I love going to Sunday Mass during the special seasons of the liturgical year. Advent liturgies always bring me back from all the trappings of the season and remind me of what is most important.
The Sunday readings contain a wealth of life lessons and pre-Christmas inspiration. This year we hear from Isaiah that we are to beat our “swords into plowshares” and our “spears into pruning hooks.” We read about working for peace and justice. We hear the message of repentance from John the Baptist and are told to be awake!
Taking a risk
Along with wonderful Sunday liturgies, it seems that if I am truly “awake” as the season calls me to be, my ordinary life also gives me inspiration. Recently, inspiration came to me at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis when I was there as a “crazy, excited” fan of the high school football finals.
I was walking around looking at the new stadium and I noticed two young Muslim women in the midst of predominantly white folks. Immediately I was reminded of the increased rate of hateful speech, crimes and bullying many refugees and immigrants face now in our country. Then a conversation began in my mind — that thing we call “self-talk.”
“What can I do about what these women in hijabs go through daily because of their faith? I can say something but what? What if I make a fool of myself and say something stupid or wrong to them? OK, I will just walk by.”
To my surprise, I found myself purposefully walking up to the two of them. Enough of doing nothing when something good needs to happen. Enough of worrying about feeling stupid or being afraid to say something wrong.
“Hello,” I said. “I just want you to know that I love your hijabs. They are beautiful.”
I started to walk away quickly after one of the young women said a hesitant “thanks” to me. The other woman turned toward me and said, “Thank you” with a huge smile on her face. She kept her eyes on me as she said, “Thank you so much!” and her hand went to her heart. Again she said, “Thank you.”
I knew immediately that she understood what I was trying to say in my abrupt and clumsy attempt to show support. At my best, I would have said, “Hi. I know you don’t know me, but I just want to let you know that I am not one of those people who will harass you. I want you to know that I appreciate all the goodness and beauty you bring to this community. I am also very sorry for all you go through each day because you are not like me. I support you and I want you to know that.”
I didn’t have the words, but somehow what I said touched her heart. I knew she understood.
Is that what Advent is about? Is that what being awake is about?
As I reflect on my experience, I am reminded that Jesus wasn’t like me either — not Caucasian, not middle class, a stranger in Bethlehem.
People said to Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them so they ended up in a barn. Despite their lowly state in life, the angels came, the shepherds came and the Wise Ones came, all showing their support, love and acceptance to this little one born in a stable. All of this while King Herod was plotting to kill Jesus. Who are we in this Christmas story?
Our pastor last Sunday called on each of us to do three kind things every day during Advent this year. Just three kind things.
How would my thinking change if I spent time each day trying to find someone to be kind to? Would kindness replace some of the judgment, anger and fear that I often feel? Would looking for ways to be kind create more peace in my heart and around me? Yes, I believe it will.
Advent is a wonderful time of the year. Let us pray for the grace to be awake to the world around us and to fill that piece of the world with kindness.
Kathy Langer is director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud.