Sunday, 27 December 2015

7 Christmas Quick Takes (2015 version)

Last year I did a 7 Quick Takes on Christmas. So because I'm so creative and original, I decided to go with the exact same idea. I'm a creature of habit. Usually bad habits.

---1---

So people keep asking me how my Christmas went. I try to think of something fascinating that happened, and of course, it is, "I decided to be an adult, and made the roast chicken for the first time in my life." My findings:
  • If I had to pick one thing that I had to eat every day for the rest of my life, I THINK stuffing made with bacon, sausage, breadcrumbs, onion, raisins and apple might be it.
  • Stitching together a dead bird might be the grossest thing anyone could do on a Christmas morning.
  • Recipe books are great with the theory, but when you say it'll take an hour to roast, maybe you should mention that in REALITY it might take 2 hours plus some for the bird to actually be cooked through
  • Cutting a whole roast chicken into edible portions is a messy and unsatisfying business for amateurs like myself.
However the delicious meal we eventually ate made everything worth it. (Also helping us practice our 'waiting in joyful hope')


---2---

An Indian Catholic's Christmas differs from an American Catholic's in one major way- we always have our Christmas sweets. Not just Christmas cookies, but a whole set of delicacies like marzipan (sugar and cashewnut), kulkuls (fried and frosted bits of dough), fudge, milk toffee, cheese straws, fruitcake, etc. I assume most of these are Goan Catholic traditions, mostly from the Portuguese? Or a little from here, a little from there? Anyway, it would be a strange, strange Christmas without these Christmas sweets.


---3---

Even though an Indian Christmas has nothing to do with snowmen, pine trees, candy canes, etc, and none of those things have anything much to do with the biblical Nativity of Jesus (unlike the Christmas star and angels), all those things seem to be a normal part of our Christmases here. Kids in school do Christmas arts and crafts which reflect a Christmas from a different part of the world, we cheerily sing 'Let It Snow' and 'I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas', which almost none of us have ever seen.

And of course Santa Claus appears as the main face of Christmas. Sad but true: Humans of Bombay recorded a little street child selling Christmas decorations, saying, "Every year I ask Santa for only one thing - a way to get myself properly educated. This year I also realised that I want to be a scientist so I'm praying even harder that he makes my wish come true. They say Santa doesn't exist, but I have faith that one day I'll be able to stop working, study and become the best scientist in the world!"

Pray to Jesus, not Santa! (I know for atheists it doesn't make a difference, but as a Catholic, praying to a fictional character from the North Pole isn't exactly the same as praying to the historical person of Jesus who still heals and reveals Himself today. Unless he's really asking for the intercession of Saint Nicholas?)

Anyway, in spite of the randomness of some of our Christmas traditions, I sure enjoy having a Christmas tree and heaps of gifts under it.


Even if it's a fake tree.

---4---

Over the last week or so I have been listening to this song 'Wonder' on repeat. The words are very simple-

May we never lose our wonder / Wide eyed and mystified / May we be just like a child / Staring at the beauty of our King/ You are beautiful in all your ways

A couple of weeks ago in the US, I spent one of the most beautiful hours of my life, sitting in Adoration with a chapel full of people loving Jesus. We sang this song, over and over, and my heart was filled with wonder. And now at Christmas, it makes even more sense.


I think of how Mary must have gazed in wonder at this little creature, suckling at her breast.. The God of the Universe become tiny and weak and helpless, her Creator, and yet her little one. How her heart must have swelled with love, with awe, with tenderness. I catch little tastes of that wonder when I gaze at Jesus in the Eucharist- once again become so small, to be with me. The secret of everything- greatness hidden in littleness.

Bishop Robert Barron says, "How common this is in the Bible: the reversal of expectations, the little giving rise to the great, wonderful things coming where you least expect them. The stuttering Moses speaks up to mighty Pharaoh, the slaves face down the Egyptian army, tiny David kills the giant Goliath..."

In the quiet of my prayer time, in the heart-lifting moment of the Psalm being sung at Christmas Mass, in the the brief moment of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist and walking back to my pew, in the few minutes of prayer as my family gathered around my blind and bedridden great aunt, these were the God-moments of Christmas.

