Lean if You Need to

Merry 3rd day of Christmas. Perhaps, like the star atop our tree, you’re knocked sideways, holding tight but barely.

I love our tree, the little fire stove pumping heat next to it, looking out over the quiet carpet of white stretching under the pines behind our house. But this tree’s a quirkster. We cut it because it was the right height and velvety soft, a Michigan fir. But we’ve turned it and twisted it, screwed and re-screwed the base bolts so many times. It leaned to the right. When we fixed that, it leaned left. We straightened it again, and it dipped forward.

Miska finally said, “Well, I think that’s what we have this year.” We chalked it up to 2020 and embraced our little holiday tower of Pisa. And our tilting star. It’s cute, but the Magnolia folks aren’t heading our way for a photo shoot.

Thankfully, all the tree and the star need to do is stand here and evoke wonder. Every night, I unplug the lights, and for a moment, I take in the glow, the warmth, the grace. From this old limpy tree.

It’s genius that Christmastide is 12 days, not one. We couldn’t sustain the emotional high, the expectations, the push. But we can just stand here and lean. We can take in the warmth and wonder of our limpy, marvelous lives. We have 10 more days of joy and grace. Lean or limp, but make certain to laugh. Tilt as needed. Receive what comes. Be curious. Play, waste time. Make merry.

Happy Christmas.

Doing the Opposite

Because I’m married to Miska, I’ve become modestly conversant in the Enneagram (really only conversant enough to keep asking Miska questions like: so what is that number that does xxxx??” or this is probably my distintegrating 5-ness, huh?). I’ve gone so far as getting the daily Enneathought emailed to me, something I send directly to the trash folder on days I can’t stand another moment of introspection. And yet there are days when something will hit me square in the solar plexus, like I’ve got a big bullseye painted on my chest. Several times, the opening line will be: “Today, try to do the opposite of your personality pattern.” Well gee, thanks. 

But it’s a good word, sometimes we need to intentionally do the opposite of whatever has become too easy for us, too “natural” – only it isn’t really natural at all. It’s just the way we’ve learned to withdraw from our life, to live by inertia. It’s just too, too easy. I’m not talking about working something up or resolut-ing ourselves to death (Good God, no). I’m simply saying that our life is too marvelous to waste by collapsing into a bored sluggishness.

So New Years lands past the halfway point of Christmastide, a time when these two different accountings of time are telling us similar things: to enter our life, to pay attention, to give ourselves to these days and these people that surround us. Maybe this would be a good day, or a good week, to do something that is the opposite of what, left to our boredom or disappointment or compulsions or lethargy, we’d do. If sadness comes easy, poke at a little happiness. If we always stay on the surface to avoid the pain, ponder something a little deeper. If you always withdraw into your internal cave, ask a friend (or someone you’d like to be your friend) over for dinner. If you have a really hard time being alone, take a walk in the woods or curl up for an afternoon by the fire with a fine book. There’s joy to be had, but sometimes we have to intentionally seek it.

Thanks, Santa

vintagesanta.2

In my family growing up, every Christmas Eve, before we turned out the lights and cast a final gaze at our stockings, we’d leave a few cookies, perhaps a brownie or a chocolate covered cherry, on a plate next to a glass of eggnog and a short note:

Thanks, Santa. Stay warm.

P.S. Be sure to share with Dasher, Dancer and the Crew

And every Christmas morning, even into my college years, mom and dad would place one gift for my sister and one for me, out in front of the tree, set apart from the rest of the packages. On each of these boxes, scribbled across the front: Merry Christmas, Santa. I’d always hug my folks, grin and say Thanks, Santa.

We say Father Christmas isn’t “real” — fine I suppose, but there’s something very real happening here that won’t let us loose. With some folks, Santa’s taken a knock, either out of frustration with crass commercialization or due to religious concerns (and if you have such scruples, you really should read the tale of St. Nicholas). However, we don’t know these stories merely because Madison Avenue wants to milk us for billions — that’s just a perversion. Rather, we tell these stories over and again (and they stick with us so powerfully) because we are in constant search for a language to express all the wonder, all the gratitude. We need true myths because sheer facts or flat logic are not enough.

We return to these stories because somehow we know there is a true magic (call it grace, if that helps) woven into this world. In our depths, we know that our life and all the goodness enveloping us arrives as pure gift. We know that hope and faith and love are essentials. We know a mystery, a holy haunting, pulses at the center of things. Somehow, our soul knows that if we experience no awe or wonder, we are paupers.

