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My seasonal routines differ from those of most Americans.  I do my best to avoid the aisles of tinsel, lights and other holiday bric-a-brac which begin popping up earlier each year.  I am thankful that Fall elections occur early in November, so any campaign activities in which I may be involved are well out of the way before the first Sunday of Advent.  The reason is that I want to avoid distraction from what is an important exercise for me each year.  My Christmas preparations are predominantly internal, and I cannot emphasize the word preparation strongly enough.  This year, it has been particularly difficult, on a very personal level.

I know that religion and faith are touchy subjects around here, and I usually avoid commenting or diarying on them at all cost.  But to the extent that DKos is truly a community of which I am a part, I cannot shy away from who I really am, and what is truly important to me, especially at this time of year.  So here goes.

It would be so much more convenient (and ever so much less painful) if I could neatly sort out the various aspects of my life into neat packages.  There would be the political "me" who has spent most of my adult life working for candidates and causes supporting a vision of America where justice, peace and prosperity are more universally enjoyed.  Those who met me in that context would have no notion of the other "me" who is pursuing (albeit imperfectly) a spiritual path, steeped in deep traditions and profound legends, which involves considerable contemplative exercise, and yes, no small amount of mysticism and even dogma.

And so it is that the month of Sundays which precede Christmas are a time for me to look deep within my heart, and make certain that I have not so filled it with meaningless clutter, longstanding regrets and selfish longings that even light of the brightest dawn is prevented from piercing its darkness.  And as much as one might wince at the sound of words like "sin," I cannot but see the process of ridding myself of those things which hinder my unity with the world around me and the people which inhabit it as an ongoing one of redemption.

As a monastic and a priest, I have the luxury of spending more time on the mountaintop than those whose secular responsibilities necessarily demand more of their time and attention.  But neither can I live exclusively on the peak.  There are the poor to attend to, and the hungry, and the oppressed.  And this year, in particular, there has been politics.  As the Summer of Teabaggers stretched past autumn, the controversies kept calling me away from the essential work of self examination and personal growth.  This has been exacerbated by the fact that my health has been poor, and I have been stretching myself to my limits to care for my ailing mother.

And there are personal demons challenging my ability to keep my footing.  My deteriorating health required my first reducing my professional work to part-time, and then to go to a full leave of absence.  I grapple with what it means to be a priest with no current flock, and struggle with my sense of personal identity absent the work on the streets with outcasts and marginalized individuals of every conceivable variety.  I starve for lack of seeing the divine in their eyes, their struggles, their inherent dignity, and their triumphs.  I long to witness such miracles again.

Though more difficult a task than in years past, I still turn my attention to the legends of my Faith for nurture and sustenance.  I see a star rising in the sky heralding a birth which shall be accompanied by the sound of trumpets and the songs of angels bidding, "Peace on Earth, and Goodwill toward All."  I pray that I have made adequate room in my heart for it to be filled to overflowing with the joy of creation, and the fellowship of all who inhabit this mortal life with me.  And I am confident that there is grace sufficient to make up for any insufficiency in my efforts toward that goal.

When this great festival of my religion has past, I will return my hand to the plow, refreshed and renewed.  I post this not to garner any appreciation or approval for these legends and practices from any of you who may read it.  I share it only so that you might understand how precious and vital they are to me.  This is who I am, and I am here to work with you to achieve equal justice and lasting peace in our land, and throughout the world.

Pax vobis.

John-Mark +

Originally posted to Hoc et quod on Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 02:28 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Christmas isn't much fun for me anymore. (5+ / 0-)

    Most Christians that I know are not progressive and that troubles me greatly.

    I see Jesus as one who taught and lived in such a way as to make the world more just and equitable. IMO most of the "conservative Evangelical Christians" see Jesus as a sacrificial lamb who justifies their selfishness and bigotry.

    I find myself asking if they and our culture wouldn't be better off without any of this religion stuff. Usually, I conclude that religion is a much a bigger problem than it is a solution.

    Then I counter argue with myself and realize that all of life's most important questions are as far as I can tell "religious."

    Questions like what is my obligation to my fellow man? What is justice and why is justice important? What is my obligation to the environment? IMO all of these questions and similar questions require more than reason to answer.

    The standard answer to those questions by conservative evangelicals as far as I can tell is that we don't have a social obligation to work for justice. That our current economic system and practices are the best they can be and that suggesting that our means of creating and distributing wealth ought to be altered is treason against nation and faith. Witness the current health care debate.

    IMO most conservative Evangelical Christians have no sense of responsibility to the environment when it comes to energy policy and global warming.

    So I have trouble with "the faith," because their "faith" used to be my faith. I was steeped in it.

    So when I hear Christmas songs and stories I get cynical. I feel like the faith is a fraud and only recognized when it is socially convenient.

    I used to be a believer with doubts, but now I consider myself more of doubter and less of a believer.

    God help me.

    Anyway that's why Christmas isn't fun for me anymore, because the faith is not comforting to me anymore.

    right now I feel "the faith" is either untrue or so grossly misunderstood and misrepresented that our society is better off without it.

    Merry Christmas.

