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Oh how I miss punctuation. I really do; and it’s fallen into disuse as of late. Actually, it’s been falling out of favor ever so slowly since the Enlightenment, though we have not really taken notice. And now we are the lesser for it.

To express a pause in a sentence, designed to allow for breath to be regained, we normally use something called a “comma.” The comma is designed to provide some balance between our breathing and talking, maintaining the rhythm of our speech and reading, “for the long haul.” Without the comma, we would reach a point of exhaustion, drained of the energy to continue much longer. Or at the very least we would be out of breath by the time we reached the end.
Commas are necessary in our sentences, and in our day.

Linguistics calls a period a “full stop.” The full stop is designed to break complete thoughts into inclusive parts, giving us time to digest what has just been presented to us before we move on. These sentences are then grouped with other like-minded sentences into unified paragraphs. When we approach a full stop, we stop completely; we take a breath; we move on; ideally after we’ve absorbed what we’ve just passed through. Thus, rhythm is maintained, and we’ve grown a bit from our experience.

Punctuation marks are key. A mark of exclamation shows us how to respond to what has just occurred; as does a mark of question. The colon is similar to Christ’s introductory “Amen, Amen, I say to you.” In other words, “Listen up! What follows is important and explains something.” The long lost semi-colon continues what was said before, and builds upon it.

We know not when to pause, and when to break; when to catch our breath, or when to stop completely. In the hustle and bustle of existence, how could we possibly know when to put a comma into our daily plan? How do we know when a full stop is in order? We live our lives in run-on sentences, adding and deleting its punctuating elements at will and whim, to our own detriment. This could be why every sudden turn becomes an exclamation mark.

We are living a “sentence,” and only the person living it can determine which meaning of that word is being used.

The lovely white petals
dance down through the air
as the lover’s embrace
caresses his hair.

“This rose was for you”
he whispered in tears,
“I gave you my life.
I lived without fear.”

“My son,” she breathed softly,
and that was all that he heard.
“My son,” was fulfilment.
“My son,” was the Word.

Believing in Myself

Very popular on television today are “reality” shows, famous for not showing reality as most of us know it. At the top of the heap are the shows that showcase some sort of talent, whether it be singing, dancing, or any myriad of things called “something else.” I guess what draws popularity to these shows is the fact that for every exceptional talent presented on the stage, there are, it appears, hundreds of contenders who could best be described as hopeful.

What draws my own attention, though, is that interspersed among the talent are the hopefuls who reject any criticism of their performance. Criticism is a good thing, because it allows us to shape and structure and hone in on our talent, and become better at what we enjoy doing. Too often criticism is either presented poorly or seen as a personal attack, but such a defense mechanism can only weaken our foundation even more. Being secure enough to accept and acknowledge our weakness just might be a disappearing virtue. Most striking however, are the aggressive words spoken in a defensive posture at least once an episode: “I believe in myself.”

Like fingernails dancing vibrato down the length of a chalk-board, such thoughts are the real story behind the popularity of reality television. Is believing in myself really all I need to do to be good at something? Would believing in myself cause me to ponder why you don’t like my solo rendition of “Carol of the Bells”?

There is a tremendous difference between being strong enough to accept our frailty, and being too frail to admit to its possibility. It is the chasm of the cosmos, and while it makes for attractive television, it makes for a sad and stunted reality.  While these hopefuls may believe in themselves, you and I believe in Christ.

Gifts

There are two parts to every gift giving: the giver and the receiver. This much is most obvious. But what is less obvious are the subtleties behind the offering: the giver offers the gift, and then lets go of any attachment to it; and the receiver can either accept or reject the gift. The impact of the reaction of the receiver is in direct proportion to the amount of attachment the giver has to his gift.

In the Christian life, all we are asked to do is offer a gift: the gift of patience; of forgiveness; of kindness; of asking for pardon for wrongdoing; and so on. What the other does with that gift is out of our hands and between that person and God. The peace we offer could either be accepted with graciousness or rejected wholeheartedly. If it is accepted, we have inched our way toward Bethlehem. If it is rejected, we know, His peace will come back to us.

We must remember that Christ never, even once, asks for or expects our success: only that we care enough to try to offer glimpses of the Kingdom to another. All He asks of us is that we offer that gift.

