This Advent, and through Christmas eve, last night, three questions have been posed to me that I want to share, because they made me think and feel differently about Christmas (which is itself remarkable, because so much of Christmas, for me, is about returning to the same traditions and reflections year after year).
The first is, “Who loves you most in the world?” followed by, “How will you let love lead this Advent?”
The last is: “Whose story are you called to be a part of in this coming year?”
The first two I came upon during L’Arche’s Advent retreat in early December. As a group, the community came together for a morning where we talked about Joy, Hope, Peace and Love. The morning’s reflection was facilitated by the “As I Am” videos, a series of short films about the individuals in different L’Arche communities around the world. I highly, highly recommend watching any and all of them. They will all make you cry.
That morning, the one that made me cry the most was “No Lions in Paris,” which shows the journey of Musa, from Kenya, as he vacations in Paris. In it, Musa narrates as if he were a travel guide.
He tells us the first thing we should do when we leave home is “Say goodbye and ask your friends to pray for you.” We see him on the plane; observing and participating in life in Paris; making new friends; and also making very true and funny observations about Parisians (“They eat tree leaves like goats”).
All of this is moving, and it is especially moving to see his joy as he experiences these things with his companions. We see what he sees, through new eyes - through his eyes. But the most significant moment comes when it is time to return home, and Musa says, “I didn’t stay long, because I had to go to work, and go back to the people who love me most.”
That is a striking sentence. It struck me because it is spoken without any doubt; with such directness and with Musa’s own faith that he is very, very loved. And so we see scenes of Musa’s return, where he greets his community with open arms, walking toward them for hugs and kisses, never once turned away, being danced around and celebrated in his homecoming, because he is, indeed, loved.
And so, after the film was over, in the quietness of our own hearts, and then in small groups, we were asked to answer the questions, “Who loves you most in the world?”
It took me aback. I am used to thinking of all those people I love the most, and never once considering who it is who loves me most. I know my answers - just as probably you do, too - but it changed the way I look at myself. Me, beloved. Maybe even more so by someone I had not considered! Whose love for me has been ongoing, steadfast, present, and has changed me, made me who I am? What has it meant to me, to be loved? How is it I see and measure the love that those around me give, and am sure of it? What about those at a distance - how is it that love cuts through distance and lands on us with the same effect as that given in the immediate? And I thought of all the different kinds of love, all landing on me, and on everyone - the love of siblings, of friends, of parents, of mentors, of priests, of co-workers, of those who know us well, and see us. All valid forms of love, no more important than another. All working on us, as God’s love works on us. And these are reflections of the love God has for us, because that is what earthly love is - the reflection, the closeness and approximation, of the grandness of God’s love for us. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known…”
So after: this was followed by, “How will I let Love lead this Advent?” It being Christmas day today, I will turn this to simply, “How will I let Love lead?” I immediately thought of the Holy Spirit. Can we substitute “Holy Spirit” for love? This is a common challenge in the spiritual life, to allow the Spirit to work, rather than to try and make the Spirit work how we want. Thine will be done (not mine). What on earth do we have to lose when we let Love lead? I will take this with me through the year.
The last question: “Whose story are you called to be a part of in this coming year?” The priest last night asked this in his Christmas eve homily. We are a part of the story of Jesus, and he is a part of our story. We know the story of the night of his birth, by virtue of hearing it many times - Mary and Joseph with the donkey on the road; the angels appearing to the shepherds; the Wise Men on their path; all of it. It is a story, our story, but one that is not over, because always we will be asked to be with one another, in love, in each other’s stories. We cannot give up on one another; flee when things get tough, abandon a relationship when it becomes difficult. My spiritual director recently told me, “This is where real holiness happens. It’s not just in feeding the homeless - it is in the nitty gritty of knowing other people.” There is where we arrive!
How will I let love lead, how will I know those who love me, how will I show love, like Christ, with the pure and beautiful trust of Musa, because I am beloved?