Where Is the Light in Our Darkness?

12308890573_c2c6bf5eb0_zFor most kids I knew, Christmas was a time of anticipation. Even if you hadn’t yet figured out what was happening, you knew it was something. The music changed. Stores overflowed. Things began to sparkle.

Even once you knew what was happening, there remained a sense of delightful oddness. I think it was the lights, which cast everything in bright color or strange shadow. Or perhaps the eyes and hearts of people, likewise lit or darkened.

Christmas brings out the best and worst in mankind. In we small children, it brought forth a good and childlike thing, which is the belief that the world is covered over with magic, and all you need, in order to see it, is a different kind of light.

The world soon obscures that childlike vision. Many of us learned to see Christmas as a time of plunder. For some, it became a season of annoyance, even bitterness. For nearly all it became a gaudy carousel operated by madmen, and we all grabbing hold and clinging, because how can you let go? How can you disappoint those who await presents? How can you not hang the decorations you’ve accumulated in the attic? [Read more...]

Certain Poor Shepherds

4170806345_e0f381d5e2_zLong ago, when there were only three television stations, you had to wait for what you wanted. That feature had the benefit of making things exceptional, which is the perplexing irony of our times. Able to have all so quickly—with high speed downloads and internet superhighways—things don’t hold their value as long. Our taste buds are sanded clean from a glut of widely available sugar, a torrent of rainbows has blasted us colorblind, and iTunes has stunned us tone-deaf and tin-eared.

In the past, anticipation—having to wait—raised the worth of the arrival. We learn this lesson at Lent every year, and promptly forget it on Easter Monday. But hardheaded as we are, that’s the true way of things. Nuns and monks often tell the disbelieving that without privation, you cannot know joy; without sacrifice, you cannot marvel at abundance. St. Theresa slept on straw; St. Theresa walked barefoot; and yet, St. Theresa achieved her ecstasy. How about you? [Read more...]

In Defense of Fruitcake

Runyan photoAt some point or another, every Christmas celebrant in America has to draw lines in the sand over the following doctrinal issues:

When is it acceptable to begin listening to Christmas music?
What are your thoughts on front yard inflatables?
Will you shop on Black Friday or boycott it and buy all the crap a couple weeks later?
To what lengths will you go to ensure that your tenth grader still believes in Santa?
What will be your game plan regarding the song “Christmas Shoes”?
How much fruitcake will you consume?

The first five questions have been known to tear families and friends asunder during this glorious time of year. But the one that unites enemies? Fruitcake. [Read more...]

Each Woman Mary, Each Child Christ

I found respite recently in Jeanne Murray Walker’s essay on Alice Munro in Image, describing Munro’s domestic fiction, and related utterly to Walker’s wrestling with “Doing Something Important.” It is a place I find myself often, wondering if the few hours a week I have of child care for the baby are an example of my missing what I am supposed to be living and learning. Jesus does not say to come to him as someone Doing Something Important, but as a little child.

You’re not supposed to write about your own children if you want to be a real writer. Too cliché, too sentimental. But what about the one whose birth we so recently celebrated? This isn’t sentimental—it’s the real deal. A child is born in Bethlehem, and he is the king of kings. This is earth shattering. There’s something there we’re meant to learn. Maybe even everything.

A December 2004 article in Time notes that the nativity story is the part of the Jesus history that gives scholars most trouble. Only Matthew and Luke talk about the birth of Jesus, and like most parallel accounts in the Bible, their stories contradict each other. Neither account is given much room on the page for a holiday of such current social and commercial import.

[Read more...]

The Cave of the Heart

caveNot long ago a young man announced on a video chat site that he intended to kill himself, and that he would let people watch, if only he could have help setting up the video feed. Someone gladly complied, and so the boy positioned his camera, sat in his chair, and washed down a handful of pills with alcohol. Afterward he set a fire in the corner of his room. Then he crawled into the darkness beneath his bed and waited to die.

Hundreds watched, while others who were being excluded complained that the site’s bandwidth was inadequate. Ideas were tossed back and forth in the comments section about how to include everyone who wanted to enjoy the show. One of those who was able to watch griped about the smoke. He couldn’t see the boy dying. He logged on to watch a boy die, and the stupid smoke was getting in the way. [Read more...]


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