At this time of the Christian year, worship services feature narratives that stretch credulity to the limit. Whether the stories star hayseed shepherds confronted by hosts of glittering angels or desert pilgrims watching something like a dove descend upon a man in a river as a voice from heaven calls him “son,” this is the season of beholding things beyond belief.
If you are like me, you dread one essential part of Christmas celebrations: gift-giving. My problems start with shopping. To give, you have to shop, but for me shopping is disturbingly disorienting, especially at Christmas. With all the glitzy stuff staring at me from everywhere I can’t figure out what I like (let alone what I like and can also afford).
In the absence of a real, live spiritual director, I often turn to the Desert Fathers for wisdom about living a holy life on earth. My farm is no desert, but enough happens here for me to understand St. Anthony’s reply to the philosopher who asked him how he could be happy without books.
Cloistered monks and nuns rarely make headlines, especially if they are paragons of the hidden life, but the recent passing of Dame Felicitas Corrigan of Stanbrook Abbey near Worcester, at age 95, has caused a stir in the British press.
As I sat in a South African retreat center, I was struck by the differences between the two church leaders who were speaking. One is a well-known retreat leader, a contemplative person who stresses the importance of the deep, inward journey of the soul with God.
Asra Q. Nomani found it impossible to mourn the loss of her dear friend and colleague, Danny Pearl. Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was beheaded in 2002, purportedly by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. After attending his 2012 arraignment at Guantánamo for the World Trade Center attacks, Nomani asked psychologist Steven Stosny the question she had long avoided: “What is grief?” “It’s an expression of love,” he told her. “When you grieve, you allow yourself to love again.” “How do you grieve?” she asked him. “You celebrate a person’s life by living your life fully,” he replied (Washingtonian, January 23, 2014).