Laying next to my daughter at bedtime recently, in the dim light of her room, she shared with me the challenges of her day, and we both agreed that we just felt more tired than usual. Things felt a little harder to bear. I admitted to her that I too am a little more tired, and a little less patient, and she nodded her head with wisdom well beyond her 10 years, telling me that she had noticed. I had a similar conversation with my son at bedtime just the week before, where he had poured out the contents of his young heart, the worries and fears, the hurts both physical and emotional, and he told me, “I just had an off day, Mommy, an off day.” I hear similar things from friends and colleagues and the people I work with in spiritual direction. We are tired, a little less patient, and drawing from a cup that does not have quite enough in it to sustain us. Maybe it is the growing darkness that begins and ends our days right now as we move towards the winter solstice... Or maybe it is the fact that we are entering year 2 of holidays that are shaped by this pandemic... Or maybe it is that the world in many ways feels full of the very chaos described in today’s Gospel. That tiredness, the “drowsiness” we hear about in Luke, caused by the “anxieties of our daily life”? That’s real! Advent is a time when we are told to stay awake and be alert, ready for God to break into our world anew; but how, in the face of this messy world, when we feel so tired, can we “stand erect and raise our heads” as Jesus tells us to in this passage from Luke?
In today’s first reading from Jeremiah, we hear God’s promise to do the right thing: “He shall do what is right and just in the land… [and] Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.” Written after exile, as Jeruselam was being rebuilt, Jeremiah reminds the people that even in challenging times, God does what is right and just, and fulfills his promise out of love and fidelity. I recently listened to a podcast with researcher and author Brené Brown, where she talked about the difference between “being right” and “doing the right thing”. Doing the right thing is not a static state. It invites us to make a choice to stand up and take action. Well what if “doing the right thing” this Advent means “standing erect and raising our heads” as a practice? What if that posture of openness to see the world around us, to meet the person in front of us as they are with love and compassion, is the thing that wakes us up?
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians today reminds us of the full impact of doing what is right and just in the context of our community and the world: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all... so as to strengthen your hearts...” In this earliest letter of the New Testament, Paul is reminding us that our hearts are strengthened by God through the act of loving others. The way we conduct ourselves, Paul reminds us, pleases God, not to earn God’s love, but to participate in God’s promise. Raising our heads and standing erect, taking part in what is right and just through loving one another, we wake up and we participate in the fulfillment of God’s promise in this world.
Earlier this month, my son and I collected food donations for a Cub Scout food drive. It’s his first year as a Cub Scout, so he was a little reluctant to change out of his pjs and leave his Saturday morning cartoons for the job. “I’m barely awake, Mommy!” he said. But as we drove up our street that morning, and he started watching for each bag with a yellow tag to pick up, I could see his excitement growing. When we arrived at the drop site in our town, I knew he saw the bigger picture of what he was part of for the first time when he said, “Whooooa! Look at all those bags!” As we added our street’s contributions, he saw that there was a truck being filled to head to the food pantry. Without being asked, he immediately picked up a heavy bag and toted it over to help load. We helped haul until all the bags had been loaded into trucks and cars. He came home fully awake, with a new perspective, a fuller heart, and connected to something bigger than himself, and he was ready to share the good news with his dad and sister.
We’ve been on high alert for nearly two years, so sometimes these Advent reminders to stay awake, pay attention, be ready, only feed the weariness. It’s ok to feel tired! In that barely awake state, in those moments when we feel more anxious, less patient, or we are just having an “off day'', we can still meet the world with love and compassion, because we, too, are being met as we are by a God who fulfills promises out of love and fidelity. Even in our tiredness, we can meet the world as it is with a posture of openness that will help wake us up and participate in the hope, peace, joy and love of this holy season of preparation.
Crista Carrick Mahoney
Crista Carrick Mahoney
Crista Mahoney earned her Master of Divinity from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She graduated with a BA in English from the College of the Holy Cross in 2002. Crista then served a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Ashland, MT, and taught English at the Nativity School of Worcester and North Cambridge Catholic Cristo Rey High School before returning to graduate school. Her professional ministry began in campus ministry at Emmanuel College in Boston, MA, then as the Catholic Chaplain on a multi-faith team at Babson College in Wellesley, MA, before returning to her alma mater to work with students on retreats and women’s faith sharing groups. Crista also coordinates and edits the Return To Me: Lenten Reflection Series at Holy Cross. In 2019 Crista finished her Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Formation at the BC STM, and her current primary ministry is accompanying individuals in spiritual direction from across the Christian tradition. She also accompanies people of all ages in their spiritual journeys on retreat and in workshops in the Boston area. Crista helped co-found the Jesuit Connection young adult group with the New England Province of Jesuits, and served on the Board for Sacred Threads in Newton, MA, a non-profit that offers women opportunities for spiritual nourishment, connection, and inspiration. She and her family live in Sherborn, MA where she enjoys hiking with her family and pup Oakley, cooking with her kids, and sharing meals around their farm table with family and friends.
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