Monday, December 28, 2009

Shelter from the Storm

We've passed through the darkest days of the year and now the daylight will stay with us a little longer and longer.

I am slowly moving out of listening to Christmas music - which I've been hearing hither and yon since Halloween - by transitioning with classical Christmas-themed compositions. As much as I love certain songs, I am growing weary of "traditional" Christmas music at this point (although the Sarah McLachlan CD "Wintersong" and Loreena McKennit's holiday fare are still in heavy rotation on my iPod). So I've been listening to some classical, some jazz and some New Age music that while not specifically Christmas still creates a nice mood approriate for the season. But I've also been digging through this and that from the past, and this song kind of struck me as I was listening recently - "Shelter from the Storm" ( by Bob Dylan...

Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan)

'Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I'll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved.
Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail,
Poisoned in the bushes an' blown out on the trail,
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin' there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair.
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

Now there's a wall between us, somethin' there's been lost
I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed.
Just to think that it all began on a long-forgotten morn.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, it's doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

I've heard newborn babies wailin' like a mournin' dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love.
Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an' they gave me a lethal dose.
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

Well, I'm livin' in a foreign country but I'm bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor's edge, someday I'll make it mine.
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

A friend of mine is struggling with their partner's failing health. Another friend's mother is working through health issues. Another is struggling with the changing dynamic of their family, and another is challenged by how they will relate to their family in the future. The list goes on.

We all need shelter from the storm. We all need people in our lives to help us through the darkest days and give us hope. Especially this time of year, when many focus on joy and happiness others are struggling to find light in the darkness. We all need someone to walk beside us, take us by the hand, hold us up when we falter, hug us when we feel sad and alone. Shelter us from the storm.

Monday, December 14, 2009

With Arms Wide Open

I've been feeling a little abnormally joyous the last few days. Abnormal, because the Christmas holiday is fast approaching and usually my anxiety level is through the roof and I'm never quite as far along with things as I would like to be. And this year seems especially packed with meetings and activities and events and places to go and people to see. But this year feels different. I am actually somewhat on track to be ready for the holiday. But it's not just that.

For one thing, youth group is going spectacularly well this year. I approached this year with a certain amount of trepidation. I had a very involved and dedicated group of young people graduate out of the program this past spring and I really wasn't sure what to expect of the year ahead. This was a group of young people - the core of which - that had been involved in the youth ministry program for seven years. And most of them I had been ministering to since they were tots in our Children's Liturgy of the Word program. They were not only wonderful to work with and journey with they were great peer leaders, and they served the youth group well, opening their arms in friendship and genuine care to our "newbies." The legacy they have left is quite evident in the dedication and exuberance of their younger counterparts. And I have found my own dedication to my ministry re-invigorated as a result.

There is also a person I've been acquainted with for some time, but not really KNOWN. And there were a lot of factors that contributed to a sort of barrier that existed between us. Most mine. I think distrust was a piece of it. I'm not really sure what motivated it, but it was there. Misunderstanding. Fed by the mistrust. I always assumed the worst, became defensive, guarded. And something else, kind of intangible, that was just floating out there. Maybe fear.

We took a chance. A sharing that began with an email and continued with a meal together. Barriers came down. Mistrust disappeared. Understanding came. Fear dissolved.

We metaphorically opened our arms to one another. For so long my mental (if not physical) approach to this person was to be somewhat detached, arms folded, mind closed. But we took a chance. Stepped out of comfort zones that really weren't very comfortable at all. Opened our arms. Opened our hearts. And I think we have cultivated a friendship that has been beneficial to both of us.

Wasted time is so regrettable. But even wasted time can become a part of the process, this "work in progress" that relationships - relationships that grow - become. And maybe, just maybe the bitterness of time lost is part of what can make the here and now so much sweeter when we allow ourselves to be open to possibility.

I read a meditation once by Fr. Larry Gillick of the Nouwen Society ( and he had this to say about achieving universal solidarity...

