The face of the New Year

We all long to be seen.

It is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. When we are seen, we are validated, affirmed. We feel to the core of our being that we are recognized at soul level.

In another’s face, we feel her or his heart meeting us. In Africa, certain forms of greeting mean “I see you.” And in Connemara, Ireland, a phrase used to describe admiration is, “The face of the people is toward you.”

This past year I have felt seen in various guises.

In my father, who, through clouded, cataract-laden eyes, greeted me with a smile every time I came into the house. In a dear friend who offered sanctuary, a space to heal and renew after days of caregiving. Another friend, who affirmed my writing and encouraged me to go forward.

Decades ago, when I was going through a rough time in life, I remember a spiritual director with whom I felt truly seen. He offered unconditional acceptance, presence, and generously allowed me to find my own way and my own soul.

Allowing ourselves to be seen, however, takes some courage.

I still struggle with this because it invites vulnerability. Perhaps this is why children and animals offer us the most authentic measure of being seen. They are not laden with expectations or past wounds, so in their faces we find the expressions of sacred innocence, of acceptance.

This Christmas, I leaned over into the crib of my four-month-old great niece, and in our first meeting our faces found each other in laughter and joy. And in my friend’s dog, who sees me — not only as someone who will play with her — but knows she can lick my face and hands in pure abandon.

This past year many lost the faces of those they loved. A family member or dear friend. A beloved pet. And while those physical countenances may be gone, the souls that embodied them live on.

Yes, we grieve. We cry. But on some level we know their spiritual faces are ever with us, seeing and loving us in new and other realms.

In this coming year, we will find more joys and sorrows, more losses and gains. How we approach the “face of the new year” will depend on the proportion of depth we bring to it.

I love the Irish writer John O’Donohue who speaks of the manner in which we view a landscape or a person for the first time. He advises us to take time, to be present to that moment, because we will never see that person or have that experience in the same way again.

Each day of this year will be much the same, moments that are fresh and untouched. How will we approach these precious seconds of time, what will we inscribe on them in those first meetings?

For myself, and for you all, I pray we may come to see ourselves with deeper love and gratitude for the holy beings we are. I pray we may recognize the common clay of our bodies as connected.

And instead of resolving to “do things” such as lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, or stop this or that — all worthy goals — perhaps we can learn how to simply “be,” and in that being-ness discover ourselves more authentic, vulnerable, compassionate in the moment.

Meister Eckhart, mystic and theologian, wrote that we should worry not so much about what we do, but rather about what we are. And what we are, who we are, is love, pure and simple.

So, my prayer for us all for 2018 is that we may see the face of this new year with new eyes.

May we ask ourselves at the end of each day, as O’Donohue writes, “What did I really see this day?”

May it be love.

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(Wishing you all a blessed, joyous New Year, with gratitude for pausing here with me in these moments.)

 

 

 

 

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Another Christmas story

As children we are sometimes oblivious to what our parents are going through. Especially at Christmas. Dad used to tell this story in his inspirational lectures before he had the stroke. Perhaps it’s time I share it now, with some modifications.

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We had just moved from tropical South Texas to the Philadelphia area. Dad’s work had transferred him to what I felt was an alien planet — cold, bleak and unfriendly — but my siblings and I adapted.

As Christmas approached, we were excited and rambunctious.

Little did we know that even though dad now had a better job, making ends meet was difficult because of the move. I was 10 years old and had no idea we might be poor.

My mother was worried about Christmas. Dad kept telling her to have faith.

“But we don’t enough money for toys, a Christmas turkey … or even a tree.”

“God will provide,” he assured her.

My mother trusted God but she also knew that we would expect toys and a Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve day, my father phoned my mother from work and said he had an extra $10. In the early 1960s, that amount of money could buy a great deal. Not enough for a tree or toys. But at least we’d have Christmas dinner, he told my mother.

On the way home from work, my father stopped into a church. He knelt and prayed. He thanked God for taking care of his family. He asked that this be the best Christmas ever for his wife and children.

He held back tears, not knowing how God was going to do that, but his faith was deep and strong. He knew God would answer his prayer.

As he walked down the aisle, a man approached him.

“Sir, my wife is ill. I have an infant son and I’m out of work. We have nothing on this Christmas Eve. If you can spare even a dollar, I would be so thankful.”

My father stood there, not knowing what to do. He needed this money for his own family. But it was Christmas Eve and this man was in need. Dad dug into his wallet and handed the man his last $10.

“Go and take care of your family. Merry Christmas.”

The man began to cry.

“God bless you, sir,” he told my father, hugging him.

As dad left the church he wondered what he was going to tell my mother. He knew she’d be upset. When he got home and shared what had happened, she looked at him with tears in her eyes.

“But what about our Christmas?”

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. The neighbor across the street and his adult son stood there, holding a huge, fresh-cut Christmas tree.

