Juggling, jargon, and the golden ball

Last week, I read Tomie dePaola’s wonderful story, The Clown of God, to my faith formation class. (If you don’t own the book, you can hear and see it read aloud in this video.)

Before I read the book, I prepped the class a bit. It happened to be my daughter’s birthday, as well as the last class before Christmas, so we talked about birthdays and presents. To my relief, they all knew that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

And what present does Jesus want for his birthday? We established that he probably doesn’t want a Hot Wheels Ultimate Gator Car Wash play set, and he probably doesn’t want a Barbie Sparkle Lights Mermaid.  So what does he want?

Most of them were baffled. Then a few hands shot up.

“Love!”  said one kid. I smiled and nodded, and wrote that down on the white board.

“Community,” said another. “Respect, service, compassion.”

He laid the words out flatly, like a card dealer mechanically snapping cards out on a table. He had clearly heard them a thousand times before, and knew how to say the thing the teacher wants you to say: Jesus wants us to love one another. Jesus likes community. Jesus likes service. Some of these kids are barely in contact with anything religious, but others have been in Catholic school since they were tiny, and at the tender age of eight, they are full to the brim with jargon.

So I read them the book. The story goes like this . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

 

***

Image: Detail from illustration from Tomie dePaola’s The Clown of God

Meaningful Christmas traditions and how to wrangle them

I’ve tried various esoteric practices involving veiled candles, bits of straw, paper chains, acts of service, gift lotteries, medieval anagrams, and every other kind of overachieving cultural what-have-you that caught my eye while I was desperate to make everything Meaningful For The Children.

I remember one year worrying so hard about materialism that I told the kids that one of their presents would be the opportunity to choose a gift for a poor child, and donate it. It wasn’t a bad idea . . . for the older kids. The younger kids, predictably, misunderstood horribly, and it was bloody awful. I only hope they’re so young, they don’t remember the year Mama apparently told them they could pick a toy for themselves and then forced them to dump it into a box and walk away for no reason at all. AT CHRISTMAS.

So. We don’t do that anymore. Through the decades, here is what I have learned about Christmas family traditions . . . 

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly

For the rest of Advent, try screen-free evenings

Every year, I threaten it. Some years we actually try it. This year, we’re doing it! We’re screen free from seven to nine o’clock during Advent. 

It may not sound like a big deal, but in our house there are . . . a lot of screens. Phones, tablets, laptops, game systems. It’s really hard to moderate how much time we spend on them, and I’m the worst offender. I won’t bother to go into a long description of why too much screen time is bad for us. Everybody knows this already.

Instead, I’ll describe what happens when 7 PM comes during Advent. I look at the time and start yelling, “SCREEN FREE! SCREEN FREE!” The wifi gets shut off and devices get put away. Everyone is cranky and annoyed. People petition for exceptions. Someone lopes off to the bathroom and stays in there for a suspiciously long time. 

Then, within ten minutes, acceptance sets in, and people find something to do. Sometimes it’s a mother’s dream come true, like yesterday. During the hours of seven and nine, the kids cheerfully played Monopoly together.

One kid sketched, my husband stretched out on the couch and read his book, and a teenager practiced Christmas carols on a ukulele. My daughter brought out her baby parakeet, who sought adventure in her pants pocket.

I called my dad, then I realized I had enough energy to try a stupid craft with those toilet paper tubes I’ve been saving. I poured myself a glass of wine and crafted contentedly in the kitchen to the sounds of gentle music, laughter, and peace under the Christmas lights. 

Sometimes it’s not that idyllic. Sometimes people are mad at me for my stupid Advent ideas, and try to hide their phones under a blanket. Sometimes I’m the one who’s mad about my stupid Advent idea, and I use the time to angrily scrub out the tub. Sometimes people pass the time by kicking each other. Sometimes we decide we just can’t hack it, and we have to put on the TV. The other day, as soon as I put my phone down, I fell into a profound, drooling sleep and dreamt the moon was falling out of the sky. Sometimes Damien falls asleep on the couch and people poke his face. Sometimes the kids just pull a solid two-hour mope and then leap back onto their phones like they need them to breathe. 

Nevertheless! It works out well more often than not. People are reading more, spending more time making things, and spending more time together. We really do like each other, overall, and when we’re deprived of our electronics, we remember how to spend time together again. We’re getting to bed on time more often. I can put music on in the living room, because no one’s playing Mario Kart or Just Dancing to something loathsome. Sometimes people pick out songs on the piano that usually gets ignored.  And then, as I mentioned, sometimes we just nap. It’s just quieter and nicer, a good way to make the season stand apart from the rest of the year. 

