Advent: Hope (A Surprise)

Advent catches me off guard every year. Today, I found it in the Book of Mormon.

Advent catches me off guard every year. Maybe because it is a solitary sort of observance for me, as neither my son nor husband are particularly interested in it (they have other, less formal, ways of keeping their focus on Christ this time of year), or maybe because I expect it to start later than it does, or maybe because I’m always a little unaware of myself in relation to the passage of time. Regardless, right about the time of year I start thinking, “Gosh, is it dark already?” Advent arrives. Appropriate, no?

A few friends of mine posted their Advent lighting on Sunday. I thought, “Ah, it’s that time of year, of course.” I had forgotten, as usual. It was a pleasant surprise. My friends are observing “hope” this week. They’ve all had pretty difficult things happen this year (2016, you are the worst), and seeing them reflect on the virtue of Hope this week was inspiring. So I gave their posts a little thumbs up and moved on.

Today, I was surprised by advent during my scripture reading. I thought it might be nice to study some accounts of the Savior’s birth, and I encountered hope there. I don’t know why I was surprised by it. It’s right there in the song: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” I mean, it’s not scripture, but it’s close, right? But I had forgotten, as one does. Majesty and humility, I remembered, glory, joy, and salvation, but hope slipped my mind entirely. As it does.

Anyway, today I read the account of Christ’s birth as related in the Book of Mormon, in the first chapter of 3 Nephi. The Christians are having a rough time. The people around them think they’re bonkers. A while back, a prophet went around saying Christ would be born by a certain time, and here were all these signs that he was going to be born. The signs appeared, but not THE sign. So the unbelievers mocked, which would be bad enough, except then they decided that if THE sign had not appeared by a certain date, they were just going to kill all the followers of Christ. Na na na na boo boo, I guess.

So their leader, Nephi, is distressed. Things are looking grim. He pours out his soul in prayer. We aren’t given his words, but I’m sure you can imagine what they might be like. I’m sure we’ve all had similar prayers. I’m guessing it was something along the lines of “Please oh please oh please help,” maybe mixed with, “I don’t understand,” and “Why is this happening to us when we have done everything you said?” I’ve prayed all of those prayers.

And Christ comes to him, as He always does, and offers Nephi hope. “Lift up your head and be of good cheer,” He says, “for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world.” Which, now that I think about it, is basically what He always says: “Don’t worry, I’m coming.”

And guys, get this: THE sign? Is a night with no darkness. How perfect is that? How appropriate and fitting, that the Light of the World should be signified by literal light? In addition to the new star in the heavens, this light brightens the whole Nephite city. “For behold, at the going down of the sun, there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.”

And this is the promise and the hope Christ leaves with us, that when our Night comes, we can be filled with Light instead of Darkness. Even though the people in the Book of Mormon had been told what to expect, when the sign came, many of them fell to earth, just dropped dead (but not actually dead) from the shock of it. Hope surprises us. It surprises us by showing that the Lord keeps His promises. It surprises us by keeping watch with us all night long. It surprises us simply by showing up, an unexpected friend at a rather dull and uncomfortable party.

Hope isn’t going to sneak up on me again this year, though. I know it’s there now. Shepherds, wise men, Nephites all watched. I’m watching now, too.

Interrogating My Privilege

“See Fewer Posts Like This” is privilege.

Privilege is when people tell you they feel threatened, and you roll your eyes.

Privilege is when people tell you they have been attacked, and you tell them they deserved it.

Privilege is when people tell you their life is hard, and you tell them its their own fault.

Privilege is when you are presented with irrefutable evidence that someone has been treated unjustly,

and you ask what they did to provoke the injustice.

Privilege is when someone says they don’t feel safe, and you tell them to stop talking.

Privilege is when you see someone suffering, and you cross the street.

Privilege is when someone is outraged over being treated unjustly, and you change the subject.

Privilege is when someone tries to explain to you, to prove to you, to share with you, their oppression and

you pull back a little

you curl your lip

you make that scoffing noise in the back of your throat

you sigh.

