Expectations. As a child I would have expectations of Christmas, a special gift I wanted, an experience I was looking forward to, special people I hoped to see. But as I got older I expected less, realized others had different expectations, and lowered my expectations. There are not many things, people, experiences, I anticipate at Christmas at this stage of my life. Some might say I have grown old and cynical but they would be wrong. It is in fact the opposite, I now expect the unexpected, I try as best as I can to open myself to something new or familiar that reveals something of the Sacred. I am rarely disappointed.
Every Christmas something break through and I feel the Spirit in my midst. Sometimes it comes in a familiar way, from a familiar face, in a familiar setting. Sometimes it is completely unexpected, everything about the experience is strange but wonderfully moving. Last night I sat with a family grieving their mother and grandmother after a long day of challenges big and small. It would be easy to complain about yet another thing to deal with, “what have I signed up for” and make it all about me. I resist that, I know that there will be days when my missteps will cause the church challenges, days when the church has to work through a challenge I cannot help with, when I am being carried. That’s how organic institutions like churches work, everyone carries part of the load. Those who have natures that include the gift of consideration get this and we act accordingly.
I am so delighted I suspended the urge to throw a pity party, to whine, because as I sat listening to this family I knew I was being given a gift. Instead of thinking about getting back to the office to get the funeral bulletin done or respond to the two urgent calls on my voicemail I opened myself up to this experience, I heard about a life of heartache, deep love, beauty, relationships, and resiliency. I promised the family I would suggest some sacred music to accompany the service (they were stumped to name specific titles) and there they were; What a Wonderful World and What a Friend We Have in Jesus. These would accompany the scriptures I chose; Romans 8 (about nothing keeping us from the love of God) and the Song of Solomon (“come away my love…”), a text about finding a way to love when no way seems obvious and a text about a precious and lasting moment of love that lasts forever. It was in this experience I once again realize how life is not a straight line, an easy arc of relationships and experiences, a predictable series of events (birth, a good life, great relationship, wonderful family ties, wonderful work, Freedom 55, exotic and pampered travel, and a good death). Life is always more complicated than that and the happy life is not the cynic or the sentimental but the realist who looks for the moments and holds on to them with bold and determined love.
My expectations of life are not what they were. I am no cynic, some even call me Tigger, bouncing up and down and wearing everyone out. But this joy is not born of ignorance or innocence, rather it comes from knowing nothing works out as we think, that detours, danger signs, mistakes, betrayals, failure, and weakness weave their way through our lives. They just do. That is why piety leaves me so cold, it offers very little to that reality, other than pretending that what is does not really exist. Call me a Christian existentialist if you wish, it is not far off the mark, but I believe in big issues, big causes, Justice with a capital J, but I also believe that this is worked out in relationships, with flawed people like me, there is no other way. So I do not feel let down or defeated or cheated by life. Nor do I turn inward and make it all about the clan, family and friends, serve them and worry about nothing else. Instead I look for ways to be authentic in all situations and in offering this service and inspiration and vision I feel connected to something larger than self, something lasting and eternal, Divine even.