There’s still some Advent left. You should try it!

That’s it. That’s the post. 

Oh, wait, here are some pictures of my stupid crafts. They are pretty self-explanatory. These are made of toilet paper tubes, stapes, and gold spray paint:

I guess they will go on the tree? Or I can just hang them from threads from the ceiling. Shiny! This one stands up by itself.

and these are made of foam-core board cut with a kitchen knife.

If you make two of the same shapes, you can cut one halfway up and one halfway down, and then fit them together to make three-dimensional shapes.

Well, obviously they were already three-dimensional, but you know what I mean. They didn’t turn out like I hoped, but I invested too much time in them not to follow through, so I hung the damn things on the porch and I expect they’ll be there until June. I did spray them with something that called itself “clear glitter sealant,” which turned out to be just plain clear, and not glittery in the slightest. Probably glitter would have just made the porch look more squalid anyway, if possible. 

Oh, the other evening, we just made paper snowflakes out of coffee filters. They are already round, and you can fold them in half, then into wedges in thirds, so they come out as hexagons when you unfold them.

There are a lot of things I feel like we don’t have time and energy to do, but it turns out I’m usually just too distracted to get around to them. Anyway, Happy Advent, you miserable old building and loan. That’s it. That’s the post. 

Advent is time for silence, but don’t get too comfortable

I have not lived an especially tragic or dramatic life. But like everyone, I have suffered losses and privations, and I have also had burdens lifted and obstacles removed. Strangely enough, the latter—the lifting of burdens and the removal of obstacles—was often more violent and painful and less welcome than the overt trials. Why? For so much of my life, oh how badly I have simply wanted to be left alone, undisturbed. I have wanted to live out my days among the familiar highs and lows of my familiar life, suffering comfortably, crumbling slowly, resisting disruption, wincing at the very thought of change. Slowly eating little chocolates as I count down my days.

But to meet Christ is to be disrupted.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image: The Last Angel by Nicholas Roerich

 

Advent resources cheat sheet!

Advent is coming up! Here is my basic list of Advent resources. These are all things you can do quickly and easily, if you stay calm. Remember, nobody does everything! It’s okay to say, “That looks nice, but I know I’ll make everyone miserable if I attempt it, so we’ll skip it this year.”

Advent chains to print out, designed by my sister, Abby Tardiff. Cut them out, make a paper chain, and cut one each day of Advent and read what’s inside. See the chains of sin and death getting shorter and shorter until Jesus comes! Kablammo! You can tape them to purple or pink strips of paper if you like. (This version starts on Dec. 1, so you’ll have to fudge a tiny bit. We never manage to do this every day anyway, so I figure it will even out.)

Jesse tree ornaments and scripture readings. This could be a very quick project if you have low ambitions and energy. Just cut out a bunch of cardboard discs and draw a simple picture on each one, then hang them with a paper clip.

This year, I was feeling more ambitious, so we used paint markers and capiz shells to make Jesse tree ornaments, and they turned out pretty good. Yeah, I splurged on something with pre-drilled holes, and that has made all the difference.

The only thing I haven’t figured out is where to hang them so the freaking cat doesn’t destroy them.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, words for all eight verses I don’t want to hear any grousing! It’s a good song. We start out singing two verses, then add two verses each week.

Sunday prayers for the Advent wreath

Advent candles.

Today is probably the last day to order, if you have Prime. You can sometimes find pink and purple candles just in the regular candle section of Walmart or whatever, not specifically packaged for Advent, of course.

If you don’t have colored candles, you can use regular candles and tie purple and pink ribbons on, or even make a colored cuff halfway up with construction paper. Do not attempt to dye white candles with melted crayons. I beg of you.

How to make a good-enough Advent wreath because it’s gonna be dark anyway:

Buy a cheapo twisted twig wreath at the dollar store, then use about forty yards of thread to strap evergreen branches down thoroughly. It’s hard to attach candles to they stand up, so you can find glass candle holders and the dollar store and set inside the wreath.  Put the whole thing on a pizza pan, so you can easily move it off the table and store it in a safe, unpunchable place when it’s not in direct use. Little berries and pinecones and bells and doves are nice, but so it just plain greenery: Green for hope, round for eternity.

You can also just sort of heap evergreens in a bundle or in a basket, but then you’ll miss the imagery of the circle. But green is good.

Another very easy Advent tradition that we manage to keep as a family most years: “fast” from dessert except on Sundays. I take what money I would have spent, and buy extra food for the church’s food pantry.

And finally: Get to confession. Here are a few different examinations of conscience. Do that during Advent, and you did Advent right. Ta dah!

Who’s got other resources to share? Feel free to leave links to anything relevant in the comments.

