Monday, 17 December 2012

Keeping Christ in Christmas / the season of giving / a wee bit of beach holiday angst

Just back in Zürich from India. (More on that later.) Here's a delayed contribution to the Keeping Christ in Christmas Blog Carnival (originally posted on 17 December, but I took it offline for a while)

I’m participating in the Keeping Christ in Christmas Blog Carnival, hosted by Raising (& Teaching) Little SaintsTruly Rich Mom and Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families. We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Jesus as the Reason for the Christmas season. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of carnival entries. 

I am 36 years old. Assuming that I was cognizant by age 3 (I was an intelligent child ; ), then I’ve had 33 conscious Advents and Christmases. It is embarrassing to admit, but this is the first time that I’ve given any thought to Jesus during Advent. Of course, between my family, Catholic school, and church, I had grown up knowing that Christmas was about Jesus. However, it stayed as “information” at the level of my head, and Jesus tended to be bulldozed by Santa and presents. As a child, I was preoccupied with what presents I was getting, and as an adult, by what presents I was buying. In any case, this year, the Good News that He is coming, that He loved us so much that He became one of us to show us the way home, has finally worked its way from my head into my heart. I chalk it up to God’s grace, and not to a particular effort or intent on my part. It has been a tumultuous year. I was in a hopeless and lonely place when God found me. He picked me up, and it feels like He has been carrying me around in His pocket since. (I have Jody and Caitriona Spooner, who were part of the wonderful group I walked with to Santiago de Compostela, to thank for the sweet phrase “in God’s pocket”.)

In any case, lately, I’ve been cleaning house in my heart, trying to make space for the Child King. I’m trying to sweep out all the hurts and anger (lots of anger packed in nice and tight) I’ve been so dutifully nursing for so many years, and trying to flush my heart clean with buckets of forgiveness and letting go. Operative word is “trying”. I may be at this task for a while, as there was a lot of dark and heavy stuff crammed in there. For the first time ever, I went to Confession on my own accord (not dragged to it by school or by my parents) in preparation for Christmas. However, all this contemplation tends to put me in a somber mood. Yesterday, on three separate occasions, people asked me why I looked so sad. I didn’t feel sad, but somehow must’ve looked it. I went to Mass (in German). Because of the language barrier, I only have a general feeling of what our parish priest is talking about. However, I did get that he said something about “Rejoicing!” (“Freude” in German). After Mass, I looked up what the readings for the day were. There was the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:4-7 exhorting us to “Rejoice!” I learned that this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, is also known as Gaudete Sunday, and that Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice”. (I am no expert on religious things, and had never heard that term before, though surely, it’s been around for eons. It’s Latin, after all.) But that is how I found another integral ingredient in preparing for Christmas. Aside from clearing out all those grudges, hurt, and resentment from my heart, I’ve got to fill it full to the brim with summa that rejoicing!

In any case, in keeping awareness of Christ in Christmas, I think that teaching the catechism class has helped a lot. However, I also have my mother-in-law to thank. We are celebrating the holidays with Ross’s side of the family in India, where his brother is based. Family are flying in from Switzerland, Cyprus, Australia, and Lebanon. My mother-in-law has made some new decrees about presents. The children will get presents from their parents, godparents, the grandparents, and Santa, but the adults are not to get each other presents. The rules will be strictly enforced. Violators get no Buck’s Fizz (orange juice and champagne, yummy!) on Christmas morning. Since I had already gotten presents for my side of the family in October (so that my mum could bring them back with her), my mother-in-law’s declaration significantly simplifies our Christmas shopping / preparations for India. I know it is the season of heartfelt giving. However, I am a terrible shopper. When faced with gazillion options for presents (or ice cream flavors, for that matter), I become catatonic and lose all decision-making capabilities. When faced with a list of 25 people, all the ladies will inevitably end up with nice hand lotion, and all the gents with socks or books. Most will like what they get (I mean, who doesn’t love L’Occitane?), but it doesn’t feel so personal. Thanks to my mother-in-law, less shopping stress, more time contemplating Jesus! (Oh, except for the hours lost last night panicking over of having to be seen in a bikini beside my gorgeous, sun-bronzed sisters-in-law.) 

