It All depends on Who gets Hurt

January 13th, 2021

The World Health Organization has defined violence as:

“the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

 Americans love violence. We really do.

We are just selective about who we want to hurt.

Many of our Representatives and Senators have spoken out about the violence during the riot at the Capitol last week. Five people were killed during that melee. Without exception, our legislators have condemned the violence of the mob, and the subsequent loss of life. People have described the barbarity as being “un-American”. That is not true. That sort of mayhem was very American. It’s totally American.

Last week these very same members of Congress overrode President Trump’s veto to pass the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) and fund our nation’s military institutions with another $741 billion. The bill passed by a vote of 322 to 87 in the house, and 81 to 13 in the Senate. Very few of our legislators voted against spending damn near three quarters of a trillion dollars to get America the best violence that money can buy. Of those who did vote against this spending bill, I am sure that even fewer did so because they abhor violence.

It all depends on who is getting hurt. We don’t really care if a wedding party in Afghanistan gets blown away by a Hellfire missile fired from a drone. We don’t really care if some Iraqis die when we invade and occupy their country. We don’t care if civilians in Yemen die from disease and hunger because we are arming the Saudis. As far as we are concerned, this is all the price of doing business in the world. We don’t know any of these people, and we don’t want to know them.

However, we definitely do care when a crazed mob of Trumpistas bust into the Capitol and terrorize the legislators hiding there. We are outraged when five people die in this recent madness, but we shrug when we are told that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died because of the violent behavior of the United States.

My son fought in Iraq. He told me about killing people there. He shot some folks, and he stabbed a man to death. My son got medals for doing that sort of thing. The guy who killed the cop at the Capitol with a fire extinguisher won’t get a medal. He will most likely go to prison forever.

The killer at the Capitol has been roundly condemned. The policeman he killed has been called a hero. Flags are flying at half-mast for the cop. Our country honors Officer Brian Sicknick, and it should do so. He was defending those who were defenseless and in danger.

The cop who killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville is free. So is the police officer who pumped seven rounds into the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. Are there any flags flying lower for Breonna or Jacob? No. Why not?

It all depends on who is getting hurt.

I wonder if our connection with violence goes deeper than our conscious thought.

I woke up from a night terror an hour ago. Bad stuff. I never remember much from these dreams. I only know that in the dream something dark and evil was coming at me through our front door.

I heard Karin’s voice calling to me frantically. My wife roused me from my dream. This has all happened many times in the past. Karin often pulls me away from my demons. She has some self-interest in all of this. When I have my dark and twisted dreams, I lash out. I sometimes strike Karin inadvertently.

I woke up from Karin’s anxious words. My heart rate was through the roof. I could only hoarsely say, “Sorry.”

It was quiet in the dark.

I finally broke the silence and said,

“Good night.”

Karin sighed deeply. She murmured sleepily,

“Stop hitting me.”

Creche

January 11th, 2021

Karin and I don’t often go to Mass on Saturday evening. In general we try to attend church services on Sunday morning. However, Karin has had a hard time gathering her strength early in the day. She is by nature a night owl. In the best of times, Karin tends to drag in the morning. Seeing as she is still recuperating from COVID, it is even more difficult for her to rouse herself. Her energy is very low when she wakes up.

I wanted to take Karin to Mass, but she was unsure about being fit enough to go. She has experienced brief bouts of dizziness and vertigo. She told me that she would decide about attending Mass on Saturday afternoon. Karin felt well about an hour or two before it was time to leave home. She took a shower, dressed, and then I drove her to church.

As we entered the church parking lot, I asked Karin,

“Do you want me to drop you off at the entrance?”

She replied, “No. I’ll walk with you from the car, just in case I need to lean on you.”

This liturgy this last weekend celebrated the Baptism of the Lord. That marked the official end of the Christmas season for the Catholic Church. The creche (Nativity Scene) was still set up when we came into the church. St. Rita has a large wooden Nativity set. It has all the usual figures: Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds, angels, the Magi. In most ways, the creche is nothing out of the ordinary.

Karin loves one aspect of scene. Most Nativity scenes show Mary gazing at her child with awe and wonder. A person looking at her image gets the idea that she is already worshiping her boy as God Incarnate. The statue of Mary in our church’s manger scene is different. Mary holds her baby to her breast and hugs him.

Karin said, “I really like that. That’s what a real mother would do.”

True.

