and yet, He Comes

(we shall resume with the last post of our Three Part Series after the Holidays)

I was reminiscing the other day about the Christmas that my husband and I spent in the ER – literally.  I had what was thought to be appendicitis and we left for the Emergency Room at about 9pm.  We were there until 6am.  By the time we got home the sun was coming up and we went to bed.  ( I didn’t have appendicitis, it turned out not to be anything but a growing baby and stretching belly.)  Then there was the Christmas when my sister was sick and we ended up staying unexpectedly in another state for Christmas to make sure she was OK and going to make a full recovery (she did).  The there was the time when I was pregnant and the smell of cookie dough, candles, evergreen, and cinnamon made me incredibly sick.  Then there was the year that the kids were very small and we couldn’t afford a tree……

What do all these Christmases have in common?  None of them turned out the way  I had hoped.  None of them felt filled with lights and cookies and peace…..and yet, He came.  He was born.  The Day of His Birth still arrived.  Without the trappings, without the fanfare, without the glaring lights on my front bushes, and Bing Crosby belting it out on my stereo (or iPod)…He still came.   I remember leaving the ER on that Christmas morning and looking up at the sky.  The sun had not yet risen and the stars were just starting to fade.  There was one very bright one and I gazed at it for some time thinking to myself how I was in the ER, consumed with my own worry, my own fear, that I almost missed the fact that He was born.  It was Christmas Day!  My house didn’t have a tree, it didn’t have presents, but I had a Savior.  He came whether or not I was “ready” and He came for me, to take away my fear, my anxiety.  He still came.

This year I have blinking lights in the windows and a nice Tree in the Living Room.  There is a Christmas Village of Department 56-type houses set up in a snowy wonderland on my cupboard.  Snowmen dominate my kitchen and the Manger has been set up and displayed prominently by the tree.  The Jesse Tree’s branches are laden with homemade ornaments recounting salvation history, the Candles of the Advent Wreath are getting low and the Advent Calendar’s doors are wide open.  There are 6 dozen cookies in my freezer and a plate of very specially decorated ones to be left for Santa on Christmas Eve.   Perhaps this would be my Courier and Ives Christmas!   That thought lasted about as long as it took for our only vehicle to come to a deliberate and noisy death on the Interstate – the weekend before Christmas.  The Courier and Ives dream popped and fizzled into a momentary shower of imaginary sugar plums and then was no more as the tow truck hauled our van onto its flat-bed.  Oh well.  It was then I recalled all the other “not so perfect” Christmases that we’ve had.  And it was then that I fully realized that it doesn’t matter.   Will I have the perfect Christmas this year?  Maybe not…and yet, He comes.

We all have idealized visions of Christmas – mine involves an overdose of Bing Crosby, hot cocoa, a massive, heavenly smelling evergreen tree twinkling with tons of lights, candles all over the house, lots of perfectly decorated cookies, and about a foot of snow.  Will I ever actually experience this epic Christmas?  Most likely not.  And that’s OK because I am beginning to think that it’s in the imperfect Christmases that we can find Him all the more.  He came for an imperfect world, in an imperfect stable.  A Perfect Child.

God didn’t wait for His People to build a palace for the Newborn King before He sent Him to earth.  Everyone in the world was oblivious to His Coming except His Blessed Mother, Good St. Joseph, the shepherds and wise men!   Everyone else was busy going about their lives, trying to get by.  What a lesson this is for us!  What Hope for those of us who find ourselves year after year striving towards that elusive “perfect Christmas.”   Those who recognized His coming were simple Shepherds, who had the time to gaze at a quiet night sky and beheld the Heavenly Host instead!  They were men “from the East” who knew of prophesies and weren’t even of the “Chosen Ones of Israel.”  These Wise men had so much Faith that something truly glorious was about to occur that they followed a Star to the One Who came to Save them.  He came to Mother Mary and St. Joseph, holy parents who trusted God with all their hearts.  He came to the simple, to the humble, to the faith-filled – to those who were willing to look for Him.   That is all we need be to have a perfect Christmas.  The Christ Child is not concerned with how many lights or decorations or cookies we have ready.  He is concerned with our hearts.  Are they ready for Him?  Have we taken the time to become simple, humble, trusting, and Faith-filled?  That is all He asks.  Are we seeking Him?  Then we will find Him and He will dwell within us.

