Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


More Manure, More Fruit.

Many years ago, on the Great Vigil of Easter at Immanuel Church on-the-Hill, two of my four children were baptized. Zach was three and a half and Colleen was just eighteen months. It was a grand and chaotic occasion as friends and relatives gathered late that Sunday evening. The Paschal Fire blazed in a Weber Grille on the steps of the church. The people processed in behind the single flame, behind the deacon chanting the Exultet.  Inside the church was pitch black. Zach tripped over a kneeler, bumped his head on the back of a pew and screamed bloody murder. As the lights came up, we dried his tears. Somehow the service continued with readings and prayers and responses and finally the baptism itself. 

”Zach, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever,” said the priest as he smeared oil on Zach’s forehead.

Christ’s own forever.

 With these words ringing in his ears, Zach turned to us, his mom and dad, with terror in his eyes. Christ? Christ? Who’s Christ? I don’t want to go home with Christ. I want to go home with you!

After all, home is where the heart is? Right? Home is where our duty lies. Right?  Don’t we all have obligations? My family expects things of me, always has. Each time I set foot outside my parent’s home, my father would remind me: Remember you are a Peacock! To be a Peacock meant reading good books, using good manners, conserving electricity, graduating from college, dressing in good taste, voting Republican, and keeping family secrets.  I cannot tell you on how many counts I have failed my father’s expectations (God rest his soul!) 

My life, like yours, I’m sure has taken various twists and turns with jobs and family, hopes and dreams. Ultimately our lives are measured by the mercy of God, but in the meantime, it seems we are eternally beholden to our parents, our spouses, our partners, our children. Family first, right??

Caught between the first and the fifth commandments – I am the Lord, your God. There are no other gods but Me and Honor your father and your mother, we might feel betwixt and between. What does faith demand? What does family require?

How many of us went to the wrong school, took the wrong job or married the wrong person — at least as far as our family was concerned? How many of us dared to be an artist instead of an accountant? An organic farmer instead of a hedge fund manager?  Who among us did not grow up to become the doctor, the lawyer or the Indian Chief?  Did not become the one everyone expected us to be? 

When did you realize that maybe you had fallen far from the tree? 

When did you know, when did you become aware that Someone Else had a claim on your life? When did you get the inkling that while uniquely your own your life might not be entirely your own?  

This is the Christian version of an inconvenient truth. It is the uncomfortable truth that Saint Augustine desperately tried to avoid. In his “Confessions”, the first autobiography ever written, Augustine shares his own tug-of-war tale between God and family.

Augustine’s upwardly mobile parents had grand plans for their bright baby boy. He would be instructed in the Christian faith but not actually become a Christian — not just yet. His mother, Monica wanted him to get through the terrible teens first; let those raging hormones subside. Then he would go to university, master rhetoric, become a lawyer. Not yet ready to marry, he would take a concubine with whom he later fathered a son.

Augustine managed to get to Mass most Sundays but only for the first half. He would leave before communion. He kept putting his baptism off, kicking it like a can down the road. First, you see, his family wanted for him every success, every prize.

So, Augustine knelt and fervently and famously prayed – “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.  Lord, make me a Christian, but not yet.”  Let me stay home and be about my family’s business. First, Lord, let me honor my mother and my father (and reap the benefits thereof.)

Follow in the family footsteps or shake loose from the family tree? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind OR Honor your father and your mother? Far from simple, right?

What seems like an either/or question is also a both/and proposition. What matters most is that the tree bears fruit.  And quite ironically the more the manure the more the fruit.

“Parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree” Alexey Pismenny

A man had a fig tree planted in its vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So, he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and still I have found none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.

Jesus had no family home where he could lay his head. Even foxes have holes and birds have nests, but Jesus was essentially homeless. He did not go into the family carpentry business. His only security was in God and his only job was as a son in God’s risky business. Jesus headed God’s way, his own way to Calvary. An unorthodox life destined to bear much fruit.

The Way is the most ancient name for the Christian faith.  To follow Jesus on this Way, to become his disciple, we can’t just stay safe and secure at home. We need to get out and about. We need to be more than couch potato Christians. St. Augustine – with God’s help – left behind father and mother – wealth and status — and quite belatedly went down into the Baptismal waters. And he came up a Christian – far from perfect, conflicted and complex and complicated – sealed as Christ’s forever.