Karin and I sat together at Mass. Father Michael greeted Karin. He was very happy to see her. She hadn’t been in the church since November. Other people also came up to her to welcome her back. Their words were warm and authentic.

The fact is that the pandemic has shattered the church community. There are many people missing from the pews. Some of them will return. Some of them will never come back. There are various reasons for their absence: illness, fear of infection, crisis of faith. A few of the parishioners are dead. It is a big deal to see somebody is in their usual place once again. It is a bit like witnessing a resurrection.

There is a certain amount of physical movement involved in Mass participation: standing, sitting, kneeling. Think of it as Catholic aerobics. Karin did fine during most of the liturgy. We both knelt during the Eucharistic Prayer. I stood up at the end of the prayer. Karin did not.

Karin sat in the pew. She looked worn out. I stood while the congregation recited the Lord’s Prayer. Karin gave me her hand, I held it while we prayed together.

Karin felt well enough to get up to receive Communion. I was glad for that. I know how important it is to her.

At the end of Mass, several people came up to speak to Karin. I think that was a great comfort to her.

On the way out, Karin spoke to a friend about the creche:

“See how Mary holds her baby? That’s how a real mom would do it!”

Shame

January 7th, 2021

Today I feel ashamed to be an American.

Yesterday’s violence and chaos in the Capitol makes me physically sick. How can I talk to any of my friends overseas, and not feel embarrassed? How can I talk to anybody, and not feel humiliated by the actions of some of my fellow citizens?

All my life I’ve watched people in this country wave our flag and puff out their chests, shouting, “America is number one!” In some ways that’s true. We have the largest military. We have the biggest economy. The United States is materially rich beyond the dreams of most of the world. We are world leaders with regards to technological advances. In almost every physical way, America is number one.

How do we rank morally?

Yesterday, the actions of our President, of his political acolytes, and of the MAGA mob, indicate that our country has a deep and pervasive rot in its collective soul. We have always prided ourselves on being a shining beacon of democracy, an example to emulated by other nations. We have believed in the myth of American exceptionalism, the notion that the United States is in some obscure way superior to all those “shithole” countries. We have assumed that we are inherently good people.

It is tempting for me to write it all off as nonsense. After all, our history is loaded with violence and hypocrisy. We have been at war with somebody almost continually since the birth of the United States. We enslaved Black people. We practiced genocide against the indigenous population. We claimed to follow God, when we actually worshiped the Almighty Dollar.

I grieve for my country. Both I and my eldest son served the United States in the Army. We both took an oath to fight for the Constitution, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I hesitate to call myself a patriot, but if I wasn’t, yesterday’s disaster wouldn’t hurt me so much.

Americans have done many positive things in world, despite everything. People around the world admire American virtues. They depend on us to provide a good example. They want us to be as good as we claim to be.

Yesterday we let them all down. We failed them.

We can be better than we were yesterday. We will be better. I know that. I believe that we really are good people.

I won’t feel ashamed for long.

Tom Heck

January 5th, 2021

Tom died five years ago. Actually, he passed away on December 31st, 2015, so that makes it a bit more than five years ago. I am trying to remember things about Tom, but after five years, the details of his life have become fuzzy, and I have to focus on broader themes.

Tom was my sister-in-law’s stepfather, so he wasn’t a close family member. Tom lived down in Texas, which meant that he wasn’t very close geographically either. However, I got to see Tom at least once a year, when we would drive to Texas to visit my sister-in-law, Shawn. One way or another, we would meet up with Tom and his wife, Delphia.

I remember having some long conversations with Tom. Actually, any conversation with Tom was a long conversation. He had been born in Montana, but to me he was a classic Southerner. He spent a lot of time in Louisiana before he moved to Texas. He said nothing in a hurry, and he saw no point in staying on topic. While he chain smoked, we would have wide-ranging discussions about damn near everything.

Tom was older than me. We connected when we spoke about our experiences in the military. Tom had been in the Air Force back in the 1960’s. I think he told me that he was stationed in England during the Cuban Missile Crisis. That had to be interesting. Since I had been an Army helicopter pilot, we would trade stories about flying. He never hogged the conversation. He had great stories.

Tom lived with Delphia in an old farmhouse near Calvert, Texas. Delphia had a green thumb, so there were rose bushes in front of the house, along with other flowers. The house needed some work. Whenever we visited, it looked like there were a number of renovation projects in progress. The funny thing was that there never seemed to be any changes. There were half-completed jobs that stayed that way. After a while, I got used to that.