As Advent commences, we wait for the Christ child. We lean forward, in anticipation. We watch for wonder. St. Nick can encourage us in the same direction. Maybe St. Nick holds open a space, a longing or a child-like imagination, a space that will eventually be filled by the deepest magic of all.

///

G.K. Chesterton, our apostle of mirth, says it far better than me:

What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me…What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill. {G.K. Chesterton}

Party’s On

I used to think the 12 Days of Christmas were the twelve days leading up to the 25th. Things turned topsy turvy when I discovered years ago that Christmas stretches almost two weeks and the twelve days merely commence on the 25th. What magnificence is this?

We’ve surrendered this practice too easily. We’ve forgotten the art of long, lingering feasts. You may think Christmas is over, back to the grind. Not hardly. It’s barely begun.

We’re moving ever deeper into the true, into the implications of Christmas, the implications of Incarnation.

God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy…Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and let him–whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend–be our companion. {Henri Nouwen}

God is here. Party’s on.

Upon the Eve {advent week four}

virgin-mary-and-jesusGod has filled the hungry with good things. {Mary}

Over Advent, our church has attempted to memorize Mary’s Magnificat. Each time I utter Mary’s prophetic word directed toward herself, I chuckle: ‘From now on, all generations will call me blessed.’ I love Mary’s undaunted boldness – you have no idea how big a deal this is; you’re going to be singing about me. Forever. This is a sassy, confident young woman.

I also chuckle because this is precisely a point where low-church Protestants often get nervous, developing a twitch when the Virgin is constantly referred to as Blessed Mary.

But Mary was blessed, not only because she carried the Savior of the Cosmos in her womb but also because she had eyes to see what this Savior would bring to the world – and a keen heart to know how desperate we all are for these gifts.

We’re all hungry. We’re all scratching our way through this world. Some of us are familiar with the hunger pangs, while some of us are masters at avoiding the longings of our soul. No matter, hunger catches up to all of us eventually. And Jesus, God’s shocking and paradoxical revelation, has already arrived with the remedy. God is ready to fill us, whenever we are ready to be filled.

Advent’s been hard for many. I pray Christmas fills you to the brim. I hope Christmas arrives with bells and songs and lots of gifts and revelry – and maybe even a train ride or new pair of slippers or some childish joy.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas…

For all the long waiting we must do before we get there, it’s a good thing Christmastide stretches twelve days. This way, we can ease back into life, after we’ve taken moments for gratitude and moments for quiet and a few moments for going stir crazy.

Gratitude. Christmas morning, Miska gave me a pair of fuzzy Keen slippers that say “Winn” if ever a pair of slippers have. She also gave me a calendar, with photographs I’ve taken and words I’ve loved or will come to love. And she gave me a book with fabulous pictures of treehouses from around the world. If a guy’s got fuzzy slippers and good words and a treehouse to wander off into and (best of all) the kind of wife who knows him well enough to give him such things … what more?

Quiet. Our house has been quiet the past few days. We still have two boys, so there’s noise – but not the kind of noise that sits heavy, noise from the pace of things. I don’t know that I’ve used this time as well as I’d hoped. I’ve only started (and barely) one novel, but then quiet space is the sort of thing you simply have to take as it comes. Otherwise, you’ve entirely missed the point. Miska did buy a bottle of Carolans Irish Cream – and that’s a fine companion on a quiet evening. A quiet evening with the woman you love and Carolans and fuzzy slippers.

Stir-crazy. I did mention the two young boys, didn’t I? Yet another reason for the Carolans.

In this stretch of Christmastide, I wish you gratitude and quiet — and even a little stir-crazy (or some brand of crazy) to keep you honest.

A Remedy All Divine

We are in Christmas week. I love how these celebrations come to us – not as days – but as seasons, stretches of time where we discover an invitation to live in the moments. Will we live? Will I live? I’ve felt much joy and laughter these days, but I’ve also felt fear, more than is necessary (is any necessary?). Jesus has come. Jesus is here. Hope is here. Live.

Enough of fears and doubts, poor earth, and you poor trembling children of men! Your deepest ground for fear is taken away by him who comes as the Prince of Peace! Fear not! A remedy that is all divine is provided for your malady, whatsoever it may be.
{Theodore Christlieb}

Until the New Year,
Winn