This was definitely not on my list of potential New Year’s resolutions: “Have breakfast with a young man from Zambia.”
And yet, praise the Lord, I can already cross it off – done and done!
He and I were fellow retreatants at King’s House this weekend, where much of our time (outside of meals) was spent in silence, so I didn’t even get a chance to catch his name. And yet, I was blessed by our brief encounter – me, a once-upon-a-time student at a seminary run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate…and he, a novice discerning whether to join that same religious congregation in 2022.
My wife Gerri and I have made these New Year’s Eve retreats a cherished part of our tradition in recent years – so we had to chuckle when the young man asked us how Americans tend to celebrate the holiday. Admittedly, “silent retreat” doesn’t rank high among the options in our culture.
But we’ve learned there are gifts to be discovered in the stillness, and in the talks presented by the retreat leaders. In this particular new year, for example, by liturgical calendar coincidence, we spent time meditating both on the spirituality of our blessed mother…and those odd magi guys who show up out of nowhere seeking to acknowledge a most unlikely king.
What do they have in common, Mary and the magi? This gift, among other things: a willingness to let go of their personal to-do lists, and allow God to run things for a while.
“Emptiness,” we heard, is a common complaint today – especially among those whose lives are overcrowded with ephemeral tasks and commitments. And yet, if we look to Mary and the magi, we discover how emptiness – when given over to God – can actually accomplish a great deal. Our emptiness can wind up helping to reveal Christ to the world.
Often, though, our spirits are troubled: We wonder whether we are up to the task. “Am I good enough, suitable enough, to bear such a gift?” But in point of fact, such a question reveals that we simply are not empty enough. Mary, through her ordinary life as mother and spouse, shows us how to trust that most of the work will done by God, not by our fallible broken selves.
So how’s this for a New Year’s resolution in 2022, one that might wind up playing all the way from Zambia to Manchester, MO? Whatever we are, we give to God – the God who is delighted to pitch a tent in our neighborhood, however humble. And by making of our lives such a gift, let’s just see if we can form an emptiness that God has been waiting ever-so-patiently to fill.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.