“Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life … Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:24; 36)—Thus proclaims the theme for the First Sunday in Advent; its dire words startle, if anyone is listening

Like first-century Palestine, the setting for this mandate, our times are rife with turmoil, with reversals in values, with rampant greed, with untoward events that decry expression. Covert and overt oppression hold people hostage. Homelessness, actual or psychological, sours hearts. Indeed, whole cityscapes appear inert, frozen in toxic fears. And Black Friday’s madness launched the shopping craze until the eve of Christmas. This scenario, ramped up by devotees of Evil, continues emasculating spirit, year after year.

Yet there is another voice that rings through the centuries: ”Watch yourselves …” To heed its imperative toward conversion of life requires humility, prayer, and selflessness. Through the practice of these disciplines emerge stalwart hearts, clear vision, and unflinching truth. That’s what really matters.

But such disciplines are counter-cultural, many protest. I’d much rather hang out with my buddies at the bar or go shopping. That’s where real life happens.

Yet the challenge remains: to go apart, alone, in silence, and see whom we meet.

It works. It really does.

 

 

Advertisements

Like poets and priests, storytellers bridge the gap between the seen and unseen worlds. A Presence hovers over their tales, one that disturbs listeners. It’s all about conversion of life.

One such storyteller is Min Jin Lee, Korean American author of Pachinko, a finalist in the 2017 National Book Awards competition. For thirty years, she toiled over this novel that addresses the plight of Koreans living in Japan that began with Japan’s 1910 annexation. Stripped of their heritage, taxed and abused into starvation, their language trivialized into a dialect, their natural resources exploited, Koreans groveled for existence. To survive, many immigrated to Japan for work. After World War II they watched the continued psychic and physical dissolution of their homeland under the Soviet Union and America.

Against this backdrop of atrocities, Min Jun Lee places Yangjin and her daughter Sunja, peasants living outside the port city of Busan, Korea (South Korea today). These intrepid women, undeterred by the meanest toil and filth, inspire their families for four generations, from 1911 to 1989 as they eke out their existence in Osaka and other cities in Japan. Decades of accommodation fail to deter their spirits.

The more I reflect upon the selflessness of Yangjin and Sunja, the sweeter they become. Their portrayal by Min Jin Lee challenges my narrow understanding of woman and my prejudice/uneasiness around third world people. There’s much to learn in this gripping story.

 

Like a cunning lover, last week’s snowfall wooed autumn’s dismantling within the rigors of winter: Leafy branches sported white overcoats; spindly shrubs stooped in supplication; fence posts peaked with medieval turrets. A solitary cardinal flashed toward a neighbor’s woodshed, then alighted and preened like a celebrity caught within the blitz of paparazzi. From a snow mound poked the handle of a red wagon. Flurries outlined swirls of breezes that fashioned ghostly images upon the asphalt street and tousled the green muffler flapping around the snowman’s neck nearby. Only random cars moved about.

All was still: Its pregnant hush evoked an OH! The first morning of creation must have felt like that.

Such OHs burst with silence, trip breathing, balloon joy, and open onto the companioning Sacred within our depths. Yet a tinge of sadness lingers in their wake, such OHs! so fleeting and evanescent. Would that we could hold onto them. That being said, we can still watch for them and give thanks when experienced.

And this year, do watch for OHs! around Thanksgiving tables, graced with family and friends. Go beyond well-worn traditions and bring something new: a new dish, a new prayer, a new listening.

“Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Available on Amazon

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: