Snowy Desires

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We had over 55 centimeters of snow this month, most in the last week, an astounding record for my island home in the Pacific Northwest This is the view outside my back window. I love snow and the peacefulness of it’s falling. I cherish the chance to burrow safely inside. The evenings have been unusually bright with the illuminating snow cover. My friend here said she felt like a real Canadian now, instead of being associated with the usually temperate climate of Southern Vancouver Island.

For the past several days, I have stayed close to home. I’ve watched more TV than should be allowed and I’ve created meals from the bounty in my pantry to avoid going to the grocery store. The days have melted together, one indistinguishable from another.

Throughout the snowy week, I have avoided two dinner parties and coffee with friends and it was a relief. I struggle with the many invitations I receive and with the obligation I feel to reciprocate. I want the encounter to be more casual or spontaneous. Lately, I seem to have lost the desire to welcome that I thought I was finally cultivating where I used to live.

On one of my most recent cold mornings, what should have been a promise turned disheartenedly into a dilemma as I prayed a morning Psalm.

May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans. (Ps. 20:5)

I have no desires or plans, I thought. Could that be true? I came face to face with the realization that I continue to define my life by a job or a career or a passionate role—even though I have written, read, and prayed against this stance for much of my adult life. Writing is a spiritual practice that takes me places I don’t know to go. And, on this day, at least 30 minutes of my too-much television viewing elucidated the possibilities I’d worked out through my morning pages.

One of the television shows I watch occasionally is Big Bang Theory. On a recent rerun, Penny reacts to her boyfriend Leonard’s passion for a TV show he wants to share with her. In a conversation with another member of their friends’ group, Bernadette, Penny laments that she doesn’t get that passionate about anything in her life.

Bernadette: Why does this bother you so much?

Penny: I don’t know. It’s just, he’s so passionate about so many different things. I just don’t get that way. Do you?

Bernadette: Well, sure. I’m pretty passionate about science. I remember the first time I looked through a microscope and saw millions of tiny microorganisms. It was like a whole other universe. If I wanted to, I could wipe it out with my thumb like a god.

Penny: See? I wish I had some of that fire in my life. I mean, I want to care about things and get excited like you guys.

Bernadette: Well, there’s no reason you can’t.

Penny: You think?

Bernadette: Absolutely. All we need to do is spend a little time and find something you’re passionate about.

Penny: Ugh, that sounds like a lot of work.

Penny is a brilliant character choice in this line-up. You see, all the other people in this close group of friends are accomplished scientists with the most advanced degrees and engaging research agendas that permeate their everyday interactions. Penny is a waitress at the local Cheesecake Factory and occasionally aspiring actress whose character continually butts up against the intellectual milieu and social ineptitude of the other characters. In this particular episode, the theme is re-conditioning or a kind of regeneration of sorts. Culminating this part of the story, Penny and her boyfriend Leonard revisit her lament with new insight.

Penny: See, that’s the kind of passion I didn’t think I had. But then I realized I’m passionate about you.

Leonard: Oh, my cute little tushy strikes again.

Penny: No, I’m serious. Look, I’ve always had these plans. I was gonna be in movies and live this glamorous life, and anything less than that just wasn’t worth getting excited about.

Leonard: Those things can still happen.

Penny: Oh, obviously it’s gonna happen. Yeah, a psychic at a bachelorette party told me so. Anyway, what I meant was, I shouldn’t wait, you know? I’ve got you, I’ve got Sheldon, all these wonderful friends. My life is exciting right now.

Leonard: That’s a big deal.

Penny: It is, isn’t it?

Leonard: So, does that mean we get to do stuff like talk about cool shows or get dressed up in matching costumes and go to Comic-Con?

Penny: Leonard, I had an epiphany, not a stroke.

Penny epiphany was far from looking at her life through a lens of grace or was it? Her desire and plans for a career will unfold, however, she shouldn’t wait to be passionate about the lives and relationships that enable her abundant living in the here and now. When I pondered my response to this verse in the Psalms in my writing pages, like Penny, I saw more clearly what was right in front of me.

