Pre-Holiday Thoughts

It's nearly time. I keep waking up thinking that maybe today is the day that I will be able to focus again. Alas, focus still seems to be eluding me. Or, rather, I am able to focus on everything but what I feel like I should be focusing on. I'm really good at thinking about puppies right now, especially my soon-to-be-my-very-own-puppy Joy. But more serious thoughts about the significance of the season? Well, let's just say it's easier settling back down into the couch with a novel or thinking about rearranging the apartment so as to get ready for the great Kitchen Remodeling next month. That book review that is now three weeks' overdue the extension I asked for? Still haven't read the book (for complicated reasons, having to do with more than just being distracted by puppies). That article that I had promised to revise this month? Not happening. At least over the summer I was able to keep some hard thinking going here in my blog. Now even my blog has succumbed.

Mind you, maybe puppies are what I am supposed to be thinking about at the moment, not something more serious. Maybe there isn't anything more important than puppies. Or maybe I'm just using thinking about the puppies to distract me from the things that I ought to be thinking about. Actually, not much mystery there: yes, I am. And yet, not. Yes, I've been reading more about dog psychology and the history of dogs these past several months than I have about, oh, the cult of the Virgin Mary. But that does not necessarily mean that if I weren't reading about dogs that I would be reading about Mary. Or medieval history. Or something about which I might actually write something that I could publish. How long, exactly, is a dark night of the soul (academically-speaking) supposed to last? No, I really don't want to go there with this post. If you've been keeping up with me since this past summer, you know that I've been here awhile. Afraid to write? Impatient about how long publishing anything in academia takes? Disgusted at colleagues who seem to be able to publish with none of the OCD-like compulsion to check every d*mn reference that seems to cripple me? Or just making excuses because I'm tired of spending my life sitting at a desk?

Now here's something to think about: the doorbell just rang. Two women were downstairs wanting to share a Bible lesson with me. The younger of the two read this passage for me: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more" (Revelation 21:4). "Would you like to live in this time?," she asked me. "Yes, of course," I replied. Oh, would I! Yes, this is the dark night that I've been living in for I don't know how long now. It has its ups-and-downs, but in a strong form it is at least since my father died, now almost five years ago. I stopped grieving (in the sense of uncontrollably crying) after about a year, but the loss of purpose that I've felt since then only seems to be getting worse, no matter what I try to make myself come out of it. On the other hand, I am, temperamentally-speaking, simply a melancholy person; it is, to a certain extent, natural for me to fall into these gloomy thoughts every so often. So I am disinclined to take them very seriously. You know, along the lines of, "There she goes again, throwing a temper tantrum. She just does that, I have no idea why she gets so upset."

A life without tears or mourning or death? Sign me up! Of course, God already has. He already has. And yet, God d*mn it, I don't seem to be able to feel it. Not for very long, not consistently in the way that the women spending this freezing cold day going door-to-door with their pamphlets would seem to want me to be able to believe. There is an image or maybe insight that comes to me every so often in my centering prayer: I have a feeling of being in the midst of the universe, looking down onto our tiny planet, this precious little jewel in the blackness of space. And I am filled with not-quite-wonder (because I can't quite surrender to it) that God should be mindful of such a little speck, like Horton actually listening to the invisible Whos. How on earth did He find us in the first place? Oh, okay, so God made us; He should know where the speck is. But we're still just a speck, surely God has more important things to do than pay attention to us. And then I think about how necessary it really was for Him to become incarnate because how else would He ever get us to pay attention to Him?

See, I do believe, sort of. At least, I believe in the sense that everything about the Incarnation make sense: God loves us, and yet, He is so far beyond our comprehension that there is no way for us even to think about Him unless He gives us a way. And the Incarnation, which we are supposed to be celebrating this week, was that Way. Simple as that. So why don't I feel comforted? I'm afraid, of course. What if it really all is just something we (human beings) have made up ourselves? There is no elephant who is faithful to us, "one hundred percent," just our terrible, desperate longing to feel loved. There was no Son of God who came down to earth to save us from ourselves, just a poor, misguided teacher in the Roman province of Palestine who was murdered by the government because his message of love seemed to be a security threat. Christmas itself, the festival during which we try to be mindful of the love with which God so loved the world that He gave His only Son "that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16), is actually (in the form in which we celebrate it) by and large a creation of the mid-nineteenth century, with its Christmas trees and greeting cards and industrially-produced presents. That's why it has been so easy for us to lose "the true meaning of Christmas": it was made up in the first place.

I wish I had the courage that the two women who just came to my door have. Why, if I really believe that the only actually true thing in the world is God's overwhelming love for His creatures, including us, His ever-so-stubbornly-skeptical children, am I not out there with them, ringing doorbells and handing out pamphlets? At least it would mean I didn't spend my days sitting at a desk. And I bet my dog would enjoy the walks.


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