Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Show Up. It’s the Least You Can Do.

Show yourself, Jesus.  In the middle of drought and famine and disease, for God’s sake, why can’t you just show up?

This was the lament of the little village of Kingala, whose story is told by novelist Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible. It is the fictitious epic tale of a misguided mission to the Congo in the early sixties. Each chapter is narrated by the somewhat miserable minister’s wife and daughters. The youngest one writes:

Looking back over the months that led to this day, it seems the collapse of things started in October with the vote in the church. The congregation of Father’s church interrupted his sermon to hold an election on whether or not to accept Jesus Christ as the personal savior of Kingala.

 The crops were flat and dead. Fruit trees were barren. There were rumors of rain in the river valleys to the west and those tales aroused – the thirst of dying animals and crops. Tata Kuvudundu (the local witch doctor) cast her bone predictions. And nearly every girl in the village danced with a chicken on her head to bring down rain.

 Church attendance rose and fell. Jesus may have sounded like a very helpful sort of savior in the beginning, but he was not what the villagers had hoped.

 We went ahead and had church that day and Tata Ndu, the chief sat in the front pew. Papa preached a railing sermon against idolatry:

 ‘The people revered the statue of Baal and went every day to worship him, but Daniel worshipped the Lord our God. Don’t be fooled by a statue of clay and bronze!’

 Papa paused in his sermon for dramatic effect. Tata Ndu stood straight up and held up his hand.

 ‘Now is the time for the people to have an election. If you don’t mind, Reverend we will have our election now. We are making a vote for Jesus Christ in the office of personal God for the Kingala village.’

 Papa tried to object by explaining that Jesus Christ was exempt from popular elections and that matters of the Spirit were not decided by polls. But Tata Ndu forged ahead.

 ‘You Americans say elections are good. You Americans say Jesus is good. Now we will have a vote.’

The voting bowls were passed up and down the pews.

 Jesus Christ lost: 11 to 56.

 One week after Easter, we are waiting for Jesus to show himself. One week out of the grave, we are waiting for him to make an appearance. To show up and do his job. His savior thing.

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Now most of us recognize the messiah, the same way we measure success. By the measure of peace, the measure of power, the measure of prosperity. Money in the bank?  Fancy car in the driveway? Promotion on the way?

We want a successful savior. One in a three-piece suit and a power tie. One who gets things done. One who can heal whatever sickens us. One who can resurrect whatever we may have ruined. Only water walkers and wonder workers need apply.

On this traditionally ‘low Sunday’ we have very high expectations. But given the current state of the world, like Thomas we have our doubts.

Doubt has dogged the faithful for two thousand years.

How can the divine die? How can the eternal end?

How can the dead bring the dead back to life?

Is this stuff historical? Or just mystical?

Physically true? Or just metaphysically true?

So much ink has been spilled struggling with these questions. Theological tome upon boring tome, has been penned trying to make sense of it all. Theology that would surely put you to sleep.

I typed  resurrection in the Bishop Payne library catalog search box and 2043 titles popped up. Type in Easter, you get 1002.  Doubting Thomas scores a mere 28.

Because maybe the story is ultimately not about Thomas (though we are ALL Thomas and Thomas is US). Maybe the story is about a “God coming to us, wherever we are”, no matter where we are.

Christians believe in a God who shows up.

On the second Sunday of Easter, two thousand years ago, Thomas the Apostle, was hoping for just that.  Frederick Buechner writes:

Imagination was not Thomas’ strong suit. He was a numbers man, a realist. He did not believe in fairy tales. Thomas wasn’t around at the time the rest of the disciples were as they sat together in the Upper Room. Doors locked. Shades drawn. Scared sick one of them would be next to be nailed to a cross.

When suddenly Jesus came in. He wasn’t a ghost or a figment of their imagination. He said ‘Shalom’ and showed them some of the Romans’ handiwork. To show them that he was as real as they were – and maybe more so.

 He breathed the Holy Spirit on them, gave them a few directions, and then he left.

 Now nobody knew where Thomas was at the time, maybe out for coffee, but he missed the whole thing. And he said, NO, I don’t’ believe you. Let Jesus show me himself, the marks in his hands, the wounds in his side.

 Eight days later Jesus shows up.

 Dumbfounded Thomas does not have much to say except, ‘My Lord and my God!’

