30 December 2006

Another Sobering Milestone in Iraq

Last night, while I as hanging out with my friend Alex at the Salt Lake Roasting Company, the Iraqis hanged Saddam Hussein. If every time I went for coffee a dictator was terminated, I'd probably go more often. Last night, while I was reading the news and analysis on the matter, I came across this great obituary by Brian Bennett with Time. He wrote:

For many who watched it, the execution of Saddam Hussein was a personal vindication. He killed their brothers, uncles, tore apart their families and ran their beloved country into the ground. Even if his finger didn't pull the trigger, they blamed him for everything: every nail-biting visit by an intelligence officer, every midnight execution, every tongue cut out by a sadistic guard, every body in the mass graves at Hillah and Hawija and Musayeb. He projected absolute authority while he was in power and now faced absolute responsibility for every death under his rule. The moment the steel trap door below his feet was released, he suffered the absolute punishment — a powerless old man, dying alone.

In this sense, death at the gallows at the hands of his countrymen is a poetic ending for a man who spent his life terrorizing his own countrymen and his neighbors for the sole purpose of securing and enriching himself and his enablers. The timing of the execution was also poetic. Saddam's death came at the dawn of Eid ul-Adha, which commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ismail (and not Isaac, as it was written in Genesis) out of obedience and devotion to Allah. Eid ul-Adha also marks the end of the Muslim Hajj.

Considering that many Shi'ite imams and ayatollahs in Iraq have publicly prayed to God to exact revenge on Saddam, was the timing of his execution lost on those who meted out the punishment? Even President Bush framed Saddam's execution in terms of justice and sacrifice, marking the incident as an "important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the War on Terror."

I've always attested that the world is better off without a man like Saddam around to raise hell. In this regard, the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 accomplished a good deed. And I can appreciate the relief that many Iraqis must feel now that he is permanently, irrevocably gone. The Ba'athist party was such a personality cult that it is unlikely someone could rise up to take up the mantle of Saddam. He was so roundly humiliated during his capture and the trial that there is no mantle left. This, too, is a good thing.

But for the President's talk of a milestone on Iraq's journey toward democracy, I'm skeptical. We've heard these words from him before, after the completion of major combat operations (remember "mission accomplished"?), after the installation of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council, after the empaneling of the interim authority of Dr. Iyad Allawi, after the referendum on the constitution and the election of the current transitional government. The milestones go on and on, and yet the violence is unabated. There's nothing to suggest that the execution of a de-fanged dictator will be any different. In fact we are on the verge of yet another milestone: the 3,000th U.S. combat fatality.

For all the good we accomplished by removing one dictator from power, our follow-through has been grievously, criminally, devastatingly inept. Because of this, a unified Iraq isn't likely, let alone a healthy and prosperous democracy. Instead of making the world safer by bringing democracy and stability to the middle east, our mismanagement of the enterprise has sown the dragon's teeth for some future generation to contend with. As any student of the region will tell you, this war didn't begin with Saddam and it won't end with him, either.

(Image credit: John Fewings)

29 December 2006

Romancing Vancouver

Vancouver skyline from Stanley Park

Last week, while I was vacationing in Vancouver with Rob and the Shawns, I was called a "city geek" when I pointed out to them (after having consumed three martinis, no less) that we drove past the Vancouver Law Courts, a building that I recognized but had never seen before. Indeed I am a city geek, and I have been all my life. it surprises me somewhat that in all my blogging so far, I haven't spoken much about cities, and how I see them. The three days I spent in Vancouver brought my love of all things urban into a new focus and rejuvenated my professional and intellectual interests in urban planning. It had been well over a decade since the last time I was there.

Downtown Vancouver - very early in the morning

My return to Vancouver was a homecoming of sorts. As a child, I recalled a number of road trips my family went on - to San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle - and a trip my grandmother and I took to Vancouver en route to Alaska. I credit seeing these cities for the first time as the seminal moments of what has turned out to be my vocation. Going back to these cities over the years - and especially to Vancouver - reminded me of what I saw as a child, and afforded me the opportunity to elicit more intelligently what I found so attractive about these cities.