And what was true for Augustine is true for us.

Christ embraces this life — imperfect and unfinished, messy in every respect and piled up to the neck in manure.  Whether we are fully grown or newly born, it does not matter. We’re called to get up out of our pews, out of our comfort zones — to walk into those uncomfortable places. To walk into the places where we can see, seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. Where we are called to strive for justice and peace among all people. Where we are required to respect of every human being. 

Every human being.

So where is that for you personally? Where might that be for us as a parish? Pastorally, prophetically?  Might it be in the things we are already doing? Or maybe in things we have yet to dream of.

Mis-steps are guaranteed along this Way, but let’s dream on anyway. Because with God’s help and with us holding each other up, we can walk this rocky and uneven path and walk like Jesus the way to Jerusalem.


Splash! Dash! Dunk!

I am no Hemingway…

But like the Old Man of his Pulitzer winning novel, I have long had a problematic relationship with large bodies of water.

Sea water and pool water.

As a child – by the sea, by the beautiful sea – my fair, freckled skin would fry to a crisp. Bright red and hot to the touch – it took just 15 minutes splashing around in the waves – until I was thoroughly cooked.

Slathered with Solarcaine I was waylaid on the sand.   To shield me from the sun, I had to wear my father’s t-shirt and my mother’s floppy hat – while my siblings boogie-boarded and had  a grand old time.

The sea was not my friend —  but neither was the neighborhood pool.

My older sister, Maureen, once she reached driving age, chauffeured us in a fish-tailed Plymouth station wagon to our swimming lessons.

I flunked.

I flunked swimming lessons three times.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

Terrified of heights, I never learned to dive. The best I managed to do was doggy paddle the length of the pool. By the time I finally passed, I was at least a head taller than all of the other pollywogs in my class.

Yes, I have long had a problematic relationship with water.

Water won. I lost.

So water and I made a deal.

“I’ll wear my swim suit, Water, but I will never get it wet.”

Be it by the pool or by the sea, I would find a comfortable chair, slather my fair and freckled skin with SPF 100, sit under an umbrella and read a book – or two – or three.

Slather, rinse, repeat.

And that is how  I thought it was going to be — for all eternity –with water and me…

Until.

Cross training for my first half marathon, I signed up for twice weekly water aerobics at the local rec center.

Now most people think water aerobics is just a bunch of old ladies splashing around in the pool.

Nothing is further from the truth.

Barbara, the instructor, worked us like a drill sergeant. The routine is demanding and never boring. Armed with noodles and styrofoam barbells, water shoes and swimming gloves:

Like frogs we skim  the surface.

Like divers we explore the depths.

Like cyclists we pedal the length, the breadth.

Like bells in a belfry we swing both to and fro.

Like flying fish we shoot out of the water.

Like dancers we pivot and turn.

Like soldiers we march.

Like taskmasters we kick our butts.

Like yogis we stretch.

Like runners we run.

Like rowers we row ourselves ashore.

Like dolphins we submerge and rise again.

Water is buoyant – it bolsters my spirit and lifts my mood.

Water is a solvent – solving and dissolving my daily cares.

Water is a liquid –it pools my soul.

Water crashes in waves – washing over me and making me clean.

Water ebbs and flows  – its moods and mine obeying the moon.

Recently, a bit off my game, I have discovered my gym’s heated salt water pool. Miraculously I have managed to make it more days than not this new year. A self directed hour of flying, stretching, running and rowing. A self directed hour of renewal.

Water. Baptismal water.

Thank you, Lord God of the Universe, for the gift of water. Over it the Spirit moved at the dawn of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.

And in these baptismal waters — splash, dash, dunk — I  die and rise again.

P.S. Yes, this is an update of previous post!


64 is the New 46!

An alchemist am I.

In the medieval sense, an alchemist is a philosopher who takes what is base and spins it into gold. A scientist in pursuit of the elixir of life.

Yep, that’s me, fits me to a “t.” But alchemist also fits in the 21st century sense.

According to my EVO Planner, this is how my brain is wired.

Alchemists gravitate toward the abstract and theoretical. They prefer experimenting with their ideas in the real world, and develop a lot of their key ideas while interacting with other people. They are mostly focused on the future and the possibilities it holds.

Ah, music to my alchemist ears: focused on the future and all the possibilities it holds.

I am about to turn 64. Can you believe it? (Here is where you say, “No, you could not possibly be turning 64!”) And vanity has made me ever grateful for my mother’s genes – people have mistaken us both in our lifetimes for a bit younger than we actually are.

64 is two times 32, right? And if you ask me that is how I feel. Two rocking 32 year olds – with a peacock feather streak of color in my gray hair. (Thank you, Olivia at Salon de Zen.) I am not my mother’s or my grandmother’s Oldsmobile, so to speak.

And 64 for me is far larger than my 46. Not simply numerically but expansively. Sure, I am 17 years older but I am also, 17 years more evolved, 17 years more alive than I have ever been.

At 46 I actually faced some of my most difficult days. My marriage imploded. The church where I was rector crashed down around my ears. In my darkest of days, it actually hurt to open eyes and it seemed better perhaps if I no longer did.

But this darkness led me to light.

I took a two-week cruise on the good ship Dominion in 2003. I actually LOVED being on the psyche ward. It totally saved my life. And it set me on a 16 year trajectory of redefining and reclaiming, resurrecting and reimagining who I am.

With God’s help, of course, I am a person of faith. But also with more than a little help from friends and family and therapists and work.

And….

I am going to tell you the truth (not to sound conceited.) The biggest help to me was me. Me, myself, and I.

I have made a bazillion daily decisions over the last 6,0205 days. Each a little choice, each a small turn in the direction of my future and not my past. Step by step by step, the steps add up until a few small steps add up to one enormous leap. A leap into the fullness of my life.

And I am grateful for the sun that has come up everyday and thankful for every breath that I have been blessed to breathe – that have brought me happy and whole to this day.

So 64 is the new 46! And in no particular order, let me count the ways.

  1. Coffee.
  2. Colored pens.
  3. Shelves full of books.
  4. A closet full of dresses.
  5. Half a dozen pairs of walking shoes.
  6. A dog named Bailey.
  7. Two Tabbies: Cheshire & Charlie.
  8. Baptizing babies.
  9. Performing on stage.
  10. Six million rounds of the rosary.
  11. Walking in God’s great outdoors.
  12. Three half marathons.
  13. Three little pills I take each night.
  14. Three years with Sondra on the therapist’s couch.
  15. Ten years prior with Mary.
  16. Four rocking adult children: Rebecca, Zach, Colleen & Jacob.
  17. Four gospels to preach.
  18. An office to call my own.
  19. Colleagues who are more than colleagues.
  20. Coworkers who have become friends.
  21. Digital connectivity in cyberspace.
  22. Gathering folks in God’s name.
  23. Regular dips in the pool.
  24. Fire in my fireplace and pillows to rearrange.
  25. My soul sister, Mical.
  26. My soul brothers, Neal and Chuck.
  27. A little bit of chocolate every day.
  28. Canadian sister Maureen, big bro Tim & baby brother Joseph — age 58!(and maybe the other siblings, too.)
  29. Story District: Invisiblia, 2nd Tuesday & Top Shelf.
  30. Grandchildren: Bella, Jude & Meir; Zhen, Zakai & Zellie.
  31. Great-little-nieces: Virginia & Astrid.
  32. DNA, genetics, and ancestry.com.
  33. A writer’s life: 151 posts @ Unorthodox & Unhinged.
  34. A big red bike I barely ride.
  35. Being Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity at EEC.
  36. Pie (my favorite food group) at Killer ESP.
  37. A full refrigerator with food ready to eat.
  38. Christmas that lasts at least a month.
  39. Birthdays that last at least a week.
  40. Saturday Night Live on a Sunday afternoon.
  41. Cult related documentaries, articles and books (Think Wild, Wild Country and Going Clear.)
  42. Excursions to The Porches, the Oakhurst Inn, Mandarin Oriental and the Line.
  43. Sharing my hometown library, the largest library in the world: LOC.
  44. The rhythm and color of the liturgical year.
  45. Singing an off key soprano whenever I can.
  46. And coffee. Did I say coffee?

64 is the new 46!


Raising Hell for Heaven’s Sake

Phillips Brooks, Episcopal Bishop of Boston in the late 19thcentury, known for his inspiring oratory, famously quipped.

“You preach to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

If you didn’t quite catch that let me repeat it.

“You preach to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

And woe is me, woe are we.  Jesus, in his sermon from a level place on the plain, is inflicting pain on the rich as he raises up the poor, as he raises up the hungry.

