Friday, December 30, 2016

In-the-Between

Between Christmas and the New Year is mostly suspended animation. No school, warm temperatures and rowdy kids filling the streets, waiting in lines to return the things that don't fit quite right, filling our time with "fun family activities" while silently counting the days until school starts back up for the new semester.

The message of Christmas, I suppose, came mostly in an emptying, the swelling and birthing as an emptying of divinity for the sake of our souls. And yet, we have spent the season scurrying around doing the opposite. Filling our calendar and our trees and our stockings with all the things we think we need or mostly just want. We fill and fill, and I am sick to death of all the ways I stack things under the tree whose branches grow limp and needles pepper our floor with spikes. I am snappy and grouchy and my fingers itch with the impulse to buy more things for delivery right to my turquoise front door. Adam is out of town and I yell at my children, words I cannot even bear to repeat as I imagine the ways they have torn holes in Jayci’s soul. I apologize and she apologizes, and I fear the worst for all the brokenness that never gets hidden by all my doing and buying.

Cookies for neighbors, thank-you gifts for donors, and Christmas cards for everyone, complete with a smiling picture with Zack holding Jayci while Isaiah laughs, and Caden’s hair grows a touch too long over his eyes. Our life is full, we declare, and it is true; except I have forgotten the emptying. And I feel empty, but not the good kind. More like hollow. Like we only missed one Advent reading all season, which is somewhat of a miracle, and yet we may have missed the whole point.


We busy ourselves soliciting year-end donations we desperately need, and coordinating gift-giving for all the folks who have an abundance and feel charitable this time of the year; after all, we know intimately all the ones who have the need and so we straddle both worlds, us stretched thin between.

We bring the gifts to their apartment and I hope that no one notices the fancy Mercedes we park outside. You’re giving out gifts? someone yells, we need some too! I laugh and joke that these kid-clothes won’t fit her and sorry, before trudging up sagging steps and pushing open the door without a knob. And there are grand-kids and cousins bursting at the seams upstairs, leaving hand-prints on the walls while grease bubbles on the stove, and they want to know which gift is for them. There’s never going to be enough to fix the whole broken world.

Which, of course, is why we need the one who broke Himself to fix the world. The emptied womb to fill us all and save us all and forgive us all.

Christmas is already gone. Another year spent with the getting and giving and gifting, and we pack it all up to haul back into the attic in red and green plastic bins.

And so we will try in this new year to live differently, to start with the death and the emptying and live backwards to the birth and forwards to the resurrection simultaneously. We will make the kind of choices everyone calls crazy, because perhaps the thing we really need in a world gone mad is a different way of doing everything. To empty instead of fill; to say no instead of yes, and to say yes when instinct demands we say no.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mary's Song

She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger  -Luke 2:7
Her new baby wails tiny mews through barely open eyes, she shushes him and wraps her cloak against the cold while he suckles noisily at her breast. Her uterus contracts and blood stains mar the straw beneath them, a reminder of the messy ways life wrestles itself into the world. Eventually she hands baby Jesus to Joseph, who wraps him tightly in swaddling cloths expertly, his arms pinned to his side and his lips sucking while he sleeps. Joseph presses his lips to Jesus’s wrinkly forehead, his scratchy beard making his son’s eyes twitch and nose scrunch. Mary gazes quietly with joy over her son, with unknowing and knowing, with fear and hope, and with the kind of expectancy that brims with all the promise of new life. Finally they all three recline and surrender to sleep beneath the holy noisy peace that night.

Everything is ordinary and extraordinary all at once, just like for every new parent; Mary's muscles sore and hearts full from the excruciating joy of birthing something new. The weary parents wake too soon to baby coos and the bleats of lambs carried by shepherds, arriving with angel songs on their lips. They are unlikely subjects for an unlikely King, for the son she swelled with and carried and broke herself open to bring forth. She nestles Jesus closer into her still-soft young curves, bending herself into the crook of Joseph’s arms while the donkeys bray and the stars blink bright overhead like one million times the sky failed to contain the brilliance of heaven.

Mary breaks off a piece of unleavened bread and gives thanks for the scandal tucked in the crook of her arm and the man snoring beside her who married her anyways. She glances over and locks eyes with her donkey and offers thanks for the things that carried her through, as stubborn and grouchy as they might be. She slips her shoulder from her blanket as Jesus blinks his eyes open. She imagines she sees herself in the slant of his nose, in the particular shade of his brown eyes set beneath thick dark brows. She strokes the down on his cheeks, follows the curve of them down his neck, wondering if she sees his Father’s wisdom set behind his eyes trained somewhat unsteadily on her face. Wonders if perhaps it’s his Father she discovers in the perfection of his tiny fingers and toes, He who she notes in the strength of his wail. She smiles lightly and winces equally in pain, lifting Jesus back to her breast and she begins a new conversation with the flesh of her flesh who has come to rescue them all.


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