God called Abram to leave the familiar and go, go on a road he would make by going, to a place he would know by finding.
Jesus led Nicodemus to the threshold of a birth, a newness he could only know by going through it.
Only what’s behind us, not ahead, keeps us from going on, from entering the impossible womb of starting new.
The stones of disappointment in your pockets, the grave marker of the old life, they can’t come with you.
The path is not a test. It’s our freedom. Many a prisoner has looked into the tunnel, the Beloved waiting in the light, and said no.
Where is the Spirit calling you, the wind blowing? Where is the thin place between your habits and a new birth?
These pangs, this heavy breathing: the Beloved is trying to birth you. Let it happen. ~Steve Garnaass-Holmes “A new birth”
Like most people, I cling fast to the safe and familiar, sometimes wishing to retreat back to what feels most secure and safest. Yet, it is an impossible womb that would allow me back – it is clear I am meant to be fully launched, for better or worse. So carrying my checkered history stuffed deeply in my pockets, I embark on this life’s journey led by the Spirit and blown by His breath, uncertain where it will take me or how long it takes to get there.
There is an unsurpassed freedom in the path from womb to tomb; if I let His breath carry me, I’ll go so far beyond the place where my bones someday are laid.
Deep midwinter, the dark center of the year, Wake, O earth, awake, Out of the hills a star appears, Here lies the way for pilgrim kings, Three magi on an ancient path, Black hours begin their journeyings.
Their star has risen in our hearts, Empty thrones, abandoning fears, Out on the hills their journey starts, In dazzling darkness God appears. ~Judith Bingham “Epiphany”
…the scent of frankincense and myrrh arrives on the wind, and I long to breathe deeply, to divine its trail. But I know their uses and cannot bring myself to breathe deeply enough to know whether what comes is the fragrant welcoming of birth or simply covers the stench of death. These hands coming toward me, is it swaddling they carry or shroud? ~Jan Richardson from Night Visions –searching the shadows of Advent and Christmas
Unclench your fists Hold out your hands. Take mine. Let us hold each other. Thus is his Glory Manifest. ~Madeleine L’Engle “Epiphany”
All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
Imagine the Lord, for the first time, from darkness, and stranded Immensely in distance, recognizing Himself in the Son Of Man: His homelessness plain to him now in a homeless one. ~Joseph Brodsky from “Nativity Poem” translated from Russian by Seamus Heaney
In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat more than to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain, a child was born in a cave in order to save the world; it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows, athwart.
To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother’s breast, the steam out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior—the team of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar. He was but a dot, and a dot was the star.
Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray clouds, upon the child in the manger, from far away— from the depth of the universe, from its opposite end—the star was looking into the cave.
The Christmas season is now a wrap, the lights put away for another year. Yet our hearts are not so easily packed and stored.
Our troubles and concerns go on; the pandemic numbers soar, our frailty a daily reality. We can be distracted with holidays for a few weeks, but our time here slips away ever more quickly.
The Christmas story is not just about light and birth and joy to the world, magi following a star to discover they are reborn in Light themselves.
It is about how His swaddling clothes became a shroud that wrapped Him tight for only three days. There is not a birth without His death; even when we try to store Him away, neatly wrapped to pull out in another year.
Christ does not stay on the closet shelf.
God came to be with and among us; Delivered so He could deliver. Planted on and in the earth. Born so He could die in our place and leave the linen strips behind, neatly folded.
Advent: an interminable wait in the darkness Christmas: an unwrapping of the ultimate gift of life Epiphany: the Father watches us from afar to see how the Seed He sent takes root in our hearts, dazzling our darkness.
May the wind always be in her hair May the sky always be wide with hope above her And may all the hills be an exhilaration the trials but a trail, all the stones but stairs to God.
May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts… ~Ann Voskamp from “A Prayer for a Daughter”
“I have noticed,” she said slowly, “that time does not really exist for mothers, with regard to their children. It does not matter greatly how old the child is – in the blink of an eye, the mother can see the child again as she was when she was born, when she learned to walk, as she was at any age — at any time, even when the child is fully grown….” ~Diana Gabaldon from Voyager
Your rolling and stretching had grown quieter that stormy winter night twenty eight years ago, but no labor came as it should. A week overdue post-Christmas, you clung to amnion and womb, not yet ready. Then the wind blew more wicked and snow flew sideways, landing in piling drifts, the roads becoming impassable, nearly impossible to traverse.
So your dad and I tried, worried about being stranded on the farm far from town. Our little car got stuck in a snowpile in the deep darkness, our tires spinning, whining against the snow. A nearby neighbor’s earth mover dug us out to freedom. You floated silent and still, knowing your time was not yet.
Creeping slowly through the dark night blizzard, we arrived to the warm glow of the hospital. You slept, your heartbeat checked out steady. I slept not at all.
Morning sun glistened off sculptured snow outside our window, and your heart ominously slowed when they checked. We both were jostled, turned, oxygenated, but nothing changed. You beat even more slowly, letting loose your tenuous grip on life.