So back to my desires and plans. I want to have a more healthy and whole relationship with my family—my son, my daughter, and my husband. I want to be less guarded with other people. I want to love God by honoring these people that are closest to me and not spend my imagination considering how they might live. My desire is to take myself off the hook and let them figure out the weakness and strength of a thing in their own way and in their own good time.

In response to the invitations to coffee, to dinners, to tea, and walks to explore this community, being gracious is not difficult. I don’t have to be an extrovert; I can be myself. According to the Rule of Benedict, humility is the admission of God’s gifts to me and to use these gifts for and with others.

Almighty God, to you my heart is open, all desires known, and from you, no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that I may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Regeneration: A new lens for grace

According to an online dictionary, regeneration is the action or process of regenerating or being regenerated. Now, I know that using the same root word in the definition doesn’t tease out much understanding. The good thing about online definition finding is that I noticed on the side of the same page the biologic concept of ‘regeneration’ that was quite generative.

According to Wikipedia, in biology, regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that make genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage. Every species is capable of regeneration, from bacteria to humans.

The process of renewal, restoration and growth already sounds like a spiritual journey. The purpose of this regenerative process, to make us resilient to the natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage, sounds like the grace of God.

This past summer, right after we moved, I reread an old blog of mine where I gave myself some good advice: to see my life through the lens of grace rather than fear and anxiousness.   I know this does not change what is, but affords me another way to situate the circumstances of my life.

So, I particularly took notice when Anne Lamott wrote in Operating Instructions, that, that’s what grace is—the divine assistance for regeneration.

I will conflate biology and Anne’s definition of grace: God is guiding, directing, creating and a participant in the process of renewal, restoration, and growth so that I become resilient. Being resilient means I am able to face whatever is, in surrender, which seems the opposite of strength but, in the great paradox of faithfulness, is strength.

What does it mean to see my life through the lens of grace?

I am grateful that each circumstance, each experience, each moment is one where some part of me is growing, being restored, and renewed.  Grace.

Indomitably Expect

“It was your return ticket.”

That’s what Norma said to me when I told her about my recent experience flying back to Canada.

My flight was scheduled to leave the Ohio airport at 6:30 in the morning.  I have a US passport. I am a citizen of the United States.  However, when I attempted to check in online the night before I was to leave, I learned that I would be required to see an agent at the check-in desk before obtaining a boarding pass.  That hadn’t happened before.

The young man at the counter that next morning asked for documentation that I was a legal resident of Canada. It seems the airlines was concerned because I didn’t have a return ticket. And, like Norma reminded me, this was my return ticket. I knew when I arrived in Victoria, the customs agents would ask for my officially embossed paper that assured my easy entry. I was ready to prove my status then. But, I balked at the Delta desk attendant demanding that proof in order to leave Ohio for Minneapolis.

I don’t need to prove my worth as a parent, a wife, or teacher, or even a person of faith. So, why do I keep trying to do that?

I am not the noise—the inadequacy of the deep sleep dream I keep having—of not measuring up. Measuring up to what? That is my elusive question.

I can’t seem to break out of the breadth of ‘less than capable’ that I’ve experienced lately. When I consider the last year of my life, I see both moments of struggle or moments of grace. I just don’t see much that seems effectual—that I’ve done anyway. I want to generously be with my family and friends, while at the same time I shield myself from the risks of being less than I imagine.

Professionally, I had one project hanging on that keeps meeting roadblocks, not exactly of my own making. However, I keep wondering what I could do or have done differently to make the going smoother. In another situation in response to the Chinese church here in Victoria, I’m now filling in as the leader with an English language learners group. The participants are so gracious. The first meeting together that I planned would have been more appropriate for first graders. I don’t speak or understand their language and acutely feel my lack of practical insight about what to do in that two hours I will spend with them each Friday. What can I do differently to make this time generative for acquiring a new language in the cradle of supportive relationships?  I don’t know.