“We’re not sure you could use this,” said our neighbor, “but my son came into town for Christmas and didn’t know we already had a tree and bought this one. Can you use it?”

“Yes, we can!” my father said, thanking him, as we all stood there, our eyes growing wide.

Then came another knock. The local volunteer fire company was delivering Christmas dinners, complete with turkey and the trimmings. My father was having a difficult time settling us down at all the excitement.

“But what about gifts for the children?” my mother whispered, as we decorated the tree.

“God’s come through so far. Just wait.”

My mother still wasn’t sure, but at least she knew we had a tree and a Christmas dinner.

Later that evening, as it grew colder and a soft snow fell, my mother thought she heard another knock on the door. When she went to open it, she found two huge boxes, brimming with wrapped gifts.

“Someone must have known we were in need and delivered them,” my mother whispered.

I still remember that Christmas. Life was hard and we may have been poor, but in hindsight, I see how rich we were. My parents gave us the greatest gift of all — one of faith, that all things are possible with God.

We witnessed firsthand the true meaning of Christmas, how God was manifest and born through the love and kindness of neighbors and strangers.

And God had answered dad’s prayer after all. It was indeed the best Christmas ever.

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Thank you all for the gift of your readership and presence here. I wish you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas, a blessed holiday season and a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

Forever in our hearts

I lost a friend today. A Facebook friend.

I didn’t know her as you would know most friends you call up and go out for dinner to chat. I knew little of her history, her life, what kept her awake at nights, her favorite color. But I knew enough.

She loved cats. And bubbles. The ocean. She called it her happy place. Her heart was open to life, despite whatever horrendous stuff it slung at her. In the end, it handed her cancer.

That didn’t stop her from living. She took trips, went to the ocean, made sure she told people she loved them.

Even before the cancer, she was brave and strong and I told her that in Facebook shares. I don’t know if she believed me. But I always admired her courage, how she stepped through every life challenge with grace and determination. I shared with her once that she was my hero.

Part of a spiritual group on Facebook, she shared her love, generosity and positivity and we loved her. Her last post was on December 4 and she assured everyone she was OK. She went home to God on December 13.

I wish I had known her better. Wish I had asked what her favorite color was and what kept her awake at night. But as I said, I knew enough. I knew her heart. It was as vast and as deep as the ocean she loved.

She wrote a final FB farewell to us all, wanting no fuss at her passing, but simply asked us to do one of two things in her memory: Perform a random act of kindness or an act of joy (bubbles, perhaps?) 

It’s the kind of thing she would ask and even though I grieve her passing — it makes me smile. It’s something she would want us all to do.

So be kind to one another. Blow bubbles. Everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little love at Christmas

At this time of year my life can feel like the scrawny, humble Christmas tree that Charlie Brown buys in the perennial favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas. He tries to make it beautiful, but instead the branches limp over in defeat.

The season can do that to us. The pressure of commercialism, buying gifts, doing everything we feel needs to get done can leave us empty and exhausted.

Or, perhaps the holidays trigger dysfunctional family issues, grief over the loss of a loved one or beloved pet, or remind us that we are alone and don’t have the perfect romantic relationship as portrayed on the Hallmark Channel.

It’s a Wonderful Life is another Christmas movie that speaks to what seems to be failure. Most of you know the story. Poor George Bailey can’t seem to catch a break. He wants to leave his father’s banking business and travel the world.

But he falls in love with Mary, marries her, follows in his dad’s footsteps as bank president, and is stuck in his hometown of Bedford Falls. Some sneaky business dealings place the bank in trouble and George is driven to suicide.

Until Clarence his guardian angel appears and saves George. He grants George’s wish: What would his life be like if he had never been born?

When Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and told she is to be the mother of the Christ, she is in fear. What will happen now — and how? Her heart must have been troubled as she traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth to share her news.

But when Elizabeth affirms Mary by declaring, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear!” Mary’s fear leaves her.

Only then is Mary able to proclaim the Magnificat, a grace-filled prayer of praise and thanks. An angel couldn’t evoke Mary’s powerful words. But another human being could.

Sometimes we fail to see the power we have as humans, how the smallest of acts can be life-changing and blessed for others.

Charlie discovers, with the help of Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and his friends, that his tree is not so scrawny after all, but filled with beauty.

And George discovers the impact — no matter how insignificant his actions — he has had on many lives. He just never knew it. Mary finds her fear at “what happens next” disappearing when her cousin affirms her as a channel of God’s grace.

We can find ourselves somewhere in each of these stories.

I know when my life feels like a scrawny Christmas tree, or I feel like George and my life seems to have little meaning, or like Mary, I feel alone and afraid – I can open up my heart to receive the love and support of others. And I can love myself.

The point is, we matter to each other; we need each other. As Clarence tells George, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”.

Your life may feel like Charlie Brown’s scrawny tree, but Linus knows better. He tells Charlie, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” 

A little love. Sometimes that’s all we need – what we can be for each other.

What greater gift is there?

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