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Mary did you know?

The highlight of my busy day was a quiet reflection before an evening church meeting with singing by the a cappella group Pentatonix.  This song asks Mary if she knows that her son is the Messiah – the great I am, the Lord of creation.  Surely she does not know all of these things as she cradles the newborn Jesus in her arms?

It reminds me that I don’t know what wonders God will do in my life either.  I’m not expecting my children to walk on water, but God is at work in them – and in you – in wondrous ways.    Skip the ad and take a quiet minute to breathe and listen.

 

Lyrics:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will someday walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

 

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.

The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

 

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

 

Tree ornament.

Take time to have a conversation about faith.

I don’t expect my Jewish friends to greet me at work with “Happy Hannukah,” nor my Muslim colleagues to wish me “Eid Mubaarak.”  Nor do I call out “Happy Birthday” to everyone on my own birthday, even if it is the best ever.

So then why would I wish a couple a “Merry Christmas” when one is Jewish and the other Buddhist? Especially when I know they plan to spend December 25 at the movies simply because they both have the day off work?

I try to recognize others’ holy days.  I say Happy New Year in the fall at Rosh Hashanah.  My pronounciation of “Kung Hei Fat Choy” is pretty poor, so I tend to stick with Happy New Year with my Chinese friends in winter too.  And my friends do the same for me – a Jewish friend has no problem wishing me a Merry Christmas, because she knows that’s what I celebrate.  And I appreciate it.

By now we’ve missed Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but many of us are celebrating holy days – or holi-days – in December.  And even for those who question the existence of God or who shy away from organized religion (one quarter of Canadians claimed no religious affiliation in our 2011 census), December 25 can be an important time for family and children.  So I have no problem saying “Happy holidays” – the root of the word is holy days, after all.

I know it can be difficult to know what people celebrate – and I don’t want to say the wrong thing.  But defaulting to “Merry Christmas” says at best that I don’t care what you celebrate and I am not interested in knowing and, at worst, there is something wrong with you if you don’t celebrate Christmas like me.

Perhaps for some people “Merry Christmas” is a form of misguided evangelism, but I doubt anyone has converted or returned to Christianity after being wished “Merry Christmas” a few times in the mall.  If we want to share the message of Christianity, let’s feed the hungry, clothe the poor, stand up for injustice, protect our planet.  Let’s stand up for the workers who are forced to work on their holy day (whatever that may be), let’s advocate for decent affordable housing or wages above the poverty line.  But let’s not whine about why we should all say “Merry Christmas.”

I try to learn what a person celebrates this time of year.  I find that taking the time to listen and connect can be the beginning of a conversation about faith and meaning.  That’s where real evangelism happens.

That’s why I won’t wish everyone “Merry Christmas” this season.

yellow crocuses

Faith that, come spring, there will be yellow crocuses.

Somewhere buried under the snow are small brown bulbs encased in the frozen earth.  Planted in an act of faith, trusting that after winter, spring will come, as it has come for millenia.

They were planted trusting that the soil will warm again and green shoots will emerge from seemingly lifeless bulbs.

Planted in faith that after a dark winter, the days will get longer and the sun warmer.

Faith that reminds us that even in darkness, there is light.  And that light will overcome the darkness.

And in faith that, come spring, there will be yellow crocuses.

 

 

Last Christmas I was given a 2014 diary with a cheerful bird on the cover – a book with a week on two pages.  I already use a smart phone and a huge family calendar in an ongoing struggle to stay organized, so a third daybook was going to add to the confusion.  But it seemed like the ideal book for a gratitude journal.

Many people encourage the use of a gratitude journal to focus on the positive in your life.  I started on January 1.  Many of my entries focused on practical essentials: A furnace that works.  Warm, sturdy boots.  Electricity.  Sunshine.  Warm mittens.  Enough money.  A home.  Sleep.  Smoked salmon.  Chocolate.  Definitely chocolate.

2014 diary book

Blessings are not shared when they are trapped inside the pages of a gratitude journal.

I was often grateful for family and community: My son, such a wonderful kid. An inspiring teacher. A helpful colleague.  Bright new interns full of enthusiasm. Church. My creative daughter.