Unexpectedly for February in Victoria, today the sun is shining and it is cold. And for me, a wee bit of goodness is peaking through with the sun. I’m not sure I believe it, yet.

Simone Weil, Christian mystic, who died quite young, wrote:

At the bottom of every heart…there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being.

In the midst of my worry and doubt, I do desire the goodness that is lurking below the surface of every encounter, of every circumstance. I must remind myself that expecting goodness doesn’t mean a specific outcome. Expectations are a different stance and often lead me to disappointment, to those feelings of inadequacy.

In that English learner’s group, I had expectations for myself. I have the expertise, a Ph.D., in literacy, culture, and language, and even though adult language learners aren’t my calling, I thought I knew what to do. I had expectations for the three people I met previously that turned into eight eager learners in that first class I lead. I didn’t expect their generous spirits, the welcome and the safe space that we cultivated together despite my uncertain preparation. We unleashed goodness by sharing our inadequacies, whether real or perceived and our gratitude for the opportunity to be in a new city.

My heart still hurts for circumstances beyond my control in other parts of my life, for unknowns that keep surfacing. Someplace, inside of me, is that assurance that our lives are above the fray in which I often stay too long. How can I recognize God’s goodness that is deeper than my actions, thoughts, and fears?

Instead of feeling that I have to act or wondering what will work in response to living, the presence and peace of God offer me the opportunity to face what is. In surrender, I am opened to the serenity of faith, the courage of hope, and yes, the assurance of goodness.

Getting up on this cold morning, I was thankful for the quiet radiator at the top of the stairs. It’s gentle warmth unobtrusively permeates the air. I’ve taken to laying my clothes on it before I get dressed. I began the day both steeped in this warmth and agitated by a professional problem I could not solve on my own. I was grateful that I have colleagues who were witnesses to what I could do and offered their contributive presence no matter that they are thousands of miles away.

I also woke up from those all too familiar night induced worries.  This time about another person’s life that I love beyond reason. I was reminded, again, that he belongs to God. Later in the day, my dark thoughts were upended –people and circumstances were unfolding that countered my imagined fears.

Indomitably expect. Trust in goodness. No proofing yourself required.

The Rules

The rule teaches us to listen to the circumstances of our own lives. We have to begin to face what our own life patterns might be saying to us… When we are afraid, what message lurks under the fear…? …When we find ourselves in the same struggles over and over again, what does that pattern say…?

Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily

 In her book about living the Rule of St. Benedict today, Joan Chittister is explicit about the possible patterns that the circumstances of our lives might reveal. Am I terrified of failure? Am I trying to cover up my weakness? Do I panic at the thought of public embarrassment or the sense of valuelessness that comes with the loss of approval?   Do I always begin things with great enthusiasm and abandon them before I am finished? Am I reluctant or afraid to change no matter how good or right the changes might be? Do I keep imposing the same unsatisfactory relationships with people from my past into the present ones? Have I ever really given myself, down deep, to anything except myself? What patterns do the circumstances of my life reveal?

In the quiet of my morning, I have times of insight, repentance, and gratefulness—then I go back to being the person who gets stuck in my own solitary world and am irritated or afraid when other’s inadequacies mirror my own. I ponder and even plan the perfect life I will live—in the near future, when I have established my house or have landed in a particular setting.  I long for a beautiful view and a big table to engender conversations and welcome for all kinds of people that just happen by. I imagine a life where I will have meaningful work to do at leisure. You know, that’s what I kind of thought before I moved here, to this place and house and people where I live now, at this moment.

I remember over 30 years ago, we lived in a newly built house with light blue carpet, south of a large metropolitan area. I remember writing in my journal that I wished for a house with hardwood floors on the other side of the city. Aside from the wooden floors, the houses on the other side of town were older, smaller, and required sweat equity to match the ease of lifestyle to which we were accustomed in our suburban neighborhood. I’m not sure what I was really searching to gain.

