Monday, December 21, 2009

Long lay the world,
in sin and error pining,

til He appeared and the soul felt its worth...

One of my favorite Christmas songs is O Holy Night. I prefer the version by Perry Como more than any other I've heard, mostly because I think the depth of his voice best conveys the message of the song.

His singing brings weight to both the sorrow of sin and the great uplifting of hope that comes with the birth of Christ, and it never fails to center me. Forget the candies to make and the cookies too, forget the presents and cards and to-do list that seems to span a mile in length. I can stop for a moment and breathe, with a helpful reminder of what we seek to celebrate.

The girls want to hear Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bells. They want to hear the songs with some giddy-up, something they can spin and twirl to. I oblige them, and watch, admonishing them to dance carefully, to watch out for the coffee table and book shelves, while they spin into dizziness. But then I get my turn, and put on O Holy Night, or Christ is Born or Ave Maria.

I love the lights Dave worked so hard to wrap around the bushes in front of our house. I love the ceramic Santa that my mom made so long ago. I love the wreath over our mantel, with its ring of bright apples and hint of Colonial days gone by. I love the childish decorations, snowmen and bears wearing scarves and characters from Winnie the Pooh dressed in their winter clothes.

I love these secular aspects of Christmas too. I just love the other more important part more.

I don't get all the hub-bub over the War Against Christmas. It smacks of something else to me, when people get all up in arms about the greetings we give one another, whether one says Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. (I appreciate, however, Fr. James Martin's essay on some companies trying to have it both ways, trying to skirt the line between the secular and faith-filled, with laughable results.) I do understand that occasionally we have instances of political correctness run amok. But I also understand that as a Catholic, Christmas is what I make it for my family. It's the example we set for our children. It's the fact that we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and how we conduct our lives to celebrate His love for us. Just like Perry sings in O Holy Night. How someone addresses me, or a how a store decorates for the holidays, has no bearing on my own feelings, and what I hope to teach my children about the meaning of Christmas.

So far, they're still all about the presents, and so far, I'm still feeding into that far too much. It's an ongoing process. But on our mantel, we have a creche from Haiti. It was the girls' idea to put baby Jesus in a gift box, and set Him between Joseph and Mary. On Christmas morning, we'll open the box. The best present is saved for last.

However you celebrate, I hope it's lovely. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Here's wishing you a 2010 filled with peace, happiness and faith.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I am in pain.

I am in pain and I am typing, which is stupid, idiotic, ridiculous, and every other manner of adjective to describe the act of sitting at the computer when one has a migraine headache.

I am exhausted. My last go round lasted almost a full week, with my headache responding temporarily to my prescription and then coming back. I got to thinking as the relief from pain as miraculous, because there is a moment when the ecstasy hits and you want to throw yourself down, prostrate on the floor like a priest being ordained. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And then the pain creeps back again, the pressure slowly building around the eye, and then the sharpness, and then the throbbing, and you feel you can no longer worship, so you pick yourself up from that humble position of thanks and retreat, to a dark corner of defeat.

Is this a cross?

I am not good at bearing it. I find the weight of chronic pain to be unbearable sometimes. I'm not sure of an appropriate metaphor. Perhaps this:

You spend a good three weeks feeling good. The doorbell rings. Some intimidatingly huge man is standing there, and he proceeds to beat the living crap out of you. When he's done, he tells you that he'll be back. It could be a week, it could be three weeks, it could be a few days, he tells you. It takes you five days to recover. And you feel good. So good. But you wonder when the doorbell will ring again, and that guy will be back to bring his particular brand of misery.

Speaking of trials and beatdowns, my mother has been having difficulty with a mysterious condition. She gets a peeling, itchy rash on her face that stays for a few weeks and goes away, only to return some short time later. Despite repeated visits to a dermatologist and allergist, and a plan of attack, the rashes continue. She had one brief respite from the rashes for two months, and hence thought the treatment plan was working, but then everything returned, leaving all of us baffled. If someone deserves a break from hardship, it's her, having had both breast and colon cancer.

Sometimes, when I feel like I'm suffering and I just can't freaking take any more pain or discomfort, it helps to try hard to focus outward. So I pray for my mom, or for my friend who has a son with a platelet disorder and a husband with polycystic kidney disease, or for another friend who has liver cancer. And I think this is a good thing.

But I still feel weird asking for mercy for myself. This morning, I did, and I immediately followed it up with an apology for those prayers. I think I need to get over this. I know that I'm lucky in my life, and that I have a tremendous amount to be grateful for, but all of that good stuff doesn't negate the bad. That pain is pain, and it's debilitating, so asking for break or a lessening or something to make it all a bit more manageable isn't a bad or selfish act.

The other day, I caught Mother Angelica saying the rosary on TV, and I watched it, and said it along with her. The focus was the sorrowful mysteries, and I couldn't stop crying. The agony in the garden, the scourging, the crown of thorns, carrying the cross, the crucifixion. It seemed fitting then, in my insular world of pain, to be reminded that not only am I not alone, but I am not forgotten.