What is the gift you want most this Christmas?
The answer is usually determined by age. Children hope for toys while those a little older have electronics in mind and those of us far past the age of creating a Christmas list might be looking for the gift of good health, a job or family reconciliation. I am looking for peace—the kind of peace that emerges only when life slows down.
Every year as Christmas preparations move into high gear there is one day when my head spins—literally—as I stand in the shopping center not knowing which direction to go. It is a mini-holiday panic attack that seems to be necessary before progress can be made. Eventually the anxiety and indecision subside, and the preparations begin in earnest.
This year things are getting started later than usual. The baking, decorating and shopping will get done but with the knowledge that if any of it does not transpire there will still be a lovely Christmas. Perhaps even more so due to the slower pace.
A few years ago a friend introduced me to the phrase “peace to your heart.” It is used to close e-mail messages and it touched me as gentle and kind. Each time I read it seemed to be the perfect time—just what was needed for that specific moment. This past week, just seven days before Christmas, the Los Angeles IVC group gathered for the monthly meeting. It always takes a great deal of effort to bring the group together, as the volunteers come from far ends of the greater Los Angeles area and everything said about LA traffic is true, especially on a weekday morning. Many drive two hours or more due to traffic and this day was no different. However, once the coffee was made and the table set for lunch the group settled into a reflective mode and calmness gradually came over the gathering. The noon liturgy was quiet. There was no hurry to move to lunch—there was a sense of peace. This was a gift for each of us as we would soon head back to the busy freeways and the Christmas preparations awaiting.
One of the gifts of IVC is the community created through the monthly meetings. While there is a solidarity with those served at the various agencies that partner with IVC, there is also a solidarity among the volunteers. They know each other’s stories and their service sites. They listen to the joys and the plights of those served by each of the volunteers. There is a feeling of being in touch with the mission of each agency rather than just an interest in one’s own particular agency. There is a broadening of care for people who are poor and a raised awareness of what needs to change in the Los Angeles area.
The primary gift that IVC offers and benefits from is the faith-sharing that goes on around the table at the monthly meetings. As our meeting was ending last week one of the volunteers asked if he could read a commentary on the phenomenon of Pope Francis, written by Jeff Dietrich of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, that had recently been published by the National Catholic Reporter. I hesitated due to the lateness of the hour, aware that everyone had to get home, but agreed. It turned out to be an amazing few minutes as the volunteer read the commentary and struggled to keep his emotions in check. The room was still as we listened moved by both the words of Dietrich and the emotional response to those words from our fellow volunteer. The meeting ended on a note of gratitude and hope.
The gifts given and received through IVC will carry us into the New Year and beyond, which brings peace to my heart.
Anne Hansen is Regional Director for IVC Los Angeles and has written a column for the Tidings newspaper for many years (nearly 20)—Family Time. She co-authored Culture-Sensitive Ministry (Paulist Press, 2010) and offers workshops and retreats throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.