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Peace and Joy

Exams are finished, papers handed in.

I am back from the silent retreat where the snow fell softly for 48 hours and I curled up with books and wrote and thought and sat and breathed deeply. We trekked through the snow to the abbey for prayers. We dreamed and we prayed and we thought and we wrote, and I'm pretty sure we heard things in the silence.

My Christmas shopping is one small gift from finished.The first gift has been given and received. After dinner out with my roommate this evening, we exchanged gifts - beautiful, lovely, thoughtful gifts. And cards. Cards with near-matching sentiments of prayerful care and gratitude for one another. I feel a great deal of gratitude this month, one extended sigh of relief.

And yet, as I ponder the concepts of peace and joy, what they mean, and how we live them out, there is much to be somber about.
This afternoon I took photos for a family whose baby was not expected to live two months, and now they celebrate Christmas with her. Her diagnosis is terminal, imminent. 

I visited another child whose recovery from serious illness is uncertain. Back in the hospital again, she laughed and teased, but fell quickly to tears as nausea overcame her.
A coworker's wife recovers from surgery to remove cancerous tumours and faces further treatment; it is not the first time cancer has visited their home.
Another friend posts often about his fight with leukemia. They are losing ground, but he and his wife maintain a level of courage and peace that moves me greatly.

I have so few answers for the way life moves and the waves that carry us to unexpected and difficult places. Yet I am not losing hope; not the way I did a few years ago. This time around, I see glimpses of peace and joy. Laughter, from a child who's being fed through a tube. A father seeing his baby without oxygen tubes for the first time. Communities rallying around their loved ones.

There is so much beauty in the way the "good" and the "bad" run side by side, how the happiest parts of life are entwined with great difficulty. I think I am almost (tentatively, reluctantly, nervously) ready to accept that the good and the bad, the highs and the lows come hand-in-hand and are both to be embraced. I've spent a lot of time avoiding and mourning the lows, and I don't think those are wrong instincts. But to quote CS Lewis, you can't have one without the other.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

The plan was not to make this a post about Christmas, but my thoughts are taking me there... It's a time of year that brings some of the best and worst of our culture, some of the highest and lowest of memories. And in the Nativity story, the greatest gift at the highest cost.

My search then, ceases to be for the safest life, but for one in which I experience, in the midst of all the tragedies, peace and joy. And hope.


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