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At 6 A.M., I awoke with this moving dream:

It is Christmas night. My niece Beth has invited me for supper with her extended family and friends who have already arrived. Candlelight enhances the vaulted ceiling of the living room, its walls decorated with red velvet cutouts of the Nativity. Among the guests, a soprano, with a swarthy complexion, begins a carol and Beth joins her; their harmony enhances the God-within-us mystery, so palpable this night. In awe, we listen.

This dream lightened my spirit. Christmas night evokes the solemnity of the Christ-birth, suggests the dynamic of Incarnation ever at work in the universe, and reminds me of my end-time slowly dripping like an ice sickle onto the earthen path below.

In Jungian terms, my niece Beth corresponds to my positive shadow: gifts that I do not see in myself that await discovery and development. Happily, some have surfaced, thanks to long months of solitude and prayer since the November 2019 diagnosis of my terminal illness: deeper access to words—building blocks afforded from the Sacred within; deeper appreciation for exactly the way my life has unfolded; and deeper acceptance of my mortality and anticipation for Eternal Life.

Within my psyche, the images of candlelight and the vaulted ceiling speak to the hush of Sacred space enveloping everyone: Hearts flare in communion. The red velvet cutouts of the Nativity seem to come alive, as Beth and her guest, with the swarthy complexion, sing the carol. Fresh awareness dawns: We are an integral part of this story, its wordless joy plunging us into sweetness.

We are loved, unconditionally.

Today’s observance of Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Instead of Christians receiving ashes traced upon their foreheads in the sign of the cross, the priest will sprinkle ashes on their heads while admonishing those gathered, Remember, that thou art dust and into dust shalt thou return. Since I’m moving ever closer to that dust, I wonder how the austerities of Lent originated. During my long life, significant changes occurred in 1963, with the publication of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Even lesser austerities are practiced today.

Research reveals that in 321 AD, the Council of Nicaea promulgated the practice of Lent for the universal Church. And St. Jerome (d. 420) and the church historian Socrates (d. 433) also assumed the apostolic institution of the forty days of fasting before the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

Further research into this question over ensuing centuries, however, reflects conflicts: the length of the fast, whether to fast on Saturdays and Sundays, amounts of food, when to eat, what to eat, where to fast—culminating in councils and official decrees filling libraries.

Such reveal the woeful grasp of the instinctual world of our humanness and of Jesus’s Kingdom living—found in the Eight Beatitudes, as well as in the Twelve Steps. Practicing any of them deflates egos and promotes humility and obedience of heart, antidotes for the Covid-19 scourge and for so much more. Such flowerings do occur, even during Lent, itself derived from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, meaning “Spring.” So no need to give up anything, instead, receive graced direction. It’s always there…

At 3:30 A.M., three glimpses into my psyche woke me: Christmas, Jane Schaberg, and ghettos. I had no recall of the dream story associated with these images, but chose to work with them.

Christmas, not in the sense of holidays with parties, gifts, and family gatherings, has always evoked rich associations with the Sacred, recognized and revered as a child. The Son-of-God-made-Man has companioned my efforts to incarnate in this existence, given my reluctance, from the womb, to do so. Gospel teachings, hidden within Twelve Step living, have opened me further to my humanness and still contributes to “the joy of living,” the result of practicing Step Twelve. When my end time comes, I will have substantive gifts to surrender to the Sacred. Today’s Christmas heartens me deeply.

My surprise in seeing Jane Schaberg (1938 – 2012) in my psyche also stirred me. I still remember her astounding insight of loving God with her whole mind, a passion that led her to advanced theological studies and worldwide attention for her biblical articles and books, all the while teaching at Detroit-Mercy University. I still hear the roar of her laughter as I write these lines. Another companion to help me along …

And ghettos, the third image that visited me in my dream—For decades, my work with home care elderly patients exposed me with ghetto living in New Orleans, Houston, and St. Louis where I had lived. From these spirits seasoned by poverty, poor health, backbreaking work, and other hardships, I leaned about acceptance, humility, and faith in God. Yet, my learning is far from finished as my impoverishment still rankles. This is working out …

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