Tom was a generous man. Mostly he was generous with his time, which I think is difficult for people in our culture to do. Tom was a good listener, and he knew that listening required time. He would sit and listen to folks, even when he had other things to do. This meant that some of those things did not get done. That was okay. Tom’s priority was people, not things.

Hans, our oldest son, really liked Tom. They were kindred spirits. They loved to talk about projects. I am not aware that they actually completed any of them, but they could talk a job to death. They would look at a broken down tractor and come up with all sorts of great ideas about how to get that thing running again. They never seemed to get much further than the planning stage. In the end, the tractor remained a static display in a farm field.

In 2009 Hans joined the Army, and eventually he was deployed to Iraq. Delphia died from dementia in 2012. Tom remained living in the old farmhouse. When Hans got discharged from the military in 2014, he went to live with Tom.

Tom and Hans made a good team. They knew how to care for each other. Hans knew that Tom was grieving for his wife. Tom knew that Hans was struggling with PTSD from his combat time in Iraq. Hans got himself a Harley and a dog that he named Fritz. Hans got a job with a fracking outfit in eastern Texas. He worked long hours, but when he did get back to the old farmhouse, he spent his time with Tom. Tom was Hans’ home.

During the summer of 2015, I drove to Texas and visited Hans and Tom in Calvert. We just sat around and drank coffee for a while. Hans and Tom smoked cigarettes. Fritz came to visit with me. He must have some kind of Great Dane mix. Fritz was just a little smaller than a pony. He rested his enormous head on my lap, and slobbered. Hans convinced Fritz to wait in another room.

I looked around the house while I conversed with Tom. It hadn’t changed hardly at all since Delphia died three years before. The only difference I saw was that things had started piling up: old newspapers, dishes, mail. I got the sense that Tom had lost interest in housekeeping, and Hans had never acquired the knack for it. So, the place looked like the dwelling of two bachelors, which only made sense.

I remember Hans calling on New Year’s Day in 2016. Hans is generally very calm and lowkey. When he called us, he was extremely agitated. He was driving in his pick up truck from the oil fields to Calvert. He told us that there had been a fire at Tom’s place. He was in a hurry to get there.

When Hans got to Calvert, there wasn’t much to see. The farmhouse had burned down to the dirt. There was nothing left. Hans had all his worldly possessions in that house, except for what he had in his truck. Hans had lost his Harley, his clothes, his memorabilia from the Army, and everything else. Fritz was gone too. So was Tom.

Tom died in the fire.

The aftermath of the fire and Tom’s death is kind of sketchy to me. I am not sure how everything turned out. I do know how it affected Hans. Hans was suddenly homeless. Shortly after the fire, the bottom dropped out of the oil market, and Hans was also jobless.

It is impossible for me to overestimate how important Tom was to Hans. Hans was already very familiar with death. He had killed people in Iraq. However, Tom’s death hurt Hans in a way that no other death has ever hurt him. Hans was adrift, and he stayed that way for a couple years. I was worried that he wasn’t going to survive.

Hans is married now. He has a son, and soon he will have a daughter.

If Hans ever has another son, he plans on naming him “Tom”.

Another Year

January 1st, 2021

The snow is coming down hard. Wet, fat flakes are covering the street. The wind looks like it’s coming from the southeast, and it is making the snow swirl and twirl as it falls. My car is parked in the driveway, getting whiter by the minute. That’s okay. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t need to go anywhere.

I am trying to remember 2020, and it is all a blur to me. Too many things happened too quickly. The situations weren’t all bad. Some really good things happened last year. It’s just hard for me to sort it out. How does a pandemic connect with a premature birth with a toxic national election with the grand conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the night sky? Do any of these connect?

I think that they do connect, but I can’t figure out how.

Zen Buddhism emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things. However, Zen doesn’t explain how all this stuff interacts. The Buddhists simply point out the fact that nothing is separate from anything else. Non-Buddhists have said the same sort of thing. John Muir stated:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

The hardest part about dealing with the past year is that it was so chaotic. Seldom, if ever, was there any kind of logic or meaning to the sequence of events. Every morning was the start of another “what the fuck?” kind of day. Troubles aren’t quite so bad if they make sense. Carl Jung once said,

“Man positively needs general ideas and convictions that will give meaning to his life and enable him to find a place in the universe. He can stand the most incredible hardships when he is convinced that they make sense; he is crushed when, on top of all his misfortunes, he has to admit that he is taking part in a ‘tale told by an idiot’.”

