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Article for January 15, 2012

WET, COLD, GRAY, JANUARY

It’s a wet kind of cold…a cold that finds its way through the seams and zippers of a thick coat…cold that seeps like a Sherlock Holmes’ fog through open pores, arteries and blood vessels, coiling down and down, eventually nesting in the gaps of spongy bone tissue. It’s a cold that cannot be measured by the tools of traditional meteorology. This kind of cold is measured in bones and joints rather than thermometers and wind chill indices. It’s a Saint Louis in January kind of cold. Up until fairly recently, our winter has been more San Diego than Saint Louis, but the old-timers know that this won’t last long.

December in Saint Louis comes with a side order of multi-colored Christmas lights, carols, concerts, wreathes, and relatives. By January, the wrapping paper and lights of December have all been stripped away. The cookies worth eating are long since gone. The few that remain on our counter taste of staleness, black licorice, or the inedible fruitcake whose tin they co-habitate.

As a Saint Louisan, I picture the January mudrooms of New England, Michigan, and Minnesota all cluttered with boots, skates, cross-country skis, and toboggans. In Saint Louis, typically, my son’s Christmas sled gathers dust while a thirty-degree drizzle falls through barren branches, polishing rush hour morning streets…eventually resolving into mud…but no snow, and no day off.

December’s soundtrack is loaded with the sounds of sleigh bells and carols. In our family, January is the month of the perpetual chest cold. If January has a soundtrack, by my reckoning, it would be the cacophony of sleep-interrupting, nighttime coughs and the constant drone of vaporizers. If December smells of candy cane and evergreens, January smells of VapoRub and Nyquil.

More than a decade ago by now, the Saint Louis football fan could find respite from January’s icy grip in the warm glow of his or her television set tuned into the NFL playoffs. Alas, these days, Saint Louis football fans are the poor Little Matchgirls of the NFL, sitting on the outside looking in on other city’s football glory. For the hapless Saint Louis football fan, January may have actually started in September.

This Sunday, smack in the middle of January, we marked the official end of the nearly two month-long Advent/Christmas journey. John the Baptist, the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Bethlehem, a stable, a manger, Simeon, Anna…the Church’s Advent/Christmas journey, like the Magi’s Epiphany star, had a kind of December-like luminous glow about it. This Sunday’s Gospel (John 1: 35-42) turned a page to “Ordinary Time.”

There on the banks of the Jordan River, it was as if the calendar had flipped. Warm and glowing December turned into workaday January. Jesus’ infancy in Bethlehem, and boyhood in Nazareth gave way to a manhood that would begin on the banks of the Jordan. There, standing beside those muddy waters, Jesus proclaimed (in not so many words) “It’s time to get to work.” Time for preaching, healing, disciples, Pharisees, sleeplessness, travel, crowds, Galilee, Samaria, Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, and Calvary too.

It may be that there are some among us who were born with a natural gift for resilience. For those lucky few, perhaps their DNA itself came with a set of instructions on how to stay positive and warm on a Saint Louis-style January day. The good news for the rest of us, who were not endowed with this kind of happy inheritance, is that resilience is a skill that can be learned. Researchers tell us that belief systems are the heart and soul of resilience. Those people who continue to thrive in harsh, Saint Louis January kinds of life situations, are the people who nurture basic beliefs that allow them to find the positive in the most challenging of life’s circumstances.

Here, smack in the middle of January, we celebrate a core conviction that confers an endless supply of resilience. Emmanuel (i.e. God with us) does not go away like a Christmas tree in January. At each and every baptism, we celebrate the conviction that our humanity is now commingled with divinity. The life force at work in Jesus’ public ministry that began more than two thousand years ago, is available to you and me. At any given moment, we can channel the light of Christ into our work and our relationships.

On the way to school, my kids and I have gotten into the habit of doing a morning offering together. Each of us takes turns looking down into our day and enumerating, out loud, the principle joy and challenge that awaits us throughout the course of the day. As we do that, we pray for each other, that we can nurture an awareness of Christ standing beside us to enhance the joys, and assist us with the challenges.

What are the rituals, and routines, that help you and your family hold onto the perspective of “God with us” during your ordinary days? How do you warm up a cold, January day with your intentional spirituality?

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