Time, not our time

It is August 18. The summer is drawing to a close and, for those of us who are educators, September is dawning as a time of new beginnings, new mercies, new possibilities, new realities. It is also a time of renewed rhythms, rhythms of time put on hold during the summer, rhythms that can sometimes seem restrictive or less ours than the rhythms of summer. But as T.S. Elliott so famously wrote, no time is our time.

We like to think that time is ours, that we have some control over time. We are addicted to our planners and calendars. As educators, we feel most peaceful when our dayplans are organized and we have a clear vision for what is going to happen when. Even in summer, a less restrictive season of time, we often plan each moment of the day just as intensely as if we were working in a factory with a clock to punch and a quota of fun to fill. We so easily forget what the Psalmist is constantly reminding us, “Yours (the Lord’s) is the day, yours also the night.” We forget what our experience teaches us — that we have no control over the rising or setting of the sun, the number of our days, the plans we pursue that easily go awry in the time we are given. We ignore the rhythms always present, the rhythms of each day and each season, of everything under heaven. We refuse to listen to these rhythms we know nothing about anymore. We start to take time into our own hands and find ourselves living unnatural and unbalanced lives. We don’t see that our hyper-ordered days are actually disordered and hellish.

Time is a gift, every moment. It is not ours to use, but ours to enliven. Thomas Merton said, “Many lights are burning that ought to be put out. Kindle no new fires. Live in the warmth of the sun.”

I am learning to be thankful for time – for its coming and going, for the joy of the morning and the grief of the evening. I love the brightness of the dawn, the heat of noonday and the beauty of each sunset. When I open my hands and let go of the delusion that I control my time and the time of others, I am more attentive, more grateful, more creatively responsive, and hopefully more loving. I am especially more patient. I have discovered that my desire to control and to plan time arises from a lack of patience with God, with myself and with others. Time can so easily irritate. When time doesn’t go our way we so quickly blame others, we forget that time is God coming to us disguised by our life. God is hidden and revealed in time–in every occurrence and rhythm. Time is given to us to discover we are not God. When we are grateful for each moment, those moments that fill us with joy and those moments that we endure patiently, we find God’s steadfast love and mercy, His beauty, goodness and presence. Better is one day or one moment in the presence of God than a thousand days or moments of absent and fragmented efficiency. May God rescue us from days of evil, days spent forgetful of time as a gift. How lovely it is to be God’s guest!

“From one person He made every nation. That they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should lie. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. for in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:26-28)

Time is not ours, but it is ours to enliven through God’s grace, the sharing of His Spirit with us. I am not suggesting that we plan nothing for our days. We do best with a rule of life – the rhythms given to us in time teach us that. But our plans should be held lightly so that we can be surprised by the abundant life God is always sharing with us and so that we learn to see interruptions as gifts of presence. Our plans should be spacious so that there are openings of silence, times when we can hear the present moment, look at the real with a long and loving gaze, and beauty, goodness and truth can take deep root in us. Our plans should be sketches in pencil that we draw and erase in communion with others. Our plans should reveal what is most important because the plans we make become a liturgy and teach us and others what cannot be taught. Our plans should deliberately help us remember God, remember we are not God. “Only hour by hour gratitude can overcome all temptations to resentment.” Our plans should be filled with self-offering and love because “Love makes space into paradise, and brings the timeless and eternal into time.” (Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron)

This day, this September will not come again. Thank God for it. Begin it with prayer, continue with hope, end with thanksgiving.

Deignan, K. (ed.). (2003). Thomas Merton: when the trees say nothing. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books.
Rohr, R. (2011). Breathing under water. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Vasiljevic, Bishop Maxim (2014). Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron: The thunderbolt of ever-living fire. Alhambra, CA: Sebastian Press.

Enter into your rest

For my colleagues just finishing the school year, it is that joyous (even if overshadowed by job-action) time of year. There is actually nothing better than the very beginning of a summer that stretches out in front of you filled with longed for and well-deserved rest, time to breathe, to be, to reconnect with your friends and family.

Rest is absolutely necessary, even for God, even for Christ. And there are many kinds of rest, but all require an intentional entering in or a putting down, or a letting go. I wish all kinds of sanctifying and healing rest for you.