2020 was a “tale told by an idiot”.

Zen promotes the assertion that anybody can be a teacher. Our four-week-old grandson, Asher, is teaching me something. Trump is teaching me something. The dharma teachers in the sangha teach me something. There is no need for a person to have a cool-looking robe and an official title to pass on wisdom. Everybody can do it, and actually everybody does.

When you come right down to it, everything in the universe is a teacher: a star, a snowflake, a border collie. All things teach me if I am only willing to pay attention. There lies the rub.

What did 2020 teach me? Well, it taught me (or tried to teach me) patience. It taught me to be in the moment and roll with the punches. It taught me to give others what they need, regardless of what I might want. 2020 taught me to accept what is right in front of me, and not yearn for things that I can’t have.

As a teacher, 2020 did a pretty good job.

I hope I passed the final exam.

Asher is Here

December 28th, 2020

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come.”

– William Wordsworth

“There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” -Luke: 2:36-38

“And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.” – Genesis 30:13

The young woman is tired. This comes as no surprise. She and I went to St. Joseph Hospital yesterday to pick up the girl’s baby boy, Asher, who was finally well enough to leave the NICU. The young woman had been waiting almost four weeks for her son to come home to her. Once we got Asher into the house, things got busy.

The young woman was well aware that an infant, especially one who is still not full term, is a lot of work. She knew that between feeding and changing the boy, she would get a very limited amount of sleep. Knowing that is not the same as actually experiencing it. This morning the young woman could feel the fatigue. I could see it in her face.

Karin has been trying to help with caring for Asher. Sometimes her efforts have simply caused friction between herself and the young woman. I have tried to maintain a respectful distance. I can do some things with a baby, like change its diapers. However, when the conversation turns to breast feeding and related topics, I acknowledge my limitations.

Karin is not completely over the after effects of the COVID, so she can only do so much before she becomes exhausted. I try to help Karin when she is trying to help the young woman. I made Karin breakfast this morning, and I offered to hold Asher while Karin ate her French toast.

I do know how to hold a baby. That much I can do. I held Asher in my arms, cradling his tiny head with one hand. I swayed back and forth with him in my arms. I would tell him softly, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Asher never opened his eyes. He made quiet mewing sounds once in a while. Otherwise, he just slept while I held on to him. His breathing was rapid. His heart rate more so. He didn’t fuss at all.

Asher is so small, so fragile. On the other hand, he is remarkably resilient. He arrived in our world seven weeks too soon, but he has been strong enough to grow and thrive. He’s still thin, but he is slowly filling out. While I held Asher, I can feel the heat radiating from his little body. I could feel the life force within him. He is probably more alive than I am. He’s just starting the journey. I am closer to the end.

Asher spends his time eating, sleeping, and shitting. That seems to be an age appropriate lifestyle.

He is doing exactly what he needs to do.

Midnight Mass

December 25th, 2020

It was cold last night. It was that kind of bone-chilling cold that usually doesn’t arrive here in Wisconsin until late January. As I drove past the bank on Four Mile Road, I could see the temperature on the sign:

“Nine degrees (Fahrenheit)”.

Good Lord. Well, at least it wasn’t snowing. The roads were clear. The car didn’t warm up until I was almost all the way to the church.

It was after 10:00 PM, and I was going to Midnight Mass at St. Rita. I had volunteered to read from the Scriptures during the liturgy. I think I had agreed to serve as lector before COVID ripped through our house. I wasn’t sick anymore, but I felt tired. I had been told that the fatigue from the virus could last for weeks, and that’s a fact.

I got to the church, and I asked Father Michael about which readings I should use (there are a number of different readings for Mass on Christmas). He told me to use the Scripture passages for the Christmas Mass at Dawn. That was interesting since we were starting this service at 11:00 PM (and still calling it “Midnight Mass”).

The first reading was from Isaiah. It starts with: “See, the LORD proclaims to the ends of the earth: say to daughter Zion, your savior comes!” (Isaiah 62:11-12). I like to read to the congregation from Isaiah. His words have an emotional impact.

The second reading was from a letter of St. Paul. (Titus: 3:4-7). I hate proclaiming passages from Paul’s letters. The man loved to write long sentences with numerous subordinate clauses and subsections. It is nearly impossible to read aloud from St. Paul without getting lost in his verbiage. The part I was supposed to read from the Letter to Titus was just one, extremely convoluted sentence. Nice.

I sat down in a pew, and rested for a bit. The Mass wasn’t going to start for another few minutes. I looked around the church, and I let my mind wander.