A new skyscraper near English Bay

San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver have similar characters (and to a lesser degree they share a common character with Boise and Spokane). Each city developed at similar times under similar economic circumstances; each city shares cultural influences; each city has similar topographies. Each of these cities is also changing with the global economy - they are becoming part of a much broader and more influential community of Pacific Rim conurbations - including Sydney, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, Honolulu, Anchorage, and Los Angeles. In North America, the four cities of the Pacific Northwest are the cities to watch in the coming years and decades.

Vancouver is a city on the rise. The ebullience is infectious, and may be national. I took this photo at the Chapters Bookstore (similar to a Barnes and Noble) in Downtown Vancouver. Maybe the world does need more Canada.

What makes the cities of the Pacific Northwest so appealing to me is a combination of factors including dense, thriving, urban cores, access to cultural amenities, quality urban design, interesting skylines and arresting views. As I reflected on this, I realized it was the aesthetic of these cities that has captured me. It's the beautiful bridges, the skyscrapers, the captivating marriage of mountains and water, the forgiving climate that allows for verdant parks and evergreen hills.

Lion's Gate Bridge as seen from Stanley Park

As I woke up on my first morning in Vancouver to watch the sunrise, I looked out over English Bay where I saw float planes come and go, traffic zipping across the Lion's Gate Bridge, a huge container ship approach the port, glittering condominium skyscrapers, and above it all, a huge mountain range topped by lit ski runs, I realized that Vancouver captures the aesthetic in a unique and remarkable way. It is probably the most beautiful major city in North America. I stepped out of my hotel room to walk the downtown with the morning commuters, I realized how clean and seemingly well-organized the city was. The downtown was full of thriving businesses and ample commercial retail. Unlike so many cities that claim otherwise, central Vancouver really is a place to live, work, and play. All this adds to a vibe that is unmistakable and - to me - enchanting. It's little wonder then that I fell completely in love with Vancouver.

Vancouver is an amazing city to observe - with water and mountains, industry, commerce, and housing, planes, trains, cars, and ships - all in one vista

Architecturally, the city is quite interesting - and quite distrinct from American cities. The influence of modern Asian design is apparent in the city's newer skyscrapers (owing perhaps to significant investment from China - Vancouver has a huge community of ex-pats from British Hong Kong), and the tall narrow buildings give the downtown a look not unlike that of Honolulu or parts of Tokyo. Yet there are the familiar trappings of western or indeed American urban design: streets that meet at right angles, set-backs and plazas in front of buildings, and monumental public and government spaces, including a magnificent library which was the inspiration for Salt Lake’s public library.

The Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden hosted a winter solstice celebration while we were in Vancouver. Everyone gathered with lanterns on sticks and strolled the gardens. There were lanterns hung in the trees and floating on the ponds. A jazz band was playing Christmas tunes in the pagoda.

Vancouver has strenuously avoided the encroachment of traditional suburban-style commercial retail. I saw little evidence of it in the suburbs and virtually none of it in town, other than in the context of the multi-story retail centers that you'd find in any major city. A notable exception was a Costco, which I was surprised to find just east of downtown. It was built underneath a highway viaduct. The city also lacks the limited access highway network that frames (or strangles) so many American cities (especially San Francisco and Seattle). And Vancouver looks healthier for these reasons: the city is more tightly contained and neighborhoods (even the trashy ones) appear to be thriving and bustling.

The traffic in Vancouver is quite bad, but I’ve yet to see a major city with good traffic. I don’t think you can design a city that is perfect for both people and cars. Where they come in conflict, a wise planner will err on the side of the people and encourage denser living, shorter trips, more compatible land uses, enhanced walkability, and better access to public transit. This appears to be the case in Vancouver.

Granville Island is an urban planning success story. A warehouse district turned into a public market/retail destination. The wine merchant at Granville was second to none. There's also a store called "Crash" - effective solutions for small spaces.

I was not the only one compelled to photograph the produce at the public markets.

Flowers, persimmons, pears, and lychees.

Much of the produce was beautifully displayed.

The island itself is a visually-intriguing space. A road bridge soars overhead, and the architecture is reminiscent of the island's heritage as a harborside warehouse district.

With a regional population of over 2 million people (Vancouver proper has a population of 600,000 people, it’s quite surprising that the city appears, at least from this untrained tourist’s eyes, to be so healthy, happy and comfortable. It is ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities, and housing prices and a very tight job market attest to the city’s desirability and strong economic profile. They must be doing something right.