My last three houses have had hardwood floors: one with worn-out narrow oak planks, the next one gleaming newly refinished, and now the pine floors where we live have comfortable dog scratches already built in. Listening to the circumstances of my life might tell me that I sometimes imagine my life looking toward the next stage or location or configuration, particularly when those circumstances are challenging. I could also surmise that the substance of the floor I walked upon had little impact on how I lived beyond that surface.

I continue to encounter parallels between the wisdom of spiritual traditions that similarly require living the paradoxes. My life of faith moves unevenly between life and death, promise and struggle, solitude and community, and this present moment and the next. In his insightful look at The Promise of Paradox, Parker Palmer writes

Contradiction, paradox, the tension of opposites: these have always been at the heart of my experience, and I think I am not alone. I am tugged one way and then the other. My beliefs and my actions often seem at odds. My strengths are sometimes canceled by my weakness. My self, and the world around me, seem more a study in dissonance than a harmony of the integrated whole.

Dissonance. There is an attitude of mystery in the universe that guides every conversation and every common act. A contemplative awareness is possible that sanctifies the here and now when we accept the complexity and contradictions of our lives in contrast to the illusion that things are simple and we are in charge. Parker goes on to reflect that God sees through our illusions and delusions and meets us on the other side when it becomes clear that something has been leading us all along.

I’ve encountered this wisdom, over the years, in different forms. The Rule of Benedict challenges me to expose my ideas to the critical voice of wiser hearts, to seek community beyond my quiet morning reflection. In solitude and into community, we work out our connectedness to God, to one another, and to ourselves. The last few months I’ve been reading the words of an Ojibwe author, who has extended my community.  In one of his memoirs, One Native Life, Richard Wagamese recalls teaching from his Spiritual Elder:

Through the ceremony of the medicine bowl, he taught me how to pray in gratitude, to ask for nothing, to be thankful instead for all that was present in my life right then and there. Then he told me to take the spirit of that ceremony out into the world with me.

Anyone can be spiritual in a quiet room, but out in the world is where the challenge presents itself.

It’s the knowledge and acceptance of the mystery that surrounds us—and the awareness that allowing it to remain a mystery, celebrating it rather than trying to unravel it, engenders humility and a keen sense of the spiritual.  

Sister Joan Chittister adds to this mystery that the real monastic walks through life with a barefooted soul, alert, aware, grateful, and only partially at home.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to me—the very contradictions in my life, the dissonance, are evidence of God’s mercy and mystery. Blessed am I when I wait; when I don’t strive to manage, figure out, and react to the noise of the world. My teacher will not hide. My eyes shall see my teacher, and my ears will hear a word behind me saying, this is the way, walk in it (Isaiah 30:21).

Listen and celebrate the mystery.

Listening for Home

img_0722It is easy to know what is good for someone else. It is difficult to listen and let them define themselves.

Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily

 

The Walton’s.  I faithfully watched the show growing up, longing for a John-Boy, or maybe more truthfully, hoping that I was the John-Boy in my own family. I wanted that multigenerational experience that celebrated the bond of love despite each member’s individual expressions of living. Contrary to that close-knit household on television, in my mind, I separated myself from the woes of my own family. While I pretended large with my Aunt Bessie’s discarded elegant dresses and high heels, spray painted silver for my garage variety shows, I was suspect of her vivid storytelling, and the way she arrived at our house: her hulk of a car carelessly pulled up on the curb and her fifth of vodka safely tucked into her generous purse. As a teenager, I never wanted to not be in firm control of my life, as I perceived those closest to me who, like my Aunt Bessie, reacted to or escaped life’s tenuous balance.

It is easier to watch the show that is someone else’s life and to think that I know for certain how I would live that life, while not giving attention to my own.

