Archive for December 23rd, 2013

imageThe Eve of the Eve of Christmas

I’ve never been good with deadlines, and I suspect I have a lot of company on this.  Like most people, I’m ambitious to get things done.  I’m also eager to help others, and I hate to disappoint them by dodging pleas for help.  So I usually agree to most requests, especially when the due date is weeks or months away.

But deadlines have a way of becoming larger than life.  I know only a few people who finish tasks well before the due dates, and I know for a fact that they are certifiably insane.  Plus, they don’t have much else to do except finish things on time.  For most of us, however, deadlines aren’t called that for nothing.  They produce all the anxiety that people face as they step up to the block for beheading.  It’s not a nice feeling.

There is something positive to be said for deadlines, however, because they can engender some genuine creativity.  Two days before I have to leave on a big trip I usually cram in a month’s worth of work.  On the day before an article is due I will suddenly take on a host of projects that I have no business doing.  And who hasn’t started spring housecleaning when Christmas cards should have gone out the day before?  Everyone knows the result.  Tension escalates, panic sets in, and we wonder where the last two months have gone.  Why did I fritter all that time away?  For me that is one of the great mysteries of life, and someday I expect a full accounting from God.  Why was I hard-wired to be this way?

imageAll this brings me to the eve of the eve of Christmas.  I started Advent with the best of intentions.  I had a nice list of things I wanted done; and while I won’t itemize them for public consumption, it’s enough to say that nothing got done.  To be frank, I have little to show for Advent, unless you include growth in age and wisdom.  Once again I know more about myself now than I did at the beginning of Advent.  But I had hoped for much more.

So what in the world should we do with the last day before Christmas Eve?  Like most everyone else I expect once again to run around frantically trying to get too many chores done.  No surprise there.  But it has also dawned on me that doing a little less may be a good way to slide through the hours before Christmas.

Perhaps one way to prepare for the great Silent Night is to reserve some time for silence and reflection, if for no other reason than to lessen the shock of the big day.  It won’t kill me to sit still for ten minutes and absorb the sounds around me.  It won’t make me any less efficient to take a moment to contemplate the frenzy around me.  At the very least, for one golden moment, I can indulge myself in the thought that “there but for the grace of God go I.”

imageBeyond the pleasure of peace, a moment of reflection can also give perspective on life.  There’s no way we’ll get everything done that we’ve planned to do for Christmas.  And there’s a good chance that we will be so caught up in the hoopla of the day that we will miss the beauty of the moment entirely.  So why not sit down and sort the sheep from the goats on our Christmas to-do lists?  It might not hurt; and it might very well help us get through the day with a bit of joy.

So what I’ve decided to inscribe on my eve of the eve of Christmas to-do list may need only a small piece of paper.  First, I’m going to listen to a bit of Christmas music and force unfinished business out of my brain.  Then I’m going to think for a moment about all those people on whom I depend for friendship and support.  I’m also going to leave some space on the list for one or two people who could benefit from an encouraging word from me over Christmas.  And I’m also considering one or two random acts of kindness, if for no other reason than to keep some people wondering what I’m up to.

imageFinally, even before the big deadline of Christmas, I’m going to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the Christmas event.  The good news of Christmas — and it really is good news — is that Christ comes at Christmas to walk with us and help us put in order our to-do list.  Of course he comes every day to do that, but generally I’m too busy to notice until the deadlines loom large.  That’s a great lesson to learn, especially at Christmas.  At Christmas all other tasks can wait, and rightly so.


+It may come as a surprise to some, but the hours leading to Christmas are very busy in the monastery.  Besides music practices and walk-throughs for participants in the various liturgies, there is decoration to be done, as well as the clean-up that goes with it.

imageWe get down to real business at 7:30 pm on the 24th, when the community processes into the church for the vigil of Christmas.  This is part of the liturgy of the hours, and not to be confused with the Mass, which comes later.  At 9:30 pm there is a concert of sacred music in the church, and at 10 pm Abbot John presides at the Christmas Eve Mass.

For those monks who are too wired to go to bed after all that, there are two options for refreshment.  In the formation floor recreation room there is chili and beer.  On my own floor there is coffee and cake.  The mere thought of chili at midnight leaves me cold; so after a bite of cake I’m off to bed.

Christmas day begins at 8 am with morning prayer, and the community Eucharist takes place at 10 am.  This  year Prior Tom will preside; while Fr. Nathaniel, pastor of the Collegeville parish, will preach.

imageAt noon we gather for midday prayer, after which comes a festive meal in the refectory.  Mercifully, evening prayer comes early, at 5 pm.  Thus ends Christmas Day in the monastery.  Then, on December 26th, life returns to normal; and we get back to the daily tasks, as Novice Nick demonstrates with his snow shovel.

+The Christmas season is rich in musical tradition, and in the past three posts I’ve given links to music from three rather traditional English choirs.  Last year I recommended the Christmas album of a group named Libera, and I still do.  They have toured widely and have fans around the world, and rightly so.  Their rendition of the Carol of the Bells is a delight, and the little surprise at the very end is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.  It will warm  the most stony of hearts!

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