Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

29 December 2009

'Twas four days after Christmas . . . .

. . . and I'm finally making my first Advent post.

I just haven't felt it, this year. Funny, because Advent has always been such a God-rich time of the year for me. But here it is, on the eve of the new year—the Christmas music and present buying and tree decorating and yearly six o'clock tumble of my almost grown girls into the parental bed on Christmas morning all behind me—and God has yet to arrive for me this holy season as a wet, slippery, screaming reality. I haven't felt Hope moving within me. Nor my usual yearnings or even the near despair I typically suffer in the days before Christmas. Just empty contentment.

Despite the unusual blessings this Christmas has brought with it:
  • no PTSD symptoms whatsoever and very little anxiety about buying presents, spending money, getting it all done.
  • getting to have Lulu home from her boarding school with not a bit of homework and all As after her first semester taking all difficult classes.
  • my girls' satisfaction with their gifts, each other, and the season in general.
  • getting to see my first pileated woodpecker. (If you’ve never seen one, you need to. He was amazing: gigantic, with a luminous red pointed head and white-and-black art deco looking body, just like Woody Woodpecker but more handsome. He flew incredibly fast and laughed loudly whenever he did. Such a cut up!)
  • super presents: a gorgeous, raggedy-looking scarf from Charlotte that makes me look like the beggar girl Anastasia in that old animated movie; three bird books from Lulu, one of which is a birding journal; silver earrings from Kris that look like a stellar body being orbited; and a whole slew of pricey youth elixirs from Mamaw.
  • the promise of a visit from beloved former students in a few days.
  • a gift from a hunter friend of four pheasants, which I will make into pheasant fricassee (I've posted the recipe) for the visiting students.
  • a successful running year of 21 miles per week, plus 14 banked miles, here at year's end.
  • my newest book—A Field Guide to God—all done, the publishing process trustworthily and congenially overseen by my new editor, who's a gem and who overnighted me a copy the second it came off the press, two days before Christmas.
  • two more books on the horizon. (My new publisher is going to bring out the book of Christmas essays that I took back from my previous publisher plus a book I recently started called, tentatively, Easy Burdens, about how God never intended the life of faith to be the burdensome task or unpleasant sacrifice many of us make it.)
  • getting to hear the chapter on home from The Wind in the Willows read aloud by Jennifer Mendenhall on NPR. (Here's the link to go to if you want to hear it, too. Be advised, it will make you moan-cry.)
  • SNOW! (On Christmas day, no less, which, according to Kris, is only the second time it's ever happened here in recorded history.)
Oh, there was much more, but I don't want to make those of you who received less unduly envious, so I'll stop listing.

Why, then, does God feel so, well, uninvolved in any of it? (Except for the woodpecker. I definitely sensed God's presence as I watched that bird clutch the tree and hammer away.)

I've been speculating that it's maybe because I've been out of tradition, in the months leading up to the Coming. One member of our small family is prematurely absent from home, and another has been crazily filling out college applications in preparation to leave, too. I haven't had my usual Advent angst, which I listed as a blessing—and it is one!—but which is also an important prayer (i.e., writing) catalyst. Also, because of Lulu's absence, we've spent a lot of weekends gone from home—especially Kris, who helps Lulu with her masses of math and science homework. Away from home means, for us, not attending church services, which, I'm discovering, play an crucial role in keeping me aware of God. (Who would have thought?!)

Whatever the reason (accidental quote, here, of Dr. Suess's summation of the Grinch's very similar sentiments), I just never felt Jesus' birth this year. Not the excitement. Not the pain. Not the realization that my lifetime of longing was answered.

There's still time, though. Because of a family tussle over what to eat on Christmas Eve this year—the traditional turkey, you see, also fell away, somehow—and our upcoming post-Christmas visit from old friends, we have decided to extend Christmas for the full 12 days of the traditonal Christmastide, ending on the eve of January 6th, the traditional Feast of the Epiphany.

That makes today, in Orthodox tradion, the Feast of those poor little boy-children Herod ordered killed to prevent there being any other King of the Jews than himself. Such a self-serving and absurd order—reminiscent, to me, of Mao's calamitous attempt during the Great Leap Forward to kill off all the sparrows in China to save the crops, which ended up backfiring, since there were no birds to eat the locusts that subsequently descended on the fields. Anyway, according to Matthew's account of the good news, Herod's order fulfilled Jeremiah's prophechy that “A voice was heard on high, weeping and much wailing, Rachel beweeping her sons, and she would not be comforted, for they be nought” (Matthew 2:18, quoting Jeremiah 31:15, in Wycliffe's translation)

I'll leave you with that sad thought. Babies killed in response to the coming of the God-baby.

And this little tribute to the brown winter sparrows that flock the feeding stations in my yard:
  • There are the White-Throated Sparrows (Zonorichia albicollis), which first got me interested in birds when they started singing their sweet but sad little song that mimicked the melody of the words "are coming" of Green Day's commemorative song "The Saints Are Coming," which was on the radio everywhere I went right after Hurricane Katrina. It was such a beautiful little bird song. I had to find the bird that sang it, but it took me a while. It's a shyish bird, with yellow spots behind its eyes and a white tuft under its chin.
  • Then there's the White-Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), with its black-and-white striped cap. (The females' caps are tan and brick-red.)
  • We get the occasional House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), which is actually a European transplant, fifty pairs having been intentionally released in Central Park in 1859 for reasons I have not been able to discover. Evidently, bird releases were common in the 19th century. Passer domesticus (yes, its scientific name is exactly the same as its common name, which is so nice) has bright white cheeks, a ruddy cap and shoulders, and a black mask.
  • And then, there's my favorite, Harris's Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula), named after Edward Harris. Its scientific name describes the black on its face, which radiates like soot from around its pink bill into irregular speckles onto its white breast and tan head. It looks as though something blew up in its face, and it behaves that way, too. It runs shrieking at the other sparrows at the feeders and even at some bigger birds, like cardinals and jays. A funny little hysteric.


misslenbuster said...

It's such a relief to know that somewhere in this world someone felt the same "empty contentment" as I this year (Though I had not yet labeled my feelings until I read your post) I enjoyed the reflections and also have some more events to participate in yet after the new year. I like to think that the experience of this year's Christmas season is evidence of a year surrounding it overflowing with the heights of emotional involvement. Many Blessings for the year ahead!

Viticulturist said...

Hi Patty,
Good to see your new post. This must have been the year for a blah Christmas season. I felt the same disenchantment with the birth of Christ and Luke 1 and 2 are my favorite pieces of Scripture. I, too, had been missing out on church services, either being in the nursery or staying home, or sitting in the loft where I never feel a part of the service. This past Sunday was a normal one, and I sat in my usual spot among the congregation. Felt better. I've always thought forsaking the brethren meant turning your back, but maybe forsake is a milder definition than I once thought. God must really like our company.

Glad to hear you didn't have problems with the disorder. And looking forward to the books...yeah!!!!!