For half-an-hour he writes words upon a scrap of paper…. words in which the soul’s blood pours out, like the body’s blood from a wound. He writes secretly this mad diary, all his passion and longing, his dark and dreadful gratitude to God, his idle allegories,the tales that tell themselves in his head; the joy that comes on him sometimes (he cannot help it) at the sacred intoxication of existence… ~G.K. Chesterton in a letter to his fiancé
When I was six or seven years old, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.
The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny?
It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I can grumble and grouse about the state of the world with the best of the them.
But I know better. I’ve seen where negative thoughts lead and I can feel it aching in my bones when I’m steeping myself in it. The sky is grayer, the clouds are thicker, the night is darker–on and on to its overwhelming suffocating conclusion.
I don’t ever want to feel so impoverished that finding a penny doesn’t make my day better.
I have the privilege to choose joy, to turn away from the bleak and simply seek and bathe in the warmth and wonder of each ordinary mundane day. Like an opportunistic cat finding that one ray of sun and melting into it, I can absorb and equip myself to become radiant as well. I’m not putting on a “happy face” — instead joy adopts me, holds me close in the tough times and won’t abandon me. Though at times joy may dip temporarily behind a cloud and the rain will fall, I know the Sun is there even when I can’t see or feel it.
Today, joy is mine to choose because joy has chosen me, this morning and every morning.
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As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. ~William O. Douglasin a 1976 letter to Young Lawyers of the Washington State Bar Association
Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood.
We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
We must see this, believe this, and live by it… ~Martin Luther King Jr. from a sermon in A Knock At Midnight
Do you know why this world is as bad as it is? It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doers to light. My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt. ~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty
Dr. King’s words and wisdom still inform us of our shortcomings.
We flounder in brokenness despite our shared global neighborhood, despite an inescapable mutuality and commitment to brotherhood.
We still stand apart from one another; even as the bell tolls, we suffer divisiveness from a lack of humility, grace and love.
Perhaps today, for a day, for a week, for a year, we can unite in our shared tears: shed for continued strife and disagreement, shed for injustice that results in senseless killings, shed for our inability to hold up one another as brothers and sisters holy in God’s eyes.
We weep together as the light dawns on this day, knowing as Dr. King knew: a new day will come when the Lord God wipes tears away from all faces and all colors — a brotherhood created exactly as He intends.
There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, and when they hear of the poverty of Christ, they are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem. They denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more kindly service and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably.
But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow humans need their help, and which they ignore in their misery. Where is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him?
The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor—spending and being spent—to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others—and not just their own friends—in whatever way there seems need.
No one wants to admit being in need of help so the helpless tend to remain invisible. We are called to seek out the hungry, the thirsty, the ill, and the homeless as they tend to stay well-hidden unless we look specifically for them.
When fed, hydrated, healthy, clothed and safe in our homes, we cannot be considered “poor” in the conventional sense. Yet if we don’t reach out to those more desperate around us, we are ultimately bereft and spiritually impoverished.
God arrived on earth in poverty, homeless, and certainly under threat of murder by simply being born. If He arrived in such circumstances today, who among us would reach out to Him and His parents out of respect for their humanity, not just for His divinity?
God wants us to notice the desperation around us. God wants us to give ourselves away. God wants us to give up our impoverished spirit to open the way to His everlasting abundance.
…wealth and cleverness were nothing to God — no one is too unimportant to be His friend. ~Dorothy Sayers from “The Man Born to Be King”
No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look Down on others, those who have no need even of God – for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God. ~ Oscar Romero
No one wants to admit to being needy. It is, after all, allowing someone else to have strength and power to deliver what one is desperate for.
Relinquishing that control is painful but it is more painful to be so poor that one is hungry without food, thirsty without drink, ill without medicine, cold without shelter, alone without God.
When we are well fed and hydrated, healed, clothed and safe in our homes, it is difficult to be considered “needy”. Yet most of us are ultimately bereft and spiritually impoverished; we need God even when we can’t admit our emptiness, or we turn away when He offers Himself up to us.
Despite the wealth with which we surround ourselves every day, our need is still overwhelmingly great; we stand empty and ready to be filled with his abundant and lavish gift of Himself.
Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid Wrapped in the chill of midwinter; Comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world Who is this who lives with the lowly, Sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger? This is Christ, revealed to the world In the eyes of a child, a child of the poor
Who is the stranger here in our midst, Looking for shelter among us? Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God? Who is this who lives with the lowly, Sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger? This is Christ, revealed to the world In the eyes of a child, a child of the poor
Bring all the thirst, all who seek peace; Bring those with nothing to offer. Strengthen the feeble, Say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: here is your God!” Who is this who lives with the lowly, Sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger? This is Christ, revealed to the world In the eyes of a child, a child of the poor ~Scott Soper (1994)“A Child of the Poor”
There was an entire aspect to my life that I had been blind to — the small, good things that came in abundance. ~Mary Karr
If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. —Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Planted pennies on days like today are like raindrops, just as plain and more than plentiful.