 Jesus’ response to Thomas was to show up in person. Not in a book. Not in a creed. But in the flesh. Jesus let Thomas see his face and hear his voice and hold his ruined hands.

And that is the conundrum and miracle of Easter. We have a God with a human face – we may not recognize at first – but who shows up again and again.

In the tired nurse by the hospice bed.

In the relief worker handing out bread.

In the mother, hiding a timid child beneath her skirts.

In the words of a counselor, assuaging past hurts.

In the service of a soldier, setting captives free.

In the face of a stranger, in acts of random kindness and hospitality.

Thank God for this God. In this crazy and broken world, for me, this is the only kind of God who makes any sense. A God who embraces our lives despite our faults.  A God who believes in us, though like Thomas we doubt. A God who lifts us out of the dirt and into the light.

To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.

To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.

JoaniSign


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Pajamas: a Way of Life

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I am addicted to pajamas.

The pajama drawer of my dresser is stuffed with over a dozen pairs — and yesterday, from my favorite store — I brought home two more.

Sometimes spelled “pyjamas” and nicknamed “PJ’s, jimjams, and jammies”,  pajamas derives from the Hindustani word for lightweight drawstring trousers traditionally worn by Islamic Continental Indians.  Perfect for lounging.  Perfect for sleeping. Perfect for so much more.

Like interchangeable monastic robes,  each pair I wear depends upon my manic-depressive mood.

Mostly manic and  mostly mystical, in the sanctity of  my sacred space, I call home.

Yoga stretching.

TV watching.

Blog blogging.

Coffee drinking.

Netflix binging.

Life contemplating.

Psyche orienting.

Decompressing.

Soul relaxing.

Head raising.

Life strategizing.

Event planning.

Day scheduling.

Church organizing.

Kid connecting.

Book reading.

Breakfast eating.

iPhone tapping.

Pillow hugging.

Couch surfing.

Spotify hopping.

Coffee drinking (Yes, again, coffee drinking.)

Mood mellowing.

Evening praying.

Inward looking.

Brain cycling.

Tightrope balancing.

Politics pumping.

Crazy resisting.

Fire dreaming.

Self loving.

Spirit restoring.

All in my pajamas: fleece, flannel, cotton, short and long, worn through and brand new.

All in my pajamas, in an hour or two, I collect my thoughts and reconfigure my gut,

at least for the next day or so.

I recommend it most highly  — in these most exceedingly strange and stressful times.

Pajamas: a way of life.

JoaniSign

 


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“My name is Legion”, The Bipolar Dictionary Redux


The fifth chapter of the Gospeller, St. Mark tells the story of a haunted soul. And a haunting story it is. Jesus finds a man depraved and living among the dead. So haunted is he — he is shackled with fetters and chains. Night and day among the tombs he cries. With stones he beats his breast – in hopes of banishing his demons. Jesus calls out an unclean spirit. And then asks him “What is your name?” The Gerasene Demoniac answers, “I am Legion, for we are many.”

Now history has a legion of haunting stories to tell. Stories about the relative locked up in the attic. Stories about the aunt in the asylum and the sister at the sanitarium. Stories about the brother taken to Bellevue and the cousin committed to St Elizabeth’s. Stories of poor souls confined to St. Mary’s of Bethlehem – from where “Bedlam” gets its very name. Haunted souls like Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. Haunted spirits painted in shades of gray and darkest night.

And history also has a legion of names it labels these haunted souls. Some are quite descriptive and some quite derogatory. This is my own DSM-V — my somewhat humorous and yet honest — Bipolar Dictionary – laid out in alphabetical order.

“All in your head” Yes, it is all in our heads. It’s called your brain. This phrase is often used to mean “It’s all in your imagination.” Well, nothing is farther from the truth. “It’s all in your head” is a scientific fact.

“Bats in the Belfry” paints a particularly scary picture where your skull is an empty bell tower and your brain is naught but flapping bat wings. Haunted and frightened and all in the dark no less. This is a phrase best left buried in the Dark Ages. See also the derivative “batty”.

Bonkers” Rhymes with “Yonkers”. This word implies that you were “bonked” on the head as a baby and so not quite right. This notion is completely bonkers.

Certifiable” Supposedly a clinical term where a clinician has categorically categorized a person as insane. And we all know that sanity is a relative term and insanity is virtually indefinable.

Cracked” Like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall and had a great fall, the person is cracked and cannot be put together again. While cracked a person’s brain may be, clinically speaking, it can indeed be put back together again.