“Here we go again,” you think.

“So gauche.”

“Impolite.”

Privilege is being able to do all of those things, because it’s not your reality.

Privilege is thinking you’re not privileged, because you worked hard to get where you are.

Honey, we’re all working hard.

Privilege isn’t having an easy life.

Privilege is having the luxury to pretend everyone’s life is as hard as yours.

I am extraordinarily privileged.

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I don’t want to have to explain or define privilege myself, so here’s the best explanation of privilege I’ve ever read.

A Test of Charity

Paul describes minding your own business as an act of charity. Maybe this will help us through the remainder of the political season.

Y’all, it’s rough out there. I know I’ve blogged about this recently, but it bears repeating. Regardless of the outcome, this election season has already revealed the worst in ourselves to each other. I have never heard so much spite and vitriol; I have never used so much spite and vitriol. How do we live with each other after all this? I have totally lost respect for so many people– people who are good and kind and thoughtful, people who I love. I can’t just “unfriend” the world. Diversity of thought is essential. But yikes– some of those thoughts, it turns out, are pretty repellent. This is the danger of listening, I suppose.

I do think it’s important to listen, though, and I do think it’s important to live in community with people who are different from you. Paul, with whom I have a complicated relationship, advocates minding your own business, and calls this an act of charity. Never have I ever thought of charity in that way, though now that it has been brought to my attention, I can think of many people I know who do this. There is certainly a time to stand up for what you believe is right, butapparently there is also a time to hush and let people do what they’re going to do. It is unkind to tempt people to hate you, reasons Paul. Romans 14 (KJV with JST)* offers his good advice, and I liked it so much, I decided to go ahead and include most of it here. Paul speaks specifically of faith and religious observance, but I think it applies to any of the spheres in which we make decisions and act.

“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth [vegetables].Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

“He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. . . .

“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. . . . Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion ot fall in his brother’s way. I know, and am persuaded bu the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, thou walkest not charitably if thou eatest. Therefore destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.”

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*For people who care about such things, the above reference is Romans 14:1-7,10,13-15. Like most Mormons, I use the King James Version. JST = Joseph Smith Translation. In this case, JST alters a little of verse 15, mostly for clarity it seems. I used “vegetables” in place of “herbs” because I thought it was clearer and made more sense, and a footnote told me it was an acceptable translation from the Greek.

Apparently This Is A Book Blog

Here’s what I’m reading. I’d sure love it if you joined along.

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis

Christakis takes on the problem of early childhood education in America, and shows how even those most well-meaning teaching philosophies are difficult to implement. She demonstrates the drift between what children need to learn, and what our educational standards assess. Compassionate and personable, Christakis draws on decades of personal experience in her consideration of what early childhood education ought to embrace. I’m about halfway through it now, and so far I have found it more validating than informative, but I am enjoying her discussion regardless.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

This involves a witch and an engineer and the end of the world and high school friends reunited. Count me in.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Posthumously published, Kalanithi reflects on his experience with lung cancer and a fully lived life. Keep the Kleenex (and reading journal) handy.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I must be the only English-reading person over the age of 10 who hasn’t read this book yet. Time to fix that. I know there is a lot of controversy about this book and its authors, but one thing at a time.

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni

A literary mystery novel in which the environment plays a huge part (I am told).

No Good Men Among the Living  by Anand Gopal

A journalist’s analysis of how the United States contributed to the return of the Taliban, told through the lives of three Afghan individuals.

Time to Listen

I sort of gave up blogging for a while (could you tell?) for reasons that seem self-pitying when I say them out loud. Other people have more erudite and entertaining things to say about books and reading and literacy and the Arts and all that. They have bigger audiences, too. The Internet is just so loud, you know? So many voices, so many words.Why add to the cacophony? I was interested in what other people were saying. I wanted to learn more about what they thought. I stopped talking so much, and started listening and reading more.