I remembered a Midnight Mass from many years ago, when I was just a kid. When I was a boy, my family went to Mass at St. Augustine Church. It was a small ethnic church in a working class neighborhood. The people in the parish were mostly Croatian, either immigrants or children of immigrants. One Mass every Sunday was celebrated in Croatian. The elderly folks were often people who fled from Europe after World War II. I suspect that a few of the old guys had been part of the Ustashi (the Croatian fascist troops who were allied with the Nazis). When the war ended, Marshall Tito and the partisans strongly encouraged members of the Ustashi to leave Yugoslavia. I think some of them wound up in Wisconsin.

Midnight Mass at St. Augustine in West Allis was always packed with people. The old men huddled together with their wives. The wooden pews in the church had little metal clips on the back. These were there to hold the fedoras that these old Hunkies wore. All these guys wore hats outside, and they all smelled of cigar smoke. The women wore veils. That was still standard practice in those days.

There were two evergreen trees in the sanctuary, on either side of the altar. They were real trees, so the church smelled of pine resin, beeswax candles, and incense. There were lights on the trees; the old school Christmas lights with big, colored bulbs that burned brightly. The lights would get hot, and it was easy to burn your hand if you touched a light.

Midnight Mass in those days still had a lot of the Latin Mass ritual to it. There were lots of bells and smells. There was a sense of mystery and wonder. That was a good thing.

I stopped woolgathering, and looked around St. Rita’s. People were slowly drifting in from the cold and the darkness outside. The crowd was pretty thin. That was understandable. We were celebrating Midnight Mass during a pandemic. It was the middle of the night. It was cold as hell outside. I didn’t expect many folks to venture forth from their homes.

There was still time before the Mass would start. So, I remembered another Midnight Mass from long ago.

It was in Bethlehem in 1983. I was traveling through Israel with two friends. We were staying in a hotel in Jerusalem. The tour guide offered us an excursion to the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. We went.

Bethlehem is only a few miles from Jerusalem. It was a short bus ride from our hotel to Manger Square. There were numerous Israeli troops all around us. Nothing is more festive than seeing a bunch of guys with loaded Uzis. When we got off the the bus, we wandered into chaos.

There was absolutely no chance of us getting inside the church for Midnight Mass. None. The people inside the ancient church knew people who knew people. We were stuck in Manger Square with the hucksters, folks who were trying to sell pieces of the Lord’s swaddling clothing. The square was crowded and noisy. There was a large screen set up for people that wanted to watch the Mass remotely. That was pointless. The event in Manger Square had all the religious significance of a Packer game. We could hear the vendors yelling:

“Here! Buy falafel! Just like the falafel Jesus ate!”

Maybe it was just like the falafel Jesus ate. I don’t know.

Somewhere in the dark, there was the noise of firecrackers, or maybe gunshots. The Israeli soldiers ran quickly toward those sounds. My friends and I got back on the bus, and returned to Jerusalem. Debbie, Mark, and I then went directly to the bar in the hotel, and toasted Christmas from there.

It was time for Mass to start at St. Rita. Father Michael had accosted me earlier, and asked,

“Do you have a pyx to take Communion back to Karin?”

I told him, “Yes.”

Karin wasn’t feeling strong enough to go to church with me. Father Michael knew that.

For those who don’t know, a “pyx”, is a small metal container (usually gold in color) used to bring the Eucharist (the wafer of bread that is also the Body of Christ) back to people who are unable to attend Mass. Communion is a big deal in the Catholic Church. There is no bigger deal. The Mass is the center of Catholic spiritual life, and the Eucharist is the center of the Mass. There are many levels of meaning to Communion. Sharing Communion binds us together in Christ. It’s difficult to explain. Either you get it or you don’t. For one person receiving Communion is the purest and deepest connection with the Incarnate God that is possible. To somebody else, it is just eating a cracker.

I read in front of the congregation. That exhausted me. Reading from Scripture is always an intense experience for me. Last night it left me feeling drained.

Later, I got in line (socially distanced) for Communion. I want to Deacon Greg, and I held out the open pyx.

He asked me, “Only one?”

“Yeah.”

Greg put the Eucharist into the pyx, and I snapped the lid shut. Then he lifted up another host and said,

“The Body of Christ.”

I replied, “Amen.”

Mass ended with a few people singing “Joy to the World.”

I walked out the front door. The wind whipped across my face.

It was snowing.