Crazy” This universal term is universally applied by universally everyone to all things in the universe that can go wrong with our brains. This catch-all term is better used by the people who are crazy than the people who would call them crazy.

Cuckoo” As in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, both a book and a movie full of truth and full of fairy tales.

Demented” Rhymes with “fermented”. People may wrongly assume that a confused person they call demented has been drinking drinks fermented. Not necessarily so. A broken brain can shatter one’s thoughts as surely as a shot of bourbon.

Insane” Categorically indefinable but often used to describe a person devoid of reason and incapable of discerning right from wrong. Neither of which is true of the Bipolar Brain. The Bipolar brain is brilliant and it’s moral compass true. Well just as brilliant and as true as anyone else’s.

Loco” Not short for locomotive, but the Spanish equivalent of “crazy”. The employment of this term is often accompanied by a hand motion — circling the ear with one’s index finger. A bit loco, don’t you think?

Loony” This term is likely derived from “luna”, Latin for moon. And we all know the dangers of exposure to a full moon — lunacy. It will turn you into something like a werewolf — politely referred to as a “lunatic”. For more information see “Looney Tunes” and specifically “Daffy Duck.”

Maniac” Now we’re getting somewhere. Maniac is of course the noun for someone in the throws of mania. But what could be used as a term of understanding instead implies that the maniac’s behavior is absurd and beyond all understanding. So don’t go around calling anyone a maniac.

Melancholy Baby” Once again we are on the right track. “Melancholia” is an ancient diagnosis of the soul. It literally means that our bodily humors are out of balance. Truer words were never said. But just don’t call me “Baby”.

Mental” This one word phrase is shorthand for someone who is believed to be mentally ill or for someone who should be in a mental institution. Most of the persons who use this term know nothing about mental illness or mental health institutions of any kind.

Not playing with a full deck” A poker metaphor that implies that a person missing the Ace of Spades is forever at a disadvantage. Sometimes Bipolar life is like a game of “52 Pickup” where all the cards are dropped and not all the cards get picked back up. Or at least they get picked up in a very different order. Reshuffling the deck is often a good thing.

Neurotic” This is where we insert a photo of Woody Allen. Obsessively self absorbed he over analyzes his every waking moment and crazily (yes crazily) interprets his every dream. See also “narcissism”, a disorder of the personality. Not a disorder of the mind.

Off your rocker” Now this one has a nice bipolar ring to it. Rocking back and forth and to and fro between the ups and the downs. The person who uses this term however doesn’t realize that they too ride the same rocking horse.

Out of Your Mind” This phrase I am especially partial to — as long as I can apply it to myself. As in “Mary of Magdala, Seven Times Out of her Mind” (see May archives). Yes, five times I have lost my mind and five times I have gotten it back. I am batting a 1000. See also “out of your skull”.

Possessed” As in the Gerasene Demoniac, an ancient and biblical understanding of mental illness that implies possession by evil spirits. Well — my bipolar brain is possessed by my spirit and by my spirit alone. And my spirit is possessed of a superior intellect, great compassion and an awesome sense of humor.

Screw loose” This mechanical metaphor implies that the brain is made of widgets and gears held together by screws. When a screw is loose the gears go flying out of control — hence the derivative “screwy”. The brain is the most complicated machine, the most complicated anything in the known universe. Downloading only a few synapses requires digital resources to the gazillionth, gazillionth, gazillionth power. Only a simpleton with a screw loose would use this simplistic metaphor.

Touched in the head” This is not the same thing as “Touched by an Angel”. Touched in the head implies inferior brain-power and irrational thinking. “Touched” by who or what is not at all clear. Whoever thought of this is most certainly themselves touched in the head.

And my favorite … .drumroll…..

Unhinged” a door swings freely but unpredictably off its hinges. A hinge is one of those elementary machines like a pulley or a plane. Unhinged, the bipolar brain, like the door, is free and unpredictable. Elementary mixed up with exemplary. Here is where you insert a picture of Joani.

The names are legion and the names are many.

So friends, what names would you like to add to the Bipolar Dictionary?


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Dirt Therapy Redux

Mary Magdalene and the Gardener

Resurrection stories. U&U is an ongoing collection of resurrection stories — that before too long I would like to turn into an actual book. It seems that now I may just have carved out some time to actually do it.