When I think about rest, I am reminded of two yoga poses – the warrior pose and the child pose. The warrior pose has every limb extended and pointed, and every muscle tightened – it a pose that is alert, in control, ready to attack and defend. It is the antithesis of rest. The child pose is the epitome of rest. The body is folded and prostrated. The head is lowered, defenseless, arms are outstretched and every muscle is softened. It is a welcome relief, even if only entered into for a moment. Humility, offering, and gratitude are present in this pose.

We experience both poses metaphorically in our lives and both are necessary, but I think we sometimes misunderstand them and misuse them (or at least I do). We tend to use the warrior pose in our interactions with others and the child pose towards our false selves – the self-indulgent prideful self. Our work lives are often experienced as a battle, a place where we have to prove ourselves, be alert, be strategic, be organized and efficient, be powerful. Our personal lives often lack discipline and we enter into a rest that isn’t really rest, it is usually merely escape and can’t possibly be sanctifying and healing.

I think the opposite is true. The warrior pose is really for battles with our ego and passions, for guarding our hearts with alertness, and the child pose is best used in our interactions with God and all others. I wonder what would change in our work lives if we entered into the rest of being a child while at work, if we let go of the need to be “over and against” all others, to fix and to figure out and to prove? What would our personal lives look if we took this time of summer rest to attend to our inner lives and war against the desire to prostrate before ourselves and sustain our selfishness and pride. If used this way the warrior pose may actually bring us the rest of inner peace at all times, and the child pose may actually bring us the strength made perfect weakness – the strength needed to heal a broken world.

Enter into your rest. If not yet ready for the warrior pose, the child pose towards God and others is a perfect way to begin.

Another teacher in the room

I have been thinking a lot about the need for spaciousness in any educational setting lately. The kind of space that allows life to blossom, questions to emerge, engaged and authentic exploration to happen, wisdom to be revealed, and true communion to occur. We often lament the lack of spaciousness in our educational contexts – lack of time, an overcrowded curriculum, limited resources, overwhelming diversity of needs – all valid laments and concerns and not easily ‘fixed’. So where can spaciousness be found? Where can calmer, clearer, harmonious educational endeavours happen – spacious endeavours that might actually alleviate some of the suffering that is ever-present?

I think this is an essential question for educators, open-ended and spacious in the sense that many answers can be revealed…if we are listening with warm and hopeful hearts. Flowers do not open in the icy winds of winter; they open in the warmth of spring.” (Abbot Vasileios)

One small but very rich answer was revealed to me today. I received a note from a person who participated in a curriculum conversation with me and several other colleagues. I was leading the conversation and she thanked me for letting her ‘interrupt’ and share her own thoughts and insights, to “allow another teacher in the room.” My response to her ‘interruptions’ at the time was one of gratitude – how wonderful that someone is building on my thoughts and ideas, refining them, translating them into new contexts, enhancing them. How wonderful that I, the ‘teacher’, get to listen and learn and be inspired by others.

I am always so grateful for other teachers in the room and they are always there: our students, parents, colleagues. And then there is the voice of the Holy – the One we hear when we remember we are on Holy ground. The One who is “heard in 1000 ways…and illumines a thousand places within you.” (Abbot Vasileios)

There is always another teacher in the room, always space for more.

Horizons and hope

I recently read that there is a very real biological reaction to looking towards the horizon. “Lifting our eyes to the hills” has an actual impact on the endomorphic system which is connected to ways we respond to pain and stress. It seems that we are biologically wired to benefit from a bigger perspective, to focus on more than what is going on in front of us or close around us.

I found this fact so interesting because I have definitely experienced this physical reaction myself and I think it also reflects a spiritual reality so often encouraged by the Psalmist. We are the ones God continually rescues out of the “pit and darkness” of our inability to lift our eyes, to see beyond ourselves and our circumstances. Lifting our eyes reminds us that we are little persons against a great landscape of God’s love and presence. Lifting our eyes renews our hope, helps us breathe, reconnects us to the light that can help us see our situations more clearly and hopefully. Our troubles are not as great as the enemy makes them out to us to be. (St. Anatoly)

I think there are many ways to think about horizons in education, many places we can lift our eyes. There is the horizon of all that is good, beautiful and true in education – the timeless aspects of our practice. I was reminded of this horizon during our graduation ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. Listening to beginning and experienced educators talk about why and how education makes a difference in the lives of others was encouraging and inspiring. These ideals, if not imposed harshly or rigidly, can keep inviting us further up and further in with new energy. They remind us of what could be and sometimes is, in the midst of all that is not. Teacher education programs deliberately teach ideals because they are a vision/horizon that continually beckons.

