Glorious Morning Muffins

It was the start of a new day. With a cup of the best tea in the world, Taylors of Harrogate. All week long I had been eating “glorious morning” muffins. From Jerry’s Super Market.

taylor of harrogate tea I had chosen this day a mug I was given from the Jesuit Retreat House at DeMontreville. The mug was stained by the tea inside. Not badly. But often I had to work at it to remove the tea stain. It reminded me a bit of myself over the year. DeMontreville was the place where a lot of stuff happened quietly. On one weekend spent annually over the past 14 years, on retreat. And I ended up there by accident. I never knew that I was in for 72 hours of silence.

Even When He Is Silent.

The word “accident” is both statutorily and judicially defined, construed to mean an unexpected or unforeseen identifiable event or series of events happening suddenly, with or without human fault, and producing at the time objective symptoms of injury. For the purposes of this case study, the statutory definition is appropriate.

An accident? The synopsis was, based on credible testimony, something like he slipped from grace, fell in the mud or in some horrible pit, and felt a pull. In his groin, in this case, and the human race and humanity had been trying to recover ever since. Such is a sudden, unforeseen incident with objective signs of injury. The accident caused the pre-existing defect on the right side of a relationship, like in the groin to become symptomatic, requiring some kind of repair. And because of the surgical repair, the supplicant is limited in lifting and bending and has lost some ability to achieve all possible human potential.

In 1989 I had to spend some vacation days or lose them. I flew to London to Christmas shop. At this time of year I often recall the Saturday night I had dinner alone in a London restaurant. A couple was out dining at the next table. And a woman of about 30 was telling her significant other how much she hated Christmas. Hers had been a secular life. The UK was just slightly ahead of the United States as to where the world was moving. There was stress in her family. I now know a lot more people like her than I had at the time. But for her, the holidays were painful.  Stress, as defined, is not wanting to be in the place she would be spending time.

For me Christmas is an exciting time.  It was an accident for the most part. The original Christmas. Certainly this was an unexpected or unforeseen identifiable event, except to a handful of people. And my beliefs also are an unexpected or unforeseen identifiable event or series of events happening, based upon the environment where I grew up.  I had no real choice.  I have kept following what I was born in to.  Other people get knocked off horses.  Every baby is born suddenly, with or without human fault.  Without any belief.  Actually, I barely made it through that first day.  Life is like that.

When it came to belief in God, there are different degrees of witnesses, bystanders, participants. And I have come to hear of the pain in life, of those with doubts.  Whether there is a God. Those with doubts about people.  Those with doubts about themselves.  Those with doubts about Santa Claus.  Doubt.  Doubt had been the focus of the two people with an apple.  In the garden.  When I returned from the UK, I spent the Friday night before Christmas in a Chicago pub. Either Red Kerr’s or Jameson’s at the corner of Clinton and Adams.  Only this time I was with 3 coworkers, approaching the pain of Christmas.  One was an agnostic from Omaha.  Another a graduate of a Catholic high school and Northwestern University.  And the third, an Irish Catholic from Detroit, with a Jesuit education.  But the latter friend, the oldest guy present, had lost his faith.  And there had been voiced pain in his struggle as he approached the age of forty. And he wanted to discuss his own wrestling match with God.  Maybe because his struggle ostracized him from people he loved.

I have a long-time friend from high school who is going through the same struggle, though his faith struggle is accompanied by clinical depression.  He has dropped out of the social circles we had shared.  And in his case, it is painful to see the affect on relationships he had had since the age of 14.

Last night was the last curling match for 10 days. And last year’s skip came to substitute.  He is a retired school teacher.  With a parochial school education.  He said as the evening wore on that he wished he had had a public school education.  And it turned out that he was one of many at war with a God they once had believed in.  And his battle had started over the last 12 months.  The other Irish Catholic at the table, from the other team, was frightened by the discussion, departing the discussion expressing out loud his fear to extend a Merry Christmas.  The skip wanted to talk about it.  He said he goes to Mass with his wife, though he has started to watch at the communion. The skip, this friend, with great doubt, but who loves the church he still attends across the river… this friend with great belief in a political party, in social justice, and with great hope in the next president. But without really offering an answer “why.”

Why social justice, without belief?  Social justice without belief seemed to me superficial, like going through the motion.  Fleeting, not unlike castles built by the wealthy.  It seemed good at the time and then one day it was gone, with only images and stories left behind, for people who shared a generation or two.  A lot like haunted beauty.  Like good health.  Fleeting.  I asked him about the issue of evil in the world, about trust, about people like Mr. Maddoff, when you had no belief system to substitute what had once been there.

It is inevitable. Endings, that is.  The world had awakened in 2008.  What had we done with wealth?  The wealth that had all suddenly vanished?  Ended.  And now, what would we do with social justice?  And could we afford social justice in difficult times if we could not afford it over the last 20 years?  This was earth and, it seemed to me, no one could believe in perfection.

