Everything, This is Gonna Change Everything

No doubt this past year has been unprecedented in countless ways, not the least being it is just plain ol’ strange. As one who works in church ministry, whose daily tasks and overall flow of life center around the liturgical year, I should be gearing up for Lent, but some time since the beginning of December, deep within I have found myself largely stuck in Advent.

I love the season of Advent. Admittedly I think I may love it even more than Christmas. Why this might be, I am not entirely sure. My suspicions lead me to believe in the confines of my melancholic (and often melodramatic) temperament, there is a congruence found between the inner angst that perpetually dwells underneath the surface and the notion of waiting for fulfillment. Advent is all about the anticipation of an ultimate fulfillment that is yet to come.

Living through a global pandemic has, for so many of us, stripped away the insulation we sometimes use to keep ourselves distant from the core truths of who we really are, of what it is that scares us, of what it is that truly motivates us. Living with a young adult who only comes out of her room and up for air/food every few days and a husband whose survival as a psychotherapist in these demanding times requires more sleep than usual, not infrequently I find myself feeling as if I am on a perpetual silent retreat. And truth be told, the idea of a silent retreat has always terrified me. But here I am.

It has been a great temptation to escape this place of solitude, this classroom of the soul. Lord knows I have succumbed many a time, filling hours on end with a cacophony of news. Ingesting too much of this mental and emotional clutter tosses me about and leaves me feeling angry with all my enemies, fearful for the future and with an overall feeling of helplessness.

Approaching the month of December, I challenged myself to gather together Advent songs that stir my spirit and share one each day on social media, resulting in a complete Advent playlist I can listen to for years to come. What I didn’t know at the time was this self-assignment would plunge me into a perpetual place of waiting and anticipation and contemplation and discernment I have remained in for months.

The lynchpin of this entire adventure is a song my friend Julie Ann lavishly shared with me during Advent. It has become a never-ending earworm, playing through my head and digging deep into my soul almost every day. Everything is its title, Taylor Leonhardt is the artist. She creatively sings of the birth of Love Incarnate into our world and how this is gonna change everything. If you are so inclined, you can listen to it here. This is a sampling of the lyrics (the words that especially resonate with me are bolded):

Like a thief in the night
With the dog in the fight
Took the world by surprise
You woke the woods from a sleep
Blew the wind through the trees
Shook the dust from the leaves

Everything, this is gonna change everything
This is gonna change everything
This is gonna change everything

All the reds turn to blue
All the old turns to new
When we get a look at you
You flipped the whole thing around
Brought the sky to the ground

You are here with us now
You are here with us now

Everything, this is gonna change everything
This is gonna change everything
This is gonna change everything

I’ve taken to walking in the silence of the forest as of late to plunge myself more deeply into the question that this song has raised for me. If the Incarnation of God changes everything, which I wholeheartedly believe it did and it does and it will, what keeps me from letting Love change everything in me?

This year it took a while for the snow to fall in our area. It wasn’t until after Christmas when we received our first significant accumulation. Reaching the path through the forest at dawn after a snowfall, early enough to ensure my boots create the first human footprints, has been the greatest of delights. These encounters tap into a deep well of joy and wonder I remember drawing from as a child when in the presence of freshly fallen snow.

Author Katherine May eloquently captures this experience in her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times as she writes:

I think snow — what I love about snow is the way that it makes a clean break. It transforms the landscape. Everything’s different. Everything sounds different. The quality of light is different. The light kind of sparkles off it…you get to see your world in a different way. And it’s beautiful.

Yet each time I make my way down to the shores of the river, absorbing the magical and healing beauty along the way, there is one thing that consistently comes to my mind. While the snow transforms the surface of everything it touches, the transfiguration which the Incarnation of God beckons me to embrace has a deeper starting point. It cultivates change at the cellular levels of my being. It’s an inside job that leads to an exterior metamorphosis witnessed in how I live my life.

We all know of these people, the ones who have undergone this metamorphosis. We know them in the pages of history and some of us are fortunate to know them personally. Their actions and the disposition of their hearts are congruent with their beliefs. And just as Katherine May described the snow, the same can be said about them. They transform the landscape of this world that can be so cruel and harsh. They sound different. Their quality of light is different. Light sparkles off of them and they help us to see the world differently. They are beautiful.

But the question persists, what keeps me from letting the Incarnation of God change everything in me? I can think of a few things for starters. Love Incarnate will require me to die to my ego. It will demand me to pray for the people whose words and actions I find vile. Going even further, it will insist that I love those same people. It will ask me to embrace the way of the cross, which is a surrender of power. The complete answer, I think, is one that is multi-faceted and will be an ongoing and life-long discovery. Without a doubt, the process of transfiguration is a counter-cultural one and counter to my selfish interests. It is revolutionary and radical, surely not something I am capable of on my own.

Although this is all quite overwhelming, the “how” of where to begin came to me one recent day in the stillness and quiet of the blanketed forest: co·​op·​er·​a·​tion. It is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “the process of working together to the same end.” Not one to adopt resolutions in the New Year so as to avoid self-flagellation when I fail just days after beginning, I have instead taken to adopting a word. Cooperation is mine to embrace for 2021.

What does cooperation look like in my life? Perhaps it means recommitting to consistently spend time in quiet each day; for me, this is early in the morning before the sun comes up. Everything is still and I can listen better. It looks like ingesting the Word of God each day; for me this is tuning into a podcast entitled, Pray as You Go, which helps me to efficiently enter into a short time of focused prayer and is congruent with my liturgical life as a Catholic. Staying informed, but limiting my absorption of the news is a form of cooperation, because it so easily tempts me to division and dehumanization of others with whom I disagree. Offering my simple, ordinary life at the feet of my Creator and asking that He make of it whatever He deems it to be is another way. Cooperation requires reading and contemplating the words of a wide swath of wisdom speakers from every race, religion and culture so as to expand my narrow perspective. And it most definitely necessitates paying attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and responding, rather than analyzing and doubting their source, eventually deciding against action.

When I went to sleep last night, there was a big snowstorm on its way. I made certain to set my alarm early enough so that I might be the first human to discover the fantastical beauty that was to come. At 7:00 A.M., just as daylight was breaking, I trekked two blocks and crossed the street to pass through the opening in the primitive stone wall that divides modernity from the Riverbank Estate and its forests that remain largely unchanged since the early 1900s. Making my way through this ethereal panorama, I observed how each and every branch in these woods yields and bends to receive transformation, gracefully allowing its exquisite beauty to give glory to the Creator. I was reminded if God can transform an uninspired, mundane and monochromatic landscape of winter with a lavish and heavy covering of snow, surely He can begin a new transfiguration within me today if I but yield and bend to receive the divine grace that is freely offered.

Exiting the cathedral of nature and walking back into my suburban neighborhood, it feels as if Advent has finally released me from its two-month grip on my soul. On the horizon, I can just barely glimpse a faint dawning of the new liturgical season to come. Everything, THIS is gonna change everything, this IS GONNA change everything, this is gonna CHANGE everything, so long as I cooperate. Let the metamorphosis begin.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Susie Roberts says:

    And the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Such is the power of metamorphosis. We go from crawling to flying; from eating leaves to sipping nectar; from hiding under the leaves to dancing in the sunlight. This changes Everything.

    Liked by 1 person

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