The Widow’s Might

I heard an interesting comment yesterday from a parishioner in a former parish of mine: all his disposable cash was gone because of this current recession, and he has to cut back due to the downsizing of his regular paycheck. He is most grateful that he still has a job that allows him to support his family while some of his friends have lost their jobs and are very much concerned. My prayers are with him and with all who find themselves caught and anxious in this time of crisis.

I don’t think there is, nor has there ever been, such a thing as “disposable cash.” We have to provide for all of our necessities, such as utilities, food, car payments, etc., as well as what it takes to raise our children and save for our retirement. Anything above and beyond what we truly need, is extra. While this statement may appear a bit too detached and possibly aloof, I have heard many a parent complain to me about a 3 percent increase in parochial school tuition, while sitting in their fully decked-out Lexus SUVs. When we have not yet taken stock of our priorities, it is easy to become outraged and/or frightened as our comfort level becomes challenged from its accustomed height.

What we do with that “over and above” is highly dependent upon the depth of our prayer life. Both my parishes’ food distribution programs have almost doubled in participants within the last eight months, and contributions in support of these programs has decreased somewhat in proportion. Have we truly been giving from our heart? Or have we been giving from our stores? Could a spirit of generosity that is held back because of fear still be called open-hearted? Is our frail relationship with God in perilous danger of being embarrassed by a small widow with her might?

Joy

Picture a timeline, from the beginning of time to the end of time. Insert into that timeline some various key moments of history, whichever you may choose. Somewhere in the middle of that timeline insert the One Event called the Incarnation.

Now take that timeline and raise that Event to form a kind of triangle, with the Incarnation at its apex, and it is easier to see how Christ’s Death and Resurrection bleeds down through the past and into the future. That One Event is for all time and runs through all time.

Christ conquered sin, destroyed death, and gave Peter the Keys. Death has been destroyed, sin has been destroyed, and so now they are simply puffs of air: meaningless and inconsequential. The only power sin has in our lives is the power we give over to it through the slow process of temptation. We offer up our own self control, ever slowly, until we have no more and cave in. We use the correct words to describe the experience of sin: “I fell”; “I caved”; “I gave in.” Of course we fall: we’ve given up so much power over to sin through temptation that we can’t even stand on our own two feet anymore. But we must at some point ask ourselves to whom are we giving our power. Certainly nothing holy. It’s a pretty bad way to tithe.

The real depth of Joy at Christmas is that we celebrate that One Event of our redemption. What sustains our Joy is believing in Christ to the point of laughing at and dismissing temptation when it comes.

Time

When we were children there were twenty-four hours in each day. At some point in time, possibly during the 1970’s gas crisis, the total number of hours in each day was reduced drastically. Our day now has only 24 hours. From the luxury of having twenty-four in each day (aah, those were the days), we now have to make do with just the twenty-four hours that we have now.

At what point did we begin to say that we “had no time”? How is it possible that we are we running out of it? We’re simply doing too much within the span of time we are given within a day. When was the last time we actually noticed, stopped and looked at and pondered, the anomalies in the flower-bed we walk along; the subtleties of leaf-color just above our heads; the lines on our loved one’s face that weren’t there before? We couldn’t. We had soccer practice.

Why is it now the “cool thing” to rob ourselves of the enjoyment inherent in the smile of the girl at the checkout counter? We’re often too busy to appreciate the fact that all day long she stands there looking at nothing but haggard faces eager to leave, and still she manages to offer a smile and a pleasantry; there are just too many people who don’t. And we may be among them.

It is certainly the “cool thing” to be busy each moment of the day: we carry our cell phones at the ready, offering escape from the possibility of real, human interaction; the kind that allows us to grow ever more slightly in our understanding, appreciation, and love for each other. Yes, of course cell phones are a necessity today. Mankind was on the brink of collapse until they came along and brought us happiness.

The real issue is the fact that we simply cannot pray unless we are relaxed. And we cannot relax when we’ve cluttered up our lives, escaping in busy-ness. We may have become so intimate with stress that we are comfortable with the discomfort and urgency it brings; and we pronounce the words of an addict as our anxiety rises and we can see no way out.

But with all that we accomplish in a day, have we prayed? A more pertinent question may be, “How would I rate the sincerity of my prayer when I do pray?” A lifestyle of haggard activity just might remove sincerity and peace from our prayer, because we have to get it over with and go buy milk. It may be helpful (and frightening) to ponder that St. Francis of Assisi considered complexity a sin.