The price of dining well in a desirable city. Four of us shared a $10 chocolate cake.

A good city needs good coffee. I sipped on this artfully done cappuccino and read the newspaper as the city hummed around me. Despite this good coffee, there was a line snaking out the Starbucks across the street.

Why Geography Should Be Mandatory In School!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Check out this story. This poor man has to be the dumbest German alive. It goes without saying that you should know where you're going before you don't get there.

18 December 2006

Christmas in Zion

Red rocks and snow: Zion National Park in December

This last weekend, Rob and I drove five hours to the other end of the state to celebrate Christmas with his parents, his brothers and sisters, their husbands, wives, and partners, and all the neices and nephews - in all we were 29 people. As the family is too large to stay at someone's home, Rob's mom and dad found a guest ranch a few miles outside Zion National Park to be our gathering spot. As they say, two's company, three's a crowd, and well . . . we had fun anyway. 24 straight hours of non-stop, chaotic fun.

Each of the brothers and sisters and their families were responsible for one meal. We shared the duties of Sunday morning breakfast with Rob's siter Sarah and her husband, Chris. As we were making gingerbread waffles with mulled maple syrup and turkey sausages with fennel, apples, and onions for 30, it dawned on me how rare and amazing it was to see a whole family - three generations total - perfectly intact. Aside from the minor quibbles that are inevitable in such a large gathering, everyone gets along and no one is estranged. The love the Rhoades clan feels is limitless, joyful, and sometimes a little suffocating. Nonetheless, it's astonishing to see a family so large, so happy, and so productive (my family's just the same way - except we're a much more manageable crowd of six).

The entire Rhoades Family (I'm on the back row, far left)

Rob's mother Kathy is big into investments, and is encouraging her children to invest. She gave each of her children and their significant others a goose, a golden egg, and 25,000 Iraqi Dinars - worth about $20. Kathy told us the dinars may go up, they may go down, they may disappear - her hope is that the crisp Iraqi currency will be a reminder of our need to build a nest egg and who knows? If the dinars increase in value, we'll all be in decent shape. I have my reservations about hoarding Iraqi currency - all that blood and treasure! - but the thought was beautiful.

It's always quite an experience to spend time with the Rhoades clan. As devout Mormons with deep roots in Utah, their spiritual and cultural vernacular is entirely different than mine, and sometimes the dissonance can be frustrating or even painful. But their love and commitment to each other is an inspiration for me.

Anyway, here are some photos from my experience this weekend. I hope you enjoy, and may your Christmas and New Year be full of joy and abundance.

Some of our nieces and nephews! From left: Melanie, Katelyn, Laura, Andrew, and Joseph. In the background, Sarah hold's the family's newest addition, Alexis.

Rob's sister Tiffany (back row, far right) and her beautiful family, the Earls.

It snowed on Saturday night, and the sunrise on Sunday was spectacular. Everyone was sleeping as I was making breakfast and enjoying a few quiet moments. I saw the sunrise, stopped what I was doing, and stepped outside the ranch house to take this photo.

A very friendly puppy loved to play with anyone who stepped outside. I wanted more than anything to take him home with me.

The sun rose above the storm, blowing away to the south and east.

Zion National Park was unbelievably beautiful that day. Beautiful and still.

The cliffs of Zion were shrouded in clouds.

Rob and I had great company: his brother Shawn, in the hat, and Shawn's partner, also named Shawn.

Robert and I, looking tired!

Three looming massifs comprise the Court of the Patriarchs.

The Great White Throne, the symbol of Zion National Park, flocked in snow.

10 December 2006

Beautiful Christmas Songs...

I'm not all negative, all of the time. In accordance with the principle of "equal time," I'll now list some of the Christmas songs, carols, and hymns that have always inspired me. Without further ado:
  • "Adeste Fideles" - Catholic hymn attributed to St. Bonaventure, but probably dating to the eighteeth century. This version is sung by Enya. A simply stunning song that I heard at many a midnight mass while growing up.

  • "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley. So why do I like this but not "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree"? I dunno, but say what you will about Elvis, the boy had soul...and I think it comes out in this song. This is a particularly cool video - Elvis is singing "unplugged" to a small audience.

  • "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by various artists as part of the Band Aid Project. Sure it can be a little heavy handed (and certainly overplayed) and it's certainly an ego trip for the performers, but I think it's quite lyrical and the message is worth noting. The song keeps being reinvented. Here's the latest Band Aid version.

  • "Elf's Lament" by the Barenaked Ladies. I've always liked the BNL's witty and gentle irreverance and while this song probably won't stand the test of time, it's fun to listen to.
  • “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon & Yoko Ono. This song will stand the test of time, because it speaks beautifully to the anxieties of a generation (at least - I think it speaks to my generation as well). This video is beautiful.

  • "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" - Lots of performers have sung this song, and it's easy to tell why. It's beautiful and a little melancholy. Originally sung by Judy Garland in "Meet Me In St. Louis," it's a song I just don't get tired of. Neither do performers. It's incredibly versatile - with different performers and writers leaving their mark on the song over the years. I think that's the mark of a classic. The link will take you to a video of James Taylor, who does well by this song. Chris Martin of Coldplay also has a nice rendition of this song.

  • "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" by Gayla Peevey. I just discovered this song this year, while driving home from work. I was laughing so hard I had to pull over.

  • "In Dulci Jubilo" - Fourteenth Century German/Latin Carol. This song, along with "Gesu Bambino" was on a tape of operatic Christmas music my grandmother used to play. A beautiful song combined with happy memories has made this a favorite of mine.
  • “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. Surely this will go down as a great moment in contemporary music. Their two voices, when combined, were unforgettably beautiful. Besides, I can't imagine a Christmas without Bing Crosby.

  • "O Tannenbaum" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The 1950s and 1960s gave us some astonishingly good jazz music, and Guaraldi is a part of that wave. I love this style of jazz, and I can relate with Charlie Brown.

  • "The Coventry Carol" - There are two sides to Christmas, and this sad 16th century lullabye tells of the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod recounted in Mark. Still, it is so beautiful.

  • "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Bing makes my list twice. This song is perfect, made moroeso by the presence of Frank Sinatra.
Did I miss any? What are your favorite Christmas songs? Leave a note, and have a Happy Christmas!

Loathsome Christmas Songs

So in trying to capture the Christmas mood yesterday, I was listening to FM100, a Utah radio station that believes that Christmas should start every year at Veterans' Day. And for about a stretch of thirty minutes, they played nothing but the worst Christmas music I've ever heard. I'm just not convinced that this season brings out the best in the star performers today, although I'm willing to concede there is some good stuff out there from big players on the music scene today.

So I thought I would compose a list. I've heard all of these songs within the last few days, and all of them make me want to throw myself out the nearest window. These are the songs whose master tapes should be buried in a 600 foot hole out in the Bonneville Salt Flats, never to be seen again.

Of course all of these songs are on YouTube. Click on the links below to listen to them...if you dare.

With no further ado, Vox Civitatis presents the most loathsome Christmas songs in history, complete with commentary!

  • "A Wonderful Christmastime" by Sir Paul McCartney. He's a great musician - one of the best of our time - but really, what was he thinking? The Queen named Paul Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Did she know about this song? Take that medal back, ma'am.

  • "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey. The faux jazz band brassiness of this song is beyond the pale. Besides, does every star need to produce a Christmas album? (The answer is "sure" if they have something worth singing!) Furthermore, Diane Ross she ain't.

  • "Chipmunks' Christmas (Don't Be Late)" by Alvin and the Chipmunks. God never intended chipmunks to make albums, and now we know why. Although the video is funny.

  • "Christmas Canon" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I think they meant for this song to give people the chills, and that's what it does for me, but not in a good way. There's a long tradition of adapting someone else's music, but covers and rearrangement should be creative, if not as good as the original. This is a rendition of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major that's been hit by a train. But the video is cool! Complete with children dressed in white, and fog machines! Yeah.

  • "Christmas Eve - Sarajevo 12/24" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Here's the story behind the music. Oh, but this piece is soo ponderous, as if Christmas were a Michael Bay or John Woo movie. The worst part is that this awful, awful song get so much radio play. The video clip is of a christmas light show at someone's house -- timed to the music. Classy, huh? For more tract home yuletide extravaganza set to Trans-Siberian wonderment, check out "Wizards in Winter." I know these people mean well, but really - who let this orchestra out of the Gulag?

