Advent, the period leading up to Christmas, has a way of bringing out the crazy in people. In the past few weeks a number of situations in church-land and beyond have seemed to escalate in intensity and anxiety. Several people that I counsel or have pastoral charge of seem to be having a harder time than normal, and I really think it's because of the added pressure of this season. Between the holiday parties and gifts and church events and services, things are getting more crazy in every way.
For example.... A few days ago I was assaulted by a mentally ill person known to our community. I don't want to share too much on this for legal reasons, but it is something much on my mind, obviously. I got punched in the stomach while standing in the doorway to the church by someone because they thought, in their delusional state, that this was a good idea. I was actually talking to 911 at the time, and the police did come and arrest this person for assault. Luckily, my ample ninja-priest tummy has a near-magical ability to absorb punches, so I'm absolutely fine. The person that hit me was not very strong. The last (and only other) time I was assaulted was in Los Angeles when I did social work, and I could write a whole set of "lessons learned" from both occurrences.
So... the precautions we take at the church to lock doors and install video cameras may seem excessive for some, but then something like this happens and we all realize that due vigilance is required, especially for those of us in urban ministry. As this story has gotten out, a LOT of my colleagues have shared similar incidents. One guy I know was chased out of St. Thomas' by a mentally disturbed person. It can happen to any of us, at any time.
The police are handling it and I suspect this person will be re-institutionalized, which is the best thing for it. I just wish that we had a better way to help the severely mentally ill than the criminal justice system. It's a shame that we've criminalized mental illness.
What concerns me now, however, is the way that this "craziness" fits a December pattern. I know a lot of other people that find this time of year very, very difficult. I, myself, find it difficult to maintain a positive attitude when I worry about the church deficit or certain parishioners that are having a hard time coping right now.
And yet there is a lot to be positive about. We recently had five new people join the church. Next week I'm going to expand the Contemplative Eucharists to Saturdays. The Women's Bible Study is flourishing. I'm thinking of starting some kind of house church event. I think most people in the parish are extremely happy with the way ministry is happening here. So why is my soul troubled?
I've wondered whether this is displaced anxiety from my coming fatherhood. Yet I was similarly anxious last December, so maybe not. And when I think of the baby I'm mostly excited. I get a lot of prayer and meditation these days, but what I experience are strong feelings of concern and love that ache with something close to nostalgia or regret, not joy and elation (as I have felt at other times). All I have to do is attend to my feelings at the Contemplative Eucharist on Wednesdays or the Healing Prayer service on Saturdays and there IT is--that feeling of December anxiousness.
The Advent Prose (Rorate Coeli) resonate remarkably well with it. We've been singing a modern English translation in place of the Gloria/Kyrie on Sundays. It's a searching, longing melody that just aches with desire for the fulfilment of God's Advent promise. "Pour down, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness." It's a haunting musical/liturgical meditation on the hope of the prophets. Perfect for the crazy season upon us.