Sunday, December 25, 2011

And Love Came Down

 A Christmas Poem by Christina Rosetti (written 1872, later set to music)

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Treasured Nativity...Once Again

     For the first twenty-five years that my husband and I were married, I bought something reminiscent of the nativity as a part of our Christmas gift to one another. Thus it is that our home at Christmas is filled with creches. When Christmas is over, I don't even put them all away. Some of them remain in place throughout the year as a perpetual reminder of the "Gift" they represent. As you might surmise, these creches come in all shapes and sizes. Some are ornaments that hang upon the tree; others are fashioned of wood, ceramic, or clay, and one set is made entirely of is perfect for little hands to hold and to move and to place just so over and over again. The other day Little One ran immediately to this nativity set and alternately carried the cow, the camel and the wise men around for long periods of time. After she left, I continued to find the pieces hidden away in the most unusual places. 
Little One's favorite creche

    However, my favorite of all the creches is one that unless you know the story is unlikely to draw your attention. Despite is supposed lack of beauty, this particular creche takes center stage in our home and is there to greet you when you open the door to our house; it sits on the entry hall table. It has a base made by one of my children of unfired (basically dried) clay; three little figures made by another of my children (there were once four figures, but sadly, Joseph has completely disintegrated), a banner hand-lettered by yet another child, and finally, a tiny clay plaque made by yet another. In short, it represents the collective efforts of all four of our offspring, but it was not planned to be that way -- it simply happened. 
         The banner is twenty-three years old. I wouldn't trade anything in the world for the "Goly to God in the highest..." Goly was a first grader's way of writing "Glory," but I am sure that God understood exactly what this child of mine was trying to say. Another child lovingly crafted the base which originally was shaped more like a cave and had an overhanging top that has long since broken off. It holds the three figures (there were once four). There is  Mary; she is the figure on the right bending over the tiny figure resting on a bed of clay. It is Baby Jesus but his head is no longer attached to his body and must be carefully positioned or it will roll off on its own. To the left of Jesus and Mary is a lion. When the son who made the figures came home with this nativity with the lion, I had the audacity to ask him, "A lion?" You should learn early never to ask children questions like this, unless you want to immediately be put in your place. I will never forget that he looked at me with something akin to disdain as he said, "Of course, Mommy, the lion goes with the lamb." And so it does. I cried. He patted me. The Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God...they go together, do they not, and indeed, are they not one and the same? Yes, some of the most profound truths come out of the mouth of babes. 
     The final complement to this treasured creche is the little clay plaque in the back: you can barely read it, but in case you can't, I'll tell you: It says, "Jesus I Love You." It was originally supposed to be a cross, an Easter decoration, but when this child brought it home he told me,"I couldn't do the cross, Mommy, I wrote Jesus a letter instead. I thought He might like it better than the cross. I wanted to tell Him thank you." I cried again. He said, "I want it to go with the manger." It was springtime so I asked again, "Do you want me to put it with the Easter things?"  He shook his head firmly. "No, this cross is a letter, and it goes with the manger." 
       How could it be that a child understood something so deep, so powerful, so profound?  How could he grasp at the age of five, the very essence of the cross? How could he know that the cross, the terrible, wondrous cross, is also a letter, an I-love-you letter from a Holy God to His beloved, yet sinful people. 
       So you see perhaps why this tiny fragile nativity holds a place so dear to this mother's heart. Each child of mine made his or her contribution, unplanned unscripted over the course of many years to make it complete. There is a Banner of Love (Goly to God...). A little cave to cradle the Holy Family. A lion to stand guard and to lie down with the lamb.  And finally, a love letter that would and should have been a cross, except that a little boy wanted so much to write this letter to say thank you to Jesus for the cross. And the child knew intuitively that this was no ordinary baby, this was a baby born to die to save us from our sins. Christmas irrevocably linked to Easter. It is no accident that we must become as little children, is it? And once again, I cry, "Lord help my unbelief. Help each of us to believe with the wonder and the certain faith of a child."

    It is my Advent song this year...Merry Christmas!

from the archives

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

David's Daughter

We have gathered from near and far to pay final tribute to a much loved aunt. Ours is a family where the generations glide over one another in such a way that you cannot tell where one begins and another ends. It is hard to explain to strangers, but it feels very right to us. Once again the warp and woof of life have become integrated in such a way as to illuminate the tapestry of family in the midst of shared grief and celebration.

Out of necessity, weddings and funerals have become the means for our extended family to gather.  They serve to draw us close to one another. I rejoice to find that laughter and tears once again flow seamlessly in the sparkling gem of the house at 403 Park Avenue that my aunt lovingly restored and brought back to life. It has been the family home for more than seventy years, where it now faithfully bears witness to the passing of the generations.

Earlier, at the visitation I had taken my place in the receiving line alongside my eldest aunt.  I, who left home for college at 18 with a restless searching heart, have come home to roost in this place of honor at my aunt’s side. I am the oldest of three sisters. We stand in a row: Kathy, Cindy, Julie. Our names comprise a litany of remembrance in a small town that knows our history as well as we know it ourselves. In our lives away from this place we are wives, mothers, educators, volunteers, denizens of our communities and more.

But today we are David’s daughters. We shake hands, hug necks, and repeat the words over and over again.  I am known once again by my maiden name. We hear stories. At one point I turn to my sisters and say, “I am past middle age and I have never really thought of myself as simply David’s daughter. I have never said these words so many times before today.” My baby sister who was four when our father died marvels that she can never ever remember introducing herself this way. I start to cry. There is something treasured about being known as David’s daughter.

I look at the faces of my sisters and the soul hole gapes open for a second. Suddenly, I am bereft once again. This older woman is still a fatherless daughter even now. I wait for the old wave of pain. It eludes me and suddenly something deep inside shifts.  The carapace over my soul softens. The joy rises up unbidden in my heart and breaks forth over the wall of the dam to flood my soul. I can scarcely breathe. All is still inside of me, waiting.

I stretch forth my hand to take the hand of the elderly man standing in the line before me. I look him in the eye and say again, “I am David’s eldest daughter.” His eyes twinkle as they meet mine. “I know,” he whispers. “I see the Scofield in your face.”

I lie abed this morning in my Momma’s house and replay the hours of yesterday. I recall the words that were spoken at the funeral by those that I love. I smile at some of the things I learned about my aunt. I ponder the beautiful words of an old hymn, unfamiliar to me. 

I talk quietly to God. I marvel that as I whisper aloud the words, “David’s daughter,” the familiar ache is no longer patently obvious. Could it be that the death and the hole and the scar that have shaped my life are finally healed? Could it truly be? Until the tears slide down my face to wet the pillow, I am completely unaware that I am weeping.

God works in mysterious ways. I have traveled 400 miles to bury a loved one only to find that my soul has taken the longed-for journey of a lifetime. I look into the place of familiar sorrow and at long last find only a glorious peace rising up to meet me. The elongated shadow of the valley of death is no longer falling over me, holding me in its thrall.  

I question myself once more, “Could this be real?”

The scripture immediately leaps to mind: “He whom the Son has set free is free indeed.” Suddenly I am walking, no, running in this newfound freedom. 

Why today? Why now?

I close the door to my skeptical self and choose rest. I whisper, “Baruch Hashem Adonai.” There are no more words. The most profound sense of awe and gratitude holds me fast.

I know it to be the kiss of God's grace.

My father, David

Monday, December 12, 2011

Revisiting an Advent Prayer

 I have read the story hundreds of times. It never grows old. I have committed it to memory where it lingers and provides renewal and refreshment to my heart at the most opportune of times. Sometimes the words rise unbidden to the forefront of my mind where they replay like a poem or song that makes my heart want to sing...

       "And it came to pass in those days...that Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David..."

You know the rest of the story as well as I do. You know the cadence of the words and the inherent poetry and beauty of the language itself and the special way that the story tells us at once so very much and so very little of what really happened that night.

I learned something new about the story today. Our pastor was talking about the shepherds, and he likened their social status at that time to that of the gypsy, the migrant worker, the undocumented immigrant, or the homeless. The shepherds existed within Jewish society as a people without a voice. They had no legal status whatsoever and were considered so unreliable that they were forbidden by law to give testimony in court. They were never allowed to worship at the Temple because their occupation rendered them ceremonially unclean. In the pecking order of the Jews, they were the lowest of the low. In fact, they did not count, and they did not have to participate in the required census. They were quintessential nobodies.

Now here comes the irony.

The first witnesses, the first to receive the message, the first to come and worship, the first to spread the Good News, the first to "see" the Messiah were the very least of all in the kingdom of heaven.

Think about it.

Christ brought a revolutionary gospel, a revolutionary upheaval to the old order, and He taught us a revolutionary way to love and to live.

And he began with the nobodies. He did not begin with those in authority: the kings or the priests or the rulers. He did not seek out the rich and the powerful. He did not even seek the Wise Men. They sought Him.

I am just beginning to work all of this through in my head...and it is leading me to ask myself who and what do I worship when I am not engaging my head and my heart with the Lord? What draws my heart? What occupies my thinking? What else besides the gospel captivates me?

I am afraid it is not very pretty. I am afraid it is petty and selfish. I know the things that charm me most when my heart is not immersed in the gospel are things that are really of little value at all.

I so want to be a shepherd. I so want to be willing to leave it all in the field of my life and say to my family and those with whom I am in community ..."Let us now go even unto Bethlehem,and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us."

I want to kneel on that rough and filthy floor and offer to Him all that I am and all that I have. I want Christmas made new in my heart.

This is my Advent prayer.

from the archives

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Booklovers Haven

    We're Open for Business
   What? A city that calls itself the "Athens of the South" has no independent bookstore? You have got to be kidding! Thankfully, Parnassus has changed all that...
    With the demise of Davis-Kidd, Nashvillians had been woefully missing what I like to call a "browsing" bookstore, and we all know a city of our size simply must have one. Although we are not totally bereft (we do have the delightful purveyor of used books, Bookman/Bookwoman down in Hillsboro Village, Rhino Booksellers near Lipscomb and the warehouse-like McKay's off of Charlotte), most of the book addicts I know have been waiting with bated breath for the much anticipated opening of Parnassus. Local author Ann Patchett (Run, Bel Canto, Patron Saint of Liars, et al) has partnered with a friend, Karen Hayes, to open this smallish but just right little shop around the corner in the heart of Green Hills.
    Do yourself a favor and stop by. The collection is somewhat limited by the space, but Ann and Karen have done a superb job getting to the book-loving heart of Nashville. They have carefully done their homework and obviously understand our odd little quirks in taste as well as our eccentricities. If you are looking for a place that specializes in a plethora of cutting edge independent fiction, this is probably not it. Instead you will find Parnassus boasts a solid collection of classics, some lovely tried and true children's books along with some contemporary offerings, and a broad landscape of other lovelies from current fiction by up-and-coming authors to philosophy to music and travel. Simply put, you are bound to find something that just might call your name. As for me, I was happy just to walk through the doors and find that sense of kinship that I have been missing. Booklovers of all ages will be at home here.

    I am an old fogey when it comes to books and have been around long enough to remember and miss Bernie Mills from the tiny Mills Bookstore. It was there that I bought my children's first hardcover books. I only allowed myself the luxury of splurging on special must-have books for them; my own books gladly traveled back and forth from the Nashville Public Library. But Bernie never once led me astray. He understood that I would likely never be a big spender, but he welcomed my company as a lover of the written word. And I totally trusted his recommendations. The chain bookstores obviously fill a need as do the on-line monsters, but I still like to "talk" books with a live person who knows something about them. And the friendly folks at Parnassus certainly do.
    And besides, what would a bookstore in Nashville be without a little live music now and then? After all, we ARE Music City, are we not?!
   While Parnassus thankfully fills a much-needed void, the verdict is not yet in whether or not this will become an integral part of the literary hub and heartbeat of this city. It is totally up to us the customers to ensure that it does. So the next time you are in the neighborhood, stop by. You will be welcomed with open arms!
all photos from Parnassus

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Wonder of It All

   Except that ye become like little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. When we are young we wish to be old and when we are old, we wish for all of the wonder and the joy that was once ours. But come Christmastime even the most jaded and cynical among us find moments when we can catch a glimpse into the heart of the child we once were. Don't be afraid to let go of yourself this year, to shed the pretentiousness, the artifice, and the veneer with which we all too willingly cloak our lives. Come, take the journey with me.  Let's look long and hard at the heart of Christmas, the real Christmas, not the commercialized version that begs for more and more and more and is only fleetingly and temporarily satisfied. Let us willingly see the ugly ache of our selfish desires and our mindless propensity for endless consumption for what they are, and turn to consider instead the Christmas that is the essential celebration of the gift of Emmanuel, God With Us. If we dare to surrender to the truth of this life-shattering reality, then and only then will we find ourselves looking through the doorway of our own heart into the very soul of heaven. The true Christmas is what brings the mystery and joy of heaven as close as the beating of our hearts.
    I don't know about you, but I am keeping Christmas this year. Keeping. Not letting go. Holding fast and firm to the joy and the wonder and the glory of it all. And trusting the Holy Spirit to let me see, hear, and find fresh vision in each passing day. And resting in Emmanuel. God with us. God for us. God in us. The best gift. The everlasting gift. The only gift of any value and the one gift that restores to us, the fallen and the jaded, the softened wonder-filled heart we each of us are longing to have once again. The heart of a child.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Marriage and The Tree

A real tree. See how it leans slightly to the right?!
    I swore that I would nevah evah have a fake tree. I caved. The Husband and I were finding the Continental Divide was invading our marriage every December. It would start immediately after Thanksgiving. He would camp out on one side of the den, arms akimbo, glaring at me whenever I took a deep breath because he knew what was coming. "Honey, it's time..." No matter how sweetly I prefaced it, the response was always the same. You would think I was asking him to undergo a natural childbirth without any preparation. Really. There was just no palatable way to approach the topic of THE TREE, because with him it was THE DREADED HORRIBLE NO GOOD TERRIBLE TREE.
   Over the years I tried everything. I roped one of my adult children into accompanying me and let The Husband stay home. He still glared at us when we got home. I even went by myself. The Home Depot guys feel sorry for women shopping for 9 foot trees by themselves. They ask questions like "Will someone help you untie this from your car?" and "How are you going to get this inside? It's very heavy." Duh. But not one of them ever offered to accompany me home and put the tree up. I guess that was asking too much. After all, I was wearing a wedding ring.
   One year I even ordered a tree and had it delivered. That went over about as well as if I had robbed Fort Knox. Over the course of a thirty-seven year marriage I am embarrassed to say that I have groveled. I have whined. I have begged. I have pleaded. I have bribed. However, no matter what strategy I have employed, The Husband is always in a huff about THE TREE.
   I don't know what it is about THE TREE but it brings out the adolescent male in him. The adolescent male. In a nearly 60 year old man's body. Interesting.
   Two years ago, I bridged the divide. I went to the after Christmas sale and bought a very nice and fully lit FAKE Christmas tree. It just about killed me. But I had had one too many arguments about THE TREE. It was one of those places where you just know that you are gonna have to climb the hill to die.
   I surprised myself. I actually don't mind the tree. The clean-up is so much easier. I was definitely getting too old to climb a ladder to wrap a sheet around a dead molting tree so that I and I alone could drag it through the living room and out the front door of the house. I sound a bit like a martyr, don't I? I want him to remember those days. In fact I am hoping that he will read this post. I will email it to him just in case.
    So...with a FAKE tree, you would think all of the problems would be solved. No solo trips to Home Depot. No exorbitant delivery fees. No wrestling with that green thing with screws that is supposed to help a tree remain upright. No more arguments, whining, begging, pleading, et al. Problem solved. Right? Then you tell me why it is that here I sit with a grumpy husband who is now moaning and groaning about bringing the box inside and having to assemble (with my son's assistance) a very heavy and unwieldy FAKE tree. It seems I can't win. But then again, it's not about winning. Or so I tell myself.
   However, I am thinking The Husband is gonna have to climb that hill to die over this one. And I will be right there pushing him up that hill every step of the way. After all, the bigger sacrifice has been made. Now he just needs to make his. Tonight.
The fake tree. No leaning. No mess. No Fuss.
Except that it still requires help in assembly.