2018 Magnificat Advent Companion app giveaway!

Advent is almost here! Some years, I have to persuade myself to get into the spirit of this season of penance, purification, and preparation, but right now I’m like YES PLEASE NOW PLEASE ALL THE ADVENT NOW PLEASE.

Happily, I have a little giveaway to get you going! Besides its excellent and gorgeous spiritual guide that comes out every month, Magnificat puts out an new Advent Companion every year, and I have four codes for the digital version to give away.

Here’s their description:

Welcome to the Advent Companion App, a perfect way to live Advent to the full this year.

Presented in a day-by-day format, the Advent Companion App contains:

– LITURGY – daily Mass prayers and Scripture readings
– PRAYERS – a cycle of prayers for morning, evening, and night inspired by the Liturgy of the Hours
– MEDITATION – daily original meditations on the Gospel reading by twenty-four gifted authors

Each issue of the Advent Companion contains these one-of-a-kind extras that you won’t find anywhere else:
– a variety of beautiful blessings and essays
– an Advent Penance Service
– specially-commissioned poetry
– a unique feature: the Advent Stations

Prepare your heart to welcome the Prince of Peace!

I’ll keep it simple: Just leave a comment here (not on social media!) saying if you would like the version for iOS (iPhone, iPad, or iPod) or Android (phone or tablet), and you’ll be entered. I’ll randomly choose two winners for each platform.

Of course, you can also buy the app yourself for $1.99, or buy the 96-page paper version, which is $3.95. Good luck! I like Magnificat a lot. It’s really helpful to have a concrete, day-by-day guide to set your day on the right track.

Mary’s downward gaze

This is the conversation she wants to have with an archangel: Let’s talk about my Son, because it’s personal.

There’s that downward gaze. So much better than rolled-up eyes! It’s a good look, on Mary and on all of us: that personal, intimate, “You’re real and so am I” connection. That would be a good posture for all of us to adopt for the rest of Advent: Look to the ones who are closest to us.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Adoration of the Shepherds (detail) by Gerard van Honthorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Don’t spend Advent grousing about secular Christmas

If it’s wrong to gorge on cookies and electronic toys on December 25th, it’s also wrong to gorge on cynicism and criticism in the name of Christ.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Images: Christ Child by Waiting for the Word via Flickr (Creative Commons) and complainer via Pixabay

Your friendly last-minute Advent reminder!

Somehow, even though Advent is as long as it can possibly be this year, I didn’t make it to confession. I don’t absolutely have to go, having (thanks be to God) no mortal sins on my soul. But it’s such a basic way to prepare for Christmas. I’ve said it myself several times: If I manage to have an advent wreath in the house and get to confession, I’ll call it a good advent. Well, we do have a wreath, anyway.

When I realized that I was missing my last reasonable chance (and no, it doesn’t seem reasonable to call up our unbelievably overworked priests and make a special appointment, when it’s not a spiritual emergency), I started casting around in my mind for something else I could do, something that would be almost as good as going to confession.

I had a chat with God about my sins, of course, and that was pretty good. I thought about some penitential things I could do. I even briefly considered cleaning the kitchen without complaining. And I remembered one more time: There is no substitute for the sacraments.

Of course there isn’t. I mean, we can make do in an emergency. If I were in an airplane that was spiraling toward the ground, I could make an act of perfect contrition, and I would be all set. If I were someone who had never heard of Jesus, I could regret the things that even a pagan knows are wrong, and I would be welcomed into my unknown father’s kingdom, right alongside the elderly priest who had the seven precepts of the Church memorized before he was weaned.

But those aren’t substitutions, so much as accommodations. There’s nothing better than the real thing, which is why Jesus gave the sacraments to the Church to give to us. I felt so stupid for missing my shot, but feeling stupid made me feel so grateful that there will be a next time. No need to invent anything, or figure out on my own how to wallow my way back to God.

So, don’t be stupid, be a smarty! If you still have a chance to get to confession, why not take a load off and be really ready for Christmas? And if you’re in a state of grace right now, don’t squander it! You’ve got an open line set up right to the Father, so talk talk talk. And put in a good word for me while you’re at it.

 

Shh, there’s a baby nearby!

The speaker said that one fellow at the back of the line had his wife with him, and she was begging to leave the hall so they could get some lunch and see the sights before it was time to make the long drive back home. “Stop!” the husband hissed in a rage. “This is my only chance to talk to Dr LoveExpert!”

And the good doctor heard, and despaired. The fellow was so on fire to talk about marriage that he didn’t have time for his actual wife.

We all do stupid stuff like this …

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

***

Image by Vera Kratochvil