---5---

Some Christmas articles and blog posts-

Have Yourself a Broken Little Christmas

We celebrate a Savior who entered a wounded world. And every year we celebrate his birth, we see evidence that our world is still so broken, still so in need of the saving power of Jesus. Our Savior did not come as a king, although he could have saved us in any way he pleased. Rather, he came as a tiny, vulnerable child. He entered our broken, violent, hate-filled world as a tiny, trusting, child, to be with us. 

Oh, That Final Verse!

If you’re not getting everything you need in this world, if you don’t feel satisfied, if you feel adrift and alone and incomplete, that’s because we haven’t gotten to the end of the song yet. You haven't yet gotten to the final verse, which rescues all the others from fantasy. 

Christmas Isn't Candy Canes—It's D-Day in the War Against Satan

Jesus the King of the Universe entered the territory of the “prince of this world” and began to take back territory from him.  

---6---






 (More at catholicmemes.com)


---7---

And old Christmas stuff from me:


Are You Going to a Christmas Dance? 

7 Christmas Quick Takes 

Christmas Highlights

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

To Be Someone's Darling


I'm one of those head instead of heart people. But if you knew your Myers-Brigg, you'd already know that. The 'T' can sometimes translate as hard-hearted, coldly logical, or just not very affectionate. Over the years as I came to know the God of love, and spent time with Christian community, He began to soften my rough edges, move me from hard-heartedness to soft-heartedness.


Still, I often find it hard to show or receive affection. Indian families are not usually very demonstrative, cuddles are unusual, and saying "I love you" as a matter of course is unusual. Add to that the British influence in my family, we can be pretty undemonstrative, more prone to sarcastic dry, witty comments than showering someone with affection. I didn't really think that was a big deal, until I began to wonder why I find it hard to 'experience' God's love (which I accepted intellectually).

I recently attended a retreat where we talked about every human being's desire to be delighted in, to be 'seen', without criticism, expectation, or demands. I knew God loved me, I had seen so many ways He had answered my prayers, begun to change me, save me from my selfishness, bring healing to my relationships. And yet, when I sat down to be with Him in prayer, contemplation- "I look at God and He looks at me' often evaded me.



A few days ago I read this article:

When Being Called a “Child of God” Draws a Blank

For many, Christmas means trying to grasp God's all-consuming love for us, without the helpful perspective of having once been someone's darling.

And this one-

Oxymoron of an Anchoress on a Silent Retreat 

As I sat in the Gaze of Mercy, I felt Our Lord ask “Let me look at you…I love to look at you.” These words were from a shared story, which goes something like this: Each day, after school, a mother would wash and press her young daughter’s uniform. In the morning the child would be clean and fresh for a new day of learning. Before the child left for school the mother would say to her, “Let me look at you” checking her from head to toe, then “I just love to look at you.” 

They struck a chord, even though I have come from a stable family- have never been abused or abandoned, have been protected, valued, loved. And yet, I feel like I have hardly experienced that gaze of attentive, unconditional, delighted love. How few of us have. Brokenness passes from one generation to the next. It spreads within a culture. Our schools and our school teachers reinforce this brokenness. I was with some schoolchildren and teachers recently, and the only way the teachers could relate to the children (whom I know they genuinely care about) was to correct them or instruct them in gruff tones- "Stand straight! Don't stand there! Say thank you!"etc.

I tried to communicate the love of the Father to the students as I did a session about Christmas with them. "God loves you! He looks at you and says, 'How beautiful'" I told them as I put my hand on one student's cheek, trying to communicate God's delight. Her eyes lit up. Who had ever said that to her?

The beauty of existence, loved into it, and through it, pierced my heart. There was joy in knowing what it is to be the child of a parent looking upon you in all your sweet wonders. It is good to be somebody’s beloved daughter. 

But I did know that intimacy. I HAD tasted it.

The author of the articles wrote, 'Being single and childless — I feel curious. Curious enough to ask my friends about it. “What do you, as parents, feel when gazing upon your children?” I have asked. “As a beloved child, when young — or now, looking back as an adult with children of your own — what was in the moments you experienced, that you became aware of such a gaze?"'


I am single and childless, and yet God awakened intimacy in my soul through the birth of my little nieces. I was on the other end of the delight, but I suddenly found parts of my soul I didn't know existed. As babies, I longed to hold them, just stare at their perfect little faces, their curves, listen to their sweet baby gurgles. What contentment as they nestled close against me.