While I was not blogging, I noticed a lot of people are experiencing terrible things. Perhaps you have noticed this, too–ISIL, refugees, shooting tragedies.  It’s like there’s this Club of Sorrows, and we’re watching people get inducted en masse. Except it’s not a club, it’s just humanity, and while it is happening to a lot of people, it is happening on an individual level. One person made a choice, and another person made a choice, and another person, and another person, and now there’s blood and bombs everywhere, and it feels sooooo big, like, “Who is even in charge here?” These tragedies, they feel bigger than us, but the fact is, they are made of us. We are the victim and the violent both.

There are plenty of people experiencing more quotidian cruelties, too. Poor health, loneliness, poverty, relationship dysfunction– these are real, painful problems as well, even if they are more common. I’ve heard a lot of crying this year.

I’ve been watching our trainwreck political year, too. I can’t blame anyone but myself for this, and neither can you. The kind of rhetoric that has led us to this point first creates, then disdains, then demonizes a political Other, and we have all engaged in this. Gleefully. Vindictively. My six year old knows it’s unkind to call people names. My six year old knows it is not ok to make people feel bad about themselves. Why is it so easy for us adults to conditionalize these rules? If someone is an awful person (whatever that means), and you call them one, you’ve just made yourself an awful person, too, because now you are a person who calls people names. When people are wrong, when people are participating in morally reprehensible things, I think it’s entirely appropriate to speak up. In fact, I think it is one’s moral obligation. Part of being a good human means easing and preventing human suffering, and in protecting the weak, and standing up to injustice. This does not require being unjust ourselves, however, or unkind.

It is unkind, you know, to label and to dismiss each other. Even if I find my neighbor’s political opinions deeply offensive, I still have to live next to her.  I can live next door while hating her, of course, but what does that really do for me? I believe I’ve been cautioned about hating my neighbor, actually, and I know I can’t love her if I’m busy calling her names. Instead, I have tried to ask questions and pay attention. Where is this vitriol coming from? What are we all so afraid of? It’s time to embrace vulnerability and trust each other a little more– which looks like insanity on the surface, because guns are REAL, yo, but I’m talking about small bids for trust. When my Dad posts something on facebook that I find repulsive*, I should ask him about it rather than simply blocking him from my newsfeed. Learning and love both happen in conversation, not by ostracization or isolation.

I quit blogging for a while, and started listening. This is the duty of the privileged, I think, and I am a privileged person. It is a balm to those who suffer as well, I think– to be heard, to hear others, to share our pains with each other. It is a blessing to be understood, even if people still disagree. I think we can treat each other better than we have, friends. Whatever horrors the future holds, we will handle them better if we handle them together.  We begin that best by listening.

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*My actual Dad has never done this. Just, y’know, for example.

Happy birthday, Shakespeare!

451 years ago this month, William Shakespeare was christened in Stratford-upon-Avon, so here is a poem to commemorate his birth.

I love this sonnet. The gist is, “Words can’t describe how beautiful you are, or how much you mean to me.” It reminds me of Darcy’s reply to Elizabeth’s accusation, that “A man who felt less might [say more].” As someone married to a relatively silent man, I know firsthand that a person can feel deeply but say little. In fact, I’ve grown so used to watching what my husband does that I almost distrust what people say. A man with a glib tongue and a quick compliment arouses my suspicion, not my approval. And although Shakespeare is known for his ability to turn a clever phrase, in the face of love, we are all tongue-tied. Anyway, enjoy.

Sonnet 83

I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set.
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
The barren tender of a poet’s debt.

And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.

This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb.
For I impair not beauty, being mute,
When others would give life and bring a tomb.

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.

The Moment Eternal

I love, love, love this poem by Robert Browning. Happy Weekend!

Now
by Robert Browning

Out of your whole life give but a moment!
All of your life that has gone before,
All to come after it, –so you ignore,
So you make perfect the present,–condense,
In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,
Thought and feeling and soul and sense–
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me–
Me– sure that despite of time future, time past,–
This tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!
How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet–
The moment eternal–just that and no more–
When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!