Last week I chose to leave a job that I loved. You see the garden in which I so lovingly toiled had become a bit too overgrown with weeds. Weeds suck up all the water and crowd out the sun. Its hard to stay healthy and whole in a garden choked by weeds. Its nearly impossible to grow.

So I decided to uproot myself and with God’s help, to plant myself anew in life giving soil.

“Now the green blade riseth” is my favorite Easter hymn.

So it seems very apropos to repost Dirt Therapy once again.

So here we go….

Once upon an Eastertide, a little boy came home singing the Pete Seeger song: “Inch by inch, row by row, Lord, please help my garden grow”. At school the little boy, along with his class, had planted bean seeds in jelly jars. Each day they tended their little glass gardens, checking the moist dark earth. Some of the children drowned their seeds with love. While others, their seeds withered from neglect. While others, theirs actually and miraculously sprouted and grew.

Tiny green shoots poked their heads into the fluorescent light. Slender green vines wound around the inside of the jars.

And then one day — the little boy proudly brought his home and set it down on the kitchen table. His mom asked, “Okay, my little sweet potato, what’s this?” And the little boy replied:

”That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”

It wasn’t exactly “Now the green blade riseth” but it was sweet indeed. That sweet little boy was my son Jacob (now 28 years old!). Sadly the little Jesus vine did not survive very long — but don’t blame Jacob. Sadly, you see, plants often came home to my house to die.

Even though I quite ironically once worked at plant store called “Great Plants Alive” most of the plants that crossed my threshold sadly met an untimely death.

And back in the day when I still had a backyard, I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. So whatever grew — grew –and whatever withered – withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my rule:

If it’s green let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn. A sad little wagon and outgrown bicycles littered the grass.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my lawn mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

If it’s green let it grow.

My manic-depressive mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, God did not see to bestow upon me her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.

When I was growing up, my mother could lash out like lightning just as easily as she could erupt in joy. Her highs and lows were beyond her control, tamed only by a regular shot of bourbon, a little lithium, and the occasional session with Dr. Freud. My beloved mom did the best she could.

And she did her very best in the garden.

Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery.

The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.

The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her kerchief; and golden hoops dangle from her ears. Gorgeous.

Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all is right with her soul.

Digging in the dirt is therapy.

Sowing seeds is therapy.

Fertilizing the soil is therapy.

Watering the ground is therapy.

Gardening is therapy.

Dirt therapy.

Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.

My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each Eastertide I plant my little English garden in half a dozen clay pots. I am partial to bright colors: Shasta daises; hibiscus; and geraniums. I am partial to plants of the forgiving kind, the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.

A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.

In the beginning, the Creator walked in the cool of the wet garden at the time of the evening breeze. God made us out of the dirt of the garden. God made us out of the dirt of paradise.

And so in all the deaths we die — both large and small — we return to the Garden. We go down into the dirt like seeds forgotten and buried in the dark earth.

So as we are in the beginning, we are in the end. The Alpha is also the Omega.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala, came to the garden and she saw that the stone was rolled away. And there stood the Gardener, the same Gardener who had walked at the time of the evening breeze. Mary did not know him until he called her by name. And then she knew. Here stands the very tiller, the very tender, the very lover of my soul.

Now the green blade riseth.

Dirt therapy.

JoaniSign


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It’s a 61-derful Life!

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1965, A very good year.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite Christmas movie. In fact, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie period. Not because it is full of holiday cheer, it is not. The 1947 film’s focus is on an attempted suicide.  The grainy black and white photography perfectly fits the mood. (The colorized version is an abomination!) The inebriated George Bailey is about to throw himself off a bridge. But before he plunges in, the Angel Clarence beats him to it.

Someone is about to be rescued. Someone is about to sprout wings.

Clarence walks George backwards through his life. Through all the light and all the dark and all the gray, through all the crap and all the joy, through all his years — and it still turns out to be a wonderful life.

“The glory of God is a human being full alive!” – St. Irenaeus, 4th C.

When I was 40, I would have told you that 60 was old.

Now that I am 60, sixty is the new forty. No, let me rephrase that. Sixty is better than that. 60 is like being two rocking 30 year olds. (Within reason, of course!)

And now I am on the verge of turning 61. On February 28th, I turn 61-derful!

Cosmically speaking SpaceTime can stretch; SpaceTime can contract. But the arrow of time travels in only one direction. With each passing year, we grow older. With each passing year, we dig deeper. With each passing year, we live larger. With each passing year, we become who God created us to be.