When I’m feeling dry and withered I only need to look up into gray skies turning amber and all the drops fill my overdrawn bank account, hydrating my soul, lost in wilderness.
The desert flows, my thirst is quenched by something so simple, so underwhelming, so enriching as pennies and raindrops.
If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. ― Rainer Maria Rilke
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. ~Mary Oliver
As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch, complaining to my mother how boring life was.
Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life– I became the accused, rather than the accuser, failing to summon up life’s riches.
Thus convicted, my sentence followed: she would promptly give me chores to do. I learned not to voice my complaints about how boring life seemed, because it always meant work.
Some things haven’t changed, even fifty-some years later. Whenever I am tempted to feel frustrated or pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what that says about me. If I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every slant of light or every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not His.
So – back to the work of paying attention and being astonished. There is a life to be lived and almost always something to say about it.
No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything,
look down on others, those who have no need even of God
– for them there will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God. ~ Oscar Romero
We overflow with abundance when we acknowledge our poverty of spirit ~
only filled by One rich beyond measure, but who became poor for us.
He became poor so we recognize our true need for Him.
We who are rich in so many material ways still hunger and thirst –
floundering, not flourishing.
For love’s sake He chooses poverty, humility and suffering.
He chooses us and we’re poor no longer.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becamest poor; Thrones for a manger didst surrender, Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor. Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becomes poor.
Thou who art God beyond all praising, All for love’s sake becamest man; Stooping so low, but sinners raising Heavenwards by thine eternal plan. Thou who art God beyond all praising, All for love’s sake becamest man.
Thou who art love beyond all telling, Saviour and King, we worship thee. Emmanuel, within us dwelling, Make us what thou wouldst have us be. Thou who art love beyond all telling, Saviour and King, we worship thee. ~Frank Houghton
For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last. ~Frederick Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat
Though I’ve worked with many homeless people as a physician, I’ve never known homelessness myself. However, I have been room-less and those experiences were enough to acquaint me with the dilemma for Joseph and Mary searching for a place to sleep in Bethlehem.
It was my ninth birthday, July 26, 1963, and my family was driving to Washington D.C. for a few days of sightseeing. We had planned to spend the night in a motel somewhere in eastern Ohio or western Pennsylvania but my father, ever the determined traveler, felt we should push on closer to our destination. By the time 11 PM rolled around, we were all tired and not just a little cranky so we started looking for vacancy signs at road-side motels. Most were posted no vacancy by that time of night, and many simply had shut off their lights. We stopped at a few with vacancy still lit, but all they had available would never accommodate a family of five.
We kept driving east, and though I was hungry for sleep, I became ever more anxious that we really would never find a place to lay our heads. My eyes grew wider and I was more awake than ever, having never stayed up beyond 1 AM before and certainly, I’d never had the experience of being awake all night long. It still goes down in my annals as my longest birthday on record.
By 2 AM we arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and my dad had reached his driving limit and my mom had declared we were not traveling another mile. We headed downtown where the brick Harrisburg Hotel stood some 10 stories high, an old structure in a questionable area of town, but the lights were on and there were signs of life inside.
They did have a room that gave us two saggy double beds to share for eight dollars, with sheets and blankets with dubious laundering history, a bare light bulb that turned on with a chain and a bathroom down the hall. I’m surprised my mother even considered laying down on that bed, but she did. I don’t remember getting much sleep that night, but it was a place to rest, and the sirens and shouts out on the street did make for interesting background noise.
Some 12 years later, I had another experience of finding no room to lay my head after arriving late at night in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, with supposed reservations at the local YMCA for myself and my three student friends traveling together on our way to Gombe to study wild chimpanzees. We landed at the airport after midnight after a day long flight from Brussels, managed to make it through customs intact and find a taxi, only to arrive at the Y to find it dark and locked. It took some loud knocking to rouse anyone and with our poor Swahili, we were able to explain our dilemma–we were supposed to have two rooms reserved for the four of us. He said clearly “no room, all rooms taken”.
The host was plainly perplexed at what to do with four Americans in the middle of the night. He decided to parse us out one each to occupied rooms and hope that the occupants were willing to share. He looked at me, a skinny white girl with short hair and decided I was some kind of strange looking guy, and tried to stick me in a room with a rather intoxicated French man and I said absolutely not. Instead my female traveling partner and I ended up sharing a cot (sort of) in a room with a German couple who allowed us into their room, which I thought was an amazing act of generosity at 2 AM in the morning. I didn’t sleep a wink, amazed at the magical sounds and smells of my first dawn in Africa, hearing the morning prayers coming from the mosque across the street, only a few hours later.
