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The magic of Christmas is this: That something so small could change the world. That a girl from a “nothing” town could be chosen as the mother of God. That a stable could be the birthplace of a Savior. That a baby — a tiny, helpless baby — could be God incarnate, our salvation, the ultimate game changer, taking us from Old Testament “eye for an eye” to New Testament “forgive seven times seventy times.” God truly is a master of surprise.

Something so small:
the cowrie shells of his nails
(an oasis in the desert!),
the questing bud of his lips,
opening like an orchid.
His hair, fine and spare,
brushed ‘cross a skull
still red with effort,
soft beneath the hand.
Slitted eyes, seeking light,
seeing only subtle shapes.
Yet armed as any animal,
able to grip and startle, track and root.
This, then, will change the world:
hands so small will touch a cross,
flailing legs will lead us to heaven.
To trust in this is to pick cattle over comfort,
seeds over trees, a star that shines so seldom,
yet points the only way. And so we follow.
All that God is fits in the crook of an arm,
swallows us like an ocean.

Meditations on joy

Wow. I can’t believe that it has been 3 months since I last posted. Did you miss me? I’ve missed all of you but I have to admit that I’ve missed me too.

I’m not going to go into detail about why I haven’t been here. Let’s just say that my reasons are solid and all too familiar because we’ve all suffered loss during the last 2 years. I even lost my true self for a while. It wasn’t a total loss. My sense of humor made an appearance once in a while but my sense of joy and hope? The new me had nothing of the sort.

The self that I was left with got done what she had to do. But she did very few things with a smile.

In all honesty, I didn’t like this new me very much. And then I realized that last Sunday, November 28, 2021, was the first Sunday in Advent. Our minister spoke about joy.

Sigh. (I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.) I used to enjoy Advent and Christmas but this year? Meh. I just wasn’t feeling it.

But what if I could? I really hated the idea of losing my Christmas Joy to the new me. So I spent this week rediscovering my joy. Here is what I did.

Meditative drawing is a prayer technique that involves sitting quietly and drawing, doodling or sketching whatever comes to mind as you consider whatever it is you need to consider. Me? I thought about the things that have given me joy.

As Ruth explained in “The Present Is a Gift,” these gifts don’t have to be big or flashy.

As I sat throughout the week and considered what brings me joy, I realized that I’d squeezed in time for joy during most days. But I didn’t call it joy. I worked on a crochet project. I finished piecing together a puzzle. I made Christmas cards and listened to music.

None of the things that I had done were big. There were a lot of people who wouldn’t find joy doing these same things. But that’s not the point. I had experienced joy every single day. Hello, old me. I knew you had to be there someplace.

–SueBE

A star atop a tree
can only be
a drowsy placebo
for something missing.
A sky-held star
is an echo, light hitting
earth like a memory.
Fix your ambition instead
on finding the true star.
You will know it by the way
it surges, hot stone,
crying for the love of something
it cannot name.
Follow the star
to the heart of you,
blind and ragged.
Find,
pure and bright,
a child
that is you.
That is He.
Know, at last,
Christmas,
breaking you,
laying you in straw,
lulling you to sleep with
the breath of sheep.

It is the day after Christmas. How are you feeling? Overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Maybe you have that nagging feeling that — once again — the holidays have left you…incomplete somehow. What is that hole in our hearts, anyway — a longing for holidays past? Regret that Christmas didn’t “measure up” to our expectations? A sense that somehow we didn’t really get what we wanted?

Maybe what we’re missing can’t be bought from a store. And maybe that feeling you’re feeling is something helpful — a hint that this world isn’t meant to meet all of our needs. That longing you feel? Maybe it’s just a reminder that somewhere up ahead, something better awaits.

When your pockets are as empty
as the sack of your heart,
when you ache for a place
you’ve never been
and cannot find,
you will remember
what you did not get.

It was a stable, warm with hay
and the breath of cows,
a haven heavy with a sense of rest:
a knowing that all is well,
finally, at last and forever.
Do not fret, for this will come.
Keep walking toward the light.
Never let go of the longing,
for it will guide you,
sure as any compass.

Photo by Carlin Leslie

In my day, sonny, Santa was so stealthy, you didn’t hear him at all, even when he trundled his jelly belly into a slim chimney! He kept a low-profile, living a quiet life at the North Pole.

Nowadays, Santa has diversified. Not only is he larger than life, but he’s louder than all get-out. You see him in the mall, sitting there, plain as day, undermining his own mystique. You see him on the back of a firetruck as it blares and beeps its way through town. He’s even got an Instagram account!

Santa has become such a public figure that NORAD tracks him, and the postal service collects letters for him (addressed to 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888.) He’s even got a Santa Hotline for kids to reach him at any time of the day.

I’m starting to think Santa is really spreading himself too thin, but I guess he’s got a mortgage to pay off, too. He’s even got a second home in Canada: Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0, Canada.

Maybe he’s got stand-ins, like movie actors do. It could be that some of the bearded fellows at Santa University are his proxies, spreading mirth and merriment when the big guy himself is otherwise engaged. 

Now, I know that Santa isn’t the true star of Christmas, but no matter what religion you belong to, this season is about joy and goodwill. It’s a holiday about hope, and the best part of it is that people are in a good mood and are (for the most part) getting into the spirit and treating each other with kindness. If only we could carry that feeling throughout the whole year!