Please visit the other Carnival entries

Homeschool Mosaics: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Joy: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Advent Interruptions
The Breadbox Letters: Interrupted by Glory
TwentyTuesdayAfternoons: Keeping Christ in Christmas/ The Season of Giving / A Wee Bit of Beach Holiday Angst
The Learning Basket: Staying With the Nativity Story
Tercets: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Rosary Mom: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Ate Maui: Hoping and Bringing Hope
Written By the Finger of God: 12 Traditions for Keeping Christ in Christmas
Dominique's Desk: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Felix at Fifty: What Jesus Wants for Christmas
Mommy Bares All: Birthday Cake for the Birthday Boy on Christmas Day
Between Now and Later: Keeping Christ in Christmas, I am trying...
Lique's Antics: Family Antics: Christmas Reflection
Life of Fortunate Chances: Our First Ever Christmas: Keeping Christ in Christmas
The Mommy Journey: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Roller Coaster Ride: How to Remind Your Kids of Jesus Christ This Christmas
Cymplified: Christ -Centered Christmas: Cymplified!
Mountain Grace: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Touring Kitty: Grown-up Christmas List
Mommy Chinkysoup for the Soul: A Very Special Christmas
City Girl, Country Home: Finding Jesus in a Flurry
Coffee Moments with Sam: Christmas Unwrapped: 5 Presents Our Kids Truly Deserve
Raising Lifelong Learners: Keeping Christ in Christmas
The Diary of a Sower: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Celebrating the Golden Days
Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Raising (and Teaching) Little Saints: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Truly Rich Mom: The Greatest Gift of All This Christmas
Joy-Filled Family: CHRIST in Christmas
Blueberry 010: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Jesus is the Reason for the Season
Deeper Truth Blog: Keeping Christ in Christmas Carnival
Holy Ducklings: 10 Ways to Make Advent Special for Your Little Ducklings
Green Eggs and Moms: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Green Eggs & Moms Style!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Tuesday # 4: Maria und Josef

This week’s theme was Mary and Joseph. I brought in a world map, and we talked about where Switzerland is (they couldn’t believe how small Switzerland is on a world map, and were astounded at how vast Russia is), where they were born, and where Jesus was born. Diego asked which friends I had brought with me today. (Last week, I had brought Jesus.) This week, I had Our Lady of Grace (of the Miraculous Medal), a sweet baby-faced Angel (standing in for Archangel Gabriel, who in my mind, looks fiercer), and a donkey. I debate all week whether to bring Our Lady, as she is very special to me, and I was worried that she might break. (She assured me that this wouldn’t happen.) The children (well, except Cedric), handled her with tender reverence.  

The friends I brought to class today

Maeve actually skipped our session today. She is usually free on Tuesday afternoons. Today, her teacher invited the class for an impromptu sledding session near the school, and I let her go. (She was so excited.) Before she left for sledding, she asked me what we were going to be talking about in Unti. So I showed her and Olive Our Lady, the Angel, and the donkey. “Why is she stepping on a snake?” the girls ask. So we talk about God creating the world, and Adam and Eve. I told them how God told Adam and Eve that they could have fruit from any tree in the Garden, except for that from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. I ask them what they think happens next. Maeve thinks for a moment, then says, “They’ll have some of that fruit. Whenever you tell us to not-not-not do something, the more we want to do it.“ “Like what?” I ask. “Eating on the couch!” pipes Olive (who got into lots of trouble for that yesterday). “If God really didn’t want them to eat that fruit, maybe He should’ve just said, oh, don’t bother with that one. It doesn’t taste so good, “ muses Maeve. I agree with Maeve on this one. In my teens, an aunt once told me, “You can have any, and as many, of my books to take with you except this one.” Well, I took the one and only one. (It still weighs heavily on me, 20 years later.) We talk about how Mary’s foot on the snake is God fulfilling His promise to Adam and Eve when He kicked them out of the Garden. I’ll have to show them this illustration of Eve and Mary, by Sr. Grace Remington, which I found out about through a post today by kkollwitz on his blog Smaller Manhattans.
Illustration of Eve and Mary reconciled, by Sr. Grace Remington, O. C. S. O.

I allowed Maeve to skip our lesson today because of the fabulous snow. Actually, I was half expecting a lot of parents to excuse their kids for the afternoon to play outside. I myself had been out for a run in the morning, and it was truly wonderful outside. 

Photo I took on my phone during my morning run. 
Dear God, Your creation absolutely rocks!

I try to run or work out on Tuesday mornings (while Olive is in playgroup) to help me with my pre-catechism nerves. It is similar to the feeling I would get before a big conference presentation, when I was in academia. In those days, the audience would include über high-profile professors, scientists, industry experts, collaborators, and competitors. I know it doesn’t make sense to be nervous now, since my current audience consists of a group of (mostly) enthusiastic and inquisitive seven year olds. In any case, I was a little more jittery than normal this morning, and after my run, decided to spend a few minutes in my prayer room (it’s really a closet). I lit some candles and sat quietly until it was time to pick Olive up from playgroup. I especially directed my prayers to Mother Mary, asking her to guide me in telling the children about her.  At the end of the day, when Olive and I got back home after our session, I brought back the Our Lady of Grace statue into the prayer room. I said a prayer of thanks that she was safely back in the prayer room. Perhaps it was my imagination, but there was a hint of rose-scented incense in the prayer room. I checked the candles that I had lit earlier, and none of them had that particular scent. Thank you, dear Mother. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sunday Snippets-- A Catholic Carnival

Thank you to RAnn at This That and the Other Thing  for the invitation to join Sunday Snippets -- A Catholic Carnival, where a group of Catholic bloggers share their favorite posts from the previous week.