Remember Jesus quoting Isaiah, in the synagogue? 

“I have come to preach good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, and sight to the blind.”

Now he preaches to the would-be disciples, to the people gathered there.

“Blessed are you who are poor…. Woe to you who are rich.”

“Blessed are you who are hungry…Woe to you who are full.”

This is not the smoothed over, tame version in Matthew,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness.”

This is not Jesus meek and mild. This is Jesus radically wild. 

To be poor in the flesh, not just in the metaphorical spirit, is measurable, but not always visible. And though we may not acknowledge it, we walk past the poor every day. With those cardboard signs. With the paper cups jingling with coins. Pushing grocery carts or carrying backpacks with all their worldly goods.

Some of you may have tasted real poverty. Maybe many of you have skated close. In the recent 35-day government shutdown (and I pray to God there not be another), you may have inched closer. 

Government workers, reminiscent of the Great Depression, stood in bread lines. Having to choose between food or medicine. Heat or shelter. Back to work, people are still behind on their bills. And the contracted workers who clean the buildings and work in the cafeterias and mow the lawns, will never see a month’s worth of back wages. They are farther behind still.

The difference between being a home owner and becoming homeless is a just a lost paycheck or two or three – that includes about 80% of everybody in the United States.

Still most of us have never slept on the street or under a bridge.

When I was in seminary, I worked at Grace Church in Georgetown. It’s located on Wisconsin Avenue on the edge of the C&O Canal. Grace was founded in the 19thcentury by the hoity toity Christ Church up the road. They wanted a place for the riff raff to worship without disturbing their upper-class sensibilities. 

So, Grace was founded on the evangelical values of service to the poor. At Grace, they could find food and clothing and a place out of the cold – without cluttering up Christ Church’s pews.

This mission has long defined Grace. When I worked there, Grace was home to the Georgetown Ministry Center staffed by one and a half professional social workers. They worked with the homeless population who camped out in the church yard. To give them a mailing address for their disability checks. To get a shower, and clean clothes. To get help finding a job. For the mentally ill and diabetic, Grace was a place to get their meds. For those who struggled with substance abuse, Grace was the place for 12-step meetings.  Many of these homeless had also served our county in Vietnam and in the Gulf War.

While David Bird, the rector, was away for a month in the summer, I was left in charge. The Ministry Center had weekly meetings on the church steps to listen to the needs of the real poor people right in front of us. We listened to their concerns and complaints, suggestions and ideas.

There is the stereotype of the grateful poor, and these resourceful homeless men and women, did indeed thank us for our noblesse oblige. Appreciative for the basic needs of life: food, clothing, shelter. But I will never forget one particular meeting, where a gentleman stood up to dress us down.

“You know,” he said, “we feel very welcome here during the week, Monday through Friday.  But the most unwelcoming of days here is Sunday. On Sunday, we feel left out, locked out of this church. What are you afraid of? Open these god damned red doors!”

And so, we did, no thanks to me or to the social workers, but thanks to the homeless themselves. Give us this day our daily bread — for body and for soul.

They joined us in Bible Study. They joined us in the choir. Jay-Jay, a schizophrenic sang the most unusual and beautiful descants. They gathered in the circle with us for communion. And of course, they came to coffee hour, which at Grace was a holy meal and a sacrament unto itself. They joined us for caring for one another — on a level place.

They turned our comfortable places in our comfortable pews, upside down. And we were blessed by them so much more than they were blessed by us.

Here at Emmanuel, blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry.

Carpenter’s Shelter Breakfast and Dinner.

The Alive Food Panty.

Bag Lunch Program for the Homeless.

Meals on Wheels.

Hunger Free Alexandria.

Our stomachs full, Emmanuel is very mindful of the empty stomachs in our own backyards. It costs us very little to toss that extra jar of peanut butter, box of cereal or can of tuna into our shopping carts. 

But Jesus today asks us for much more. Capital “M”, much more. Not just to feed the five thousand but to turn over the rocks and examine the nasty, negative forces that keep the poorest poor and the richest rich. Culturally. Economically. Concretely. Personally. 

Four hundred Americans at the top of the ladder own more than 150 million at the bottom combined.

Combined.

Why is that? What do we do with that? Locally. Globally. I don’t have any easy answers. I am asking for myself as much as for you. 

