What would you think of a mother whose child was lost in a mall and who was aware of looking for said child but was also willing to check out eBay on her phone app for deals on the sofa set she has been wanting? Would you be annoyed? Outraged? Would you bit the hook of anger and chomp down!?
What would you think of the child in the woods, on a family camping trip, who was aware that his parents had not returned from their hike yesterday and was wondering why he had spent the night alone in the tent, but was also glad he had some cool games on his computer and a good, solid power-source from their new camping battery? Would you be annoyed? Outraged? Would you bit the hook of anger and chomp down!?
What would it be like to watch a teenager climb into the lap of her boyfriend or girlfriend for some necking while her grandmother sat alone on the other side of the room during her annual visit to see her grandchildren – kindly, silently watching, but secretly wishing she were noticed for some conversation? Would you be annoyed? Outraged? Would you bit the hook of anger and chomp down!?
What must it be like for God to ready God’s self for the annual celebration of becoming human – of coming to walk the planet with us – of risking celestial divinity in exchange for human fragility, only to face a culture of people whose internal disposition is to exchange longing and wonder for annoyance and attraction? It would be like making a fantastic meal for a group of people busy checking their phones for messages and emails while their plate of food got cold.
It would be easy to ask questions about malls and on-line shopping this time of year and to rant about Advent spirituality. But in all honesty, that would be like shooting fish in a barrel and saying you were fishing. “Come on! Get off your high horse and have some fun! Lets shop for some new ornaments and lighten up! Have some egg nog and shut the hell up, you pious, sanctimonious Scrooge!” I can hear myself saying to myself.
What if the Advent posture is even more complex than that – more complex than just ranting about shopping and buying? What if the Advent posture in these final weeks before Christmas has more at stake than simplicity and economy?
As I watch the people around me and as I watch myself in these days, I am suddenly aware of a deeper problem than simplicity and economic justice in a world with so much poverty and death made manifest by our way of life. I am aware that if I simplify, buy less, shop less, spend less, I may not effect change when it comes to the 3,000 children who will die today – TODAY – because I want my luxuries and am less inclined to share by a dramatic life-style change. But could try to reduce suffering by that means. I could budget $600 for Christmas this year and spend only $300 and give the other $300 to Episcopal Relief and Development. And I can see how that might be a good thing. But even that is not the issue. It is a shallow solution.
This Advent I am curious about deeper veins of suffering, to use mining terminology. I am less curious about the flakes of gold I can see in the river – grab, one at a time and pocket. I am wondering about veins of Gold deep in the rock beneath me, that will require hard work to get to but that will yield pounds, even tons of gold.
And that big strike, that, in Advent, is not shopping or spending. No that is too easy. The big strike, the lottery-winning of spirituality in Advent is about attention. And the barrier to attention is distraction. So what of that?! What of distraction in Advent? What is the great source of distraction in humans? That eBay hunt, video game or french-kissing we were talking about in our opening pondering on three distracted people – the mother on Ebay, the kid on his computer and the girl french-kissing her lover? No.
Deeper than gold flakes in a river, deeper than the distractions of our day, is a source of human suffering which even makes starvation look small. That deeper source of Advent-terrorism is, I propose, annoyance.
My teacher, Pema Chodron, reminds me over and over again that if I can get at my annoyances, I have a chance at bringing peace to the world and to my life. Yes, simplify. Yes, economize. Yes, give money to the poor. Yes to all those good things. But if I really what to take a whack at suffering on this planet, in my house, in my family, in my office, in my church, in my life – then I will attend to my predisposition to being annoyed.
I used to think the great cancer of our society was our addiction to work. But I am increasingly aware that the real, trojan-horse in our suffering is our addiction to being right. And the annoyances which trigger us when our being-right sees an opportunity to take a hit on righteous indignations – big and small.
How can we see God coming? How can we notice a star in the East? How can we hear a baby cooing own the distant morning night of dark blues? How can we notice the faint singing of angels making an announcement if we are busy being right? Busy being annoyed about so many little and even big things?
“Not now, angels, I am pissed off by my colleague at work! Don’t bother me with your announcement!” “Not now baby cooing, I am busy being angry at my wife or husband for this or that infraction!” “Not now star, I have no time for your righteous twinkling when I am busy being angry that my dry cleaning was lost, or the email was not responded to, or the invitation I sent was disregarded, or the cake I baked fell, or the dog farted at my dinner party, or my child is not feeding my ego with attention.”
“I am annoyed by something!” “And I am addicted to the small, essential squirts of chemicals my body is busy squirting when I get annoyed — so with all due respect to a Savior making His grant entrance on to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, I am busy engaged in my addictions and the creation and recreation of my suffering by giving in to being annoyed by many things.”
What if instead of giving up shopping so that we are generous or shortbread so that we are thin, or alcohol so that we are sober, or porn so that we are balanced, or bitching so that we are kind to our family, or any other of the myriad things we shake our bony-old-crone-fingers at in self-righteous indignation while we adjust the hat we will wear to church and put on our gloves – what if instead of scolding ourselves and others about those delicious things – what if we noticed and gave up our pre-dispositions to being annoyed? What if we met our annoyance with curiosity rather than anger? “Hmm…what am I not getting in my life that gives energy to this new annoyance?” we might say. “Hmm…what if I give no energy to this new annoyance?” we might say?
“Peace on Earth.” says the hymns and Christmas cards. Peace will only happen when we douse our annoyances with creamy egg nog rather than the gasoline of our anger and self-righteousness. And until we learn this new way of being in the world – this work of letting go of annoyances- we will continue to suffer, we will continue to ignore the Christ-child and we will continue to wonder why peace evades our planet, our nation, our family, our church and our life.
So let there be Peace on Earth and let it begin with letting go of being annoyed.