I came across this news piece posted for Christmas Eve. I thought today at Mass, while singing “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem”, that once you have been to Bethlehem the song gets a new depth of meaning. Check out this video to get a taste of what it is like to visit today — a message of peace and unity. They are enjoying more Christmas pilgrims than usual which is good for them.
Here is another video by the same news source that discusses some of the tourism economics of Bethlehem. During my pilgrimage, they were celebrating the 10th Annual Olive Harvest Festival and were promoting locally grown fair trade. My motivation in buying my shawl there was to support local handmade goods.
When I was a child, I remember my dad often bringing home items that were destined for the company surplus office furnishings pile. This included large rolls of office grade carpet — where offices had been remodeled and the carpet discarded. Often, the unworn carpet was an area large enough for a small room in my house. The carpet would lie rolled up on our carport waiting to be used.
I remember once, when I was about seven, it was Winter and I was wearing black patent leather boots that zipped up just below my knees. My parents were going out and I was going to spend the evening at my cousin’s house — they lived just around the block from my home. While waiting for my parents outside, I walked around on top of the carpet rolls — like a balance beam — until my foot slipped down into the center — down onto baseboard stripping that still had protruding nails. My breath sucked in — fearful, as I quickly pulled my leg up. I had to pull my boot off the baseboard. I was pretty sure a nail had pierced the sole of my boot — but nothing hurt. Maybe it was okay. I didn’t want to look to see so I remained silent and told no one.
My parents dropped me off at my cousin’s house and we settled in with Jiffy Pop to watch Disney’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Stretched out on the floor, I put it out of my mind. But, my cousin’s were comfortable — shoeless — wearing socks — except for me. My cousin’s mother grew suspicious that I’d not taken off my boots. With little questioning, I blurted that I may have stepped on a nail. This was quickly confirmed when my boot was pulled off to reveal a bloody sock. I had waited long enough that my parents were afraid of infection and I was taken for a tetanus shot. I was severely scolded for keeping silent so long.
Really, this encapsulates the way I’ve often approached unpleasant things in my life. Don’t look. Pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t take the risk. Don’t be a bother to anyone. Don’t disturb my peaceful space. If I don’t see it, it can’t hurt — it didn’t really happen.
Somehow I became the peacemaker of my family and that is the cross I bear. Perhaps I have this resistance to the unpleasant to thank. The burden of soothing hurt feelings — negotiating truces. Softening the blow of bad news. As the life of a close relative unraveled from alcohol, drugs, and mental imbalance; my peaceful space was all but gone — a knot in my stomach every time the phone rang. The time came that no one could pretend there was not a problem. The eyes of my mother desperate for hope for this loved one. Saying that God is still in control and yet wondering why this cross is getting heavier. More nails — not just my foot any longer. Drawn into spiritual warfare — pulled to my knees in prayer ranting against Satan and pleading with God.
The nail in my foot is hurting now. I close my eyes and I’m there again.
Today I am a Catholic and a Franciscan, but, years before I was either — I learned to pray the “Our Father” and “Make Me An Instrument” at AA meetings where my mother and I supported our family member. I’ve stood between life and death with this loved one as we cycled through good times and bad — rehab here and there — hoping for a good year , or longer. Now is as good as its been in a long time.
We all sat in family counseling once as part of one of the rehab programs — three generations of brokenness, hurt, and resentment. The counselor looked at me and said, ‘You are the peacemaker.’ This diagnosis left me feeling less spiritual and more clinical. Less angelic and more secular. Yet I was affirmed and validated.
The nail in my foot — I exhale — less fear — more hope.
As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. — Luke 23:26
Joy, Joy, Joy, down in my heart, down in my heart ….. I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, down in my heart; I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart to stay.
Joy has chosen me. Joy first chose me last September 19th, when arriving a day late to my Secular Franciscan fraternity retreat, I was handed a piece of paper – we drew your virtue for you last night — Joyfulness. The slip of paper read —
Joyfulness is an inner sense of peace and happiness. You appreciate the gifts each day brings. Without joyfulness, when the fun stops, our happiness stops. Joy can carry us through the hard times even when we are feeling very sad. Joy gives us wings.
Indeed, I was very sad that day, having attended a funeral that morning–the reason behind my delayed arrival. Joy is hard to grasp in moments when you do not understand the workings of God. Joy was found in the fellowship of fraternity that weekend.
In December, at our fraternity Advent Social, we exchange prayer partners and a virtue to share in the upcoming year. Peacefulness chose me in December. Maybe the root of Joy is the inner Peace.
At our January Secular Franciscan fraternity meeting, for Epiphany, we observe the Franciscan custom of extracting Saints and also a verse from the Bible, or, SFO Rule, to be a companion for the new year. Joyfulness chose me again in a verse that was drawn for me —
Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others. — The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, 19
In both cases, Joyfulness was drawn for me by someone else. Not only must I be joyful, but, I must bring joy and hope to others. My saint of the year is St. John Bosco (Don Bosco). St. Bosco founded the Salesian Order. I am just now trying to uncover what this Saint will offer me this year. The Salesians have been hit hard in Haiti. Perhaps I will uncover Joyfulness in future posts.
I recall singing “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy,” in my earliest days of attending Sunday School – I was about seven years old. The simplest songs can mean the most. As adults, perhaps part of the Joy is in watching children.