I have noticed quite a few people dissenting from what has become, for great multitudes, the Thanksgiving weekend shopping ritual known as “Black Friday” (a ritual driven mostly by Mad Men ad men and our desire for, as George Carlin put, “more Stuff”). Instead of Christmas cheer, a lot of very vocal Americans view this past weekend, and the weekends leading up to that December Holy Day, with disdain.
They despise the crowded malls, pushy shoppers, and, as one Seattle-based novelist noted on his Facebook page, the sense that one is “being assaulted on all sides by the insistence that I need and must not pass up all kinds of unnecessary things.”
Is there, perhaps, another way to approach the Christmas shopping rush? Might we not recall that despite what we face during life’s hectic moments, the day, even one spent fighting crowds at Big Box stores akin to Chuck’s “Buy More,” belongs to God?
Archbishop Anthony Bloom addresses this idea in his classic work, Beginning to Pray. In the chapter titled “Going Inward,” Archbishop Bloom reminds us that prayer is not something intended solely for those sublime moments when we’re surrounded by God’s wondrous creation or enclosed within a retreat center’s peaceful confines.
With a question, Archbishop Bloom begins his reflection on the value of praying during every moment of our life:
When we know nothing about prayer, when we have not prayed at all in our lives or not enough, how can we learn to pray in the conditions of life in which we live?
I beg your indulgence as I quote his answer at length:
Awake in the morning and the first thing you do, thank God for it, even if you don’t feel particularly happy about the day which is to come. “This day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be grateful in it.” Once you have done this, give yourself time to realize the truth of what you are saying and really mean it – perhaps on the level of deep conviction and not of what one might call exhilaration. And then get up, was, clean, do whatever else you have to do, and then come to God again. Come to God again with two convictions. The one is that you are God’s own and the other is that this day is also God’s own, it is absolutely new, absolutely fresh. It has never existed before. To speak in Russian terms, it is like a vast expanse of unsoiled snow. No one has trodden on it yet. It is all virgin and pure in front of you. And now, what comes next? What comes next is that you ask God to bless this day, that everything in it should be blessed and ruled by Him. After that you must take it seriously, because very often one says, ‘O, God, bless me’, and having got the blessing we act like the prodigal son – we collect all our goods and go to a strange country to lead a riotous life.
This day is blessed by God, it is God’s own and now let us go into it. You walk in this day as God’s own messenger; whomever you meet, you meet in God’s own way. You are there to be the presence of the Lord God, the presence of Christ, the presence of the Spirit, the presence of the Gospel – this is your function on this particular day. God has never said that when you walk into a situation in His own Name, He will be crucified and you will be the risen one. You must be prepared to walk into situations, one after the other, in God’s name, to walk as the Son of God has done: in humiliation and humility, in truth an ready to be persecuted and so forth. Usually what we expect when we fulfill God’s commandments is to see a marvelous result at once – we read of that at times in the lives of the saints. When, for instance, someone hits us on the one cheek we turn the other one, although we don’t expect to be hit all, but we expect to hear the other person say ‘What, such humility’ – you get your reward and he gets the salvation of his soul. It does not work that way. You must pay the cost and very often you get hit hard. What matters is that you are prepared for that. As to the day, if you accept that this day was blessed of God, chosen by God with His own hand, then every person you meet is a gift from God, every circumstance you will meet is a gift of God, whether it is bitter or sweet, whether you like or dislike it. It is God’s own gift to you and you take it that way, then you can face any situation. But then you must face it with the readiness that anything may happen, whether you enjoy it or not, and if you walk in the name of the Lord through a day which has come fresh and new out of His own Hands and has been blessed for you to live with it, then you can make prayer and life really like the two sides of one coin. You act an pray in one breath, as it were, because all the situations that follow one another require God’s blessing.
If you’re inclined to join those who approach holiday shopping with disdain and disgust, stop for a moment and try to recall to whom the day belongs. Instead of merely withdrawing from the chaotic rush of humanity in the mall or being just another shopper grasping after bargains, think about being the presence of the Gospel, the presence of Christ in that noisy, bustling marketplace that is the modern American shopping mall.
Who knows, it just might bring a smile and a bit of peace to your fellow bargain hunters.