Especially this Christmas I’m looking for, longing for moments of goodwill. Especially this Christmas my heart is seeking kindness. Especially this Christmas my spirit is yearning for the compassion that renews and restores. This Christmas…
“…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Many of us resonate with these words and this year they ring so very true. It has recently been a season of shouting over one another, with candidates and parties booming out their promises. It’s hard to turn on the radio or TV without being shocked at the cruelties we are able to do to one another. The hopes and fears are present – and I am turning again to Bethlehem.
This Christmas I seek the One who will sit beside the bedside of an old woman who is crying into the night. I seek the One who will walk beside a young boy who is walking home from school, after being bullied for being different. This Christmas I seek the One who makes more room at the table and in the pews – the One whose laughing eyes light up a room, the One whose tears flow with mine.
Christmas seems to have gotten more and more complicated as I’ve grown older. I remember shopping being simpler and “less.” I remember the caroling being done in bunches of friends. I remember caroling house-to-house, and being invited in for hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies. I remember…
This Christmas may we be reminded that we are participants in the Christmas Spirit. This isn't a time when we sit in the audience, enjoy the show and clap at the end. This is the time when we are led...to do, to sing, to listen, to shout on the street corner, to roll up our sleeves, to hug more and to give another permission to begin again. Reverend Howard Thurman's prayer, "The Work of Christmas" could not be truer than it is this year:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kinds and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart...
and to radiate the Light of Christ,
everyday, in every way,
in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.
This Christmas may we lead with our hearts. This Christmas may we look one another in the eye and see what is good and fine and holy. This Christmas may there be comfort and joy for each of us. Each. One. Of. Us.
Time and again, I’m reminded of the preciousness of people, places and times. It’s funny because in the business of health care, “people, place and time” are indicators of whether or not someone is “oriented.” And you know – that’s more true than we know.
For me “being oriented” speaks to what matters most to me. People. Places. Times.
Not all that long ago, my friend, Jackie and I used to meet most Wednesdays late in the afternoon. We would meet at Evans Fine Foods. Each time my friend Jackie and I would set a date to meet for cobbler, my heart was oh, so happy. Well, just to be clear I ordered cobbler, and Jackie seemed to have a taste for the Brownie Delight. It’s all good.
Jackie and I have known one another for 20 years or more. We met as fellow sisters in the fight against HIV. Back in the day before protease inhibitors our paths crossed. We met in those dark days when so many of the folks we cared for were dying. In those days people mattered, places mattered, time truly mattered. At her retirement party not long ago, I said “let’s meet at Evans sometime,” and started doing just that.
There was such a comfort for my soul when she and I set a date with one another. It was as though our souls put flags on a hill up ahead, and in doing that, we held a place for one another. In the hustle and bustle of our days, I was so very grateful for this time we would set. Some may say it was for the iced tea and cobbler, and don’t get me wrong that was part of the truth. But the greater part of the truth was the joy I felt when I saw my friend’s face across the table. We would catch one another up on stories, of what had happened since the last time we’d talked. Little-everyday-things like hearing about Jackie’s invitation to the White House to honor her HIV work – that was a pretty great story. But you know what always topped her list was talking about her grands. Stories to tell – with laughter and tender, wet eyes. Jackie and I didn’t bring an agenda. We set a date, and saved a place for one another. That simple, and that precious. It was a time to let go and catch up. It was a time for listening with our hearts.
Everyone needs a place where they can save a place for a friend. Evans Fine Foods had for years been that spot for me. It was one of those rare places where hearts were given time to catch up with one another. My family and friends have been sharing a table there for years. Most Wednesdays our waitperson, Pam served our spirits as well cobbler. There was something just fine when someone smiled my way when I walked into the restaurant. There was something just fine when I sat down at a table and before I knew it, an un-sweet iced tea and a smile or hug would appear – without my needing to ask. There was something so fine in this crazy, hustling-bustling days when someone looked at me with smiling eyes and asked, “how about the usual today”?
Using the past tense as I describe Evans continues to break my heart. The restaurant closed not too long ago. Many of us regulars are much like wandering pilgrims trying to make sense of the world. We seem to have lost our compass. If you know of a place that has the feeling “come on in, and rest your weary, sweet self,” please let me know.
Setting a date, saving a place has become a life-giving, spiritual practice. It marks time for me, so that I can connect with kind souls and re-connect with myself. It gives my heart something to look forward to. It matters because it reminds me of the value of hopeful anticipation. People. Place. Time. Holding a friend’s hand, holding a friend’s story. This is one of my favorite things and it makes life worth living – each time.
