job is to make my life worthy of His love and sacrifice.

Wishing you strength and peace and love this Advent season,

Denis

Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!

Isaiah 35:3-4