Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent and Some Songs

We've entered into one of my most favorite times of year. It's not because of corny Christmas music (though I confess that I enjoy much of it), and it's certainly not because of the cold and gray and darkness in se. I love, love, LOVE the season of Advent. We just had a reflection on this tonight, and I've thought about it many times before.

Firstly, I love Advent simply because of the continuity the new liturgical year holds with the old: the Church does a lovely job of switching from talk of the End Times and the eschaton into the time of preparation both for remembering Christ's Incarnation and for His Second coming. It works so well that we remember those who have died with All Saints' and All Souls' Days in November and discuss the End Times in each Sunday's readings. December seems almost a second time to reflect on those words and ponder and work to put them into action in our own lives. To ponder mortality, our poverty of finitude, and reflect on how clearly we are NOT God both in November and as we begin a new liturgical year is fitting during a time of cold, darkness, and possible isolation. The mood that winter sets, that quasi-seasonal affective disorder (or real for those who truly suffer from it), allows us to reflect on the knowledge of our own deaths. They may come soon, they may not, but they truly will come. There is no way to escape it. I find that the thought can almost be paralyzing, but it's a moment of honesty. Death will come. We will be put face to face with Jesus. We will (perhaps the more terrifying aspect of it all) come face to face with ourselves, how we truly are: both what lies in our hearts and what our actions tell of us; both our intentions and how our actions are interpreted by others.
Perhaps this is why I have issue with some songs sung at Mass, e.g. "Send Down the Fire of Your Justice." I guess I just have issue with that line, as it's sung in such a joyful way. There's so much more to Christ's Majesty than everybody celebrating in love and going to heaven. There's the painful realization of what has gone on in our lives, how far we are from perfect, and justice is the last thing I want to be raining down at the moment. To understand a little more how I feel, try googling the image of "national shrine upper church mosaic" to get a look at a jacked, Arian Jesus who's got a blazing look in his eyes that you KNOW will make any feeble excuse wilt and/or melt away. That look would only let the absolute and piercing truth remain, which is beautiful, don't get me wrong, but it's intimidating to say the least. I don't think it's theologically WRONG to sing those lines with that tone. But how many people actually reflect on what the words mean, reflect on the mystery, and then come to sing it with a trust that with justice will also be mercy? To sing that song without having some pause is either to be trite and glib or perfectly trusting in God. It's like what the Beavers say about somebody looking Aslan in the eye without trembling in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Getting off of that tangent, I love Advent because of the time of year in which it falls (both liturgically and temporally) and I love it because it addresses a fundamental characteristic of being Christian. Christ brought God to the world, but the world persists in evil. We still await the coming of the Lord in glory. We still have to face our own demons. We still have to face our death. Advent is a time to reflect on that, like I said. It's a time to ponder in fear and trembling our frailty and dependence on God. We depend on God because of that frailty, but it's not a grudging dependence on a distant or cold God, nor is it a dependence whose hope disappoints. We hope and wait for God, trusting God, having that final unity with God be a guide to help us as stable footing through an uncertain present. This is why I love the song "My Soul In Stillness Waits." Advent is a time of realizing that we are in process, on a journey, still becoming. It's not always easy or wonderful or lighthearted, but it's fruitful and life-giving and allows us to delve deeper into faith. Of course, once again, the words of that title should give us pause. How still do we let our souls be? As light and cheery as the "Holiday Season" (which soon will start around Easter and envelop Halloween) can make us during a cold/depressing/stressful time of year, how much of it is genuine joy and how much is an attempt to flee from reality? It doesn't mean we should all be killjoys and somber and solemn in this time (see below), but it does mean that examination of where our happiness, hopes, cheer, etc. stems is due.
Thirdly, there's an exhilaration that comes with Advent as we prepare for Christmas. For those a little too focused on the justice of Jesus and are tempted to go legalistic, pharisaic, pelagian, jansenist, etc., we have to remember that climax of the time of waiting: Christ, the Word made Flesh, God's only-begotten Son, entered the world as a helpless babe, was laid in a manger, and was human. The wisdom of years has looked at this self-disclosure of God, this demonstration of self-emptying, and seen from that moment (well, from the conception of Christ, but especially in the birth) the amazing love God has, even for those who would kill the Son of God. That's why I love the song "People Look East": there is a sense of awe and joy that we must have, one of wonderment and rejoicing, that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. Make yourself ready, don't despair, for love is on the way.