I’ve been slowly working through Joan Chittister’s Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today and reflecting on the weeks I’ve spent with each of my adult children over the past few months. The Rule involves listening to others needs and also teaches us to listen to the circumstances of our own lives.

I know how to meet life’s basic needs. I cooked and cleaned and consoled the weeks I stayed with my son and then my daughter during their own transitions. I also admit that I struggled to not say how I would manage any number of daily dilemmas that inevitably surface when you spend a few weeks with someone else. I am also aware of how I listened to the other person’s account of his or her day and made hidden judgments about the why or how or when or how much and all the while I was struggling to figure out my own why and how and when and how much.

Now that I have returned to the other world of my own house, I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I anticipated coming home and renewing my intention to live in the abundance of this, my new home.  I was reminded of the beauty of this island as the plane circled before landing. I thought I was ready.

I had (and have) plans to explore this unique city, to visit the Benedictine sisters on Shaw Island, to pursue a volunteer opportunity at The Contemplative Society, and to inquire how I might respond to a request to support the youngest readers at the Chinese church preschool. I do relish the opportunity for my own reading and writing and pondering, but also recognize the inwardness that I’ve hidden inside instead of seeking community.

All is not lost, though, in the days since my return. I have rearranged our dresser drawers, cleaned out and organized one kitchen drawer, did the laundry, and cooked one suspect and one glorious new recipe.  We attended our first Rabbie Burns Day Dinner (Scottish immersion) on Saturday and I was enveloped in the care of church folk who celebrated my return on Sunday. I’ve been invited to coffees, dinners, and an artsy group in the coming weeks. Yet, the truth is that I don’t know how to lean into this new life I’ve been given.

My truth is that I know how to keep knocking on the closed doors of the past year and  I know how to worry about the definition of my family that has also been re-invented in recent months. I’ve been trying desperately to survive the changes. I’ve been figuring out what is good for other people instead of listening and letting them define that for themselves. I’ve been figuring out what is good for other people because I don’t know quite what to do for my own life—this isn’t the same path I have coerced my way through the past few years.

One my plane trip home on Thursday, I was astonished by words that I’ve read before, yet heard for the first time. I cannot define or live another’s life and I am perplexed, again, how my human best tends to be at odds with the holy best.

To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do—to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at it’s harshest and worst—is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own… the one thing a clenched fist cannot do is accept, even from le bon Dieu himself, a helping hand.

The Sacred Journey

I cannot manage nor imagine  “more wonderful still.”

I wasn’t just the oldest child in my family, like John Boy Walton. I thought I was the only adult, many times. I had to take charge of my own life.

Maybe it’s time to soften my jaw, to unclench my teeth, and to listen to and let be—all kinds of relatives.

Advent Listening for a New Year

2018 was a year of change. I turned 65, I lost my job, and we sold our beloved home, moved 4 times, welcomed and lost close family members and communities – events that offer an opportunity for deep listening.

I’m learning about my new home in British Columbia. Cascadia, the Pacific Northwest region of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, boasts that residents are spiritual and not religious, a distinction that shapes a way of life with the natural world. I also discovered that The Contemplative Society, that encourages Christian wisdom tradition, is based in Victoria, BC. I attended an Advent Silent Mini-Retreat this group co-sponsored with the Interfaith Chapel at the University of Victoria on a recent Saturday.

Being a bit cautious about riding the city bus for the first time to the University from my house and thinking the retreat started at 9:00 instead of 9:30, I arrived about 8:45. As synchronicity would have it, I helped Liz and Henri, who were leading the retreat, get the space ready. They welcomed me as an insider rather than as a first-time participant. We set up the kitchen area for a break and a light lunch, arranged tables in the outer areas, and carried chairs and pillows to the chapel space. Liz even asked me to greet people as they arrived when the time came, thus encouraging me even more to belong.