At the only time that the world pauses to celebrate God’s arrival, His is a struggle this year.  With doubt.  Men and their need for answers.  Sensitive men.  Was it anger over endings?  The end at retirement age is now visible and it had come so fast?

Of evil.  Of goodness.  Of music.  The mystery in people.  My skip had given up curling this season for singing in a choir.  He is still wrestling.  I am not sure how often he speaks about it to people.  He seemed to like the chance to talk.  And he chose this topic.

Men and their need.  To know the relationship between matter and gravity.  In sport.  Chasing the wisps of smoke.  In music.  Wanting to hold onto a note.  Wanting pure air.  As in days gone by. When there had been, in days of youth, belief.  Something solid.  Before residual soreness had set in.

So who is this God that my friends were looking for? Who had gotten this single girl pregnant?  Her name was Mary.  And only Mary really knew who was responsible.  Who could believe her? The divine?  Who could believe in His silent presence?  She needed a husband or she likely would have been stoned to death in those times.  What a lover!  Most girls would have left him right then. The divine.  Almost silently, God had visited.  Or sent an angel to explain.  An “immaculate” conception.  What a guy!  “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son. And you shall name him Jesus.”  And then!  And then in her 41st week of gestation, she had been forced by the Powers That Be to make a trip to Bethlehem.  The divine.  Always and everywhere.

This to a woman God had professed love.  Who was looking for a God like this?  For someone who had believed, looked what happened!  “Do not be afraid!”  The angel Gabriel is giving out such advice?  Where was God when you needed Him? Then almost silently to the world, the Messiah had come. A God who seemed to be Father, treating his own beloved during the pregnancy, in violation of the letter of the Hippocratic Oath where physicians do not deliver their own babies or treat family members. Not even in a decent room, for God’s sake! When induction of labor occurred, naturally. In damn Bethlehem. Not with any kind of warmth. In the dark. Joseph’s hands had to be cold, if he could see anything at all in what — if you have ever been there — is described as more a cave structure. (Because God had just really never made an appearance, until now?) In damn Bethlehem! Mary had to be thinking that. Look to where her belief in God had delivered. Damn Bethlehem. You did not hear many homilies criticizing God. That was why I loved Judaism. And Mary was a Jew. So this was some kind of demonstration of God’s love?

And it got worse. Just like the Passover story. Almost silently, the Messiah had come. And almost silently the Chosen People had better fly out of there. Like Passover, and those damn plagues. Mary and her new family had better take flight before the Messiah got too comfortable. It was as bad as getting kicked out of a hospital these days after any illness. Always. Everywhere. Unconditionally. To go about your routine was to too often ignore the prevalence of love in the course of the day.

No wonder these guys I knew had doubts in God. With no explanation of what was going on. Like the struggle of every young guy, trying to communicate something. God seemed to have His with a girl. Or the struggle every person has with belief in each other. Have you ever had to tell a girl you loved her? And in most cases, there was a damn good chance she did not believe you. And to tell a lover like God that you love Him? I always expected the same response. From God. From the girl. And if by some miracle you feel like you have developed some knowledge of this God, or the girl, well I still did not feel real confident in my profession of love. I somehow always feel like I have fallen short. In what I have done and what I should have done. That was the human condition. That was the male condition in any relationship. To feel you have come up short. And say some pretty dumb things.

It reminded me when I used this DeMontreville mug with the coat of arms of Ignatius of Loyola, that I needed space like a cave to go into, in retreat from the world. To think of some kind of an action plan. Just like when I went Christmas shopping. To think about what to buy. To think about what to say. Because I should have done more. But who would not have doubts? After what He asked of, what he did to Mary.

It was not so much a season of hope as much as it actually was a season of true love. I was at another place, another location. To tell a lover that you love him/her. With gifts that actually meant something. About the present times. About the lover. The one that you had come to KNOW. Even though the human condition was to feel like you have fallen short. Maybe because 10 million years after creation, after dealing with people all this time, even God had come to have doubts. But as in any relationship, an everlasting one, you kept celebrating. A true love. And you kept trying. With this tea and the “glorious morning” muffins. And with a desire for more. The human desire, a divine desire, for more.

Merry Christmas.

Religion Blogs

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

2 comments so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    Part of the festive and cheerful Christmas blogs:
    Christmas-connection tumblr.
    Christmas blog network.

  2. paperlessworld on

    from Irish poet Micheal O’Siadhail:

    …leaves half-roof the gap to form a pair
    and every bole and limb begins to dance;
    the universe’s light-fantastic prayer

    now lauds a wooer taking still a chance
    on just this cosmic ballet’s elegance
    where nothing is decided in advance,

    where hadrons jiggle in their resonance
    while galaxies bebop and flowers blaze;
    in cedars and wild animals I glance

    a daily choreography of praise.

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