    We shall overcome, someday. Yes we can.

    by Sam Wise Gingy on Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 03:25:01 PM PST

    •  Sam, Have you ever been to a Midnight Mass at a (4+ / 0-)

      Catholic church, preferably an old church with an intimate atmosphere and lots of stained glass?

      If you have a chance some year, you should treat yourself to that experience with a mind that tries to come in blank, with no preconceptions, just a longing for love and truth.

      Kick FDL off the rec list.

      by Timaeus on Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 03:35:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's that whole blank mind thing (3+ / 0-)

        There is a life time of experience with the faith. I am seeing "the faith" work itself out in our society, and it is not pretty.

        We shall overcome, someday. Yes we can.

        by Sam Wise Gingy on Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 03:38:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If one can overlook... (5+ / 0-)

          the seemingly direct connection to a Marxist notion of religion as an "opiate for the masses," which is not at all what I intend...

          I view condemnation of religion "as it works itself out in our society" as including plenty of examples which are most definitely "not pretty."  But this judges a thing by its abuses, not unlike suggesting the world would be a better place if we were to eradicate opiates because of the myriad suffering which springs forth from addiction and black market criminality, ignoring the suffering which would be endured by those in pain if they were denied medicinal use.

          That religion used for demagoguery, financial gain, acquisition or preservation of power, etc., is unquestionably rampant, and just as unquestionably deplorable.  But by virtue of the fact that we are gathering here on a political blog, it is also a given that we are individuals who recognize the potential good that politics and good government can effect, despite the fact that politics is often (if not usually) used as a vehicle for just as heinous a set of ends as those we have cited as the result of religion.  We do not abandon the proper use of politics and governmental action because of its abuses.  Neither should we foreclose the possibility of religion being used to achieve positive change in this world.

          Growing up in a staunch conservative Republican family, I would never have heard of the struggle for civil rights or heard the calls for world peace which marked my earliest political awakening.  I heard them in Church, and it remains difficult for me to this day to extricate political philosophy from the teachings of my faith, they are so completely intertwined.

    •  I have found it not to be particularly... (3+ / 0-)

      useful, downright counterproductive in fact, to focus on the morality of the beliefs and practices of other Christians, as individuals or groups, whose understanding of the message of Christ (to put it mildly) differs substantially from my own.  I cannot examine their hearts and souls.  I have plenty to keep me occupied purging hypocrisy, egotism and selfishness from my own.  I think it may be a "motes and beams" thing.

      To be sure, there is considerable merit to comparative religion study to:

      (1) identify pitfalls so as to avoid them; and

      (2) discover the essential elements of other traditions which can prove enlightening (either for one's own path or for better understanding of others).

      But at the end of the day, it is within my own skin that I must live.

      •  How can I make assestments about my own path (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        and walk if I don't make them about others.

        In my own skin, I am asking myself what faith is and why. My religious background is conservative evangelical. If I am to continue on in the faith it will not be as a conservative evangelical. The problem is at yet I have no other faith.

        I am just as uncomfortable without faith as I was with the wrong faith; especially at Christmas time. The greatest issue in my faith is reconciling the "Christian practice" with "Christian teaching."

        We shall overcome, someday. Yes we can.

        by Sam Wise Gingy on Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 04:32:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wow. You have clearly identified a tough one... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          with which many of us have struggled.  It is indeed difficult to evaluate competing religious ideologies whilst avoiding the very judgmentalism which is so deeply a part of what we seek to escape.  I've been at it a long time, and I still have to work on that one.

          The tradition in which I was raised was also evangelical protestant, and in my early teens was pastored by increasingly more extremely fundamentalist ministers.  They led the congregation, and my family, further away from any interpretation of Scripture I could recognize as a valid expression of the Gospel.

          The irony, of course, is that I found myself harboring a malice in my heart towards them every bit as antithetical to the admonition to "love your enemies" as were the bigotries and prejudices I laid at their door (and not without considerable justification).

          The more I rid myself of my own judgmentalism, the more open I found myself to "that still small voice" within me, on which I could rely to guide me amongst the disparate claims to "The Truth(tm)."  I believe in that light which dwells within each of us... not in a purely humanist sense (nor to suggest that the quest for God is merely an exercise in self realization or worse, anthropomorphizing).

          It led me to seek an expression of the Faith which was consonant with the teachings of Christ, as I understand them, taking into account the common beliefs of Christians through the ages.  Your mileage may vary.  But you don't have to live with a God-shaped hole in your heart, if you don't want to.  And that's as close to evangelism or proselytism as I care to go in this venue.

  •  John Mark, may I ask if you are a (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk, jgilhousen, James Robinson

    Catholic priest or of a different denomination? Just curious.

    This is the warmest, brightest, most encouraging diary I've read all day. Thank you very much, and God bless you with your work and your health.

    For what it's worth, my own health is bad. I've had a difficult year in many ways. And we had to cancel our usual big Christmas celebration due to 30 inches of snow, icy roads, and other problems. We're not even sure we can make it to Mass for Christmas, because it's too dangerous to go out at midnight tonight, and there's another ice storm tomorrow morning. It's been a strange week.

    I admire and respect your discussion of self-examination and Advent very much! Thank you!

    Kick FDL off the rec list.

    by Timaeus on Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 03:32:35 PM PST

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