The Most (Potentially) Wonderful Time of the Year

This whole season, it seems to me, is quite a paradox. While so many of us shuttle around buying this and that to offer and receive, the permanent cornerstones of this season are really about birth and death, the circle of life.

Yesterday, I had the privilege to attend service at Riverside Church, where greats like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have spoken. It is a place that has long served as a haven of interracial and interdenominational welcoming, and of social justice. It’s the also the place where, about ten years ago, I was ordained as an interfaith minister.

My visit there was part of a weekend I spent in New York, the city that sparks my soul, as an early birthday present to myself.  And as the minister shared about the beginning of Advent, and how the focus is so often on the excitement of the season, the jubilation and anticipation of Jesus’s birth, and the gifts that were brought to honor his arrival, she encouraged us to focus on something else- the waiting. That ripe but open period of time that can be both anticipatory and terrifying. The angst that can come in the unknown, in the limbo - helplessness, fear, questioning.  In these times, she said, when children are being tear-gassed at the border of our country in our time, I know I’m not the only one feeling helpless and wondering how to make a difference.

If we surround ourselves in busy-ness, is it because that busy-ness allows us to avoid the discomfort of thinking about an ending?

  “Could we just settle down and have some compassion and respect for ourselves? Could we stop trying to escape from being alone with ourselves? What about practicing not jumping and grabbing when we begin to panic? Relaxing with loneliness is a worthy occupation. As the Japanese poet Ryokan says, “If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.” 
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times


I know that so many of you are living in the in-between. You are in chaos, or transition. Our culture spends so much time honoring beginnings (an engagement- yay! A wedding- yay! A baby being born- yay! Oh, and here comes our new savior? – Double yay!) but we often struggle with staying present with endings. (maybe here re: # for wedding vs. # for death) And those in-betweens? The Limbo? That uncomfortable feeling of not knowing how to have an impact/make a difference? We’re conditioned to run, to jump into something new, to distract ourselves, to swipe to the next thing, to drink more, to get high, or.. wait for it.. BUY something.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to remember the details of what I gave and got even one year ago.

And I would like to make an effort, this year, to honor what lies beyond the gifts—the transformative cycle of life and death. To contemplate having less impact on resources and more impact on what brings real peace and joy. To listening more and running less.

If you’re on board and looking for gifts, here are a few suggestions that impact the earth lightly and other people deeply:

·       Consider making a donation on a friend or relative’s name to a favorite charit to support a cause that’s important to you. Check out CharityNavigator, to ensure the charities you choose are using your money wisely. Some of my favorites? The ACLUthe hip-hop violence-prevention center J.U.i.C.E., Doctors Without Borders.

·       A great article with suggestions on places to buy ethical gifts, including one of my all-time favorites, fair-trade pioneer, Ten Thousand Villages.

·       The Greater Good: not only do your clicks provide help for literacy, veterans, animals, and more through for free through sponsors, but your purchases serve double purpose too.

What about you? How about offering yourself the gift of presence- offering yourself a personal retreat- time to be in the in-between, to honor transitions, to reflect with intention on what this time means, and what you would like it to mean moving forward. Maybe a time to develop new rituals with your family—to come up with a service project together or take time together to make something special or to write cards by hand or to earn money for someone or something that matters to you. Maybe a day carved out to Take the time to hear the words of those around you, and the voice within that remembers what matters.

I would love to know what rituals you have to honor this time—please comment and share. And I wish you and yours a most wonderful (meaningful) time of the year.