Blessed are the poor, plain and simple, says Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain.

The kingdom of God, here is not heaven in the great by-and-by, not that delayed gratification and reward for the grateful poor.

But the kingdom of God, in the words of Jesus, is this world, our cozy and comfortable world turned upside down.

A world where the words of the poor are gospel. Where the voices of the poor are heard.

So, for heaven’s sake, let’s consider how we can dig down, dig deeper, and let Jesus actually afflict us, more than just a little. Let the words of Jesus, dig into us, dig up and turn over our comfortable places in the market places. So, in turn we figure out how to comfort those truly afflicted, the poor and the poorest of the poor.

Let’s pray that we figure out what in heaven’s name we can actually do to turn this world upside down. 

What kind of hell are we going to raise — right here, right now – to bring about the kingdom of God?

Today, tomorrow what are you going to do?


Celtic Crazy: Boudicca, Brigid & Fidelma

Since way back in the AOL days, my email address has been “celticjlp”. I am more than a bit of a Celtophile.  

I have made four pilgrimages to the Emerald Isle. On all things Celtic, I have facilitated forums, I have led retreats and I have tutored a disciple or two. I am steeped, as steeped as I can be, in the history and spirituality of my chosen people.

And in all five of the churches I have served I have concocted and celebrated Celtic worship, orthodox and otherwise. I am Celtic to the core and have the tattoo to prove it — a little green shamrock on my left shoulder. (A Christmas gift from my children!)

Let me recount just a few of the things that connect me so deeply to my Celtic ancestors.

They worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars. They wove the sacred into their most ordinary of chores. They hallowed each and every very hour of each and every day with prayer. Their sanctuaries are the forests and the meadows and the cliffs. Holy spirits indwell their streams and inhabit their oak groves. Holy winds blow on their most remote islands and holy waves crash on their island’s shores. Every little blade of Celtic green grass practically shimmers with the divine. Well almost.

Not to over romanticize my chosen people, the Celts were a nomadic people who probably practiced human sacrifice. Not too often — but one human sacrifice is one too many. The Celts were a warrior people who liked to collect the skulls of those they conquered as trophies. They were a tribal people where both women and men exercised royal power. Yes, women in power. What’s not to like?

And this brings me to Boudica, the Celtic Warrior Queen.

Boudica, for those who do not know, was queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe of Britain in the 1st century of the Common Era. During the time of the Roman occupation, Boudica’s husband was able to keep his crown. Upon his death, however, the Romans rolled over the Iceni. They captured its people and confiscated their property. Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped.

No one would have blamed Boudica, if she gave into defeat and despair. But hell no, Boudica rescued her daughters, climbed into her chariot, and led the Iceni army in the charge against Rome. She put down the 9th Legion, destroyed the Roman capital and went on to conquer London, another stronghold of the occupiers.

There was bloodshed beyond measure and Boudica was eventually beaten back. It is said she took her own life to avoid capture. No one knows where Boudica is buried.

But all of Celtic Britain knows her story, every little boy and every little girl.

And so this brings me to  Brigid.

In the second half of the 5th century, there was Brigid, Bishop Brigid of Kildare.

Brigid is both the name of a Celtic goddess and the name of a saint. For the ancient Celts, Brigid is the three-faced goddess of poetry, metal work, and fire. And for Celtic Christians, Saint Brigid is the founder of the monastery at Kildare, the Church of the Oak. Kildare was a “double monastery” home to both religious men and women. And these Celtic Christian brothers and sisters were permitted to marry and raise children in service to the Lord.

And Brigid, the abbess of Kildare, Celtic history tells us was consecrated a Bishop. Carved into the stone altar rail at the Rock of Cashel, Bishop Brigid, crozier in hand, leads a procession of the twelve apostles.

The Roman Catholic  Church turned her crozier into a butter churn and demoted Brigid from Bishop to milkmaid. Hopefully and forever, the hierarchy thought they had  put in her rightful and inferior place.

Until there was Fildelma.

The real Brigid did not remain buried forever. She has been resurrected and reincarnated in the fictitious and fabulous Sister Fidelma. Fidelma is the creation of Celtic scholar turned mystery writer, pen-named Peter Tremayne.