So I can relate in a small way to what it must have felt like over 2000 years ago to have traveled over hard roads to arrive in a dirty little town temporarily crammed with too many people, and find there were no rooms anywhere to be had. And to have doors shut abruptly on a young woman in obvious full term pregnancy is another matter altogether. They must have felt a growing sense of panic that there would be no safe and clean place to rest and possibly deliver this Child.
Then there came the offer of an animals’ dwelling, with fodder for bedding and some minimal shelter. This stable and its manger became sanctuary for the weary and burdened, remarkable in how unremarkable it was. We are all invited in to rest there, and I never enter a barn without somehow acknowledging that fact.
There are so many ways we continue to refuse access and shut the doors in the faces of those two (plus one) weary travelers, forcing them to look elsewhere to stay. We say “no room” dozens of times every day, not realizing who and what we are shutting out.
There is no room in our busy and “important” lives–from the moment we rise through the frenetic pace of work and home activities, there is no room for the solitude of quiet prayer and reflection, and for shared gratitude and grace.
There is no room in our schools, where all mention of religious practices outside of academic study is unwelcome and eagerly litigated.
There is no room in our city squares or buildings, where nativity scenes are banished and replaced with winter festival scenes of snowflakes and snowmen, or any symbol of religious significance is matched with a statement from the “Freedom from Religion” organizations declaring atheism as valid a faith.
There is no room in our homes where TV, computer, and social media become the altars of worship and occupy more of our time than anything else.
There is no room in our hearts and minds as we crave entertainment, sex, and drugs more than the freely offered gift of life.
Small wonder we pay no attention to who is waiting patiently outside the back door of our lives, where it is inhospitable and cold and dank. Few of us would invite our special company into the barn first and foremost. Yet these travelers don’t seek an invitation to come in the front door, with fancy meals and feather beds and fresh flowers on the cupboard. It is the dark and manure strewn parts of our lives where they are needed most. That is where He was born to dwell, and that is where He remains, in the humblest parts of our beings, the parts we do not want to show off, and indeed, most often want to hide.
There will always be plenty of room there.
Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.
If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. ― Rainer Maria Rilke
As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch, complaining to my mother how boring life seemed. Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life – I became the accused, rather than the accuser, failing to summon up life’s riches. Thus convicted, my sentence followed: she would promptly give me chores to do. I learned not to voice my complaints about life was treating me because it always meant work.
Some things haven’t changed all these decades later. Whenever I am tempted to feel pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what my accusation says about me. If I’m not poet enough to celebrate the gilded edge of the plain and ordinary, if I’m not poet enough to articulate beauty even in the sharp thorns of life, if I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not His, and a poet I will never be.
So it’s back to work then.
There is a world to admire, a life to be lived and yes, poems to be written.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity … for this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2: 14, 17
And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
I’m reminded after every long day in my clinic, weighted down by the sorrows of the people I am asked to help — how much greater was the weight borne by God as mere baby delivered by woman to become humanity with us and for us.
His incarnate presence unites us all as brothers and sisters to each other, whether or not we speak the same language, whether or not our skin color is the same, whether or not we have great riches or dire need.
This is the truth of the God of love, that we should love one another, even after a week such as this — we are delivered by Him who was delivered.
All poor men and humble, All lame men who stumble, Come haste ye, nor feel ye afraid;
For Jesus, our treasure, With love past all measure, In lowly poor manger was laid.
Though wise men who found him Laid rich gifts around him, yet oxen they gave him their hay; And Jesus in beauty Accepted their duty, Contented in manger he lay. Then haste we to show him The praises we owe him; Our service he ne’er can despise; Whose love still is able To show us that stable Where softly in manger he lies.
Poverty Carol (Welsh)
This is the truth sent from above
The truth of God, the God of love
Therefore don’t turn me from your door
But hearken will both rich and poor
The first thing that I do relate
Is that God did man create
The next thing which to you I’ll tell
Woman was made with man to dwell
And after that, ’twas God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain of evil free
Except they ate of such a tree.
But they did eat, which was a sin,
And so their ruin did begin,
Ruined themselves, both you and me,
And all of their posterity.
Thus we were heirs to endless woes
Till God and Lord did interpose
And so a promise soon did run
That He would redeem us by His Son
And at that season of the year
Our blessed redeemer did appear
He here did live and here did preach
And many thousands he did teach
Thus He in love to us behaved
To show us how we must be saved
And if you want to know the way
Be pleased to hear what He did say
~The Truth from Above — Traditional English Carol