There is also the horizon of the present moment, when we find the strength to lift our eyes up and out. There is always some little good to do until the rest is revealed. There is always a more gentle or kind way to be with our students and our colleagues. There is always, even in the darkest, saddest moments, evidence of love and some small beauty or joy to celebrate. Being present to the moment is impossible when we are focused on our own needs, locked in our minds in frustration, anxiety, helplessness or sorrow. We may not know exactly what we are doing every day as educators, but moments open wide in front of us and lead us if we are attentive and willing. The kingdom of heaven is found in every microcosm – it isn’t far from us. A turning of our eyes is often all that is required.

Another horizon is the horizon of discipline, or routine or structure. In a sense these observances function like a rhythm, helping us be part of the music even if we can’t sing. Students need these rhythms as much as we do. Peaceful moments become possible against a horizon of discipline. Spiritual disciplines and the liturgical cycle function in the same way, they keep us connected, keep us turning, keep us lifting up our eyes.

The horizon of presence is experienced when we lift our eyes to our students and our colleagues and to the One who sees us and hears us. This lifting is also a lifting of our hearts in love and gratitude. We turn our eyes to the Other and all others because we know where our help comes from. We are reminded that we are not independent, that we need one another and the mercy of God. Gratefulness is always a going up, never a going down.

Each glimpse of a horizon is a gift. Whenever we are experiencing a lack of hope, tightness in our chests, difficulty breathing, when we need rescuing from the pit, may God give us a glimpse of a horizon, renewing our strength and filling our hearts with gladness, setting our feet in a wide place.

The violence of activism, overwork and speed

We are used to thinking of our world as a violent place and used to doing what we can to make it less violent. But there is a kind of pervasive violence that we either don’t notice or feel hopeless about – a violence that Thomas Merton (1966) says is particularly lethal. He calls it the “violence of activism and overwork“, the “rush and pressure of modern life“, “allowing oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything.” It is a violence that we often don’t notice unless we take a step away from our regular routine, something many of my K-12 colleagues are doing as they are enjoying spring break. This posting is dedicated to them and to all others who find themselves easily succumbing.

To easily succumb means that we aren’t fighting very hard to resist this violence. There are probably a lot of reasons for this – our protestant work ethic culture, our focus on visible results, our understanding of identity as wrapped up in what we do rather than who we are…. We might even believe that we are sacrificing ourselves for the good of others. We all have a “messiah complex” to a certain degree. What we often don’t realize is that the violence of this activism, overwork and speed isn’t just a violence that we suffer – our work suffers and the people around us suffer. We are not sacrificing ourselves at the altar of progress and work for anything that is truly life giving. Merton says that “the frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” (p. 73) We may be successful at rearranging our little worlds, but we won’t be successful at actually changing our world. Someone once said that only people of Spirit actually change the world – people who have the one thing necessary, people who take the time to clothe all that they do with reverence, gentleness, patience and care, people who remember that only God knows what will prosper (Eccl 11:6), that only the things God does shall be forever (Eccl 2:14), people who begin each day remembering God and letting His brightness shine upon the works of our hands (Ps. 89), people who ask God to help them refuse to succumb to the pervasive violence of our time.

This violence seems particularly fierce in the helping professions. We know we are succumbing when we realize we aren’t even seeing the people in front of us anymore, when the people around us become a means to an end we perceive as more important than being fully present to them. St. Porphyrios tells a story about a pediatrician who was supervising an intern. The pediatrician was concerned about the way the intern was interacting with patients and admonishes him for being too busy to do the spiritual work necessary to truly help. “Listen to what I have to say to you. Every time you examine a child you should offer a fervent prayer with love. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant’…God has sent a precious little soul into your hands…place your hand on their heads…Do all these things spiritually and in secret…The routine is getting to you and you are forgetting.” St. Porphyrios also encouraged educators to pray all the way to school and to enter every school as if it were a church.

To remember the precious souls given into our hands, to remember our need for God’s help, to remember that our work is impacting souls – this is good advice. The violence of activism, overwork and speed can’t happen when we are aware of the sacredness of each moment, when we “take off our shoes” and turn away from the well-worn and dusty path to see the life we normally ignore.

We all let the routine get to us. We all suffer as a result. I sometimes wonder what would happen if we all breathed a lot more, if communion, beauty, and joy were more important than speed, busyness, measurable change and progress. I think we wouldn’t be living our lives as if we were “thrown stones” as one wise person said about us busy ones. And our students? “Neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Merton, T. (1966). Conjectures of a guilty bystander. Doubleday.