And the world around me:  God’s love, birds singing, a bright red cardinal, laughter, snow melting, singing, a puppy next door, a cellist playing a haunting melody in the subway, and the time to sit with someone in the last week of her life.

But after a few months, I got bored with the whole gratitude journal thing.  Sitting down at the end of the day writing down what I was grateful for was too passive.

It is not enough for me to count my blessings like Scrouge counting his coins.  I need to do the harder work of actively living out gratitude in my life.  Blessings are not shared when they are trapped inside the pages of a gratitude journal.

I think blessings are a bit like coins – sure, we can count them, and we can share them. But blessings are much more powerful than coins, because when we share our blessings they multiply.

 

 

How are we blessed?

The other day I met a tiny elderly woman from Greece.  Her husband, she explained with great pride, had gone home to Greece to pay their taxes.  They emigrated 40 years ago but every year they go home to pay the taxes on their small Greek property.

berries on a branch

God has blessed us with a fruitful and wonderful earth.

After bemoaning the state of the economy in her home country, she pointed out that here we have a good economy, roads, transit, hospitals and schools because people pay their taxes.

We are so lucky to live here, she said, very lucky.  She lives in a modest one bedroom apartment in a low-income area of the city.  Yet she counts herself lucky.

We are lucky.  Some would say blessed, but the word “blessed” in this context troubles me.  How is it that I was born to this family, and not to an impoverished family in the developing world?  Did I get an extra dose of blessing at conception?  Are others somehow less blessed because of their birth family?  Does God bless some of us more than others?

What I do know is that we have enough resources on earth to feed everyone.  Maybe God has blessed us with a fruitful and wonderful earth, and we’re supposed to figure out how to care for it and share it.

As for me, I don’t need to buy a lottery ticket.  I have already won the lottery just by living here with so many advantages.  The challenge is how to share.

 

 

Our mission in life

My daughter has been doing a high school careers course. It is inspiring to watch her strive to understand her gifts and talents, and dream optimistically about her future.  But how many of us have shared our dreams and been ridiculed or told “there’s no money in that”?  How quickly we learn to hide our dreams deep in our heart, and settle for a practical, and sometimes soul-crushing,  path!

God does not laugh at our dreams.  Nothing delights God more than when we use our God-given gifts for God’s purpose.  Whether our passion is for numbers or writing, building or art, counselling or cleaning, God wants us to use our talents to their fullest.

At each season of our lives we may take our shriveled dreams off the dusty shelf to revisit them – perhaps with regret, or perhaps with renewed resolve.  For some a mid-life crisis may cause us to muster the courage to pursue our dream, having developed enough faith to step out into the fog, hand-in-hand with God, trusting that he will lead us safely in the right direction.

Mountains looking into the distance

We may wish for a life-changing voice from the mountain top, and a clear view of our destination.

Chances are you have a copy of What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles on your bookshelf.  With ten million copies sold, you will find it in every bookstore and used book sale.

The exercises in his book will guide you through identifying your career direction and job search, but last chapter goes further.  In my 2009 edition it is titled “Finding a Life that has Meaning and Purpose.”  I commend it if you want to explore your mission on earth, God’s purpose for you.

And although we may wish for a life-changing voice from the mountain-top, it is more likely we will walk through the fog in faith, hand-in-hand with God.

As Bolles puts it:

When the question, ‘what is your mission in life,’ is first broached, and we have put our hand in God’s, […] we imagine that we will be taken up to some mountaintop, from which we can see far into the distance. And that we will hear a voice in our ear, saying ‘Look, look, see that distant city? That is the goal of your mission: that is where everything is leading, every step of your way.’

But instead of the mountaintop, we find ourself in the valley – wandering often in a fog. And the voice in our ear says something quite different from what we thought we would hear. It says ‘your mission is to take one step at a time, even when you don’t yet see where it is all leading, or what the Grand Plan is, or what your overall mission in life is. Trust me; I will lead you.’

 

I have been reflecting on this text by Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun who was a mystic and a writer.

 

collage of hands and a cross

We are God’s hands in the world.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

 

The image is my collage expressing the idea that we are God’s hands in the world.

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