Set in 7th century Ireland, the Sister Fidelma stories are a delicious combination of history and mystery. Fidelma is of royal blood, a princess of the Eoghanacht, educated to the level of dalaigh, an adovocate of the Brehon courts, just below judge. She is also a member of the monastery at Kildare, and married to Brother Eadulf. Yes, married to Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk, who is Dr. Watson to her Sherlock Holmes. And by the time Fidelma and Eadulf  are solving their 20th murder or so they even have a baby.

Crack open one or two of these books and you will be hooked.  Tremayne gives them hokey Agatha Christie titles like “Absolution by Murder”, “Shroud for the Archbishop”, “Our Lady of Darkness” and “Whispers of the Dead”.

Who says women can’t have it all?

Boudica. Brigid. Fidelma. When feeling the need to slay a dragon or two – or just feeling a touch grandly grandiose — who better for my bipolar brain to channel than the spirits of these holy three, this Celtic and oh so feminist trinity. Boudica — queen, warrior, widow, mother and savior of her people. Brigid — goddess, abbess, priestess, bishop and saint. Fidelma — princess, sister, lawyer, detective and murder mystery solver. Their icons and statues grace my halls and walls. Their books and biographies fill my bookcases. I have embraced their stories and made them my own.

It may seem silly, but to tell you the God’s honest truth, I believe these three women are kin to me. And oh my this little trinity has given me the energy  to get my warrior on — from time to time.. And so I believe myself to be their sister – their soul sister. Joani, the soul sister of Boudica, Brigid and Fidelma. Crazy, huh?

Yes, Celtic crazy. And you can celebrate this craziness, too.

Come join me Sunday, February 3rd for a Celtic Eucharist at both 8:00 & 10:30 AM, a between the services forum on Women in The Celtic World at 9:15 AM, and an “Irish Coffee” Hour in the Parish Hall with an Irish Step performance by the Boyle School dancers! Emmanuel is the place: 1608 Russell Road Alexandria, VA.

Wear green!!


“Star, Star, teach us how to shine.”

I read in The Times that the skies lit up over New York City.

“There was a boom and a hum and smoke and the sky turned fluorescent blue.”

Twitter like mindedly lit up with eerie lights.

“It was spectacular”, a deputy inspector in the 114thPrecinct said. “You could see it a half mile away. You felt it in your chest, the explosions in the night sky turned electric blue.”

“The lights were so bright,” one witness observed, that “the dark night was bright as day.”

The 911 phone lines lit up, too. 

Was it an Unidentified Flying Object?

Was it an alien invasion?

A lost aurora borealis? 

Confused, 21stNew Yorkers flocked outside to figure out what was going on. What was the meaning of it all?

Turns out it was a celestial phenomenon that can be explained by physics: a discharge of supercharged photons into the night sky – from Con Edison. Literally an electrifying event.

Two millennium and two decades ago, the night sky likewise (sort of) lit up with cosmic confusion. 

Four times Matthew’s second chapter mentions “the star.” The star that beckoned to the Magi and by which the Three Kings traversed afar.

A star?  A supernova, maybe? A comet? Haley’s Comet flew by in 12 B.C.E., astronomers tell us. Possibly planets aligning? Planets are the wanderers in the dark inky sky, after all.

Or maybe it was just a fluorescing symbol that lights the way?

A tracking device, a traffic light, a GPS, a giant cosmic flashlight focusing down on the place where Jesus lay.

“The Truth is Out There,” the sage Fox Mulder of the X-Files so wisely said.

I am a nerdy, nerdy fan of this 1990’s sci-fi series. Agent Mulder’s office is buried in the basement of the Hoover Building – the embarrassment of the FBI. Mulder is on a quest. A scientific one yes, to prove that in this universe, we are not alone. But it’s a personal quest too, to search for a child, a little sister who disappeared in the dead of night. 

With his partner Scully by his side, Mulder turns his gaze to the cosmos, hoping upon hope for his sister to return.

Agent Scully, medical doctor and UFO skeptic, does her best to keep Mulder grounded. A person of faith, science is her true North Star.

Together they stumble and fumble their way forward to the truth.

The Way, interestingly enough,is the earliest name that followers of Jesus called themselves. 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2 KJV)

They had found a way.

Flashes of light piercing through confusion, stagnation, delusion.

Like explosions going off in our heads and opening our eyes.

In headlines screaming things we’d rather not hear.

In images revealing things we’d rather not see.