Do the good you know and the rest will be revealed to you

I don’t remember where I heard this wisdom, but it is advice that dropped into my heart once and stayed and continues to encourage me when I don’t know or can’t see clearly what is right or true, or when I am confused about the big picture. Life is complicated and messy. People are even more complicated and messier.

What is particularly wise about this saying is that it prioritizes doing the good before knowing with certainty, the hardest before the easiest. I would much rather be certain and right about something, than do the good I know. And I always do know a little good to do. There is always a little good that is written in my heart, a good that calls me beyond myself, a good that asks me to let go of my own needs or fears, and serve and be present with others with peace and joy. I’m just not always willing to obey that good.

There are many versions of this saying in Scripture. You can find it all over the wisdom writings, in the gospels and in the epistles. Wasn’t this the truth God spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden as well? Once you start looking, you see it everywhere. One of the latest places I found it was in the parable of the wise man and the foolish man building houses on rock or sand. I used to think of the rock as the Bible and my ability to believe everything in it, to “stand alone on the word of God”, “to stand on knowing what was right or wrong, black or white.” But Jesus says the wise person is anyone who hears his words and “puts them into practice“. The foolish person is the one who hears and “doesn’t put his words into practice” – the one who stands alone on the word of God, thinking belief is enough, that belief is wisdom, that belief is the solid foundation. But no, like Christ as a child, we get to grow and become strong through our virtue, our practice, and then God fills us with wisdom, and we might even have a little wisdom to share with others. He gives us a little good to do at a time, and then these little obediences open up into wider spaces so that we can learn to run in His commandments, our true freedom. One little good leads to another, because good always wants to create more good.

So now I try to remember to ask myself in times of confusion or uncertainty, what is the little good you know to do? Do it and see what happens. Pay attention. And then sometimes miracles happen because God is always the Father of the prodigal, looking down the road for those who are inclined to do the good, always there to help them grow in strength and wisdom.

But I have to start with the little good I know, and that’s the hard part, but also the hopeful part because, if I know a little good, that means God is already at work in me and more will be revealed.

The strength of her kindness

I recently read a description of someone’s grandmother and the phrase, ‘the strength of her kindness’, jumped out at me.  We don’t often hold strength and kindness together in our thoughts.  The two words are usually considered to be opposites.  Kindness means being nice or sweet and not really expecting/requiring anything from anyone else.  Strength means being tough and uncompromising, holding others to a higher standard or at least a standard we think is higher.  As a result of the seeming incompatibility of these two words, I often have conversations with my colleagues and students about kindness that center around questions of being too kind and then appearing to be passive or weak.  And then I have other conversations about strength centered around questions of being too uncompromising and unwilling to respond to contextual, individual situations.  I think both of these conversations have incorrect assumptions about kindness and strength.

I find that we think about kindness the way we think about grace.  We imagine that God’s grace is simply  forgiveness for our sins that leaves us free of the burden of punishment and able to go on as we always have with the assurance that we’re “saved”.  As teachers we equate grace to giving extensions on papers, excusing students from requirements, allowing students to break rules without consequences.  I’ve even heard of ‘grace coupons‘ that students in Christian schools can use like ‘get out of jail free’ cards.   I hear this word thrown around a lot in Christian contexts and I always find myself wanting to cry, “No, that is not grace! That is not who God is!” 

God’s grace is always life-giving, always transformative, helping us turn towards Him and away from ourselves, making us more like Him.  God is not interested in leaving us in our brokenness.  How unkind that would be!  He is the one who loves us, who instructs us with care.  (Pr. 13:26; 12:2)  God’s grace is God sharing His strength with us, the strength to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, and self-controlled.  His grace allows ‘our souls to return to rest‘ because He shows us kindness, delivering our souls from death, our eyes from tears and our feet from slipping.  (Ps. 114:7, LXX)  There is nothing weak about grace that delivers from death!

I fear my kindness as a teacher, friend, parent, has often been weak, and therefore, not kind at all.  I’m not saying that we should never show mercy to our students or that we shouldn’t be open to individual situations and unique needs requiring different responses.  I am not interested in legalism or authoritarianism.   But I am interested in education, in being a teacher, in doing what brings true life to my students, in helping them grow.  To leave our students in ignorance, or in habits that are damaging to their well-being is unkind, unloving, and uncaring.

