Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, December 18, 2015

For Those Weary of Planning for and Talking about Christmas

"I'm tired of planning for and talking about Christmas. I just want some space to sit with it, apart from the many self-imposed distractions and tugs that scatter my attention."

I said these words last week to some friends as we talked about our experience of Advent and Christmas. I've been planning Advent and Christmas services since early November. I've been talking about Christmas, both in writing and in speech for almost that long. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of talking about the concept and planning for the experience. It feels blasphemous that I should want something to be ended before it has even arrived -- especially something so "holy" as Christmas. Yet, that is the honest truth about my interior state.

And I feel this way not only about the planning that is part of my daily work. My personal planning for Christmas is nearly shot, also. Day after day I'm haunted by inner voices that whisper, "But what are you going to buy so-and-so? . . . and what about a gift for what's-her-name? . . ." Shadowy voices rumble around within me, voices of compulsion and drivenness. Some years my gift-giving is divinely inspired -- the year I gave my golfing friends Titleist golf balls inscribed with, "MEDITATE THIS, THOMAS MERTON!" -- but not so this year. It's been a grinding chore. I'm about to give in, now one week before Christmas, go to, and hit the "BUY!" button: "Squatty Potties for everyone!!" I'd have them in hand for distribution by December 22.

One of my friends, to whom I vented about my weariness over Christmas talk and planning, asked a helpful clarifying question: "If you were able just to sit with the season, what would you find?"

I don't know what I'd find. I believe there would be much less compulsion and drivenness crowding the soul-space. Maybe there would be simple openness, even emptiness. As it is, I sit each morning in my mauve rocker with the worn armrests, reading Advent and Christmas texts, waiting for something to come at me . . . waiting to hear . . . waiting to catch a glimpse. Little seems to move toward me. It's mostly just sitting in a space in which precious little seems to be going on . . . except the compulsiveness, the self-guilt over my sad gift-giving, and the weariness that accompanies those voices.

In fact, I feels something like a kind of "virgin" through the season, as the Virgin Mary entered her own experience in emptiness and simple openness. (I have more thoughts on the "virginity" to which the season invites us . . . I may share them in this space in a few days.)

To be sure, I look at my calendar and see services, events, gatherings, where I am compelled to have something to say about Christmas . . . and I will gladly step into those places . . . after all, I'd hate to waste all this great planning and strategizing of the last two months.

But mostly, I'm longing for no thinking, no words, no strategizing, no talking about. Instead, simply a sitting-in. A being-with.

And IF you find a Squatty Potty under your Christmas tree . . .

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Rest?

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)

I was particularly sensitive to Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28 when I read them a couple of days ago. They caught my attention on the long end of a stretch in which I've dealt with health issues that brought several weeks of lean sleep.

Ahhh, but to be able to sleep again. Rest, sweet rest.

In my naivete', I've supposed that this was the rest Jesus promises. Rest. Sleep. A pause from the demands of work. Respite from the constant houndings of daily life. A moment free from "forced" creativity. Eight hours of non-interrupted REM sleep.

But when I read the passage this time, I asked some other questions of this rest.

What is the rest Jesus gives? Is is rest from physical exhaustion? Is it emotional rest? Is it rest from carrying the burdens others place upon me? Is it rest from health concerns?

And I began to consider other kinds of rest . . . rest from trying to control everyone else around me . . . rest from being attached to outcomes . . . rest from worry about things I cannot control . . . and rest from the control I try to exert over the way things turn out, that they should look the way I want them to look. . . .

Is it rest from my compulsions?
Is it rest from my attachment to security?
Is it rest from my attachment to good health?
Is it rest from my attachment to comfort?

I realize that so much anxiety and worry comes when any of these things are thwarted, when my attachment to them is threatened. Truly, the anxiety and worry represent "no rest", no sense of well-being. They are wearisome, draining, exhausting, pulling out my interior resources, spending energy on that over which I usually have little control.

For this season of my life, I sense that rest is not getting plenty of sleep. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind about these things . . . but for today, rest looks more like letting go of compulsions and releasing attachments.

My experience has been that only in the context of a vertical, Divine-human, I-Thou relationship, do I recognize these compulsions and attachments. The contemplative journey gives me the space to see myself more and more clearly, to see what is more true about myself, and to name the compulsions and attachments which are illusory.

Further, it gives me some language -- even if limited -- to speak to these compulsions and attachments. And it gives me some practices that are well-suited for breaking up the hardened soil of the attachments in order that I might live more freely for good and healing in the world.

Jesus, it would seem to me, is much more invested in this kind of liberating rest that heals me and heals the world than in my prospects for getting a good, eight hour sleep.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent's Slow Crawl

This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent.

The season of Advent is intended for preparation, waiting, and expectancy, beginning four Sundays before Christmas. Advent themes of hope, love, peace, and joy are intended to prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus. In Advent truly conceived, that birth is not a faraway event represented by a calendar date, but rather a birth that takes place continually within human hearts as we make room for the coming of Christ within us.

For me, though, the season of Advent begins as more of a slow crawl. I don't get a running start, or even a rolling start into Advent. In the United States, the first days of Advent fall on the heels of Thanksgiving, travel, Black Friday, and gatherings with family and friends.

Advent crawls out of the blocks. I have to make myself speak the words and sing the songs. I'm grateful for the season, the colors, the candles, the readings, just not quite ready for it.

But Advent doesn't inquire about my readiness, nor does it particularly care whether or not I'm prepared for the season. It doesn't mind that I'm road-weary from travel or overloaded with tryptophan or that Black Friday and Cyber Monday have stuffed my inbox with two email ads for every one I can delete.

Advent comes, ready or not. It comes . . . to announce a coming.

Christ has come . . . Christ is coming . . . Christ will come.

Christ comes always, continuously, in every time. Christ comes everywhere, relentlessly, in every place, welcoming or not.

This is my slow crawl into Advent. I don't feel bad about it -- though years ago I did -- but rather just accept it for what it is. I'll come around. I'll get there eventually.

Give me a bit . . . I'll catch up to you.