As they grew older, I loved to hear them talk, every word was greeted with delight. What joy when they said our names (and what jealousy when they said the other aunts' or uncle's' first) We'd get them to repeat words they didn't understand after us- "That's ridicklus!"and just revel in these little creatures who were OURS. Even now as lanky 6 and 7 year olds who can barely fit on my lap, I find such joy in their silly, innocent love for me, the things they want to show me, their observations about life, their openness, their questions, just THEM. Their existence. Their humanity.



I look at them the way God looks at me. The way He wants me to look at every human being, especially my family. To SEE them. And to allow Him to SEE me.

Last night I sat before the Blessed Sacrament with the Christian young professionals' group I belong to, just sat, for an hour, in silence before Him. Allowing Him to love me. Last night I also sat with my mum, as she set aside her to do lists to listen to me, and love me. 'Wasting' time.

It's beginning.


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Day I Met A Celebrity

So I'm not the fangirl type. I once met Aamir Khan, and I was like "Eh, whatever. You seem normal." (In my head. I'm not THAT rude.)While other people shrieked and asked for his autograph. My family's proud like that. Or let's say down-to-earth.

But there are a few people that I really look up to, have been influenced by, and would be excited to meet. It's a fairly short list.

1. Scott Hahn- Catholic convert, author with his wife Kimberly of Rome Sweet Home, that sparked my interest in the Catholic Church as a young teenager, author of  A Father Who Keeps His Promises, that opened my eyes to and got me really excited about the continuity and connection between the Old and New Testament (what, Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, Moses and the Red Sea, Abraham and Isaac are not just a bunch or random unconnected stories for kids?)



2. Jennifer Fulwiler- Atheist turned Catholic, witty, insightful, self-proclaimed socially-awkward blogger at Conversion Diary, whom I've been following for over eight years, and often linked to on my blog- while talking about Myers- Brigg, doing Seven Quick Takes, and promoting her book Something Other Than God (that I hadn't even read at that point). She's a pretty big name in the Catholic online world.



3. Simcha Fisher- Another intelligent, hilarious Catholic blogger who is not afraid to be funny and snarky and balanced and real. She writes at Aleteia (now), and National Catholic Register. I used to read NCR only for her, and I'm pretty sure my writing has been influenced by her and Jennifer.



4. Pope Francis- You know.



Him.

LOVE Joy of the Gospel, Papa Francesco! "For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?"

Anyway, back in 2010-2011, I visited the US for the first time as I joined the organization I am now a part of. One of my friends is an alumni of Franciscan University of Steubenville, and a group of us stopped there on our way to the D.C March for Life (yes, we did a road trip from Louisiana to D.C. with a stop at Ohio!). When we were there, we unexpectedly got to drop in to Scott Hahn's home, (courtesy of a common friend) and visit with him. He and Kimberly were so kind to us, and he even shared a little reflection with us about the value of our work. He prefaced it with, "Do you have a moment?" as we were about to exit his home, feeling awkward about barging in. Who doesn't have moment for Scott Hahn?



Then this year, I got the chance to return to the US for some time with my organization. "What if.. we somehow managed to meet Jennifer Fulwiler while I was there?" I said to my old friend T, who is also a fan. Texas and Louisiana are neighbors after all, and who knows?

So we wrote to her, and manged to get our email read via another friend of a friend of Jen's. I played the Indian fan card (sorry, Jennifer). And still, I was surprised when she wrote back, and said she would love to meet us. Ahhh! I was picturing coffee somewhere.. and then she invited us over to her home for dinner!!! Leap of faith on her part. T and I drove 6 hours to meet her and her family, hung out and chatted over wine, got interviewed on her radio show (because of the cool work we do). "You sound like Pope Francis' kind of people,"she told us. A higher compliment I have never been paid. She was quiet and graceful, and her husband Joe was gregarious and animated.

 

Also I was apparently the first person who compared her home to a monastery... in my defence, I was currently living at a base with over 70 people of which over 30 were children...so her six kids wandering around doing their own thing while we could hear ourselves speak was a quiet, peaceful experience.

So yeah, I met Jennifer Fulwiler! You've got have a dream, if you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come truuuueee? (South Pacific, anyone?)



Look out, Simcha Fisher and Pope Francis!

Thanks for being awesome, Jennifer- and inviting two complete strangers into your home. Aren't you glad we didn't turn out to be complete weirdos?



 Relatively speaking, anyway.