When kindness is a quality of spirit rather than a prescribed set of kind or unkind actions, it becomes an ethos or an orientation that infuses our practices as teachers.  It represents an inner and outer integrity, although that integrity may not always be readily visible to an observer or initially understood by the person receiving the action.  Sometimes we don’t understand how kind God is to us – particularly when He allows us to be shaken, or doesn’t rescue us immediately from the consequences of our actions.  Sometimes our students won’t understand our actions as kindness, at least not until the fruit is revealed.  However, even as God never falls short of His Fatherhood, we need to be sure we don’t fall short of our teacherhood.  We exist to benefit our students in ways that are educative, redeeming and reconciling, but we do this with the strength of patience, gentleness and compassion.

The difficulty is that we are not yet completely like God.  So along with the strength of our kindness must come more gifts of God’s grace – wisdom and discernment and humility.  We will surely make mistakes and so we need to pay attention to the impact of what we think is kindness and be willing to change direction when we see that what we are doing is not helping, is not life-giving.

I sometimes see online postings written to teachers about what students remember and don’t remember about them.  These letters focus on the ‘who‘ of teaching rather than the what and how,  and encourage teachers to do what is most important – usually build strong relationships with their students.  Even though I am sympathetic with this message and recognize that teachers can often be distracted by the trivial, I am also concerned that this message can undermine the nature of the relationship we have with our students.  It is not our job to be remembered well, but it is our job to educate well – with kind strength.

As much my students’ as mine

I had the joy of reading one of George MacDonald’s fairy tales over the Christmas holiday,  At the back of the north wind.   The main character of the tale, Diamond, is an extraordinarily pure of heart child whose loving simplicity brings healing, light and love to everyone he encounters.  He has a baby brother who he loves to bounce on his knee and while doing so he makes up silly songs to entertain him.  One of his friends, an author, asks him to sing one of the songs he created.  But Diamond says it is not possible.

“No sir.  I couldn’t.  I forget them as soon as I’ve done with them.  Besides I couldn’t make a line without baby on my knee.  We make them together, you know.  They’re as much the baby’s as mine.  It’s he that pulls them out of me.”   

This little interaction made me think about the relationship between teachers, students and curriculum planning, and I have to say that this is one of the best descriptions of curriculum planning I’ve come across in a long time.  I have never been a teacher who has been able to teach the same thing twice in the same way.  Even when I have planned the same class for two different sections back to back, the conversation is different, the interaction is different, the learning is different.  My students pull out of me and I’m sure I pull out of them in ways that can’t be duplicated.   And then there are the many ways students pull out of each other.

I love this dynamic of the classroom, it’s why I love being a teacher.  It’s also why teaching is so complex and challenging, yet filled with sacred, joyful and delightful moments.

I can’t say that what is pulled out of me and us is always beautifully in tune, my heart isn’t as pure as Diamond’s and sometimes I am distracted or weighed down.  Sometimes, I am trying too hard to sing another person’s song, or not really paying close enough attention to my students to see what would delight them and invite them into learning.

But there is always the next class, always a new song to sing, as long as I stay convinced that the words and music are as much my students’ as mine.

 

The teacher’s gaze

I am teaching an Assessment for Learning class again this semester.  One of the first things I often ask my students to do in this class  is to read an excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s, Anna Karenina.  The passage opens with the following words – “Serezha’s eyes, that had been shining with affection and joy, grew dull and dropped under his father’s gaze.”  It then goes on to describe an educational interaction between Serezha and his father that is punctuated by different kinds of assessment in an effort to support learning, but it is the assessment of his father’s ‘gaze‘ that has already derailed the learning from the start, leading to progressive frustration and anger on the part of the father (teacher) and the anxiety and ultimate punishment of the child for not learning.

We forget, as teachers, that our gazes matter, that our gazes communicate, that our gazes can be extreme barriers to learning or gates that open the possibility of a transformational relationship.  So even though I’ve written before about “Beholding the beloved into being” (see February 14, 2012), I think it is worth coming back to this topic – maybe again and again.

