Every December I like to read Garrison Keillor’s story about a young boy who wanted a Lionel Train Set for Christmas.
The father, of a family of seven, was in the hospital and unable to work. The mother, worried about money did her best to prepare the children. “I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to have much Christmas this year,” she tells them.
This news was not easy to swallow for the eldest boy, aged ten, who had been dropping hints since September about the Lionel train set, deluxe with the livestock loader. He even mentioned it frequently to God, reminding God that the train was on display in Lundgren’s store window. On Christmas morning, the boy opened his gifts; a pocketknife, wrapped homemade candies, and new pair of winter boots. There was no train. After Christmas dinner, the boy asked if he could go outside. He needed some place to nurse his sadness. As he tromped along in his new boots, he walked out on the iced-over lake, and let the tears flow.
After enough time passed, the boy turned to head back home. As he turned, with the sun nearly set, he saw the lights of the town shimmering before him. He squinted his eyes and could pick out his own house, on the left, not far from shore. It all looked, he realized, exactly like a town in a Lionel train layout, and if he squinted just right, the smoke rising from the chimney look like a steam engine.
Then he knew; the whole world is a Lionel Train Set. And he walked home with a lighter step, in his brand-new Christmas boots.
“In technology you have this horizontal progress, where you must start at one point and move to another and then another,” Thomas Merton once commented. “But that is not the way to build a life of prayer. In prayer we discover what we already have. You start where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you realize that you are already there. All we need is to experience what we already possess.”
That sure sounds good… until you don’t see the train set under the tree on Christmas morning.
Life is seldom what we wish for, and it’s easy to miss the Lionel Train Set, almost every time.
Here’s my favorite part of the story… after, the boy walked with a lighter step.
With awareness comes gratitude, fueled by gladness and joy.
With gratitude weights are lifted, and there is a sense of peace (down to our core).
For the Christian faith, in Advent we wait for the birth of the Prince of Peace. And on this fourth Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of Peace.
Speaking of waiting, Merton goes on to say, “If we really want prayer, we must slow down to a human tempo and we’ll begin to have time to listen. And as soon as we listen to what’s going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves. The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving. This is a real sickness.”
Okay, tell me again the reason for Advent season?
What if the power is in the waiting itself, in the space waiting creates?
What if that space invites and embraces new paradigms—letting us see the world with new eyes?
What if, it’s not about getting over the waiting, or having answers for the waiting. In other words, it is not about absence, but awareness.
Truth is, we don’t know what Mary learned as she pondered. What we do know is that she made space.
There is a weight, value and substance in the very space that waiting allows. Why? Because so much gets in the way of our not waiting and not seeing: speed, intolerance, antagonism, fear, expectations, apprehension, inattentiveness, worry… and stuff.
If you wait, you never know what you may see. Maybe the whole world is a Lionel Train Set.
A friend told me about the nativity play at their parish.
A little girl played the role of the innkeeper. Mary and Joseph (Joseph resplendent in his dad’s bathrobe) knocked on the inn door and asked, “Is there any room in your inn?” The innkeeper looked at Mary and Joseph, and then looked out at the pastor. She looked again at Mary and Joseph, and then looked out at the pew where her parents sat. She looked again at Mary and Joseph, and said, “Oh well, come on in for a drink.”
Now that’s the spirit.
When Kierkegaard wrote, “laughter is a type of prayer”, I think he meant that with laughter, we give up our need to control or manage or manipulate. We allow ourselves the permission to receive—this day, this moment, as a gift. You never know what you may see.
The Celtic church had a word for these moments of transformation. They called them thin places. “A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened,” writes Marcus Borg. “They are places where the boundary between the two levels becomes very soft, porous, permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts and we behold (the “ahaah of The Divine”)… all around us and in us.”
In the vulnerability, the message is loud and clear. A reminder about what is saving our life today. So. Here’s my gift list…
One, to yourself, remember what matters. Listen to the heart.
Two, to yourself and for everyone you care about, make sure you hydrate your soul.
Three, to your friends and family and the world you touch, let your light spill.
Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends and members of our SM community. May the light of the menorah shine in your life every day.
As I write this whopping snow flurries swirl and dance in our sky. Not sure if it will stick, but we’ll need the fireplace on for certain.
For soccer (football) fans, today’s World Cup final exhilarating. Congrats to Argentina.
A blessed Christmas to all. Savor your days. Let your light spill.
Quote for our week…
Only that day dawns to which we are awake. Henry David Thoreau
Today’s Photo Credit: “Good morning Terry… Sunset in one of my favorite places… Little Bay de Noc (Upper Peninsula of MI… The bay opens into Lake Michigan’s Green Bay).” Mary Jo Sharp… Thank you Mary Jo… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365
Upcoming Events — Florida friends, join us… Venice UCC Church, Venice, FL. Saturday, January 28 — Soft Hearts from Hard Places
Letters that do my heart good…
–That is a story of delight, Terry, about the coyote pup. It just tickled me pink. That’s all. Mary
–Dear Terry, I just got back from a leave as I came back much too early after my youngest adult daughter passed away unexpectedly at the end of April. In going through my e-mails, yours touch on something very important that so many of us neglect. Try softer… We don’t have to nor can we white knuckle our way through life especially after a life altering event, a deep pain or loss and how important it is to honor yourself. Thank you, K
–Thanks for the intro to your book. As a retired priest now married, I enjoy quiet time for reflection (so does my wife) every day, even in the “normal” times. Your talking to the sheep/geese reminds me of St. Francis of Assisi. We have a great variety of birds outside or window plus a couple of Douglas squirrels who are wonderful conversationalist when we listen. Keep writing for the people of this divided world. Thanks, Hilary and Larry
POEMS AND PRAYERS
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
Phillips Brooks (music by Lewis Redner) — 1868
Help us to fill our gift list this year.
To our enemies, help us give forgiveness.
To our opponents, tolerance.
To our friends, our heart.
To those who are hurting, hope.
To our customers, service.
To those around us, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To ourselves, laughter and respect.
And to you, our worship.