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How a Staggering Pre-Christmas Letdown Powers Awe-Inspiring Freedom

Our Christmas tree is a wimp. My wife weeps every time she glances at it.

In the time before the cosmic downsizing, we had a wonderful, artificial Christmas tree that twinkled with pre-installed lights. The angel on top pointed towards the heavens, or at least the 10-foot high ceiling of the great hall, aka family room. Branches struggled under the weight of ornaments inherited, collected over 30 years of marriage and warmly received from five children and eight grandchildren. Ornamenting the tree enlivened a creche full of memories. Christmas morning presents swamped the base. The scene was Christmas photo-ready.

Last year, the first year in the condo, we welcomed the tree and accompanying Rubbermaid storage containers into our new reality. Though much appreciated, like an overbearing relative, the old tree demanded too much space.

This year, we enriched one’s child inheritance with the tree and bought a smaller, more “condo” friendly version. An upgrade for Charlie Brown but, for us, a profound symbol of loss. No scent of pine, only the funereal scent of mourning. Did I mention that my wife cries every time she looks in that direction? 

We are only a few steps into a changed life and the path feels foreign.

Within a Biblical framework, we are immersed in the discipline of repentance, a change in perspective and framework for how we evaluate “the good life.”

I never have particularly warmed to repentance, except, of course, when applied to other people or ecclesiastical, political or economic systems. Those guys REALLY need to repent!

Repentance carries a bad image. The caricature sketches a state of continual sacrifice.

Relinquishment plays a crucial but ultimately small part in the movie.

The Biblical word is metanoia.

Metanoia, repentance points to those moments of spiritual, personal, social and public liberation from pretending to be what we are not. 

In her reflection on the Benedictine way, The Monastic Heart, Joan Chittister writes that metanoia calls us to see and acknowledge life as it is and see ourselves as we are, not as we want other people to see us or to see ourselves.

We can lay down all that distracts us from life and whole relationships. 

Metanoia—conversion of life—is a transformative change of heart that leads to a new way of being alive. 

Repentance, metanoia, is meant as a gift, but the path can be challenging.

The first step over which we stumble is the acknowledgement of current reality.

For my wife and me, the hardest thing to lay down is our image of how our family life used to and, by implication, should still be. It becomes increasingly difficult to hide from the signs of changing lives even if we know well that we can no longer sustain many of the old ways.

Thomas Friedman, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist for the New York Times, attended the recent COPP gathering in Glasgow. He wrote this upon his return.

…There is still a huge gap between what scientists say is needed by way of immediately reducing use of the coal, oil and gas that drive global warming and what governments and business — and, yes, average citizens — are ready to do if it comes to a choice of heat or eat.
We need to stop deluding ourselves that we can have it all — that we can do foolish things like close down nuclear plants in Germany that provided massive amounts of clean energy, just to show how green we are, and then ignore the fact that without sufficient renewables in place, Germany is now back to burning more of the dirtiest coal. This moral preening is really counterproductive.

Repentance begins with the recognition that the old no longer works. 

I have often wondered why awareness that significant distress lies ahead is not enough for many of us. Addicts know that ever increasing doses rob them of life and most would gladly get off if they could. When the doctor says, “your weight is becoming a significant health issue” why do those of us who are obese not immediately run out and commit to a lifetime of salads?

Clearly, knowledge alone does not save. Knowing is not enough or else I, we, the church and the society would not continue as we do. Clearly awareness constitutes only the first step.

Mystery infuses repentance.

One thing I do know about repentance is that moments do come when such a turning is possible. Whatever the constellation of factors that align, moments emerge when the possibility of shedding the old becomes possible.

Identifying and maximizing those moments is the work of the Advent season.

The work of the Christmas season focuses upon the subsequent question. After relinquishment what should we welcome?

My wife and I stand ready to yield our new tree. As well-intentioned as it might be, it does not serve us and takes up the space needed for something better.

about the times  you faced that prompted a change in how you evaluate “the good life.”

1 Comment

  1. Thank you once again for this timely blog Keith. Metanoia is such a strong word, but has a lovely ring to the sound!
    I was at the John Albert Hall lecture at UVIC yesterday.
    One of the thoughts was of holding the paradox of HOPE and DESPAIR together.
    I think you have articulated this for our personal lives Keith. And how to make one more real than the other.
    I love your thought`-`to make space for something better`

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