It’s fairly common in the bishop’s office this time of year to notice a measurable uptick in the number of phone calls, visits, and emails from distressed clergy and lay leaders. Stewardship season is naturally a challenging time for congregations. Combine that with planning for Christmas worship services, attending holiday parties, and negotiating the sensitive details of family gatherings, and it’s understandable that the Christmas cheer we are “supposed” to be feeling can be hard to come by.
Evagrius’s eight thoughts–the demons–are in rare form this time of year, and navigating around them can be a little like walking through a house of mirrors. Everywhere we look we see distorted visions of ourselves and others. The wavy mirrors reflect an illusory reality, one where our self image is out of whack and we’re surrounded by twisted representations of our companions. And when we turn around, desperate to find our way out, we realize we’re stuck in a maze. In the words of the beleaguered souls seeking refuge and hope from John in the wilderness, “What then should we do?”
As we heard in the Gospel reading this past Sunday, John the Baptist offers a simple, yet profound response to the anxiety of the season. He says, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” In other words, love one another in a tangible way. When a friend is tired and stressed, reach out in compassion. When we’re down on ourselves, find healthy ways to take care of our body. When we feel like lashing out, show affection instead.
The desert tradition is all about cultivating love, or, to use the Greek term, agape. Agape is God-centered love, and our capacity to show agape comes not from us but from God. In this sense, the reservoir for love in our lives is deep and wide, regardless of how drained we might feel. Anger, pride, and the other thoughts can distort this truth, yet there is always room for more love.
If Advent is dragging on a bit too long for you this year, make love your practice. You’ve got it in you. In the immortal words of the Dixie Chicks, “More Love / I can hear our hearts cryin’ / More love / I know that’s all we need / More love / To flow in between us / To take us and hold us / And lift us above / If there’s ever an answer it’s more love.” Listen to the song here.
This post is part of the Desert Prayers Project. Learn more at desertprayers.com.