After leaving the Zoom room an email went around, “It was really great to be with all of you today for our gathering. In these uncertain times, it was nice to see your familiar faces, laugh a little, and talk about that which we consider our collective calling.” A message like this did my heart some good, especially when it can feel like we’re skating just ahead of the cracking ice.
As Advent opens the new liturgical year, I’ve been wondering how we will write the story and sing the songs about this calendar year. It’s too early to tell the story, and Margaret Atwood’s line in Alias Grace captures why: “When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it.”
There is of course one unchanging song we can sing and that is about the living presence of God in our hearts and lives. Advent and Christmas bring enchantment—literally, from the Latin, in + cantare, sing—and provide the melody and lyrics that keep us in tune with the animating Lasallian principle, generosity.
But you won’t be alone if you’re feeling a little disenchanted. It’s been a rough year. Maybe right now the holiday season only accentuates the rough ride is has been. The best medicine in the cabinet that I know keeps the enchantment or at least helps recapture it is ritual. I agree with Bruce Feiler who points out that rituals help “restore a sense of agency, belonging, and cause in those times of life when we feel stripped of all three” (Life is in the Transitions). If there is any healing power in Advent and Christmas rituals it is this: they lift us out of ourselves and unite us with what is enchanting in life.
My ritual shortlist includes remembering, praying, sharing meals and giving.
Remembering brings my heart the stories that reveal the goodness at the center of life. Looking at scrapbooks, photos, journal entries, mementos and so on stir the heart and memory. It’s an interior time travel that helps us remember who we are and why we are.
Praying keeps us linked with our center and with the One who dwells in that center. Simply, prayer is daily quiet time at the same time for roughly the same amount of time. Praying expresses the devotion and desire shimmering in the core of our being.
Sharing meals brings nourishment to our souls as much as to our bodies. Jesus chose the table as much as the synagogue for the encounters that mattered, and we know the secret. The table is where we share our stories, perspectives and hopes. It can be, with a little effort, a school of intimacy.
Giving is always in season. Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat) remembers learning of a Kenyan folk tale that if there was a sick woman in the village, the healer would come in and the first thing he would do would be to ask the sick woman to cook for the whole village. The idea was that sickness was often about sickness of the heart, and when you gave of yourself you would also heal yourself. In the spirit of cooking for the whole village, perhaps we can turn our attention to what we can give to the young people in our lives.
When Springtide Research Institute asked young people (13-25) what rituals matter to them the majority (55%) said seeing loved ones was the most meaningful. Springtide’s menu for this hunger includes: (1) ask them how they’re feeling and make room in your celebrations for anyone who might be feeling tired, beatdown or overwhelmed; (2) send a letter, make a video, or send a care package full of memories and well-wishes; (3) find out what ritual the young people in your life value the most about this holiday season and work with them to creatively reinterpret it to suit the season.
Advent and Christmas rituals help us to stay healthy, whole and holy. When we’re tempted to tell this year’s story as one where we’re still waiting for things to get better or that we’re still waiting for generosity and grace to come our way, rituals help us to write a story with others in the central role. They keep us cooking for the whole village.
From the General Councilor’s Reflection Page
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC
Top photo: Remembering Christmas 2017, where I joined the communities in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Jaffa to celebrate Christ’s birth.