  • "Christmas Shoes" by NewSong. Oh I suppose the song speaks for itself. But it's about a poor boy, his dying mother, the kindness of strangers, and Jesus. Each of these things are worth singing about, but in one song set to a slow, romantic country beat, complete with a childrens' chorus at the end? Um, no. Never. Check out the video...I hate to say anything bad about it, because it's so...earnest. But the song still sucks.

  • "Happy Birthday Jesus (A Child's Prayer)" by Little Cindy. My friend Danny introduced me to this song on an album of unbelievable christmas songs compiled by John Waters (peace be upon him). My first thought was, "Is this for real?!" Apparently, it is. Creepy!

  • "Last Christmas" by Wham! Now George Michael has done some great music, and he's made some questionable calls in his personal life but goodness, this song is probably the worst decision he's ever made. Ever.

  • "Mary Did You Know?" by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd (and lots of others - this song's here to stay). Oh, she knew allright. That's what made her Mary. She also knows that this song is treacly pap.

  • "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee. Recorded in 1960, this song has stood the test of time, and who knows why. Sure, it's iconic. Sure it has an iconic beat and rhythm. Sure it invokes nostalgia. But so do fuzzy dice, but that doesn't mean we should all put them in our cars, does it? Send this song back from whence it came!
Which songs did I miss? Surely there are more. Do you like a song that I hated? Leave a note! And...Merry Christmas.

07 December 2006

"I Was Here"

Yesterday morning, I took public transit to work. It's incredibly convenient - I catch the bus right in front of my house, take it to the City Library, walk across the library plaza to the train platform, and take the train to the University. Seamless, easy, and very pleasant. I should commute this way more frequently.

Anyway, I was walking on the plaza, on a cleaned path between banks of old, dessicated snow, when I came across something special. On a part of the plaza that hadn't been cleared of snow, someone carefully drawn the words "I was here" by removing the snow and revealing the bricks underneath. In the sun, the snow had melted and refroze as ice inside each of the letters. It had been there at least a day. It was one of those moments that called for a camera.

Of course, after three cups of coffee, my mind was afire that morning, and the snow grafitti set me on quite the tangent. Who was this great "I was"? What compelled him or her to write the phrase in the snow? Was he or she alone? Was this a one-off, or does this person leave messages like this in other places?

And then the irony dawned on me: There I was, alone, standing in this large public plaza at the heart of a city of over a million people, surrounded by monumental public architecture, skyscrapers, a Burger King, billboards, electronic signs, sculptures, fountains, gardens, rumbling light rail trains, automobiles, and buses, thinking "huh...how funny it is that this person felt like telling the world she was here."

If humans have an ecological role, it is to alter form. We leave a place changed from what it was when we arrived. We tell each other, our posterity, and nature herself that we were here. Some of our greatest human achievements are celebrated for their immutability. The drive for immortality - through fame or some other legacy - is a drive to have someone in the future remark that we were here. So maybe we want to leave our mark because we fight constantly against the fragility and capriciousness of human life. Individuals do this, and so do societies, writ large. One of the most enduring symbols of our modern achievements are an American flag and some bootprints on the moon, after all. "We were here." The artist, whatever his or her motives, left the most elegant statement of that fact of our human nature, in the form of three very short words drawn in the snow. It doesn't take much to make the statement.

This isn't entirely a bad trait. It's what's given us our great books, our beautiful cities, our timeless art and music, and our stunning advances. But for good or bad, it's worth recognizing that by our nature, we change the world around us, and that's something we cannot escape. Change is evidence that we were here, and clearly so many of us have the desire to leave evidence of our presence. Maybe if we're more cognizant of it, we'd be more careful of the changes we do make. Maybe the question is not always "what do we need to do to mitigate or to prevent change?" but rather is "how do we change for the better?"

03 December 2006

Veni, Veni

Today marks the First Sunday in Advent, the four-week liturgical season that presages not only Christmas, but Christ's eventual triumphant return on earth. For as long as I can remember, my family and my parish church have commemorated the season with a wreath of five candles, four marking the four Sundays preceding Christmas and a fifth white candle to be lit on Christmas. I've loved this tradition; as a child, watching the candles burn down bit by bit each evening provided an important rhythm as the family prepared for the holiday. The advent wreath also heralds a very joyful and hectic time of year for the family, as we commemorate several birthdays (including mine) and a wedding anniversary all in the weeks before Christmas.

