Thoughts on a Monday in early January.
It’s really just a calendar flip but emerging into a new year inevitably brings serious and sometimes disheartening reflections. There are of course the annual “new year’s resolutions,” which are healthy for us even if often transitory.
But for many “beginning again,” gearing up for the routines of daily life can bring on what the French call “ennui” – “feelings of listlessness, dissatisfaction arising from a lack of excitement.”
Without attempting any pop-psychology here, a few thoughts are in order.
First and foremost, in our spiritual/liturgical experiences this “lack of excitement” is understandable. Behind us are the uplifting weeks of Advent when everything pointed to “waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.” We’ve celebrated the culminating moment of that waiting as Jesus’ nativity arrives and holds our attention for some days afterward. Then come the Epiphany moments (the Magi, Jesus’ baptism by John, and the miracle at Cana). These events, when understood in their fullest sense, enliven the promise from Luke’s Gospel: “in the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us…”
So now that’s all over and the humdrum of daily life faces us. Even the weather in our northern hemisphere can add to feelings of “listnessness.” For some there often is the experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
This post-holiday time challenges us to take up once again the tasks of our personal health and well-being; the ups and downs of family life and other relationships. If we are engaged in broader issues – for example, as members of Pax Christi – we are faced again with the enormous, unfinished and often frustrating work of “trying to hasten the day of the Lord” – co-creating God’s peaceable kingdom on earth.
If this return to Ordinary Time brings on such feelings, there is a truth hidden in plain sight worth considering. That is the entirely routine, unexciting life which Jesus lived for most of his time on earth. Not enough attention is given to this dimension of the Incarnation but it speaks to the universal experience of human life.
“He went down with them to Nazareth and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). This is written as a finale to that curious event of the 12-year-old Jesus’ being found by his parents after a three-day search. From that time until he appears at Cana some 18 years later we can only surmise what his life was like. Evidently, he learns his father’s trade and becomes known as “the carpenter of Nazareth.” He must have worked at that trade and supported his mother all those years in this mundane (boring?) way.
The Cana event only partially pulls back the curtain of “Jesus’ hidden life.” His mother is invited to a wedding reception and as perhaps something of an afterthought, “Jesus was also invited.” Nothing exceptional there. When the situation of insufficient wine comes to his mother’s attention and she mentions it to him, his reaction is simply: “My hour has not yet come.”
All of this points to the fact that “God with Us” lived in the ordinary events of human life during most of his time on earth. It offers insights and consolation for us as we move through our own day-to-day lives.
Some thoughts in the form of prayers from Karl Rahner, SJ, the theologian of the ordinary, round out and underscore this reflection.
- “I see clearly now that, if there is any path at all on which I can approach You, it must lead through the very middle of my ordinary life.”
- “I must be able to find You in every place, in each and everything I do. Otherwise, I could not find you at all…”
- “I must seek you in all things… every day is your day, and every hour is the hour of your grace.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.