Good tidings could toll, sing out in song,
fire or luminescence, light of any kind
to pierce the dark, a pillar of cloud
exiting Egypt; angels summoning shepherds.
Why send a star? Light already ancient,
a false ringing from a long-dead phone?
(Or does it live? By what name do we call it?)
Could only a star call the wise, with time and
thought to spare for gifts: gold for a king,
resin for the altar, spice for the embalmer,
already waiting to bless the linens
He would shrug off like a memory?
Have we any hope but to go the old way:
step by step across the desert,
to the limits of our imaginations,
and seek and seek the single light that shines
in an otherwise brutish sky?
A message sent light-years ago:
something both living and dead.
A cross is coming, do you see the shadow
pass over the baby’s face?

Yesterday, pastor included a children’s message as part of the service.  During this time, he sits on the stairs leading to the alter and the children gather there as well.  Yesterday they all talked about what they are thankful for – one little girl loved her nail polish.  One little boy?  Your guess is as good as mine. He’s a two-year-old mystery even when he very sincerely tries to describe something to me.

The problem is that I have to avoid trying to fill in what I think he has said.  I honestly don’t remember what I thought he had said the day he handed me a slightly mushed, dead cricket.

This is the world we live in.  My Christmas reality involves a tree and lots of lights.  So many lights!

Does that make it the only Christmas reality?  No.

Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone.   Some are dealing with the loss of a loved one.  Others simply don’t have the finances to celebrate Christmas the way we are told it should be celebrated – gifts, fancy foods, and so many lights.  Others avoid the lights because they long for a simpler experience.

How do you know which it is?  You have to ask.  Then you need to listen.  Listen with your ears.  Listen with your heart.  Listen to what they tell you and for the still small voice of God.  After all, we live in a world of many realities.  Some people will need and want your help.  Others will long for your understanding.  After all, we live in a world of many realities.

–SueBE

 

I smiled when I read Lori’s beautiful poem.  “Hyacinth of the soul.”  What a powerful phrase!

Whether it is because you are mourning someone or simply because the gray skies weigh you down, this is a tough time of year for so many of us.  With so little daylight and cold winds keeping us inside, it can be easy for depression to take hold. What is fine one year may simply be too much another.

And it certainly doesn’t help that there are so many expectations on us.  Saturday, I am working the preschool breakfast with Santa at our church.  I will be painting faces.  I always laugh that we call if face painting.  Sure, ninety percent of the time, I am painting a snowflake on someone’s cheek.  Or their entire face to look like a reindeer.

But every now and again Mom drags up a wiggly four-year-old who looks me in the eye.  “Don’t touch my face.”

Me: Okay, do you want a snowman on your hand?

Little Wiggles:  I like snowmen.

Me:  Do you want one on your hand?

Little Wiggles gives me an elaborate shrug.

Me:  If you don’t like it, we’ll wipe it right off.

That is generally when I make my sale.  Kid, you have the power here.  Give it a shot and if you don’t like it, you give the word and off it comes.

These are always my favorite kids.  The ones who know that they are not face paint kind of people.  Hand paint?  Maybe.  But face paint?  Nope.

Christmas is about so much more than trees and lights and cards.  It is about the Light.  It is about Grace.  It is about the ultimate Gift from God. You don’t have to buy into all the rest if it doesn’t feel right in your soul.

–SueBE

“We aren’t exchanging gifts this year.  We’re playing rob your neighbor so bring a gift anyone in the family would love.”

Cricket.

Cricket.

Cricket.

A hate shopping.  Hate it.  Really.  That said I’m actually pretty good at buying gifts for other people.  Of course, this means that I’m shopping for specific people.  My father-in-law loves history and works with wood, think Foxfire.  My mother-in-law is into classical music and elegant history, much more Biltmore than Foxfire.

Now try to come up with something any one of 20 or so people would love.  Let’s just say that the only thing my mother-in-law and son have in common is that they both like cats and love to eat.  This is mission impossible!

But then my son suggested buying a can of Flex Seal.  What?  I hadn’t thought of ridiculous made for TV products.  Serious gifts that everyone would love?  Not going to happen.  But the ridiculous?  This just might work.

It is far too easy to let someone’s request dampen our holiday joy.  It is up to us to rediscover God’s presence and the spirit of his grace that not even the thought of shopping can entirely eclipse.

–SueBE

 

 

It’s a new year! Well, sort of. Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year in the Catholic Church. I suppose it is apropos that the new year begins with waiting. We spend such a vast amount of time doing it, after all: waiting in line (or “on line” if you’re from the Midwest), waiting for doctors and plumbers and cable repair persons, waiting for mail to arrive and children to get dressed and pets to do their business. Waiting to eat, to sleep, to give birth, to die.

All of life is waiting, in a way. Advent merely provides additional practice. But what are we waiting for? For a child to be born into a manger? That already happened. For that child to come again? Yes, but that’s constant, not necessarily Advent-specific. I think we’re really waiting for a change of heart.

Remember how you felt at Christmastime when you were a child? Remember when just seeing lights strung on houses and carols being sung could lift your heart right up to your throat? Somewhere along the line, we lose that sense of wonder. How can we get it back? Maybe that’s the challenge of Advent.

My father-in-law was manning the bell and kettle for the Salvation Army one Christmas, outside of a store, when a little boy — obviously disabled — came struggling up to him. In his mittened hand, he held a clutch of crumpled dollar bills. His mother explained that it was his Christmas money; he wanted to donate it to people who really needed it. My father-in-law still tells this tale with tears in his eyes.

This advent, I am waiting for that little boy — his spirit, anyway — to rise up in me like a tide and wash away my grown-up skepticism and wariness. I want to receive Christmas as purely and joyfully as a child. And I want to give away that pure joy as rapidly as it spools into my heart. I think that’s a worthy thing to wait for. Don’t you?

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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