The nurses’ eyes told me we had trouble. The doctor, grim faced, announced delivery must happen quickly, taking you now, hoping we were not too late. I was rolled, numbed, stunned, clasping your father’s hand, closing my eyes, not wanting to see the bustle around me, trying not to hear the shouted orders, the tension in the voices, the quiet at the moment of opening when it was unknown what would be found.
And then you cried. A hearty healthy husky cry, a welcomed song. Perturbed and disturbed from the warmth of womb, to the cold shock of a bright lit operating room, your first vocal solo brought applause from the surrounding audience who admired your purplish pink skin, your shock of damp red hair, your blue eyes squeezed tight, then blinking open, wondering and wondrous, emerging saved from the storm within and without.
You were brought wrapped for me to see and touch before you were whisked away to be checked over thoroughly, your father trailing behind the parade to the nursery. I closed my eyes, swirling in a brain blizzard of what-ifs.
If no snow storm had come, you would have fallen asleep forever within my womb, no longer nurtured by my aging placenta, cut off from what you needed to stay alive. There would have been only our soft weeping, knowing what could have been if we had only known, if God provided a sign to go for help.
Saved by a storm and dug out from a drift: I celebrate each time I hear your voice singing, knowing you are a thread born to knit and meant to mend hearts.
My annual reminder of a remarkable day when our daughter Eleanor (“Lea”) Sarah Gibson was born, hale and hearty because the good Lord sent a snow and wind storm to blow us into the hospital in time to save her. This year she became Lea Lozano, married to her true love Brian who is another gift from the Lord.
When the stars threw down their spears And water’d heaven with their tears: Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee? ~William Blake from “The Tyger”
His birth was attended by tears: The stars wept, knowing what gift had been given Shepherds wept, hearing the heavenly host proclaim, His mother and father wept, knowing Who lay innocent in the manger, they to be entrusted to raise Him to save the world.
A meek Lamb becomes both protector and sacrifice, forgiving the hand that wields the knife that slays Him.
The Lamb shares His name with us so we answer His call ~ we are His sheep we are His flock
He who made the Lamb made us and we answer weeping, knowing the cost.
Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? Gave thee life, and bid thee feed, By the stream and o’er the mead; Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing woolly, bright; Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice? Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee, Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee: He is callèd by thy name, For He calls Himself a Lamb. He is meek, and He is mild: He became a little child. I a child, and thou a lamb, We are callèd by His name. Little Lamb, God bless thee! Little Lamb, God bless thee ~William Blake “Little Lamb”
Around December first, the summer people All have gone. Some had stayed to see the fall And some for hunting season—all have gone.
We walk deserted roads. The first snows came But dried away to traces in the ditch And snowy patches on the forest floor.
In town the Christmas lights are blinking bright, The tourists few. The locals are subdued, At peace with what some still call Advent time.
It’s dark by four. We light a fireplace fire. We have a drink and share a meal and read Until it’s time to go to early bed.
Outdoors to fetch tomorrow’s wood, I stand Beneath the stars. It’s moonless, clear and cold. The constellations reach like outspread hands.
Star bright but not at all a silent night, There seems to be a constant trembling— Someone surely there, someone almost here. ~Steven Peterson “Advent”
During these quiet quarantined days when we no longer share meals meeting on screens rather than living rooms, there is a sense of trembling anticipation, waiting and watching for the world to feel safer again.
We wander, wondering, looking for Someone who is almost here but not quite yet. Born to die for poor ornery people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky That Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky
Our toes, our noses Take hold on the loam, Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us, Stops us, betrays us; The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on Heaving the needles, The leafy bedding,
Even the paving. Our hammers, our rams, Earless and eyeless,
Perfectly voiceless, Widen the crannies, Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water, On crumbs of shadow, Bland-mannered, asking
Little or nothing. So many of us! So many of us!
We are shelves, we are Tables, we are meek, We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers In spite of ourselves Our kind multiplies
We shall by morning Inherit the earth. Our foot’s in the door. ~Sylvia Plath from “Mushroom”
This overnight overture into the light, a parturition of “ink caps” after a shower. As if seed had been sprinkled on the manure pile, they sprout three inch stalks still stretching at dawn, topped by dew-catching caps and umbrellas.
Nearly translucent as glass, already curling at the edges in the morning light, by noon melting into ooze by evening complete deliquescence, withered and curling back into the humus which birthed them hours before.
It shall be repeated again and again, this birth from unworthy soil, this brief and shining life in the sun, this folding, curling and collapse to die back to dust and dung.
Inedible, yet so Chrisincredible, they rise beautiful and worthy as is the way of things that never give up once a foot’s in the door.
When trees have lost remembrance of the leaves
that spring bequeaths to summer, autumn weaves
and loosens mournfully — this dirge, to whom
does it belong — who treads the hidden loom?