I risked entering into the day in this spirit of welcome and brought my most inward practices into community. And in that unfamiliar sense of community, I did newly experience familiar patterns I’ve cultivated over the years. I participated in chants in the style of Taizé, which were new to me, and familiar centering prayer and contemplative reading. A prayerful and reflective walk through the exposed shapes of the winter garden next to the chapel expanded my understanding of possibility in a season not usually associated with growth.

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Snowberries in Finnerty Garden, University of Victoria

I’ve nurtured a way of reading and meditating on scripture, Lectio Divina, for many years. On this retreat, sharing that experience with others, I had to consciously listen, since I wasn’t the one reading to myself as is my usual custom. Liz, one of the retreat leaders, read Luke 1: 26-28. Slowly and deliberately, she read the scripture multiple times. I didn’t have the opportunity to see the words, so I noticed more acutely the ideas that stood out to me as I listened to this Advent story of Mary’s visit from an angel foretelling her role as the mother of Jesus.

I heard that Mary was favored by God and asked to do something she had never done before. For maybe the first time, I heard Mary question how this could be so, she wasn’t even married yet. Then I heard those familiar words, nothing is impossible with God, which I usually associate with Sarah’s, Hannah’s, or Elizabeth’s stories of the miracle of conception when that was their deepest wish, prayer, and impossibility. I heard clearly Mary’s answer, “Here I am Lord, let it be done to me according to your design.”

In the penetrating gift of silence that followed my hearing, I was able to attend to my own life alongside Mary’s experience. Here, in my new place, I also am being called to something else, something I’ve never done before. I said that, in so many words, last November and December and January and February and even March when I knew I wouldn’t be continuing in my job at the University. I knew my loss forced me to embrace newness.

But then, I lost sight. I got bogged down in the uncertainties when I knew where we might be going. How crazy is that to have that awareness of newness when I didn’t know where I would be—but then to lose that sense when the way became clearer that Mitch would take a job in Victoria.

When my last semester was completed in the spring, I was disoriented. I went through both the pain and great hope of graduation as my own ending. I was thankful for Tom Long, the graduation speaker, whose words were life-giving: go deeper, abundance, reversal, and confrontation.  I was thankful for colleagues who acknowledged my sadness with steadfast care and respect. I was thankful that I had the foresight to decide to do what I knew was right even at the last minute, to have the courage to go to graduation when I said I wouldn’t because I thought it would be too painful.

And then, in that quiet place, my heart wasn’t quiet as the veneer of anticipating newness began to buckle under the weight all that unknown—significant life changes for both our adult children, revisiting Victoria in anticipation of moving, the agony of planning another physical repositioning. I met these changes with brace rather than surrender to the newness being offered.

I lived the uncertainty anxiously, perseverating over the details of planning an international move. As I pondered what to give away or keep, what parts of life, as I knew it, would be coming along, my decisions were uncertain. I continue to second guess and hold old visions too tightly. I am still somewhat unwilling or unable to claim this place as our own—my own—my dwelling place for this time. The freedom to be able to make unplanned trips to be with family in their own states of change and challenge has actually made the separation of things and place even more acute—the unsettledness and disorientation renewed.

In my new home, I have passed over the signs of new life. The beauty of the island is muddied by my old dream of hardwood forests on old mountains that soothed my mind’s eye. Even with the fast and sure friendship of two women my same age and the unusual cast of characters who have generously shared their stories with me in my new home, I don’t know if I’ve given in—let my guard down so to speak. I lack the surrender to newness that keeps me apart and uncertain.

And now I come to this day, facing my impossibility. What do I hear? What is God’s word to me as I listen? I reread that scripture with my own eyes in the shadow of that new contemplative community I experienced at the retreat.

But she was greatly troubled… (v. 29)

Another translation says Mary was perplexed. Mary’s response bears similarities to my own of this last year – disorientation, not knowing, being afraid, even wondering how this can be.

How can this be since… (v.34)

Mary, too, is giving God a reality check. This thing you are telling me can’t be possible and here is the reason—this doesn’t make sense. However, it

…will be holy… (v.34)

What is happening to me is holy, of God, and not entirely my own doing.

