Most Ministers in mainline churches spend most of their time with persons their own age or older. It is a function of who they find in their congregations. And since a lot of clergy don’t spend a lot of time with folks outside the church we tend to have a rather skewed perspective on what the public at large is thinking and feeling. I am a little outside the norm in that I spend a lot of time with people who frequent foodbanks and soup kitchens. Again these populations are disproportionately older. The younger people living in poverty have a harder time getting to the foodbanks as the hours for these offerings are generally on weekdays and in the morning as parents are getting their children off to school. So when I imagine what others are thinking and feeling I am limited to an older subset of the population.
Amongst the poor, middle income and wealthy folks I regularly talk to, my age and older, the dominant comment at this time of year is “it sure doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard those words I would be moving into a condo on Agricola Street. I believe that those who are younger would have a different experience, as many of us did when we were not as aware, not as filled with various ailments, not as connected to people going through tough times. It is a function of age that we have innocence about the magic of the various seasons of our lives and then as we become more aware, more fragile, we lose some or all of that innocence.
It seems to me that the answer to this statement is not to try and pretend we are innocent again. The Genie can’t go back in the bottle, we know, we experience, what we know. But what I am grateful for in recent times is an awareness of the cycles of our earth, how spring leads to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter and so on. Some springs are more potent than others, some summers more filled with abundance than other, some autumns are more arresting than others and some winters have more death than others. But there is a certain cycle to this experience and it has given me more perspective and more patience and more wisdom to know this gift of nature.
Of course when someone tells me they have a terminal disease, when Syria’s people appear to have no hope, when the powerful have no interest in healing the planet, when someone I know loses their job or their relationships are severed it has a profound impact, cycle or no cycle. But knowing the cycle keeps me from becoming cynical, giving up, turning away in self-pity and anger at what should be. This wisdom pushes me back into my life with a sense of mission. What can I do, what can’t I do, how can I be with and where can I stand to experience and celebrate “being human”?
Jean Vanier did not walk away from those with profound disabilities, rather he engaged more deeply, he discovered that what “they” most wanted from him was his humanity, his presence and his relationship and in “being human” there were inevitably moments of great joy, laughter, and meaning.
My Christmas prayer for my friends who are my age and older is not to turn away, not to lose their humanity in cynicism but to receive the gift of Creation and all its wonders and pain and rejoice and cry and laugh and embrace as the season requires. Maybe then it will not feel like the Christmas of our youth but a different and more “seasoned” experience of our present. Peace.