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Dear Friends,

 

It is Advent again, I love Advent because of the weather, the darkness, the relative peace of early December as the year winds down.

 

I like evenings and my little traditions and customs, vodka martinis and the smell of pot roast on Sundays.

 

Christmas is different, too scripted, I do not put up a tree, I will have a wreath, and I do like little lights and the bright they make when I put them in Waterford dishes that belonged to my mother and aunt.

 

Advent evokes thoughts and memories, and Advent is kind of personal or solitary, whereas Christmas is all over the place, it can be noisy and very sad for some although those sadnesses soften with time.

 

I think Christmas has become too much, it used to have a kind of singular significance that gave shape to the whole rest of the year, at least as I remember it.

 

I doubt if Christmas is such a big thing for kids anymore, given that they have such busy schedules to keep their parents from not thinking about what to do next, they have so many deadlines and dates and schedules to meet that, maybe, Christmas is just another thing out of the way for that week.

 

An awful lot of what I have read this past month makes me ask questions about “time.”

 

Is “time” real or is it an artificial construction that we use? Where does “time” go when it becomes memory or regret?

 

Certainly, days and weeks and months and years are arbitrary, at least the names and numbers we give them are, but is there really something such as a day or a year?

 

I am writing this two weeks before you will read it because of printing deadlines and yesterday was, Friday, November 22.

 

I never gave a second thought to the fact that it was November 22, but in my history and many of your histories, November 22 was a benchmark of our young adulthood.

 

So, I think does that day or any day have any significance apart from my memory. Does what happen on any day exist apart from our memories?

 

If we all forget it, does that mean that day didn’t matter or even, didn’t happen?

 

One of the poets that I have come to value very much is John Koethe, he is my age, now retired from UW Milwaukee. His collection, Ninety-fifth Street published in 2009 is in part his look back at his life as he anticipates the final descent before the last landing.

 

I have rented an apartment several times on 95th Street in Manhattan, and that in itself attracted me to his poetry in this collection, a further coincidence was one of the times I rented it was when Father Dettmner had the stroke that essentially ended his wonderful life and I remember him and aspects of his life clearly.

 

In his poem, Ninety-fifth Street, he looks back on his early young adult life, the heady and high days of the first  years after college when he was beginning his literary career and to a specific party in an apartment on 95th Street that belonged to Frank O’Hara, a poet and art critic and very interesting person and the organizing center of much life for poets and writers and artists in New York in the 1960’s.

 

Koethe was one of the youngest at the party among others including the young John Ashbery and Koethe remembers in this poem among others bits of conversation, martinis mixed, stuff that were simply unimportant at the time but would prove to be crucial or beloved anecdotes to his story as he gives summary to his life.

I think all of us look back on moments, that have come to matter far more than they appeared to when they first happened, certainly those of you who are married do, the chance encounter that lead to the rest of your life, one way or another, for better or worse.

 

It makes me sad to read some of Koethe’s poems, really sad, because John Koethe like many other poets can only believe that the past is irrevocably, the past, and as memories fade and the rememberers die, the past goes with them.

 

You must know by now that I am not one who entertains thoughts of heavenly reunions and celestial gatherings but is there something intelligently other as an option to the significance of our experiences than simply being forgotten?

 

There is no evidence in the biblical text of uninterrupted continuity between life and death as is very common in the actual belief of people.

 

We hear grieving loved ones tell of the newly deceased reuniting with a whole host of others who have died before them and I understand what they mean and I would never contradict the person in the moment but love is always love.

 

The task is to allow grief to teach us more than we know about love not foreclose on the grief with a reunion because there has been no parting, at least as I believe but there needs to be the grief and that is the rub.

 

No one wants grief and there are no teachers about grief because every grief is different, grief teaches a solitary lesson.

 

The kind of life death/continuity to avoid grief would cheapen life in this world because somehow the real world of “heaven” awaits. This is the real world and death and grief and love and life happen here.

 

Jesus grieves, Mary grieves, Mary Magdalene grieves. Grief is real for all who love.

 

There is resurrection in the New Testament but those stories that talk about resurrection make it crystal clear that Jesus is not recognizable, all is different than pure humanity. In addition to not being able to be recognized, he can walk through locked doors, vanish from their sight, and make hearts burn, he is not at all who he was.

 

The point of Advent, aside from my liking it, is to annually prepare us in a methodical manner to consider the feast of Christmas and the conviction behind that feast that whoever it is that we call “God’ has become assessible to us in Jesus Christ who lived and died and left stories to be told in a specific place and time and in the specific people that we call the Jews.

 

Now, of course, that is not what is likely to be what happens this December 25, nor has it been since very early in what we call the history of Christianity.

 

Christianity has operated in multiple systems and a plurality of places overflowing with all kinds of assumptions for generations upon generations, so much so that for most of us there is no real choice made about the claim at the heart of the Christmas Feast.

 

We just do it and if we still do it, we probably do in some fashion what our ancestors did because they did what their ancestors did which has more to do with decorations and menus than with Christ and what that might mean today.

 

Otherwise, we eat Chinese and we go to the movies.

 

So back to time and Advent and what that might have to do with us, my faith is what I try to do, it is not just an intellectual experience, I will marry and bury and baptize as long as people present themselves to be married or buried or baptized. I am not always sure what is going on, but something is, and I believe that it is good.

 

I will continue to ask children, “What do you want to ask God to bless our world with this week?”

 

I believe that the mystery that gets filed under “Christ” is still a source of hope not so much for my individual life after death but a worthwhile conviction disclosed in the Gospels that allows for the happiness of so many, many persons that have suffered and will suffer such arbitrary and capricious pain on this earth that is so good to me.

 

I do not believe that our ordinary consciousness will ever resolve the questions of time and where it goes and what happens when we die, answers will ebb and flow, and arbitrary suffering will often appear to have the final word.

 

At the same time, day in and day out, people are creating relationships that nurture and exchange love in ordinary and extraordinary ways that heal and try to make whole what is broken and bent, no matter the cost.

 

Why do we do that?

 

In the Book of Revelation, the last section of the New Testament, a work that requires caution in interpreting, there is a highly poetic sequence when the “one sitting on the throne”-Christ- says, “Behold, I will make all things new.”

 

I believe that this gives voice to the reality of the evolution of the spiritual dimensions of created reality and that as in the evolution of the material, all things are temporary and all things die and decay but all things give birth to new forms, new things.

 

I believe that we do not know all things yet, that there is still much to be discovered or recovered.

 

Happy Advent!!!

Father Niblick