Friday, December 5, 2008

Children in December

If you wait, God will manifest Himself.
—Thomas Keating
Cistercian priest and monk (Explorefaith Advent Calendar)

If you have ever taught school, you know what happens to children in December. People blame it on the commercial frenzy of Christmas, but I think December's wildness would be there even if not a single gift were exchanged. There’s something entirely too magical about an approaching solstice. The air grows taut with anticipation. The days turn either magically long or magically short. At both ends of the year, light takes on an intoxicating quality. In a Northern Hemisphere winter, the sun hangs low, golden and slanting. Sunset and sunrise stain the horizon in fantastic colors. Dense mists hover close to the ground. The moon stays out for hours. In the summer, the light lasts so long it is as if life will last forever.

Deep seasons evoke wonder and children are nothing if not expert at wonder. Children express wonder when they blow smoke rings with their breath, when they squeal at the twinkling ring of lights around the lake, when they grow rapt at a flight of cormorants casting shadows upon magenta waters, when they burst into peals of silly singing.

We teachers tear our hair as our students turn cartwheels in the classroom, as they sit so vividly rapt in their daydreaming that even when I call their names they do not hear me. We blame it on the commercial frenzy, but this year, when the economy has tanked and no one has the slightest idea what the next commercial move can even be, the children are still singing and spinning and lighting up every room they enter.

As their chaplain, I do not need to teach them about excitement, but I do need to teach them patience. December may be exciting, but it is also about learning how to wait. To wait for the light. To wait for the whisper of love in the middle of the night. Wonder is too fragile to trust to mere chance. In too many cases, by the time the holiday finally arrives, the children are so overdosed on sugar plums that it becomes an ordeal rather than a celebration.

As Thomas Keating said above, to meet God is to practice patience. About trusting that the party will come and savoring way to the feast. About allowing the fragrance of the holy to waft across the ordinary tasks of the day, about sanctifying all those little things I take for granted.

All of which involves patience. “Keep awake,” says Jesus. “Keep awake.” The temptation of this season is to be so involved in my own dreams that I forget that God has an even more wonderful dream for me. "Keep awake." Even at the darkest time of the year, God will show the way.

No comments: