Unto us a child is born

Some headlines give you whiplash.
“Heart Left Behind on Southwest Flight.”
Oh my, that doesn’t sound good.
It seems that a Southwest flight was forced to turn around after a human heart (meant for donation) was accidentally left on board.
The heart arrived this past Sunday at Sea-Tac Airport, where it was due to be unloaded. But it wasn’t until after the pilot departed for Dallas, that the airline realized a “life-critical cargo shipment” was still onboard.
The story ends positive. Despite the delay, the heart reached its donor on time.
Here’s what I know: It’s not always easy for our heart to find its home.
I’m glad this heart did.

Home, that “safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer,” Parker Palmer writes. “It’s not merely about finding shelter from the storm—it’s about spiritual survival and the capacity to carry on.”

Invited to guest preach at another parish, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor asked the priest, “What do you want me to talk about?”
“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he told her.
Taylor writes, “I did not have to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.” (From An Altar in the World)

There was plenty of disquieting, even scary news this week. The kind that makes me want to just sit, look out at my garden, eat lots of dark chocolate and listen to Otis Redding real loud (with a wee dram in hand).
But, before you know it, the news becomes our only paradigm.
Christmas is a reminder about a different paradigm.
God invites us to know true holiness, where we find our home, in the vulnerable simplicity of a baby.
Mindfulness is always easier with a story. And my good friend Bishop Martin Townsend tells this one, about flying from Washington DC, on a very chilly Autumn morning.
Riding the shuttle bus from the satellite parking lot to the terminal is hardly an occasion for revelation. And typical for very early on a Monday morning, the atmosphere and mood on these twelve-minute junkets is neither warm, nor friendly. More like bordering on grim stoicism. After two stops, a young woman boards, hampered by far too many bags, while carrying an infant. You can tell she feels apologetic and blameable.
And yet. The mood thaws, people on the bus smile, and talk to the baby (who is two months old). “Hello there. Look at your smile. Look at how pretty you are.” Travel stress melts a little, and the mother smiles at the people in her new shuttle-bus-community.
The conversation spills, people on the bus now talking with one another.  I was about to bring out pictures of my grandchildren.
At the terminal, the “community” helps with the young woman’s bags.
The journey only took minutes, but our universe on that bus was transformed by the vulnerability of a baby, overcoming the veneer of indifference, anxiety, sophistication and tension that we too often wear in public places. (And perhaps even at church coffee hour?)

Here’s the deal: In a stable in Bethlehem, God became that baby on the bus.

We think of ourselves as plenty clever and bright, able to figure things out or straighten things up. And yet. Martin writes, “Rather than by intimidation and force, God chose to win us by becoming totally vulnerable. We are completely free to maintain our clenched grip on the stainless-steel hand rail, of course, steadying ourselves, eyes unswerving from their protective watch over our baggage as the bus sways and bumps along. Or our glance can be diverted. We can choose to talk to a stranger and smile back at a baby. There is something unassailably believable about the affection of a child; there is no love that is warmer… There is no guile.
God chose to come among us as a vulnerable child, so he could speak more clearly to our own hearts where we are most vulnerable. That child is speaking God’s truth… The stable is the sign of God’s desire to be born in the stables of our own hearts, not into our inn-like self-sufficiency, nor into our quest for palace-like opulence and power. In making his entrance through the mire of a stable, God showed us that flesh and blood, dirt, sweat, and tears, fear and shattered dreams, are good enough for him. That is where he will start.”

And the heart, finds its home.
The Celtic church had a word for 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.

This past week I walked in a windstorm, gusts up to 40 or so, the rain sideways, and I picture myself on the epic Lewis and Clark expedition (1805-1806). Slogging, toiling, schlepping and making history.  Well, at least the first three miles of it. Even so, the melodrama felt invigorating.
If you have the right clothing and accessories, people say, no worries. And I think to myself, in my now water-logged non-waterproof coat, they are correct. I need the right clothing. So, after the walk, I put on my pajamas and climb into bed.
Did you see the full moon on solstice night? Named the Cold Moon, it is full, calm and bright. I guess in some places, people enjoyed meteor showers.
Speaking of light, our days are now getting longer. This is great news for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) sufferers. (Meaning anyone who lives near Seattle.)
In my garden sanctuary, I am an anglophile, comfortable in English style gardens. And I love my English roses. This past week David Austin (the ‘Godfather of the English Rose’) died at aged 92. RIP David.
A blessed Christmas and HolyDay Season to each and every one of you. Although there is still one more thing to wrap: your arms around someone grieving a loss this Christmas.

I’ll give Martin the last word, “Let us remember the first words of Christmas, ‘Do not be afraid.’ The angels have our number. They skip right over our pretensions of self-sufficiency; they pay no attention to the comforts of our denominational and political biases. They go straight to the mucky, drafty stables of our fears and thwarted hopes.  Beneath Bethlehem’s star—in the airport shuttle buses that are our life—are met the hopes and fears of all the years.”

Quote for your week…
There is a LIGHT in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometime lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways. Richard Attenborough

Love is what’s in the room
with you at Christmas
if you stop opening presents
and listen.
Quote attributed to a 7-year-old boy


POEMS AND PRAYERS ​​​​​​​ 

Thresholds
Many times today I will cross over a threshold.
I hope to catch a few of those times.
I need to remember that my life is, in fact,
a continuous series of thresholds:
from one moment to the next,
from one thought to the next,
from one action to the next.
Help me appreciate how awesome this is.
How many are the chances to be really alive…
to be aware of the enormous dimension
we live within.
On the threshold the entire past and the endless
future rush to meet one another.
They take hold of each other and laugh.
They are so happy to discover themselves
in the awareness of a human creature.
On the threshold the present breaks all
boundaries.
It is a convergence, a fellowship
with all time and space.
We find You there.
And we are found by You there.
Help me cross into the present moment —
into wonder, into Your grace:
that “now-place,” where we all are unfolding
as Your life moment by moment.
Let me live on the threshold as threshold.
Gunilla Norris

The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
​​​​​​​Howard Thurman


 

 

 

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