Of course the trappings of the season are nice and they are fun, and they are filled with wonder – especially if you have small children afoot.  But unless they act as our own “stars” – pointing us to Christ’s Birth, then they are little more than distractions, taking us away from the internal preparations that we need to make for His Birth.   It’s easy to get frustrated, there are Christmas Cards to send, and presents to buy and wrap; and for parents who have children waiting for Santa, these tasks can be great sacrifices of Love, and sacrifices prepare our Hearts for His Coming.  Even though we may want it to feel like “‘Tis the Season to be Jolly”  do not fret if you don’t have the house looking the way you had hoped, or of you don’t have cookies baked this year, or if your tree is fake, or less than perfect, or even if you have to spend Christmas Eve in the ER… you could have an open heart, truly prepared for Him, and not one other thing ready in time for Christmas Eve….and yet, He Comes.

May you have a truly Blessed and Holy Christmas!

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What Goes In…(part 2)

Finally brothers, [sisters] whatever is TRUE, whatever is HONORABLE, whatever is JUST, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is GRACIOUS,  if there is any EXCELLENCE and if there is anything worthy of PRAISE,  think about these things.  Phil 4:8

2.  Media, Violence and the Profane (the second post in a 3 part series)

“Its effects are measurable and long-lasting.  Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life.  The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behaviors in children.” (1)

Take it from a brain guy.  In 25 years of working with the brain, I still cannot affect a person’s state of mind the way one simple song can.” ~ Neurologist Dr. Richard Pellegrino, Billboard Magazine 1/23/99

“What has our society come to when Prince is the guy you can trust to not sexually offend 120 million Middle Americans?…Has he gotten that clean or have we gotten that dirty?” ~ TV critic James Poniewozik, when Prince was chosen as the “safe,” “more conservative” Super Bowl Half-Time Show choice after the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction.”  (2)

In our last post we talked about the concept of “What goes in, Must come out” as it relates to gossip.  Now I’d like to apply that same concept to media and what can be termed as the “profane” and violent.  There is, has been, and probably always will be a debate that rages among parents about children and viewing violent movies, games, etc.  Conventional wisdom dictates that most parents exercise some caution with their younger children when it comes to viewing violence because they believe that it isn’t good for them.   I agree.  But what about older children?  What about grown – up children?  What about us?  Aren’t we too old for exercising censorship over what we watch?  I mean we’re adults.  It doesn’t affect us.   Or does it?

Yes its true that there is great psychological evidence that says viewing violence does in fact impact the viewer.  This should not be a surprise to us.  Throughout the years various militaries, militias, and even the Nazis of World War II have used desensitization to train their soldiers to be efficient and effective killers.  One method of desensitization is to show violent footage.  To expose those who are to be desensitized to violent images and ideas.   This is effective – how else were men made into Monsters during World War II?

Now I am not attempting to make this a clichéd argument against the tactics of Nazi Germany.  I am asking whether or not is it wise to subject ourselves to such measures as were used by that evil regime.  Am I going too far?

I am not positing that you or I are going to turn into  homicidal maniacs after watching Kill Bill (never seen it, I just read that its pretty gruesome).  What I am saying is that it is very possible for us to desensitize ourselves to seeing human beings as persons.  As women this is our gift – a special ‘genius’ that we have – recognizing the dignity of each and every person.  Watching violence desensitizes us to that.  That, my friends, is not a good thing.

Profanity, violence, true ugliness (as in intentionally warped beauty) all these can dull the edge of our ‘feminine genius.’  The above scripture verse compels us to think on those things that are good and beautiful – things that are worthy of praise.  It is no accident that this directive appears in scripture.  The Divine Author thought it important enough to instruct us on what we should spend our leisure time contemplating.  This leads me to believe that we should carefully reflect on our media consumption.  Are we spending our free time dulling the edge of our genius or are we sharpening it?  Proverbs 23:26 says, “My son [daughter] give me your heart, and let your eyes keep to my ways” and verse 29 says to “Be not emulous of evil men.”  Earlier in chapter 22:17 we are admonished to “Incline your ear and hear My words, and apply your heart to my doctrine; for it will be well if you keep them in your bosom, if they are ready on your lips.”  This brings me to another form of media consumption – listening to music.

