Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Second week of Advent - Peace

I recently found this moon shell on a beach walk. It’s a shell that appeals to me with its serene, smooth spirals, a calming meditative symbol for this week of Advent that focuses on peace. The shell’s other name, alas, is shark’s eye. It’s all a matter of perspective. If you look at the dark innermost spiral, you can see the shark’s eye. I was disappointed to learn of its other name and that the snail inhabitant is such a devious creature injecting its enzymes into clams to dissolve their adductor muscles so they have no defenses.

So much for my peaceful meditation that has gone way off tangent.
I think of the movie I just watched, “The River Why,” and how the main character grapples with the same issue of dealing with a life that’s not always what it appears. The main character is an expert fly fisherman who finally is able to have the river teach him its wisdom. We do best going with the flow, accepting what is, knowing we’re always in a state of flux – and therein is much peace.
I hang onto my little moon shell, shark’s eye and all.



Notice anything missing in this picture?  I notice it every time I look at my Nativity scene, and the empty space where that missing piece should be has been a great help in my Advent meditation the past few years.  When I lived overseas, I realized that all of the Creche scenes in homes and department stores and churches were missing the baby Jesus.  Asking one of my French friends about it, I got the reply, "Of course He isn't there! He hasn't been born yet!"  Now I follow the same tradition when I put up my own Nativity scenes.  There is no baby Jesus there until Christmas Eve.  Since I put up all my decorations the day after Thanksgiving, that means weeks of seeing Mary and Joseph looking down at that empty spot, as if they are waiting, longing, hoping.  It reminds me that I am supposed to be doing the same thing during the weeks of Advent, since we live in what my seminary professor Dr. Goodman called "the already-not-yet."  Jesus was born over 2000 years ago, of course, and that already-ness taught us incredible things about God's love for us and how we are to live as God's people.  But in a sense, Jesus's arrival was only the beginning, and the story is far from complete.  This week's Advent theme of peace leaves me feeling the not-yet-ness more than any of the others.  We hear a lot of songs about "peace on Earth" this time of year, and read those words from Luke's gospel, but our world is far from peaceful.  The "not-yet" aspect of Advent reminds me to work and pray for the day when it will be, echoing the words Jesus taught His disciples to ask God: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."  When that happens, the Advent of the Prince of Peace will be complete.



At lunch with friends recently, I realized that I had just missed half the conversation.   My body was seated at the lunch table, but my mind was  busy organizing gift lists and fretting about shipping dates and charges.   I was lost in the holiday to-do-list jungle.  I was planning menus,  worrying about the broken bench beside my front door,  trying to decide on a great gift to give to my new son-in-law... and on and on and on.....and on.

As the waiter brought my check, (Did I really order caesar salad again?) some wisdom from writer Anne Lamott worked its way through the holiday clutter in my brain.  Anne says “Be where your butt is... and breathe.”  My butt was sitting right in that restaurant chair,  but my being self was nowhere in sight. My inner frettiness (what the Buddhists call monkey mind)  had caused me to zone out on a conversation with good friends.  I took a deep breath and refocused my self for the last few minutes of lunch.     

Anne’s advice is a path to peace that I need to remember in the midst of the holiday chaos.   “Be where your butt is.”  Show up for your own life.  Be present to each moment - not worrying about the future or bemoaning the past, but simply staying focused on where you are right now.  You might find something holy hidden just inside this crazy chaotic moment you are living through.  

With some last words of wisdom particularly appropriate for this season of feasting,  Anne adds  “I almost forgot the most important thing: refuse to wear uncomfortable pants, even if they make you look really thin. Promise me you'll never wear pants that bind or tug or hurt, pants that have an opinion about how much you've just eaten.”     I’ll add - ditto that for shoes! 

So, my new plan for peace in the midst of the holiday hoopla.  Listen to Anne Lamott. Pay attention to each moment - wherever I happen to be -  and spend those moments in stretchy pants and comfortable  shoes.

Note:  Quotes from Anne Lamott from a commencement speech given at the University of California at Berkeley in May 2003.   Click here to read full text of the speech by Anne Lamott.


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