God seems to care about countenances.  He wants us to be ‘face to face’ with Him and ‘face to face‘ with each other.  He is the one who lifts up our heads.  He is the one who raised the woman bent over for many years.  He is the one who shares his countenance with us – “stamping the light of His face upon us, putting gladness in our hearts and causing us to dwell in hope.” (Ps. 4:7)

But being ‘face to face‘ is not easy.  Just ask Peter who denied Christ three times and didn’t realize it until Christ turned and looked at him. (Luke 22:60)  Not one word from Christ was necessary.  We are judged by gazes and that judgment can often cause us to escape or want to escape – our eyes grow dull and drop.  To be ‘face to face‘ is to be revealed in all of our brokenness, to be fully known and to recognize that knowing in the eyes of another.  Gazes can’t pretend. They recognize and then communicate that recognition, inviting or rejecting the other.   Christ didn’t pretend that Peter hadn’t denied Him, but His gaze must have hinted at His forgiveness and love, making it possible for Peter to overcome his shame and return to Him.  Job also talks about seeing God ‘face to face’ and the truth that is revealed in this encounter.  I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You…Therefore I regard myself as dust and ashes. (Job 42:5)  But Job also finds the courage to go beyond this truth, asking God to teach him.  God’s countenance judged and yet invited Him into relationship.

The teacher’s gaze often has to judge or ‘truth-tell’, but it must also invite. Like God’s face, our faces must shine in any darkness of our students’ lives so that truth is revealed yet mercy endures.  The encounters with us, and any person in authority, become the way our students understand the face of God.  Is God angry and wrathful, seeking the punishment of sinners, or is God not willing for any to perish and unchanging in His gaze of mercy and love towards us?  We are responsible for our gazes, to seek the face of God until our faces are stamped with His true image.  Our students need to look at us and see that there is someone who knows them, who is a refuge for them, who cares for their souls. (Psalm 142:4)

Mary, the fragrance of God

It is Christmas Eve, that most fragrant of times.  Beautiful and delicious smells have filled the air for weeks, wrapping us in anticipation and hope, arresting us in our busyness, reminding us to breathe, reorienting us to the present.  Today, Christ is born to the most fragrant of human beings, a woman whose name means ‘myrrh’, a woman whose soul was a cave of purity, peace, and prayer, a woman who said yes and raised the world to the God’s descent.

We can become just as fragrant.  In fact, this is our only calling – to smell like Christians, to be what St. Theophan calls “roses who don’t speak, but have a fragrance that spreads far in silence.”

I have a friend who is allergic to all inorganic or processed scents.  This allergy is extremely debilitating for her because she can’t go anywhere in public without being accosted by the scents around her and most of them are inorganic and processed.  Without medication, one breath of scent can put her to bed with an intense migraine.  I am never more conscious of how I smell than when I am with her.  I should always be this conscious though, careful of what I anoint myself with, knowing that my ‘fragrance’ imposes itself on everyone I come into contact with throughout each day.  I am sure I have given many people intense ‘migraines’.  I long to be the fragrance of God.

What does being the fragrance of God mean?  It means being a vessel or atomizer so that, through us, Christ diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place (2 Cor. 2:14, 15) .  It means being further clothed by life (virtue) so that our mortality (all that smells) is swallowed up by all that is fragrant (2 Cor. 5:4).  It means being anointed by the Holy Spirit –  we cannot become the fragrance of God without God.  It means being pierced by sorrow (myrrh is made from resin that runs from a small thorn-bush that is pierced with sharp instruments, over and over again).  It means being ‘aromatherapy’ in that the grace of peace fully abounds in us like the pleasant scent of sweet spices that fills the air around it with its own fragrance, so that our lives may heal the sickness of others St. Gregory of Nyssa).  It means to have a heart that is an enclosed garden that the Holy Spirit can blow through (Song of Songs 4).  It means to “see God in others, (to) go forth from ourself to seek the good of others.  All of the virtues are at the service of this response to love.  (Without this) the message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have the ‘fragrance of the gospel’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium).  It means to let our hearts be stirred by Christ’s knocking and to open the door with hands dripping with myrrh (Song of Songs 5:2-5).

There is more that the scriptures and saints reveal, but the list is already mysterious enough – who is sufficient for these things (2 Cor. 2:15)?   Thank God, that with God, all things are possible (Luke 18: 27).  Like Mary, our ‘fiat’ is required – again and again.  We prepare the ‘stable of our hearts’ with prayer (like incense) and repentance, and God does the rest, Christ is born in us through the Holy Spirit.  May we become a fragrant presence others can breathe like gentle and pure air,  filling the universe with invisible goodness (Fr. Lev Gillet).  

Christ is born, glorify Him!

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