You may think that music is benign, but the above quote speaks whole paragraphs about the effect of music on people.  (“Take it from a brain guy.  In 25 years of working with the brain, I still cannot affect a person’s state of mind the way one simple song can.” ~ Neurologist Dr. Richard Pellegrino, Billboard Magazine 1/23/99).  On my computer I have a playlist named “Happy Songs.”  It is a mish-mash of songs that, quite literally, make me happy when I listen to them.  Do you have a song like that?  When you hear it you perk up – it can change your attitude, your frown into a smile, your outlook from cloudy to sunny.  Now, think about it in reverse.  If a song can have this great of a positive affect on you and me, can’t it also effect us in reverse – negatively?  I would say common sense (and the book of Proverbs) would say ‘yes.’  Again, are you going to become the next uni-bomber if you listen to a little Eminem?  Probably not.  But what we are talking about here is how we need to guard ourselves from dulling our feminine ability to be sensitive.   Exposing ourselves regularly to hate, violence, negativity, profanity etc makes us less able to have “The moral and spiritual strength…that  is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way” (3)

This Advent, perhaps we can strive to surround ourselves with those things that are good, and beautiful, and worthy of praise, as St. Paul wrote.  Things such as these are ‘of God’ because God is the author of all that is Good and all that is Beautiful.  If we turn ourselves to these then we are turning ourselves towards God – inviting Him more into our lives and into our hearts.  If it is He Who is in our hearts, in our minds, rather than a profane song, or a violent video, we will be more able to speak His Truth and truly live out that Feminine Genius with which we have been endowed; and at Christmastime, we will be better able to welcome Him.

Another way in which consumption of secular media that is laced with profanity, violence, and true ugliness can harm us, and our relationship with Our Heavenly Father is that it can distract us from Trusting in Him.

George Gerbner and Larry Gross working at the Annenberg School of Communications in the 1970s found that heavy TV viewers live in a scary world. “We have found that people who watch a lot of TV see the real world as more dangerous and frightening than those who watch very little. Heavy viewers are less trustful of their fellow citizens, and more fearful of the real world.”  So heavy viewers were less trustful and more fearful than the average citizen. But what constitutes a heavy viewer. Gerber and Gross defined heavy viewers as those adults who watch an average of four or more hours of television a day. Approximately one-third of all American adults fit that category.  They found that violence on prime-time TV exaggerated heavy viewers’ fears about the threat of danger in the real world. Heavy viewers, for example, were less likely to trust someone than light viewers. Heavy viewers also tended to overestimate their likelihood of being involved in a violent crime. (4)

These are frightening findings, but they tell us something very important: that if we are not careful, we can actually skew our perceptions of reality just by watching too much TV!  If we have unrealistic perceptions of reality how are we able to truly understand God, and what He wills for us?  How will we be able to Trust that He takes care of us, and that nothing is beyond the reaches of His Divine Providence?  The short answer is that we will not.  We will not be able to Trust Him the way He desires.  We will not be able to trust Him the way we need to.  Exorcising responsible and Faithful censorship over what we consume not only gives us a healthier and more realistic outlook on life, it preserves our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

The next time you are confronted with a choice in what media you are to consume, ask yourself whether you are dong as St. Paul instructed.

Finally brothers, [sisters] whatever is TRUE, whatever is HONORABLE, whatever is JUST, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is GRACIOUS,  if there is any EXCELLENCE and if there is anything worthy of PRAISE,  think about these things.  Phil 4:8

Works Consulted:

1)  2000 joint Statement from the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Behavior, qtd in: Plugged In Online, 20th Anniversary Magazine pg 8, Courtesy of Focus on the Family and Thriving Family Magazine, November/December 2010

2) time.blogs.com 12/12/06

3) Mulieris Dignitatem, sec. 30, written by Pope John Paul II Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 15 August, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the year 1988, the tenth of my Pontificate.

4) Violence in Society. Kirby Anderson.  Probe Ministries. 1995. http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/violence.html

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