As I got older, I came to see Christmas with a mixture of anticipation and dread. I still loved the joy of the season - fortified with so many good memories and countless blessings over the years, I felt that the month of December was a time set apart, with an abundance of happiness, joy, and good will. But I dreaded the the sheer work involved and the stress of the season. Not only was December the apex of our family's social life together, but it was also the busiest time in school. Dealing with the social obligations and the demands of work and school came to be a bit much.

But the advent wreath was always a symbol of peace, and a potent, graceful reminder to me of God's love, which is deep and abiding. This is why I light the wreath, year after year. Lighting the advent wreath has come to be the thing that I look forward to the most at Christmas.

To a Catholic, Advent is the season to commemorate the events leading up to the birth of Christ, but it is also a reminder that we expect Christ to come again. Because of this, my relationship with God comes into very high relief during this season, as I ponder His presence in my life, and the degree to which I embrace that divine presence.

In the last few years, I have found my faith clouded by the relentless march of life, so much of which seems to be devoid of God's presence, and by lingering doubts in my soul over my worthiness as a Catholic. Although we are told that we are made in the image of God, and to celebrate God's love and care for us, sometimes - well, many times - that is not entirely self-evident to me. I've come to realize that some of these doubts have their origin in the unfortunate condition of my sexuality being a political issue, both in the church and in civil society. As much as I would rather be seen as an integrated, fully endowed human being with many qualities, the prism of public conversation both in and out of the church keeps focusing on one aspect of me: my sexuality. I hate being in the limelight that way, I hate being used as a symbol, and I hate having perceptions, values and behaviors projected upon me. This is the world in which I live, and it makes feeling the full embrace of the Catholic communion difficult for me at times. Simply, my doubt stands in the way of my faith.

But does it, really?

In the last few years, I've developed a new sensibility on the question of doubt and faith that has helped me through the challenges I've faced in my religious life, and elsewhere. And earlier today, this new sensibility has crystallized into a deeper understanding of doubt and its role in the Christian experience.

The Gospel of Mark offers a vivid account of Christ's final moments on earth:

About noon darkness fell upon the whole land and lasted till three o'clock. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a strong voice: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani," which means: "My God, my God, why do you abandon me?" (Mark 15:34 - Kleist-Lilly translation)

One of the greatest legacies of Christianity is our belief that Christ, though divine, is human. He experienced the full panoply of human experience, including passion, joy, temptation, dispossession, and at least in the final moments, agony and doubt. Whether Christ was speaking for us or for himself is a matter for debate, but either way, the line in Mark is a testament to his fellowship with us, as a human being. If nothing else, God as man understands and feels our doubts and fears.

Doubt, which is nothing more than uncertainty, is integral to faith. For if we had perfect knowledge about everything, would we need faith? No Catholic I know of has seen a virgin birth, a transfiguration, and certainly not a corporeal resurrection. These events are outside of our perception. And yet, although none of us can be certain of these things, many of us believe in them. Faith in this understanding cannot exist without a modicum of doubt.

A common interpretation of Mark 15:34 was that Jesus' cry was a recitation of a psalm, and the fulfillment of a prophecy that God would hear him when he cried out, and would deliver him. And of course, we believe that's exactly what happened. Likewise, our doubts give rise to our pleas and our prayers. When tempered by faith, doubt can be the fertile ground in which we cultivate a relationship with the Divine, whose ultimate nature is unknowable to us.

This crying out for deliverance has become a ritual in the Roman Catholic advent liturgy, in the form of one of the most haunting and beautiful songs of our religion, one whose words date back to the ninth century: "Veni, veni Emmanuel" - O come, o come Emmanuel.

The lesson of Advent is that God is with us. As I commemorate the birth of Christ, I am also reminded that although I cannot see God, He is present in my life. Even though I doubt, I find that when I cry for help, an answer is never far away. I often find it in the love I experience from my partner, my family, and my friends; in the talents and gifts that I see in others and in myself; and even in something as mundane and repetitive as a sunrise.

From now on, I need to learn not to let my doubts hinder me from crying out. Thanks for reading, and may your Advent and Christmas be full of abundance and joy.