In events unfolding we’d rather ignore.

Flashes of light in the darkness. 

Epiphanies.

Flashes of light melting into the night as fast as they appear.

Gone in the twinkling of eye. The truth hopefully internalized. Minds enlightened. Souls stirred. Limbs stretched. The Way before us clearer, brought into focus.

Like the Magi, now we fledgling Christians can try to rise up. To rise up and return to what matters most: life, love, compassion, justice.  Most likely by another road. A rocky and more difficult road, a road less travelled. A road we just know that we have to go down.  

Where we’ll have to do things, we don’t really want to do.

Where we’ll have to speak up and say things that aren’t easy to say.

Where we’ll have to let go of things that we would rather keep.

Where we’ll have to give of ourselves and our time losing precious sleep.

We’ll have to be less selfish and more self-aware.

We’ll have to keep our eyes uplifted to the sky.

“Star, star, teach us how to shine, shine.”

Teach us to follow the light divine.

Because truthfully, it is the only Way, the only way that truly matters.


Getting Little

Some Christmas pageants have plastic baby dolls stand in for Jesus. But the liveliest of Christmas pageants have a real live baby!  (If their parents will allow them to be so tortured!)

And when that live Baby Jesus makes his dramatic debut – all eyes are on the little tiny fellow. You can hear a pin drop as the holy family goes up to Bethlehem and climbs the altar stairs. Heads turn and hearts melt as all eyes are on the miniature messiah. Propped up in Mary’s lap a little bitty baby, who cannot walk, who cannot talk, cries at night, and messes in his pants.

Tame and tender, the grandeur of God is reduced to a babe in arms. The Madonna and Child are everywhere this season in paper, and plastic, and plaster — fronting Christmas cards and frozen in nativity scenes.

Sentimental and sweet, safe and sound.

Round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild.

Have you ever smelled a newborn baby? Have you ever stuck your nose in their neck? There is no other scent like it: a scent of the holy, a whiff of the divine, the aroma of life itself.

And if you have, you know then and there that you are hooked. Your ears tune in to decipher their every whimper, their every gurgle and cry.

Teach me, little one, how to love you.

This helpless little person wins over your heart and takes over your world – a subversive little savior.

julie-vivas-baby-correct

From Julie Vivas’ “The Nativity”

It’s been said that Christmas is for such as these. And why not? On Christmas Day, God came into the world a screaming, scrawny infant, small and insignificant. Just as we all did once upon a time.

Twenty years ago, I read the story of a little fellow, a six year old named Pete. Pete ripped open his presents and pulled out a dapper new bathrobe. His dad admiring it said,

“Wow! That’s an awesome bathrobe. I wish I had one just like it.”

 

Pete paused for a little quiet introspection.

You really like it, Dad?”

“Yes, Pete. It’s the coolest bathrobe I have ever seen.”

“Well, Dad,” says Pete. “You can have it. You can wear it when you get little.”

(The Christian Century, December 1998)

Jesus says  quite plainly “unless you turn and become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Now to be sure, he’s not suggesting we literally regress to cooing and babbling, pablum and Pampers.

But Jesus emphasizes a very special quality of life, which he himself chose.

Like a child, God himself was born to be needy. God himself was not ashamed to be helpless, hungry, lonely, and small.

God gets little on our account, choosing to be born poor in a simple town to an ordinary girl. It is almost too great a mystery and yet it makes perfect sense.

This little Messiah is God on the move: moving from the powerful to the powerless, from success to failure, from the strong to the weak, from the high to the low.

And if we let him in, this Little One in, he can creep through our cracks, tend to what is broken, sweep away some tears, lighten a few burdens, brighten our nights.

And the little things we might do in his name: running an errand for an elderly neighbor; babysitting a friend’s sick child so they can go to work; smiling instead of grimacing at passersby; walking or biking instead of driving to reduce your carbon footprint; cleaning up the riverfront to help care for Mother Earth; donating to lost causes; raising your hand to volunteer.

All these (and many more) little things help to pave the way for the Christ Child to come again.

Try to make a little room in your inner-self and invite the Little One in. Listen, if you can to his still small voice. The voice that whispers tidings of peace.

This season, the subversive little savior might just break open your soul.

Love, you know is born at Christmas.

Love is why God gets little at Christmas.

And for love, may we, this Christmas,  get little too.

JoaniSign