Each year, the parishioners of Holy Comforter create an advent reflections booklet composed of their own contributions. This is mine, used for December 19, 2012. Click here to access the complete set of reflections.
Two of the three readings for today mention “shame” and “disgrace”:
“Let me never be put to shame” (Psalm 71:1)
“She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me….took away the disgrace I have endured…” (Luke 1:24-25)
As I write this (mid-October), the orange and black of the Halloween sections of stores are already being infringed upon by the red and green of Christmas merchandise.
I was recently perusing a catalog that was selling a variety of “token” items, such as a gift set of a Christmas-themed mug packaged with hot chocolate mix and a decorative spoon. I have to be perfectly honest here and say that I always appreciate the thought behind gifts like this but I often don’t have a clue what to do with the non-edible parts after the holiday. I imagine teachers have closets full of these types of gifts.
Compare these “one size fits all” gifts with the most customized of Christmas presents: a boyfriend’s hopeful proposal after he has whisked his intended to Paris and spirited her up to the Eiffel Tower to pop the question. Gifts that involve hours of deliberating over the right approach, the perfect tangible gift to give, what would make the recipient squeal with delight and tuck away a cherished memory for a lifetime.
Just as gifts range from minor and “generic” to major and “customized,” shame has degrees also.
For an example of “relatively minor,” one Sunday service at a previous parish I was acolyting and did not know to ring the bells when the priest presented the host (our guidebook was only marked “ring” for Prayer A but not for B, C, and D – I am a pretty literal person!). During the communion, somehow without even breaking rhythm the priest asked, “No bells today?” I said, “our prayer book wasn’t marked.” He said, “Oh, I thought you had a headache.” Somehow that combination of approaching me quietly yet with a touch of humor did two things: a) taught me what I needed to do next time (ring the bells!) and b) relieved the embarrassment and shame I felt for “messing up” our service.
There are much bigger things that create shame: Succumbing to addictions and as a result committing acts that harm others while decimating our self esteem; making choices that hurt those closest to us as well as people we may never meet again. Stealing things, injuring others, and gross dishonesty come to mind.
Author Brene Brown says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
Just like the range of gifts from relatively trivial to once-in-a-lifetime special, shame can create a momentary disturbance of confidence or one from which it seems impossible to recover. Whether someone in your life is experiencing a shame of the minor or major variety, help them galvanize themselves at a time when corrosion threatens their belief in their capability to change.