Nothing is impossible with God. (v. 36-37)

The angel gives evidence of Elizabeth’s impossibility taking shape. Notice and lean into what God is already doing.

Here I am…let it be done to me… (v.38)

Mary simply was willing, available, and consented to God’s presence and action in her life. I’m reminded that these mothers celebrated the impossible that was right in front of them even though they could explain none of it. Even though I have not done so simply, am I able to let old certainties make way for the impossible?

The lesson is not new. In this life situation, whether I view it as a threat or an opportunity, I responded with brace, hardening, resisting and blinding myself to the unknown. Mary’s response was to accept the impossible as a willing and available participant in newness.

The chimes in the chapel garden called me back to the community following my listening walk. Keep listening.

Have Courage

An Angel or messenger of God usually begins with some form of these words: Do not be afraid. Must be a common response to facing whatever life presents.

Parents from well-worn Bible stories are among those who heard these words. Jesus’ mother Mary, Samuel’s mother Hannah, John the Baptizer’s mother and father and even Jesus’ earthly father Joseph were confronted with impossible circumstances that were beyond easy explanation when the angels’ message came. Some of the stories actually say the recipients were afraid. I, too, know fear from unknown and known circumstances (and from some I merely imagine could be true).

For me, being a parent to adult children is one particular kind of challenge. I have spent the majority of the past two months and now in the month ahead with my adult children in life-altering circumstances. While the circumstances are very different for each of them, I see how that being afraid causes me to get stuck, to react, or to act seeking my own way. It doesn’t seem like fear, though, on the surface. My fears are masked as helping, rescuing, and managing circumstances that are not my own.

What can I learn from these stories? Is the response simply to not be afraid? Or, is there something more to the ubiquitous request?

I took notice when the strong women in the book I just finished reading, Dream Wheels by Richard Wagamese, define a mother’s courage in a contemporary setting. Johanna’s son’s life has been radically changed by calculated physical risk-taking to chase a dream. Claire’s son’s life has been radically changed by a lifetime of oppression and searching for hope in all the wrong places. The women learn from one another and a greater power for good in their lives to provide space for their own and their sons’ way toward wholeness and healthy parent/adult child relationships.

Johanna grinned. “The natural thing would be to worry, fret over him, try to make things easy for him, coddle him. But that wouldn’t solve anything. In the end it would only hurt him more. So I have to choose to let him walk the path he wants to walk. Choose to be confident that I raised him with the principles that will save him. Choose to believe in him. And ultimately choose to not worry—the ultimate unnatural act for a mother.”

“Faith,” Claire said.

“Courage,” Johanna said. “Faith is what we earn when we have enough courage to face what is in front of us.”

 Maybe that is what the ancient people did when their angels came with the news— they had enough courage to face what was in front of them even when it was scary.

 My friend Randall lived that notion of courage to faith in front of me. Randall’s not so old, older brother died last week. I didn’t know his brother. I did witness the way that my friend faced the great struggle that was his brother’s life. Somehow he stood beside him and yet allowed his brother to walk his own path. Even when it didn’t seem on the surface that things worked out, Randall noticed the ways his brother gave and received grace. He was able to eulogize the principles that his brother lived that gave me a glimpse of another way of facing fear in relationship with courage.

Walter Brueggemann reflects that Advent is a time of struggle between the poem that opens the future—that God will work – and the memo that keeps us thinking we are in control. We know about endings and the old scripts that bind us. Brueggeman says that we know the weariness that comes from propping up old realities.

Courage involves a choice as Johanna says. So I have to choose to let him walk the path he wants to walk. I choose to be confident that I raised him with the principles that will save him. I choose to believe in him. And ultimately choose to not worry and not to get caught in the old realities.

In this season, free us for a new beginning – to have the courage to face what is in front of us even when it is scary. Faith comes from the courage to face new realities with trust. Whether in death or life, have the courage to believe in the person—no scripts attached.