From the Heart

December 19th, 2020

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.”
― Blaise Pascal

“Create with the heart; build with the mind.”
― Criss Jami

Senji Kanaeda is a Japanese Buddhist monk. He and I met on a peace walk back in 2014. During that time, Senji and I became friends; perhaps more like brothers then friends. My wife, Karin, and I have stayed at Senji’s temple on Bainbridge Island several times. Over the years, Karin and Senji have connected in a deep way. It’s hard to explain in words. They just seem to have an intuitive understanding of each other.

Senji has a strong artistic talent. He is especially skilled in calligraphy. His beautiful writing is also part of his prayer, much like the painting of an icon is a prayer for an Orthodox Christian monk. Senji’s prayers are repetitive in a way. He almost always chants or writes “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo”. However, each time he writes that prayer, the end result is unique. None of his prayers are exactly the same, and none of his calligraphy is ever exactly the same.

When Senji learned that Karin was sick with COVID, he sent her this:

senji prayer
Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo

It is a prayer for Karin’s recovery and healing. Senji created it specifically for her. It is a message from his heart to hers.

The piece of paper hangs on the wall above Karin’s bed. Will the prayer make her better? Will it help her to physically recovery from the virus?

I don’t know. All I know is that the calligraphy was created with love.

With love all things are possible.

Mother and Child

December 17th, 2020

“No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away”

“Mother and Child Reunion” – Paul Simon

The young woman was able to see her son yesterday. She was finally cleared for COVID, and she went with her fiancé to St. Joseph Hospital to visit little Asher. Asher is in the NICU at the hospital. He’s “out of the box”. He no longer needs to be in the incubator. The young woman was able to hold her boy, for the first time since she gave birth to him.

Asher is two weeks old, and tiny. He will be in the the hospital for probably another five weeks. Then, at last, he will to come to our house. It will be his first home.

I could write more, but words are too clumsy. Instead, I am posting two photos.

The pictures say more than I ever could.

asher
mother and son

Advent

December 15th, 2020

“Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other- things that are of no real consequence- the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.”
,Letters from Prison – November 21, 1943”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.”
― Thomas Merton

“At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”
― Mother Teresa, Love: A Fruit Always in Season

Heidi called last night. She’s one of the teachers in the citizenship class at Voces de la Frontera. I’ve worked with her a lot over the years. A few weeks ago, I was studying in her class with an immigrant named Pedro. He took his citizenship yesterday. I was working with him intensively because his test was so soon, and because he really wasn’t ready for it. I tried to meet with him every other day to help him to learn the answers to the questions.

Then COVID hit.

I told Heidi about COVID erupting in our house. Then I told Pedro. Heidi took Pedro under her wing, even though she had many other students to teach in her class. I felt bad about abandoning Pedro, but I had no choice in the matter.

Anyway, Heidi called me last night. She was excited. She had asked me earlier if there was anything that she could do for us while we were all down with the virus. I had told her not to bother. We had plenty of food, and nobody wanted to eat anything anyway. COVID is a surprisingly effective diet program.

Heidi told me,

“I’m bringing you a meal! You just have to warm it up! I’m only five minutes away!”

I initially thought to protest, but then I said,

“Sure, come on by. I have the porch light on.”

I waited for Heidi to show up. I noticed a a car parked on the street two houses away from us. Then I heard Heidi talking with a neighbor. Then I saw her walking toward our home.

She shouted at me as she came nearer to the house.

“Pedro passed his test!”, and then she laughed.

She continued, “I didn’t know how he did it, but he passed!”

Heidi dumped the food on to our porch, and kept a safe and respectful distance from me.

I said, “Yeah, he’s like a god. He knows how succeed.”

Heidi said goodbye, and returned quickly to her vehicle. I dragged the supplies into the house.

Mother Teresa advised people to “Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.” Heidi needed to express that love. She really and truly wanted to love and serve us, and to do it in a concrete, physical way. I needed to allow her to do so. Love requires both giving and receiving. She needed to give. I needed to be vulnerable enough to receive.

Advent is about opening ourselves wide enough to allow God to become Incarnate. Are we making room for the Christ Child in our house? Well, I know that we are making room for a baby boy named Asher. He’s as close to a living, breathing Christ Child as we are likely to see. All of us in our house long to meet Asher. We can hardly wait. He won’t make it out of the NICU before Christmas, so our Advent will last a few weeks longer than that of most people. When he does arrive, we will open our door to him.

We have already opened our hearts.