"Allowing ourselves to be loved personally lets our tightly clenched arms and hands loosen and spread, as do the branches of the Christmas tree when it is brought inside. They are readied to receive decorations and then offer their beauty to others. Solidarity with all the others of the world begins with my 'yes' and 'ours.' God is saying that God loves us with an embrace which is as big as the world. When thawed out and thought out, my 'yes' is directed to God, to my gifts, and to those 'others' whom God calls 'ours.' The journey moves from the outside in and slowly from the inside to the world-side."

Open your arms. Welcome love in.

Monday, December 7, 2009

You're Invited!

Have you ever received an invitation to a party or some sort of gathering and ignored it? Or worse yet, received an invitation that you accepted, and then as the event neared you wished you hadn't accepted the invitation? And then came up with an excuse to not go? I certainly have. And I've been on the other end as well, planning a gathering or celebration of some sort and sending out invitations that are ignored, or reaching the big night and people you wanted or hoped would be there didn't show up for one reason or another. That feeling of sadness, that feeling of rejection must be felt by God when we refuse or ignore His invitation.

Every day God invites us again. And every day we have to decide for ourselves whether or not we're going to accept that invitation. And many days we surely start out with the best of intentions. We may arise feeling thrilled to be alive and thankful for all God has done for us. We work through our morning and perhaps attend Mass, and we feel strengthened and renewed by having accepted Christ in the Eucharist. Maybe in the course of our day we're planning on visiting a sick friend, or calling on a relative we haven't spoken to in a while. And maybe throughout our day we say little silent prayers again and again for all the needs in our world.

But like any invitation to participate, things sometimes get in our way. We grow tired of the routine, the "everydayness" of what it means to be a Christian. We fudge a little here, fudge a little there, and eventually that little bit of fudging and avoiding and straying begins to become the norm. And it gets easier and easier. We create a new routine, a routine that encourages us to ignore that invitation from God. A routine that seems to justify in our minds that it's okay to miss this one party, that it's okay toss away that one invitation. Because there will be other invitations, right? Unfortunately, we can fall into a cycle of ignoring the invitation, and then we just stop checking the mail. Because we don't want to see what's there. It becomes burdensome. It is annoying. It has become junk mail to us.

But God continues to invite us. Despite everything we do that says I don't want to join the party, or "I'm sorry I can't commit right now" God continues to invite us. Because like any good host, God wants us to be there. God doesn't want anyone left out.

Accepting the invitation to discipleship is a difficult one. Christ spoke about this in scripture again and again. "Can you drink the cup?" "I am sending you like sheep into the midst of wolves." "You will be hated by all because of my name." When Christ tells the parable of the man who gave a great dinner party and people didn't come, he is speaking to us about the occasion to sin, and how it gets in the way of us coming closer to God. He is speaking about the opportunities we have to demonstrate our faith in God, and yet we allow ourselves to get caught up in the burdens of the world that divert us from God. He speaks of the desire for all of us to join him in heaven and yet we still struggle with answering that invitation. This is normal. We are, after all, human. And for us there are times when rejecting an invitation seems much easier than accepting it.

Certainly there are times in life when we thrilled with invitation, look forward to it, and have a great time at the party. And ideally, that's the relationship we want to have with God - excited, anticipating, joyous in participation. But there's one other invitation scenario. That's the invitation we accept, and immediately make ourselves crazy because we're sorry we did so. It's not convenient, it's not something we want to do, it's a commitment of our time and energy when we feel like we can't commit any more. But out of a sense of obligation we go through with it. And we get to the party, and have a great time. All our worries and cares and anxieties are stripped away and we just live in that moment.

That's what I think heaven will be like. We're invited to discipleship and it's always going to be a rewarding and sometimes difficult journey. And we may have ambivalence about accepting the invitation at all. But the promise of the big party is always there for us as believers. The promise that by accepting the invitation with strong commitment and excited anticipation we will some day meet our host face-to-face, and be welcomed with open arms to a joyous eternal celebration.