It is December, and the noise level is deafening. Not even a major snowstorm could muffle the holiday clamor. Everywhere, Christmas has been cranked up and marked down, blared and blasted, misappropriated and misunderstood.
Hark! The herald…
If somewhere an angel sings, it is impossible to hear above the din. These are the darkest days of the year, but the skies are ablaze with the blinking, blinding lights of a million hyperbolic Christmas displays. All syncopated to God Rock Ye Merry Gentlemen, and brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Obsessive Compulsive. If The Word is to be heard…it may have to shout. If there is a Star guiding us, it is impossible to see through the haze of tungsten and neon.
And so, not surprisingly, we have veered off course. The still, small voice in the wilderness has become the charge to “Wish Big, Buy More.” The Star of Wonder has become the Star of Wal-Mart as even “defenders” of Christmas misguidedly look for its true meaning on corporate websites and points of purchase. Merchants everywhere are challenged (at the bidding of the righteously indignant) to scratch out “holiday” and scribble in “Christmas” throughout their stores. And all this time we thought the true spirit of the season meant taking the crass commercialism out of Christmas. Who knew all we really wanted was to insert Christmas in to the commercialism!
And the preparations continue.
But – just what are we preparing for? Have we been listening to the right voices? Looking in the right direction? Or have the lessons of a poor child born far from the madding crowd, in the most humble of surroundings 2,000 years ago, been lost on us forever?
Miraculously, they have not. At least… not everywhere.
At NDP, there are many who have heard a lowly cry and answered the call. Those who have quietly turned in a different direction and beckoned others to “Follow me. I know The Way.” They are modern day Magi, innkeepers, holy families, shepherds and flock. And they have all made room. Not just on their calendars, but in their hearts. Not just during Advent, but all year long.
Well in advance of the liturgical season of Advent, but true to hopeful expectation that is the spirit of our faith, each new school year is inaugurated with a spiritual theme. This year’s theme is Women of the Word and is meant to encourage every student and member of the NDP family to be a messenger of love and justice on a daily basis. Not just in their words, but in their hearts and in their deeds. To that end, throughout the year, the girls are devoted to countless social justice projects and civic campaigns, all of which serve the least among us, open hearts and minds, and strengthen spirit (many such projects have been written about in these posts over the years).
Then, right before Thanksgiving, as the church season of advent approaches, NDP holds its annual Stone Soup assembly and luncheon, a tradition of more than 30 years now. It is an event meant to get everyone in the true spirit and right mindset as the holiday season comes crashing down around us in an avalanche of ringing cash registers, blinking lights, and blaring car horns (Don’t even think about pulling into that parking space. I saw it first…).
This year’s assembly could not have been a more appropriate antidote to the Christmas cacophony. At the invitation of Steve Pomplon (Notre Dame’s very own Good Shepherd), brothers Ali and Atman Smith, co-founders of the Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) in Baltimore City, along with their protégé, Larry Jackson, spoke to the assembled school about their promising program. To be sure, they were the Three Wise Men, bearing gifts of mindfulness, meditation, and mantras. Entrepreneurs and advocates, their mission is to bring some semblance of peace, harmony, and new direction to the turbulent lives of children living in the drug-infested, gang-ruled neighborhoods of inner city Baltimore. They do it… through yoga. Yes, yoga. And it seems to be working. They have caught the attention of educators, civic leaders, and the media and their program has been rolled out to other communities and cities around the country. Together, they are the Eastern star, safely guiding lost souls to safety. And a shining example of those who have heard the still, small voice crying out in the wilderness and answered the call.
After the assembly, Ali, Atman, and Larry joined the rest of the school for a lunch of Stone Soup. The tale of Stone Soup, a variation on the miracle of the loaves and fishes, goes something like this:
A few poor peasants had a great pot to cook in, but nothing to eat. Everyone else in the village was just as poor and reluctant to share what little they had. So the peasants put some stones and water in the pot and began to stir. “What have you got there?” asked a neighbor, also poor. “Ah, the most delicious soup,” said the chef. “If you could spare a carrot or turnip to add to the pot, we’d be happy to share.” With that, the neighbor disappeared and returned with a carrot. This went on throughout the day, ’til all the neighbors had contributed something from their sparse cupboards. But taken together, the collection made the most delicious and hearty of soups. There was enough to feed the whole village with some leftover. And so, out of seemingly nothing, came much.
Every year, in preparation for Advent, NDP re-enacts the story of stone soup. Every one brings something from home to put in the pot. Or, in this case, pots. And on Stone Soup day, retired NDP teacher, the esteemed Jeff Goethals, returns to NDP and works his magic in the school kitchen, turning a hodge-podge of ingredients (beans, cabbage, carrots, onion, turnips, and more) into the most delicious and abundant of soups. Only he knows how it is done. Somehow, miraculously, he never runs out or turns anyone away. He is the hospitable Innkeeper. And Stone Mill Bakery, who donates the hearty bread that accompanies the soup (at a sizable discount), is a very good neighbor, indeed. Soup and bread is served with water. Plain and simple. But it feels like a feast. Out of seemingly nothing, comes much. The girls contribute $5 for a bowl of soup and a piece of bread and each year, 100% of the proceeds go to a worthy cause. This year, the Holistic Life Foundation was the beneficiary.
As Advent unfolds, the NDP girls participate in a variety of other activities, all geared to keep the focus on “the reason for the season.” Each homeroom in both the middle and upper schools adopts a family (this year from either St. Ambrose or Marian House) and provides Christmas for them – using their own money, not their parents’ or some school fund. One little eighth grader was overheard by a shepherd/parent explaining how she threw in all her extra babysitting money just to be sure no one in the family was left out.
Other Advent projects include stockings for the students of Sisters Academy (a tuition -free, middle school for inner city girls), 2 parties for the kids of Camp Umoja, and a party for Headstart kids, spearheaded by Guardian Angel, Joanie Carlson, and her CCAP students. The Headstart party is supplemented by participating alumnae, under the guidance of Alumnae Director – and an angel in her own right – Shawn Osmeyer.
And then there are all the good deeds, acts of kindness, and opening of hearts that go on this season and throughout the year that we’ll never know about. Perpetrated by the young women of NDP who have heard a call or seen a need. The quiet responses to the request for room at the inn, a place at the table…a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes, the response is even smaller than that. A smile. An attentive ear. A pat on the back.
Out of seemingly nothing, comes much.
Very much, indeed.