O Holy Darkness, O Joyful Womb

Holy Cross Hermitage Dec 2019
The hermitage at Holy Cross Retreat Center

These are my o Antiphons. My own chants leading me into Christmas.

They’ve been on my heart since I took a few days in solitude earlier this month at a nearby hermitage. A practice that’s become my custom in Advent.

Time for solitude and silence. To slow it right down during a season when most of us are speeding it all up.

The spiritual gifts and graces I receive during those days away are invaluable. But this time was especially rich.

This time I took with me a quote from Jacob Boehme — one of the mystics we read in Living School– to reflect on: “God’s spirit acts only in resigned humility, which neither seeks nor desires itself.”

And I asked myself, what would it take for me to let go of everything I think I am?

Over those three days, I came to an overwhelming awareness of Infinite Love manifesting itself in finite time and space in the miracle of Christmas. And of the kind of humble surrender it took — and continues to take — for that love to incarnate.

For God needs a dark and joyful womb to create something new.

In a few nights I will gather with nearly 200 Annunciation House volunteers and their friends and family to celebrate Las Posadas. It’s true we all have experienced a dark and very challenging year in which we’ve witnessed and accompanied so many suffering people.

But it’s also true that despite the evidence in this world of confusion, fear, prejudice, violence, and greed, Love Incarnate prevails.

This gathering will be an example of that love. It will be an example of the joy that is born from serving the Holy. Of the hope that is born out of darkness.

And it will show me, once again, what extravagant love looks like when it is poured out in the flesh. And how God can act in ” resigned humility, which neither seeks nor desires itself.”

 

A Perfectly Not-So-Perfect Christmas

 

image

 

I’m going to be with my son this Christmas. That’s huge. For many reasons. One being that just a month ago I didn’t even know where I’d be spending Christmas.

Would it be San Antonio? With my cousin in Austin? Yet another new place in El Paso? Or my home in Virginia?

Turns out I’ll be able to return home for a few days. Just long enough to really take in my son, to try to get my fill of his handsome looks, his dad’s blue eyes, his weird sayings (“true that”), and his enviable easygoing attitude. Even when everything else in my life is uncertain — as it has been quite a bit lately (that might be considered an understatement) — I can still fall back on this one steady, sure, undeniable truth: Davis loves me. And I love him, in a way I could not have imagined possible before I actually gave birth to this child.

Another reason being with Davis means so much to me this Christmas is because I’ve become keenly aware of many families who won’t be together. For some, a loved one has recently passed on, leaving a gaping, indescribable ache that I know can’t be soothed — at least not for some time. For many others, the painful physical separation has been forced, or even chosen, because of their life circumstances.

On Sunday I found myself among at least 70 youth who fall under that latter category. The setting: St. Pius Catholic Church’s annual Christmas party for detained migrant youth. For several years, the Rico ministry at this amazingly generous parish (the church has 62 ministries!) has been hosting young teens from detention centers here in El Paso to a Posada and early Christmas celebration, complete with Piñatas and gift bags stuffed with a new article of clothing, candy, and other items for each child. I suspect such a gift is a first for these kids.

The youth travel with their “guards” to the parish where they are treated to homemade tamales (a traditional Mexican dish at Christmas) with rice and beans, washed down with ice tea, followed by cake, cotton candy, and other sweets. All of it served by happy volunteers dressed in elf costumes and Santa hats while a Mariachi band sings Spanish carols.
image

One of the volunteers offered grace before the meal and as the children bowed their heads, I took the opportunity to look around the room. Rows of black-haired boys and girls, eyes closed, hands folded, obediently praying. Every one of them. Some mouths moved in silent prayer. One young man strained to control his quivering lips. So many furrowed brows, tightly closed eyes — I wondered what was in their hearts, what they had endured to get here, only to find themselves alone in a detention center at Christmas. And I marveled at their childlike faith. Still vividly present.

I knew I was witnessing a sacred moment. Not only in watching these children pray, but in the true manifestation of the Incarnation that I was experiencing in these volunteers who had given up their Sunday before Christmas, and so much more, to be here attempting to give these kids a taste of Christmas away from home and family.

Tonight as I look out my window from my little bedroom at the wide expanse of lights spreading over the cities of El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, I’m aware that I, too, am away from home. But my circumstances are very different. I have choices that not only these children, but many people in the world do not have.

When I arrive in Virginia tomorrow to spend a few days with Davis, the house won’t be ready for Christmas. No holly, mistletoe, or angels dangling from windows or doorways. No softly lit Christmas tree or festive packages wrapped with matching ribbons and bows. No turkey in the oven. No, it won’t be the same perfect kind of Christmas I always strive to give my son. But we’ll have food and warmth and safety in our own home. And we will be together. A gift I appreciate now more than ever.

The most perfect gift of all on this very unusual, not-so-perfect Christmas.

image