I no longer see the world through rose colored glasses. I see the world through progressive lenses – beautiful, breathtaking, heart breaking, and bittersweet. In six decades my life has progressed and regressed and progressed again  in O’ so many ways.

Let me count them down. Listed below are touchstones, milestones, and millstones (with a little parenthetical commentary!).  All linked and connected —  for better and for worse — throughout my 61-derful years.

2016. Mind Over Matter, Atlas Intersections Festival ( A star is born!)

2015. My 4th (brain) child, Unhinged, April 25, 2015

2014. Emmanuel on High (My spiritual home)

2013. Real Girls Run 13.1 (and Walk 13.1!)

2012. The Artist’s Way (Journaling each day)

2011.Huntley Meadows Wildlife Preserve (Enchanted Forest)

2010. All Saints, Sharon Chapel (A Way Station)

2009. Bishop Payne Library (Bibliomania!)

2008. Ten Thousand Villages (Fair Trade Fridays)

2007. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (A little help from our friends)

2006. South Meadows Condominiums (Me, myself, and I!)

2005. St. George’s, Fredericksburg (Interim time)

2004, Saint In-Between

2003. Dominion Hospital (Crazy time)

2002. D*I*V*O*R*C*E

2001. Holy Cross, A Space Oddysey

2000. A Closet full of Bridesmaid Dresses (Job search)

1999. Emerald Isle Sabbatical

1998. The Diocese of Virginia (Committees, committees, committees)

1997. AT&T Wired Wirelessly!

1996. WHFStival (Rock on!)

1995. Mount Vernon Community School (and the Caboose!)

1994. St. Luke’s, Alexandria (Sometimes Wellington)

1993.Politics & Prose (DC Book Store Extraordinaire)

1992. Shrine Mont (Fried Chicken, But Rolls & Apple Butter)

1991. Virginia Theological Seminary (What I want to be when I grow up.)

1990. George Mason University (A belated college degree)

1989. The Voyage of the Minivan (Three kids in tow!)

1988. Frisco Island, The Outer Banks (Ribbons of Sand)

1987. Jacob Nathaniel Peacock Clark (Indie Gamer Extraordinaire!)

1986. Immanuel on-the-Hill (Launchpad)

1985. 212 East Windsor Avenue (Delray!)

1984. Colleen Noel Peacock Clark (Development Director Extraordinaire!)

1983. Freddie Mac (The IT Crowd)

1982. Zachariah John Peacock Clark (Indie Film Maker!)

1981. Computer Learning Center (No link to be found!)

1980. The Springs Montessori School (Primarily a teacher)

1979.Library of Congress Reading Room (Study away!)

1978. The Montessori Institute (The Halls of Maria)

1977. The Key, The Biograph & The Georgetown Theaters (Subtitles!)

1976. Bicentennial Moments at The Reflecting Pool

1975. Spanish Education Development Center (Se habla español?)

1974. The Potter’s House (Coffee!)

1973. Catholic University (Philosophizing)

1972. William, the boy next door, 5/19/1972

1971. May Day Protest of the Vietnam War (Skipping school)

1970. Immaculata Preparatory School (Brainy school)

1969. La Reine High School (Jock school)

1968. Holy Family 8th Grade Valedictorian

1967. Expo ’67, Montreal, Canada (Foreign travels)

1966. “Remember You’re a Peacock” (my dad)

1965. Saint Veronica (Confirmation 101)

1964. Lady Bird Johnson makes America beautiful again.

1963. November 22, 1963 (Tragedy)

1962. “Grounding Rounds & Rattling Beads” (Communion)

1961. “In her house are many dwelling places” (Salvation)

1960. A Catholic in the White House (JFK)

1959. “Are you my mother, Mother Mary?” (my mom)

1958. Hillcrest Heights Brick Colonial (home)

1957. Marlow Heights Semi-detached (home)

1956. Anacostia Row House (home)

1955. Providence Hospital, 2/28/1955 (Ground Zero!)

Happy Birthday!!!

JoaniSign


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Born Again

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And she brought forth her firstborn son. (Julie Vivas)

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 Christmas crèches. 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.

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.

One Christmas, I read the story of a little fellow, a six year old named Pete who 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 it 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.

No, Jesus emphasizes a very special quality of life, which he himself chose.