When peaks are overwhelmed with snow and ice,
and clouds with crepe bedeck and shroud the skies —
nor any sun or moon or star, it seems,
can wedge a path of light through such black dreams — All motion cold, and dead all traces thereof:
What sudden shock below, or spark above,
starts torrents raging down till rivers surge —
that aid the first small crocus to emerge?
The earth will turn and spin and fairly soar,
that couldn't move a tortoise-foot before —
and planets permeate the atmosphere
till misery depart and mystery clear! —
Who gave it the endurance so to brave
such elements? — shove winter down a grave? —
and then lead on again the universe?
~Alfred Kreymborg from "Crocus"
To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this [God’s] scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says, ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’ Because we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. . . It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. ~C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock
Whether late winter or autumn the ground yields unexpected crocus, surprising even to the observant.
Hidden beneath the surface, their incubation readily triggered by advancing or retreating light from above.
Waiting with temerity, to be called forth from earthly grime and granted reprieve from indefinite interment.
A luminous gift of hope and beauty borne from a humble bulb adorned with dirt.
Summoned, the harbinger rises from sleeping dormant ground in February or spent topsoil, exhausted by October.
These bold blossoms do not pause for snow and ice nor hesitate to pierce through a musty carpet of fallen leaves.
They break free to surge skyward cloaked in tightly bound brilliance, deployed against the darkness.
Slowly unfurling, the petals peel to reveal golden crowns, royally renouncing the chill of winter’s beginning and end, staying brazenly alive when little else is.
In the end, they wilt, deeply bruised purple a reflection of Light made manifest; returning defeated, inglorious, fallen, to dust.
Yet like the Sun, we know they will rise yet again.
He will come like last leaf’s fall. One night when the November wind has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth wakes choking on the mould, the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost. One morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist, to find itself arrested in the net of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark. One evening when the bursting red December sun draws up the sheet and penny-masks its eye to yield the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come, will come like crying in the night, like blood, like breaking, as the earth writhes to toss him free. He will come like child. ~Rowan Williams “Advent Calendar”
How have we diminished the worth of a child?
More and more we resist humanity’s mandate to ensure a future for those who come after us.
Our excuse: the world is dying, the climate an emergency, how do we dare expose future generations to desolation and destruction?
Better to have no children at all. So many choose childlessness, doing whatever it takes to remain childless.
Yet all feel outrage at the images of children suffering and dying trying to escape poverty, homelessness, war and evil:
A toddler lying face down in the water on a Turkish beach, at first glance almost as if napping, but this sleep is forever. A father drowned in the Rio Grande protecting his daughter, also drowned, trying to bring her to a safe future in the States.
This is nothing new in the history of humanity. We kill unborn children every day in our own private wars that we justify without guilt or regret.
When confronted by images of dead children while eating breakfast, when millions cry out with the shame of it, so many tears falling like raindrops soaking deep on holy ground, ground we share with the poor and oppressed and homeless, ground we no longer can hoard.
These images change from one day to the next, birthing life, taking life, a child in the womb becomes ghost in the tomb, so we come undone, forced to unbuild walls we hide behind.
God Himself came like a child – bloody, broken, crying. The earth writhes in the reality that if conceived today, Jesus would likely be washed away before His birth, considered inconvenient and so unfortunate to be born to an impoverished refugee family. The world was much too harsh for Him to thrive.
So we would toss away the Son, the Light, the Hope and cling to our darkness.
What is the worth of such a Child? He answers clearly: He came because we are worthy of both His birth and His death.
Go north a dozen years on a road overgrown with vines to find the days after you were born. Flowers remembered their colors and trees were frothy and the hospital was
behind us now, its brick indifference forgotten by our car mirrors. You were revealed to me: tiny, delicate, your head smelling of some other world. Turn right after the circular room
where I kept my books and right again past the crib where you did not sleep and you will find the window where I held you that June morning when you opened your eyes. They were
blue, tentative, not the deep chocolate they would later become. You were gazing into the world: at our walls, my red cup, my sleepless hair and though I’m told you could not focus, and you
no longer remember, we were seeing one another after seasons of darkness. ~Faith Shearin “Sight”
The helpless state of a newborn adjusting to an unfamiliar world – when all depends on deep murmurs, shadowy faces and comforting arms, full nipples and cleansing rags. When all that can be said are mewing cries and satisfied grunts.
Those long exhausting sleepless nights finally transition to heart-warming smiles at dawn, when we lock onto each other for survival, peering into the mutual light and love in our eyes, needing each other like no other; it is always, and will be always, about those eyes.
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?
I’d like to make a comment this morning. Here we are, alive.
Too much time is spent trudging through the hours, unaware of the privilege of each breath.
The just-born and the nearly-dying know the preciousness of each moment. The rest of us need regular reminders each day- being alive is the responsibility to not waste a single minute.
As I look in the eyes of this new little soul, I am struck dumb and all my senses wrung dry: we are like bells pealing our witness of Glory. We are meant to respond.