Editor's Note: Quinn G. Caldwell is pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Syracuse, NY and a member of the UCC Stillspeaking Writers’ Group. He previously served as Associate Pastor at Old South Church in Boston and pastoral resident at Wellesley Congregational Church in Wellesley. He has published a new book, All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Wellesley Congregational (Village) Church will be hosting a reading, reception, and signing with Quinn on Saturday, November 15 at 3:30 pm. Following is the introduction and an excerpt from that book:
Let’s just get one thing straight: this book is not going to help you “simplify the season.” It’s not going to help you with the “Christmas time-crunch.” It’s not going to help you organize your holidays, throw a stress-free Christmas party, or create the Best Christmas Ever in five easy steps. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m sure there’s a Special Double Holiday Bonus Issue! of some trendy home magazine at the grocery store you can drop fifteen bucks on. (And if you do, will you grab me one? I love those things.)
I’m not here to simplify anything for you. Neither is God. If you have too many cookie exchanges or whatever, you’re just going to have to find a way to deal with that yourself.
This book is actually designed to complicate the season. It’s here to invite you to think and pray a little more deeply about it, not organize it all until it’s easy. Here’s how it works: for each day in December (roughly equivalent to the church season of Advent) and for the twelve days following Christmas (the church season of Christmastide), there’s one reading for the morning and one for the evening. Each one consists of a Bible passage, a short reflection, and a prayer. Because action usually precedes belief, not the other way around, the reading will more often than not include a task for you to do, or at least a question to think about. There’s also a calendar of small daily actions you can take, should you choose—small actions that all aim to help you make a little holy breathing space. Like everything else in the world, what you get out of these assignments will depend on what you put into them. So do it right.
The Christmas season is a time when churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike tend to experience strong spiritual longings. Whatever the longing looks like on the outside, for most of us, deep down it’s a longing for an experience of something holy, something beautiful. Something like God. So although this book is here to add things to your to-do list, not to take them away, I hope that the doing of them will create room—maybe just enough room—for God to show up.
I don’t know about you, but this year, that’s all I really want.
Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—because you are the God who saves me. I put my hope in you all day long. (Psalm 25:5)
Some days it seems like waiting is all you do. For the train. For a reply to your e-mail. For your lunch order. For somebody at the customer service center, which is “experiencing higher-than-normal call volume,” to pick up the freaking phone. For the other shoe to drop. Some days it feels like everybody but you is in control of your time, and all you can do—even if they have Highlights magazine in the waiting room—is sit around hoping they’ll get to you soon.
Apparently, the malls and stores feel pretty much the same way; these days, they put up their Christmas decorations before Halloween. I hate delayed gratification as much as the next guy, but the fact that all the big retailers seem to be against waiting is pretty much a guarantee that there must be some virtue in it.
So today, since you’ll be doing so much of it anyway, see if you can discover the virtue in waiting. Try to pay attention whenever you find yourself sitting around. Don’t stick your earphones in or take your book out as soon as you get to the bus stop. Don’t go for Angry Birds as soon as you get to the grocery line. Instead, notice: who’s making you wait? Why? What are you waiting for? How important is it? Who’s waiting with you? Why are you so impatient; is the next thing you have to do really so important? Why?
And most important of all: what are you really waiting for?
OK, God. You know I’m no good at this waiting thing. But I know you are. So enter into my wait and liven things up. Amen.
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