I wonder if it’s true for many of us or just me, but I’m guilty of taking my life for granted. I’m guilty of taking all my freedoms for granted. I’m guilty of taking my daily life-privileges for granted. I’m guilty of going to my job everyday, reading my library book when I grab lunch, having dinner with Linda and our two healthy, funny boys and then watching TV until bedtime…and then climbing into my nice, warm bed for a peaceful night’s sleep…I’m guilty of taking all of that - each and every moment - for granted. I’m guilty of forgetting that for most of the world that’s just not the case.
These recent days have been unbelievable in our country. We have allowed a man who is running for the highest office in our land to say something cruel and inconceivable out loud. Over and over and over again. His statement to ban Muslims from entering the country is such a farce, such a joke – and I look around and no one is laughing. I’m shocked and baffled and wounded to see that some folks are cheering. Those who hear and understand it for the racist statement that it is – those folks are crying.
It matters. It matters that I/that we voice our responses to this culture of hate. It matters that we make eye contact, and speak to our Muslim brothers and sisters. It matters that we speak to these statements of separation and discrimination. It matters that I/we not let him speak for me/us.
I look around and wonder how we could have gotten to this place in our culture. Have we gotten so complacent with our screens and fast-food-lifestyle that we’re able to lump an entire segment of people into one grouping and then cut them off? Done and done? What will happen to our souls if we don’t say “no?” “No, that’s not who we have worked all these years to become.” “No, this is not the way we view and interact with one another.” “No, this is not who we have dreamed ourselves to be.” If this, then what will be the next ripping in the tapestry of our country?
As hospice chaplain, I visited a patient and her husband this week that were at one time refugees. They escaped from China. They left the place that had been their home, where their parents were, where their grandparents and beloved family members were buried. They left that place and came to the United States. They followed their hearts and their hope for what could be better and came here. They raised their two daughters and now are marveling at their granddaughter as she turns 2 next week.
The patient’s husband taught me the Chinese character for the word “well” (which is at the heart of Isaiah’s reading for tomorrow). He drew it on his wife’s white board, which she used when she lost her speech. He drew the character that looked very much like this: “#.” He said in the center is a circle and that means, “well.” He taught me, “The well is in the center of every village and community. It is the place that represents the life of the community. No matter how big the village may grow, the well is always in the center of who and where they are.” Isaiah 12: 3 says “With joy draw water from the well of salvation.”
This couple, these foreigners, these immigrants teach me each time I visit their house. They teach me of hospitality, of dedication and commitment to one another through and beyond illness, they teach me of their deep love of the Eucharist and of God. And this week, this man taught me the Chinese word for “well.” This image of “well” that is speaks to that which brings life, refreshment, renewal for all who encircle it. How much better my heart is for them and their risking years ago to be pilgrims.
Georgia Congressman, John Lewis spoke these words (although he might have been the first, but I quote him now) “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
Thanks to our friend Reverend Jan L. Richardson for this benediction:
One: Not to one but to many you have been called:
All: Come on the dancing wind. Come
One: from the deepest forest. Come
All: from the highest places. Come
One: from the distant lands. Come
All: from the edges of darkness. Come
One: from the depth of fear
All: And become the bearer of God.
Amen and amen.
I'm so very grateful for stories. I love holding onto them. I love hearing them from others. I love the fact that I'm held in a greater story. All of these comfort me and bring me balance.
I'm grateful when somebody is telling me about something and then say “it's like the time we …” In that moment we are both remembering a shared past. The teller is inviting me in to what has been going on before. And it's shared. It's a reminder of one truth, always true: you're not alone.
The hopeful thing for me about many stories is when they remind me of beginnings, middles and endings. AND through the years I have learned that many endings move into beginnings and something new starts. AND all the while, these stories are a part of a greater tapestry.
Now in this season of Advent, we are waiting. In these growing darker December days, we are waiting. This Advent-waiting is a special kind of waiting. And every year as it comes around again, it feels that it arrives at just the right time.
Advent-waiting is accompanied by expectations. Advent-waiting has no particular or clear picture of what will be. Advent-waiting holds hope in it.
As this Advent season begins, I feel the tenderness of this hope my heart holds. We all have been living in tender days these days. More often than not we are startled with the violence we humans do to one another. Places that have held images of laughter and light, now appear on our screens with overturned tables and chairs, sounds of sirens. Jerusalem. Nairobi. Newtown. Paris. Mali. San Bernardino.
In many ways my story weaves in and through yours. Your pain imprints upon my heart. Hope dwells in our interconnection.
Do you remember that old Coke commercial that showed people holding hands for miles and miles further than we could see, while “I’d like to teach the world to sing” plays in the background? Hope, the waiting-for-something that will renew and restore our collective spirits, begins again for us in these Advent days.
It’s like the time we … were walking and we thought for sure we were lost, and just when we thought we’d give up, we saw a light in the window up on the road a bit. And we knew we could walk on …. and we did. And here we are....in these Advent days.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.