Like a child, God himself is unafraid to be needy. God himself is 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 this Little One in, maybe — just maybe — he can creep through our cracks, mend what is broken, sweep away some tears, lighten some burdens,  brighten the darkness.

If we find a little room in our inn, and invite him in, with this Little One we are never totally alone.

This is how the subversive little savior breaks open our souls.

Love is why God gets little at Christmas.

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

JoaniSign

 


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In her house are many dwelling places…

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Home Sweet Home, Anacostia, Washington, DC.

When I was a little girl, my Grandmother Peacock’s house was heaven to me.

I am one of six siblings in my branch of the Peacock clan. Grandma Peacock’s row house was a safe and secure harbor – a refuge away from the scary house in which we actually  lived. Once a month or so, each one of us got a chance to go on the equivalent of a Club Med vacation — a weekend at Grandma’s  — a chance to be an only child.

Grandma’s Anacostia home was a fairy tale castle. There was a bathroom with an enormous footed tub and a telephone closet on the first floor. There was a dining room AND a breakfast room. Downstairs was the best. There was an upright piano – painted bright red and a workshop with all kinds of gadgets and tools and little jars filled with all kinds of widgets and screws.

In my tea-totaling grandmother’s house there was a built in bar with a brass rail, swizzle sticks. and Heurich beer signs. The downstairs shower had four showerheads! (Who knows what went on down there in the Roaring Twenties?!)

In Grandma’s house there were many mansions. And here over many a weekend, she prepared a place for us. When you stayed over at Grandma’s there was always plenty of food. She was no great cook — she was big on cornflakes and Cool Whip as condiments. You could fault her on her cooking — but never on her generosity.

On Saturday night we’d go to the lecture at the National Geographic Society. On Sunday morning before breakfast, we would go to St Theresa’s for 8:00 Mass. We got fed in body, mind and soul.

For ninety-six years Grandma Peacock (It seems disrespectful to call her Agnes — even now) made room — enormous room.

Grandma’s little summer place on Butternut Road is where we learned to pick Chesapeake Bay Blue crabs – the family sacrament. We’d gather on the lawn for something like family reunions. The tiny cottage was way too small to hold us all but — miraculously — somehow it did. To  me it was as grand as the Taj Mahal.

In the seventies, Grandma downsized and moved to an apartment. Still her welcome mat was always out.

In our rebellious years, we regularly  showed up on her doorstep uninvited. She’d be ready to feed us in a heartbeat from whatever she might find in her fridge. We caused all kinds of trouble in our adolescence — which I will not embarrass myself with here.  No matter what we did, though, Grandma never turned us out. I never heard her speak ill of anybody although I’m sure she did entertain some not so nice thoughts. At least in my hearing — she never let them out.

I think Grandma always thought of us as we appeared in those school pictures and family portraits that lined her hallway. In the most desperate of places, she still managed to see glimmers of hope in all of those faces.

And she had faith.  Grandma’s apartment was a shrine of Catholic kitsch: plastic statues of Mary and the Infant of Prague and pictures of the Pope back to John XXIII. Rosary beads were draped over her bed post and an Ave Maria playing music box hung on her wall. Her coffee table was piled high with the Catholic Digest and the Catholic Standard. Remarkably — all this kitschy stuff  really meant something. Faith was not just something she believed. Faith was something she did.

She kept faith with us and  — in so many ways — she was my salvation. A weekend in my grandmother’s house made living in my own chaotic and dysfunctional house that much more bearable – at least for a little while. For three short days I would be loved – the way I should have been loved as a child every day of my life. The way all God’s children should be loved all the time.

Believe in me, Jesus says. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. I go to prepare for you a place so that where I am you may be also.

I have often imagined when I hear this gospel: Jesus rushing back to his Father’s house to get the guest room ready: Jesus running the vacuum. Jesus changing the sheets; Jesus putting fresh flowers on bedside table and fresh towels in the bathroom; Jesus running to the Safeway to stock the fridge for unexpected guests – a heavenly Holiday Inn.

I know this Jesus – the Jesus who lived in my Grandma Peacock. I know that this Jesus loved me and loves me. This Jesus saved me and rescued me. This Jesus allowed me to grow up wounded, yes – but also healed and whole.

In her house is plentiful redemption.

In her house are  many mansions,

many dwelling places,

the very house of God.

JoaniSign