iPhone photograph (filtered)
Monday, December 25, 2017
Saturday, December 23, 2017
This Christmas we are away from family and friends. The decision to leave was mine, and I wonder if I'm flawed, like a sweater with a snag, or worse, a defect in the domestic fabric of motherhood. I feel so overwhelmed at this time of year when other wives and mothers immerse themselves in the traditions of the season. Part of what makes leaving a little easier is that we both have families living close by that we see regularly, so, with our children, my husband and I come to an island in the sea this year. There will be no usual Christmas activities and obligations. And, as if to justify missing the snowfall at home, I imagine that a balmy breeze is truer to the nativity setting in Bethlehem anyway.
I have brought along a book, Gift From The Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in which she comments on the luxury of choice many of us in our North American culture have, including me, between complexity and simplification of life. "For the most part, we who could choose simplification choose complication." This statement stirs me. The author goes on to say that a simplified outward life is not enough, but I decide that it is definitely a start.
Throughout the book, the author uses the image of an island as a metaphor for solitude and reflection. Solitude is necessary for a peaceful inner life, and vacations, she writes, are like an island of space and time – I think of the five of us here as being our own island. My thoughts shift like the sand in the breaking waves to another place, to home, where it is snowing. Our mothers will be engaged in activity for Christmas Eve while I have spent the day at the beach with no responsibilities – lazy hours liberally sprinkled with sand and salt.
Showered and refreshed, I recline on the patio sipping a glass of eggnog and gaze at the ocean in anticipation of the sunset and the descent of this special night. Just offshore, the water softly breaks and a dark shape emereges; the back of a whale! Elated, I call my family over with a hushed trace of urgency in my voice. They know how inexplicably drawn I am to these mysterious graceful giants and quickly gather around me. Together we watch, captivated, as the whale gently rolls to the side and a long fin, like a slender hand, claps the water's surface, as if to ensure our attention. Her act is audible a moment later, just as thunder is heard moments after lightning. Again and again, fin against water. Then a tiny fluked tail pops up from the waves and wags in response. The mother raises her tail, bringing it down with a thud and displacing water into a fan of spray that areches and showers like a summer downpour.
I am mesmerized by this affectionate interplay between whale and offspring. It goes on for fifteen minutes, a halfhour, is it longer? And suddenly during that time I sense the significance of what I am witnessing, so grateful that I wasn't preoccupied but rather sill and available. That these whales should pause along their journey to play in front of us, on this evening, seems intentional, as if this was an intimate gift from the Divine Creator to me. Time seems to stop, until the shimmering sun slowly slips into the sea.
At church, in the glow of the candlelight, once again I think of our families at home, gahtered by now around the tree, exchanging gifts. Mild guilt washes over me like a wave, then flows away as the singing begins. "O Holy Night... The night when Christ was born..." As if speaking to reassure me, the pastor prefaces his sermon by commenting on all the things we do to get ready for Christmas, making ourselves three times busier than usual – baking, cooking, shopping, visiting, decorating – yet that is not what Christmas is about. All around me heads nod slightly, creating a subtle movement throughout the congregtion, like an undulating body of water. I feel acceptable. The purpose of Christmas, he declares, is simply for us to know God personally. The message that follows warms me like tropical sun rays.
A few days later, I enquire about a whale-watching excursion and an islander tells me that this is not the right time of year; experts have sensed only about twenty whales in this waters. He says I'd be lucky to see any activity at all. My intuition about the whales on Christmas Eve was correct; they were a gift, and they will become my personal metaphor for a simpler life wherein I recognize God's grace in the deeper, quieter moments.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
So there’s no safe place. God, it seems,
might insert himself into any conversation,
any century. Might settle in - any old place,
as he quintessentially did in the West Bank,
Palestine, small town called Bethlehem.
The story is - God breathed himself
into the womb of a woman, turning himself
over to her umbilical care, folding himself
into fetal position, pressing and turning
inside Mary, ‘til she, breathing hard, bore down.
Mary’s womb turned inside out - amniotic
water, gasping infant, placenta spilling
into the night, messy and miraculous
as any birth anywhere and not a safe place.
Did he know - he must have - when he took on
flesh and fingernail and bone marrow,
he would be at our mercy?
For us too, no safe place. For you see what
he’s done - given notice how he, at any time,
might break into our conversation, West Bank,
West Coast, Bethlehem, Vancouver. There’s no place
safe from his radical willingness to be among us.
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
The owner of a Michigan Avenue restaurant called me with a problem that frequently comes up at Christmas. He had planned a party at his place for 100 needy children. But for some reason he had only half that many coming. Now, with the party only two days off, he was frantically trying to find an extra fifty needy children.
"Do you know where I can get them?" he said. I asked if he had tried an orphanage. He hadn't, so I gave him the name of one.
He called back a few minutes later and said: "No luck. They're already taken." All I could do was suggest that he keep trying, call orphanages and social agencies. But I warned him to expect disappointment. He had waited much too long. When you get down to the last week before Christmas, the needy children - especially orphans - already have been pretty well picked over.
Last year, on Christmas Eve afternoon, a very angry young woman called. She and some friends had just rounded up old clothes and old toys to give away, but couldn't find anyone to give them to. They had called several social agencies but they had closed for the day.
Knowing how upsetting such disappointment could be, I tried to be helpful and suggested that they wait until after Christmas when the social agencies reopened, since the clothes and toys would be needed then, too.
"But Christmas will be over then," the woman said, "and it won't be the same."
One should start thinking about these things as early as Thanksgiving-- or before, if possible...
One of the problems in looking for someone to good-deed is that there is no convenient way to shop around. What may be needed is some kind of special Christmas catalog, such as Sears put out for their merchandise, but containing instead a complete assortment of the needy. If people had something like that, they could plan calmly and avoid the frantic, last-minute rush to perform a good deed.
Best of all, there wouldn't be any disappointment. Christmas comes but once a year, and everyone should get a chance to do good. It's such a long wait until next time.