Amy Sander Montanez has been lodged in the first week of Advent, still warming herself by the candle of hope, and she suspects it is a place she’ll remain through Christmas Day.
It is a location that suits the Columbia author and family therapist just fine. In that acceptance lies another lesson Montanez has tried to impart this holiday season: Embrace the present with all its crazy, “my family is nuts” holiday dysfunction and find things to love in this Christmas season.
“I just know most families are a little kooky,” said Montanez, who has written a new book of meditations, “Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life (Morehouse Publishing, $24). “We have gotten into labeling so many things as stressful that are just humanity.”
In her therapy practice and workshops, many aimed at clergy and seminarians as they establish their spiritual centers, Montanez said she has discovered an amazing truth: “Most families love each other through unbelievable stuff.”
“Embracing your family’s dysfunction is really a lesson in how love can win in the end and how being able to laugh at yourself and with others is transformational,” she wrote in a December blog item that seemed to circulate particularly among harried women.
Montanez, 56, said her own Decembers through many years seemed to be defined by crises – illness and surgeries and death – which is why she sits by her Christmas tree each day, morning coffee in hand, and focuses on a deeper meaning of hope.
It’s not the wishing kind of hope, where “I wish that nothing terrible would happen but I can’t control it.” Instead, Montanez thinks of one of her favorite writers, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who has said, “Hope and union are the same thing.”
Montanez’s deep spirituality and need to feel a daily connection to God has been a running theme through her writings as she has parsed “things of heaven and things of earth.”
For years she wrote individual pieces for publications for the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, reflections that generated more readers – and some awards – for the diocese’s quarterly publication and the twice-monthly online newsletter, said Peggy Hill, retired communications director for the diocese.
“I think it is above all Amy’s ability to think theologically in everyday language and to look at the world and see the divine meaning and purpose and invitation and joy,” Hill said. As her reputation grew, many readers encouraged Montanez to write a book.
Two years ago, Montanez went on a two-week silent retreat to the mountains of North Carolina, taking with her all the pieces she had penned through the years.
“I had been writing all along with no agenda,” she said. But as she started sorting and cataloguing her writing, making individual stacks on the floor, “I realized I have really only written about a few topics: time, family, the need to remain in the present.”
As she looked at those stacks, she said, “Well, how about that, I have a book.”
Her pieces “really teach people to observe God in everything,” said Carrie Graves, director of the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral bookstore and Montanez’s office manager. “What she does is really integrate God into one’s life, which is ultimately the goal.”
“Moment to Moment” is divided into five sections aimed at the pilgrim who is seeking more reflection and deeper meaning in life. Montanez places herself in the middle of ordinary situations, some uncomfortable, and invites the reader to join her in areas of life where tension, fear, frustration, joy and love lie, sometimes intertwined. There are questions at the end of each short chapter, questions she labels, “Digging deeper.”
“God is waiting,” she writes. “At whatever stage of readiness we are, we can begin our journeys, without the need to manipulate or pretend. God will take us right where we are and accompany us from start to finish.”