The domestic church is like an enclosed garden; a planned space
for the cultivation, nurture and care of the family.
The present is the only chance to build our family as a domestic church.
Entitled, "My Parents Should Let Me Get Guinea Pigs," one of our daughters handed us a paper she wrote. She proceeded to give three reasons why: first, she had enough money to buy a pair; second, she has proven herself responsible as she had pet hamsters when she was younger; third, she spent a year exploring the types of guinea pigs, the characteristics of each type, and the necessary daily care regimen for the type she wanted to get. She wrote this paper because we asked her to write one before we would consider the idea of guinea pigs as pets for her.
Our son, a college student, is home for the holidays. As he is wont to do when at home, he goes out with old high school friends and he goes to the homeless shelter on Saturday mornings with his Dad. Every Saturday morning since he was three years old, my husband has brought him along to the local men's emergency housing to meet the men there, have a devotional time with them and take them to breakfast. Our son remembers that once there was a man who was just released from jail the night before and had no shoes. Another man hitch-hiked all the way from Alaska.
The Chinese missionary priest unlocked a small windowless room on the second floor, and we all took off our shoes as our family followed him into the room with the floor covered by a nylon mat. The room was empty except for a low table at one end of the room, and on the table was a small box, and on each side of the box was an electric candle that was lit. He bowed very low with his forehead almost touching the mat, and we did the same gesture. On closer look, the table was an ordinary coffee table and the small box was a cheap jewelry box like a miniature armoire with a clock on it that did not have the correct time. In fact, the clock was not running. Our children asked, "Where is the tabernacle?" The priest pointed to the jewelry box as if he understood what our children asked. The children tried to restrain their giggles. Their gleeful amusement at an unexpected tabernacle with a clock was muted by a great effort to be reverent in the presence of Jesus.
What is there more to do after Gaudete Sunday? After the rose candle of the Advent wreath is lit, many of us almost abandon the last purple candle. The preparations for Christmas start to reach fever pitch as lists, presents, wrappers, home decorations, recipes, guests, and family traditions all vie for our imagination and attention. But it is still Advent. There is one more candle waiting to be lit.
We lit the second candle of the Advent wreath and I don't know what I did differently last week besides lighting the first Advent candle. How can we make this Advent be different from all the past ones? "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His path," we heard at church. One of the most intriguing passages in the Bible for me goes, "More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) Because tortuous means full of twists and turns, I imagine the the topography of my heart to be circuitous, tangled and meandering. "Make straight the way of the Lord." HOW?
My mom always recalled our birth-stories on our birthdays and we do the same for our children now. I am glad that hospitals allow dads in the delivery room, so the eyewitness account we render to our children about their birth is more accurate and can be recounted by both of us. From the first contractions, to the weather that day, to the drive to the hospital, to medical people who attended to us and procedures done, we recall and share with our children the special moments that made each birth-day memorable - especially when we saw each one for the first time. My husband, our child and I were all the main characters of the event that day and on each birthday, we make present once more that special event in our lives and the life of our family. Then we celebrate!
It is like a match made in heaven - my husband and children, who love cookies, and a neighbor across the street who owns the best cookie shop in the city. The Cookie-Lady, as we call her, comes to our door to deliver the special cookies herself - a large heart-shaped one for Valentine's, fancy colorful iced ones for Halloween, a plate of assorted Christmas cookies wrapped-up with an elaborate bow for Christmas. Whereas customers pay a price for these cookies, we get them as prizes for being her neighbor!
A martial arts instructor teaches his students to guard against tunnel vision wherein one who is in active combat begins to focus on one feature of the fight or on one weakness of the opponent. He instructs his students to always be keenly aware of the whole arena and to orient himself to all that is happening around him with the opponent at any given time. Like the athlete, we can focus on our proximate reality and forget that as Christians, we have awakened to an immense reality much more expansive than the immediate world to include the spiritual reality and life beyond physical death.
I saw my grandmother today - in the mirror! I was shocked at how I looked so much like her. She had very long hair and always wore it up in a bun with a comb on either side to make sure it stayed in place. A Saturday morning of cleaning out the basement necessitated putting up my hair so it didn't get in the way of sorting many things accumulated and needed to be discarded. Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror temporarily jarred me out of my mission. It has been several decades since my grandmother died and I haven't thought much about her. While my hands got back to working, my mind became busy with memories of her and many loved ones who have died. Lord, have mercy on their souls.
Even very small things that possess beauty move us. From one of his trips to China, my husband brought home a gift for me that I keep on my nightstand because it inspires me to reflect on saints. It is an inside-painted snuff bottle and I am fascinated by how they are painted. Snuff bottles are very small bottles (about 2 inches) that fit comfortably in the hand and used to carry powdered tobacco, which was believed to be medicinal, during the Qing Dynasty in China for the rich and influential people. They were usually intricately and elaborately made to reflect the user's status in that society. Today, they are made as souvenirs. An inside-painted snuff bottle has images painted on the cavity-walls inside a clear bottle, and the images are appreciated from outside of the bottle. Like these clear bottles, we marvel at the beauty that God has painted in the saints' interior lives that we can admire from their exterior lives.