Tuesday, December 29, 2015

on the fifth day of Christmas...

Nothing touches my heart more than being with my grandson.  I think it was Barbara Brown Taylor - but it could have been Lauren Winner - who wrote that holding a newborn or small baby teaches us more about sacred love than any catechism or confirmation class ever created. I second that emotion in spades!  I certainly felt that way with my own precious daughters when they were infants. And this sense of sacred contentment continued as they matured and grew into women of wisdom, humor and grace. It is holy ground to be with them - and when my little man, Louie, comes into the mix:  man, it is truly heaven on earth.

Such is the charism of being a grandparent, yes?  Finally, we can cherish our children and
theirs with tenderness in a quiet and slow-moving manner. We can nurture a sense of wonder and hope in their hearts, an awareness of awe and compassion, too. For now we can take all the time they are with us to do so, because grandparents aren't in a hurry to get to work, school, play or the latest important event. No, now we understand that we already have all the time that there is so we must use it wisely. When our beloved  offspring are away, we ponder the blessings of this love deep in our hearts like the Virgin Mary; and when they come home to visit for a spell, we share the abundance of mercy with them with exuberance and gratitude. Never too much, of course, as no one likes being smothered; but thoroughly, honestly and respectfully.My own father used to tell me that one of the greatest joys of his heart was becoming a grandfather - and now I get it.

Perhaps this gift is why I feel compelled to challenge the virulent hatred and perpetual fear-mongering that has taken over so much of American politics and social life. Last night, we were watching Billy Connolly's BBC series in which he travels Route 66 in the USA. I love me some Billy Connolly and Di and I used to regularly cruise parts of Route 66 on our vacations in Arizona. He is drop dead funny. The highway is a slice of Americana that is every bit as wild and eccentric as the best and worst of American culture can be. And in this episode, he stops by a swap meet and meets a man selling anti-Obama bumper stickers as well as Nazi paraphernalia.  Connolly quizzes the vendor about his hate-filled merchandise and is told that while Europeans may love the POTUS, many heartland Americans despise him.  Oh yes, and while he doesn't support a Nazi agenda, some people are interested in such artifacts of history.

You can sense Connolly wants to spit, "Bull shit" to the man, but he is a guest in our country and too much of a gentleman. So, with a mild rebuke he walks away in stunned disgust. Then he tells us in a voice-over that this sentiment is all too alive and well throughout the USA. But for those who have experience with Nazi hatred, there is nothing neutral or benign about it. Such cruel symbols only strengthen evil. As Connolly walks away he says that he is stunned and disoriented by this encounter - and we know that  it has only intensified since the bombings of Beirut, Paris and the shooting massacre in San Bernadino.

On Christmas Eve, at our contemplative jazz liturgy, one of the poems I read to help unpack the promise of the Incarnation came from Alice Walker.

May it be said of me
That when I saw
Your mud hut
I remembered
My shack.
That when I tasted your
Pebble filled beans
I recalled
My salt pork.
That when I saw
Your twisted Limbs
I embraced
My wounded
That when you
Rose from your knees
And stood
Like women
And men
Of this Earth –
As promised to us
As to anyone:
Without regrets
Of any kind
I joined you –

Such is the love and solidarity this season is calling for from us:  A remembering of our own anguish and emptiness that connects us to our wider community, a deep reverence for the love we experience unconditionally while holding our grandchildren - or nephews and nieces or sons and daughters - so close to our breast as they slip into a safe sleep upon our chests. This bond evokes a response to strengthen love wherever we can. So we
 closed our Feast of the Incarnation worship with the challenge best captured by St. Howard Thurman:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers and sisters
To make music in the hearts.

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