I am sitting on the train back to Queens when I see it. I’m visiting New York City for Christmas, and it’s my first time here, so naturally I want to see as much as I can in one trip. I don’t travel alone in the city most days; typically, I’m accompanied by a cousin or other family, but today I want an adventure to Bryant Park to see the holiday shops and look at the large Christmas tree. I haven’t been feeling very Christmas-y anyways. I am away from my typical palm tree winters and traded them for snow and temperatures well below 70 degrees. Despite the Christmas setting and the beautiful lights of New York City, it still didn’t feel like Christmas. In fact the only consistent thing I’ve noticed while being here is how solitary it can be on such an overpopulated island. No hellos, no smiles, and definitely no eye contact. They just mind their own business and do their own thing. Which brings me to the train. . . .

The reign of God comes whenever the good news breaks through. It comes whenever a child feels accompanied, whenever a peasant girl believes that she is worthy. Salvation comes whenever the hungry are fed good things, and the rich turned away empty-handed, whenever the poor are empowered or the mighty made to share. The world is redeemed every time an outsider is treated with reverence, an immigrant is welcomed, an abuse victim respected. The new world dawns when a person who has been silenced speaks, or when you give light and space to a vulnerable place in your heart.

My leg muscle began to twitch.  Sitting on the cement floor with just a few fabric fibers of the barely distinguishable woven mat between me and the cold surface, I tried to stretch my cramped muscles without pulling out of the side-seated position required of females in Lebanon.  “Don’t move, don’t move!” I kept telling myself, knowing that if I did fall out of the tight-packed circle of nearly 20 people in the “house” no bigger than a 10x15-foot enclosure, that I’d upend the meager yet precious amount of food sitting mere inches away from my toes, the only food that the family would consume for Iftar on that Ramadan night.  The only food that they had in the house, period.

I leaned against my son, leaned into his frame for acknowledgment of pain. I apologized for failing. Failing to provide, failing for the example of an adult getting up and heading to work each day. Failing to insure his safety in reliance upon my successes. It was time to be honest.

Have you had a dark night of your soul? I have. Diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune deficiency in 2014, I learned that my particular immunodeficiency restricts me from sick people, crowds, shaking hands, and hugging. Did I mention that I'm a healthcare Chaplain?

I usually look forward to the holidays, that season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But when they arrive, I find myself resenting the cultural message within which I am embedded to “shop until you drop.” Beginning with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I am incessantly reminded to spend money on myself and others. Even the trappings of Christmas, such as carols and Santa and decorated trees, seem intrusive. Isn’t the story about peace and goodwill to all mankind? Why does it feel so frenetic and driven? Does everyone else feel this way also?

Two Christmas seasons ago on a cold Friday evening as I am crossing the street to catch my train, a man on a bicycle approaches and calls out my name. “How are you? I have not seen you in a while?”

I say, “Fine, and how about you?”

“Not so good. I am homeless and living by the train tracks. I feel like jumping in front of a freight train and ending it.”

Wow. Not the type of words I want to hear after an exhausting work week. . . .

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the passage of time. Visualizing the timelines of human history became part of my life’s work as an historian, but even as early as 5th grade, I realized that my mind measured the cycles of time in shapes and colors. To make sense of a long past, humans have organized time, by hours, days, decades, centuries, eras, and ages.

When we skip Advent and go straight to Christmas, we neglect to understand that “Peace on earth, goodwill to all” is a statement that our world, our communities, and likely ourselves aren’t at peace. In the midst of political turmoil and wars, in the midst of refugees and immigrants, in the midst of looming depression and loss of loved ones, so many of us cry out, “Where is God? Where is the Divine presence in this?”

It’s ironic to be asked to share some reflections on the word “overwhelmed” at this season, the busiest time of the year for many musicians, including myself. I feel as if I could be the poster child for the concept of being overwhelmed! In addition to the typical stresses that accompany the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, musicians have added music to learn, extra rehearsals, and often a full calendar of performances. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

This Advent, while not ignoring the negative or heaviness of being overwhelmed, we are also searching for its antithesis: the surprise of being overwhelmed with good. Overwhelmed with calm. With quiet. With insight. With choice. With freedom. With opportunity. With potential. With sameness. With relationships. With ritual. And the list goes on.