I am pretty new to the blogging world. (About a two weeks old, as a matter of fact.) I write about family life, a catechism class I've recently started teaching, yoga, books I love, transitioning from a career as a research scientist to full-time stay-at-home mom,  and finding God (and myself). If I'm lucky, perhaps I'll find us both in the same place. My favorite "finding myself" book is Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love". Wouldn't I love to go to Italy, India, and Bali like she did! However, being married with three kids, and living in a country where the kids come home for a two-hour lunch break in the middle of the day, means that, for practical reasons, I'm doing my soul-searching pilgrimage from home. Maybe it is not so impossible. After all, there is that anecdote about Buddha (which I am borrowing from Baron Baptiste's "40 Days to Personal Revolution"). His search for enlightenment meant that he left his family and the life he knew. When he came back home twelve years later, his wife asks him, "Did you really have to leave? Did your home and family somehow prevent you from finding truth and transformation?". "I could have done it right here at home, " Buddha replies, "but in my ignorance, I didn't know that. There was no need to go to the mountains, no need to go anywhere. I had to go inside myself, and that could have happened anywhere."

So I do most of my spiritual questing while doing the dishes or the laundry, surrounded by my family. (That's what I'm up to when my husband or kids occasionally catch me staring off into the distance.)

Here are my posts for the week:

Synchronicity: the love that moves the sun and the other stars (and the epic ironing pile as well)

Tuesday#3: Liecht sich schön (Light is beautiful) / biscuits up your behind

Ever Onward, Fellow Pilgrims!

I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's Sunday Snippets contributions!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Synchronicity: the love that moves the sun and the other stars (and the epic ironing pile as well)

A few days ago, I stumbled across a blog called “the love that moves the sun” on the St. Blogs Parish website. It was love at first sight/read with that turn of phrase. I find out that it comes from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, lines 142-145, in the C. H. Sisson translation, thanks Wikipedia), when his soul becomes aligned with God’s love.
But already my desire and my will
were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars  
I have read about the Divine Comedy, but never actually read it. (To be honest, I’ve always had trouble with poetry.) I find out there is a free Kindle edition available on amazon and put it on my to-do list to download. In any case, these words were resonating in my consciousness.

Two days after first stumbling across that lovely phrase, I am alone at home (older kids at school, Olive in playgroup) and addressing the ironing pile, which has reached epic heights (about a meter or so). I am listening to an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday on my iPhone as I iron. Oprah is interviewing Jean Houston, whom she introduces as one of the elder stateswomen of the spiritual growth movement. I had loved Jean's book "The Passion for the Possible". I love Jean’s deep, rich voice, and her belly laugh. She is 75 years young, beautiful, energetic, intelligent, and funny. She has worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Joseph Campbell, the Dalai Lama, and many other world leaders.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Tuesday # 3: Liecht isch schön* (Light is beautiful) / biscuits up your behind

Progress! This Tuesday, we are headed home from the Schulhaus after our lesson at 4:30, half an hour earlier than last week. Things go somewhat smoother this week. The theme for the week was “light is beautiful”. We had a story about Nino the Glowworm (Nino, das Glühwürmchen). This is a lovely book by Sueli Menezes, beautifully illustrated by Giuliano Ferri, about a Nino, who rallies his fellow glowworms to work together to take over the Moon’s job of lighting up the night while the Moon takes a rest. 

Then we listened to the song “Du Bist Das Licht Der Welt” (“You are the Light of the World”). I told them this song was about a good friend, and I asked them to guess who the friend was. When they couldn’t guess, I passed around a Divine Mercy image to show them. “Oh, it’s Jesus!” Zoe exclaims. It is so sweet hearing them oooh and aahh as the Divine Mercy image is passed around.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Ever Onward, Fellow Pilgrims!

Leafing through my journal, I found this passage. I didn’t recognize it at first, because it seemed like someone was talking to me, instead of me talking to myself.  I share these words with you today. May they urge you onwards on your own journey. 

Go into the silence of your heart and listen. There is a dream buried there, placed there by God when He created you. That dream is the reason you are here. That dream is the seed, and your job in this lifetime is to get out of that dream’s way and let it grow into a stately cedar. Don’t worry. He has given you the talent, the skills, the passion, to manifest this dream He placed in your heart. Give no attention to the nay-sayers. Do not expect the people around you to understand, and do not be reliant on their encouragement or approval. They follow different dreams and are not privy to the conversations you have with God in your heart. What is in your heart is between you and God, so how would anyone else know? Do not be influenced by the pessimism of those around you. Smile politely when they attempt to sway you with their logic, but continue on the way He has laid out for you (that only you can see) with faith and courage in your heart.  Have no fear, for He walks by your side, and His Angels and Saints accompany and protect you on your journey. He showers you with graces every step of the way.

A "sign" from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul 
(Can you tell that I love Paolo Coelho's "The Alchemist"?)