Sunday, December 11, 2011

An Advent Meditation

Things have been quiet here on hyperekperissou, mostly because things haven't been very quiet for me over the last few months, as I had anticipated back in the summer. Once school resumes in September, I'm usually quite busy, but the addition of our second son in May and the fact that he isn't the best sleeper in the world (not the worst, I recognize and am duly grateful), has meant that on those occasions on which I felt inspired, I was also exhausted and physically not up to writing. The sleeplessness is abating, albeit slowly, but the speed of my life remains faster than I would like. Of course, I suspect that the fault for at least some of that rests with me. I find it difficult to slow down and to let go my work when I do get those chances. This is, I think, the dark side of vocation- if one thinks that one is doing what one is called for, it is difficult to see the need to slow down, even when it is apparent that one would do one's work so much better with some rest once in a while. That is how, of course, vocation becomes a treadmill, instead of the joy that it is supposed to be. Now, in the dying days of December, I'm feeling that need for rest which I rarely want to acknowledge the rest of the year. That is why, of course, Advent comes to me at the perfect time- when I know I need to slow down, look around me and wait.
Yet I've been wanting to write the last few weeks, partly to assure my readers that I'm not dead, but also to review what has been going on with me over the last couple of months. Amid the busyness, I've been blessed with the opportunity for more reflection than most years, so I did want to share a few things along the way.

One of the blessings this fall has been my involvement in a course at church- the Life with God series through the Evangelical Centre for Spiritual Wisdom- which has provide much needed focus in my spiritual life when the challenges for keeping on an even keel have stepped up, what with lack of sleep and adjusting to a new routine and rhythm of life. It is hard to describe simply what this course is; the closest I can get is to call it group spiritual direction. The intention is to explore, first, the goodness of God in our lives, then to begin the exploration of the obstacles to letting us realize that goodness in our lives. Mind you, one of the things that I realized in the first part of the course was that, when compelled to consider God's goodness, my natural tendency is to get grumpy and gloomy. Part of that might be trying to do interactive projects late in the day or in the evening when I'm feeling grumpy at the best of times, but I think there is also a reluctance on my part to recognize the good that God has given the world; a reluctance which goes deeper than my conscious thinking. Perhaps this shouldn't comes as a surprise to me. I remember several years ago when I was working with a friend on spiritual issues, he kept asking me what I was grateful for and I kept wanting to lean across the table and slap him. I didn't and I did start asking myself that question often enough that I am grateful, most of the time. It seems I just need to remind myself more often than other people

Besides this course, I've also been keeping up my reading. I find myself conflicted here as well sometimes because I wonder sometimes how much my reading/projects are an escape from people and how much it is part of a spiritual discipline. I think sometimes I retreat into books as a way of escaping people, who I find are much more unpredictable and challenging (odd that!). Other times, I feel I discover things that I help me understand myself, my faith and my life better. And that isn't even getting into learning for my profession. One of the things that struck me this year, however, is that I have to maintain a careful distinction between a project and the spiritual discipline of study.  A project is bad for me, partly because I don't have time for a project (are you kidding me, I'm barely managing what I need to do), but also because the project becomes about me showing off my spectacular intelligence, proving my brilliance or some such nonsense. Study as spiritual discipline, however, builds up my faith and brings me the joy of learning just 'cause. It is the very uselessness of spiritual study- no apparent object, no apparent reason- that helps me take away my ego and my desire for affirmation.And, if I am ever to share what I have learned, it is from that uselessness that I think I have to share from.

Lastly, I've been reflecting about blessings and curses. Our study leader commented last week about the power of curses and blessings in our lives. She pointed out that the world around us gives us curses aplenty from the religious ones like "Goddammit!" to more every day ones like "idiot" (Raca! as Jesus pointed out) or 'you won't amount to anything' or 'you're useless'. Blessings, however, are much harder to find and much more needed in this world of ours. That made me think about my use of blessings and, yes, of curses. One thing that I realized in this reflection is the ubiquity of curses in education and my own guilt in that. One that has touched me especially is the "telling the future curses"- 'I've seen the road you're on and this is how it will turn out'. I've been thinking about that one because this is the time of the year that the first signs of trouble appear in my first year Latin course. And it is the time of year that I get frustrated and start making comments like that. Looking back, even on last year which was a fairly quiet year, I realized that every single kid I said that to went the way I predicted - the curse had, unfortunately, worked and no wonder. If someone told me that I was heading a certain dire route, how motivated would I be to change that? Or how motivated was I, on the occasions that happened? What would have happened, if, instead of cursing or "telling the future", I blessed those students and looked to see what was wrong. I don't know, but, with God's help, I hope to find out.

As usual, I've gone on rather longer than intended, but I'll leave you, my readers, with a wish for a peaceful and happy Advent.