I love Advent because it addresses those realities: where we objectively stand, both as less than dust in comparison to the perfection and majesty of God; our dependence on God for that very reason; and the hope that comes from the demonstration of love made manifest most fully in Jesus. The beauty of Advent, for me, is one that is too abundant, necessary, and life-giving for me to divert most of my energies to singing "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" (I absolutely abhor that song) or even to Christmas carols, or to bypass it in favor of simply thinking of "pre-Christmas" which culminates in one day of celebration and then ends (whether due to needing to think about New Year's and/or Valentine's Day or just because Christmas is "over"). To do that makes a superficial and trite sham of Christmas: it has its own OCTAVE, it has its own SEASON, partially because of everything that stands at the end of the last liturgical year and partially because of the grace that it is as demonstrated in part through the readings throughout Advent. I love Advent, then, for a fourth reason: it makes Christmas truly meaningful and allows me to more deeply understand and celebrate throughout the Christmas season instead of one day.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In Tribute

You know, way back when it was time for Freshman year of college, I was distressed with the whole prospect of making friends again. I mean, the thrill of meeting new people is something I've come to truly love, and most of the people who've come into my life have been tremendous blessings. Even the acquaintances, if I simply reflect on what I know of their character, their personality, it's easy for me to be wowed. What can I say? I'm a softie.

That said, we return to the daunting task of the actual friendmaking. That discomfort, wondering when it's okay to unleash that particular brand of weird. It escapes and has escaped on its own, make no mistake, but there's that obstacle of the conscious articulation or imparting of it..."When can I be comfortable?" Sometimes the caution is prudent, sometimes I just gotta get over it and make the move and bring people in. I'm working on trusting the Spirit on that one.

Anyway, I was dreading it. I met some terrific people throughout my college experience, but that freshman year was a terrifying one, and I realized that I was living a very different life from...just about everybody in that University. Those who heard me talk about CUA after my freshman year probably thought I was going to transfer. I was pretty bitter, and overjoyed to jump back into that group of folks from high school who will always have a special place in my heart. And while there was some drama that summer, and growing pains were not the most fun thing, a truckload and more of good memories came from that summer, not to mention sleep deprivation and far more laughter than I can ever recall happening in my life since.

My senior year, I remember confiding to somebody that I was kind of sad that entertainment in this last year together had become focused on alcohol (legality made it the thing to do), not to mention that the sheer insanity that was summer (or even high school) escapades towered over the experiences I had in high school. I don't say this to belittle anybody in college, because I've met some of the most solid folks ever through that experience, and I always could have been more vocal (without belligerence) when challenged about my reluctance to go to bars. In any case, this friend was straight up blunt with me: I was whiney and living in the past. I'm sure it wasn't the most pastoral move, but it was a fair anecdotes revolved around my high school friends, my nostalgic waxing was for the Oregonian landscape and comfortable times with friends, and...well, you get the picture. Somebody without the context would be hard-pressed to be nearly as enthusiastic and certainly to relate to my story.

I guess she was right to some extent, but at the same time, Peru showed me that I had had a truly privileged upbringing. I mean, duh, materially: I graduated from college, went to a private high school, lived very comfortably, etc. But my richness was even more apparent in the quality of my friends, and I had no idea until I had heard how many people had suffered at the hands of friends who weren't nearly as loyal, not nearly as sympathetic or empathetic, supportive, etc. It was a shocking revelation, and it continues to amaze me in the vast majority of conversations where high school friends come up: "Wow, you still are in contact with your high school friends? That's...awesome!" "Dang, I don't have a single friend like that! You have about 20."

If you were to ask me HOW I managed to be graced with such amazing friends, I'd have to tell you that it was pretty much all their doing. I've been a pretty superficial friend in a lot of ways, definitely petty, and there's very little that I have done since good friendship was established 7+ years ago to merit such amazing friends. That's just further testimony to how great they are.

I said that I met some of the most solid folks in college. Well, only some of them. My high school friends are my first love (I can see certain people raising an eyebrow to jokes, please). This past weekend, I got to see the solidest of the solid get married. If that weren't amazing enough (and watching him be all manner of crazy excited, scared stiff, and launching beams of happiness to bound all over the great hall), there was a reunion of folks from high school. It was...kinda unreal. I hadn't seen a good number of folks in over 2 years. To dance with them was a joy I'd forgotten I'd missed so dearly until the music started, and once it did, I was sad to see the end of it. And even if I didn't get much sleep and even if I've got some papers due, I feel far more renewed than I ever would have expected going into that weekend.

The next month will be crazy, and life isn't gonna be like the first summer back from college. My friend was right: I can't live in the past. However, if you think for a second that I'm going to forget or downplay how absolutely fantastic it is to be with folks who, even after this time, can still pick up where we left off, you'd be dead wrong. I mentioned this a couple of posts ago: I so markedly don't deserve this caliber of friends, but I hope to be a little more worthy. Part of that is clearly being a better friend, and a part comes from loyalty. Loyalty, that is, to who I am, the facet that I'd not quite forgotten but definitely hadn't let loose until I was in the presence of everybody. So, here goes on both fronts.

As an afterthought, I'd simply add: I'd be a Musical Theater major in another life. I also love academia. Working to find a better way of satisfying both sides. Love to all.