Monday, December 24, 2007

The Risk of Birth

That was no time for a child to be born, in a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn– Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born? The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn– Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
-Madeleine L’Engle

We’re enjoying another year of living on Martha’s Vineyard. The familiarity that comes with the second year on the job has been nice. We both continue to write, Brett working on the final revision of his dissertation and me submitting more essays for hopeful publication. Brett’s job search is well underway with applications to colleges and universities in all four corners of America and beyond. Olivia, now two and a half, continues to be a source of profound joy for us both, teaching us new things whenever we choose to pay attention.
The Christmas season has been especially interesting this year as Olivia tries to grasp all that we tell her about this celebration. On most mornings, after she’s tiptoed into our room and woken us up, she drags us to her advent calendar to open the days’ flap and see what special picture surprise is waiting for her. Then before we can sit down for breakfast, she has us stand around the tree, hold hands, and sing “O, Christmas Tree.” We have joked about the possible undertones of idolatry this little ritual might be encouraging, but we figure they are countered with her insistent daily readings of the Christmas story and the numerous renditions of her current favorite, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” which she requires before her afternoon nap and then again in her bedtime routine.
As we read the Christmas story, Olivia is always bothered by a few things: that Mary had to ride on a donkey and not in a car, that they had to stay in a stable and not a bedroom, and that baby Jesus had to sleep in a manger (she calls it a horse’s bowl) and not a real bed. She says, “That’s not fair, guys.” We don’t stop and explain to her the unusually high level of comfort that we are accustomed to in our particular century and culture. Rather, we let her struggle with this a bit. Maybe it’s a good thing for her to connect Jesus’ entrance into an unfair world with his final solution for this unfairness. When Christ was born, circumstances were unfair, injustices were rampant, love was hard to find. And yet, Christ was born. And that incarnation solidified a permanent place for truth, love, honor, and joy.
We’ve chosen a quote from Madeleine L’Engle this year. She passed away this fall after years of faithful service through her words. Considering the ongoing influence she has had on our lives, it felt only fitting to include an excerpt from one of her Advent poems with our message. This year we pray that you will experience love being born all around you and that you will risk love regardless of the circumstances. We have reason to rejoice. As we sang in our advent hymn this past Sunday, “He brings God’s rule, O Zion; he comes from heaven above. His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, truth, and love. Lift high your praise resounding for grace and joy abounding.”
Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Capote and Christmas

Truman Capote has a series of short stories he wrote surrounding the Christmas season. I just finished A Christmas Memory. A significant moment occurs at the end when the main character, a young boy is flying kites with his elderly friend. The friend says, "My, how foolish I am! You know what I've always thought? I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. And it's been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I'll wager it never happens. I'll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are, just what they've always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Be wary if he comes by ferry

We had to go. It's an island tradition. The big ferry comes into the dock, the doors open, and Santa is standing there with a row of elves behind him, heartily laughing, waving to the masses, ready to greet all the good girls and boys of the Vineyard. This event has been talked up all over the island. Apparently last year, as he took his first step, his pants fell to his ankles, and one of his elves fell over laughing. Still though, something worth bundling up to see. Olivia was so excited about it. His arrival was the first thing she mentioned this morning when she woke us up. She dressed in a red sweater and her red coat b.c she'd heard it was his favorite color.
So it was a little disheartening this afternoon when we layered up, ran down to the ferry, and joined a tiny crowd to welcome this guy. No bellowing "Ho, Ho, Ho," no confident strides, no elves, not even a costume malfunction. He just meandered off the boat and then had to practically find people who wanted to get their picture taken with him. Fortunately a number of our "young at heart" college students had come with us- our group alone doubled the crowd. Olivia shook his hand and said, "Welcome." After that she'd have nothing to do with him. She'd only agree to a photo if her college friends would join her. So here it is.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Pope and the wind in our subconscious

Leave it to the dreamlife to give me some blog material.

I had a dream that I was the pope- the real pope, meaning I wasn't me as the pope. And actually I might have just been some other type of clergy, like a bishop or a rector-some authority within the church order who wears white robes and carries a cross staff. And yes, I'm sure there's a much more appropriate name for it other than a cross staff. Whoever I was, I was specifically assigned to this factory slum area. There was at least one assassin out to kill me in this little community, but the church had guards posted on every street. So I was able to carry out my daily ritual of walking through the streets, being among the people and blessing everyone (And there ends my unconscious understanding of the clergy's daily responsibilities). But we all knew it was just a matter of time before I got shot. I could feel the moment getting closer and closer, and I woke up just as I thought it was about to happen.

But that was just my dream, and really a pretty common one. They are often plots involving conspiracies and chases and the like. Usually they are a bit more complicated with much more detail. And to be honest they can often leave me feeling a bit lonely, because I rarely meet anyone with such an active dreamlife who really wants to take the time to listen to all my detail. But apparently it runs in the family. This morning when I went in to get Olivia, she immediately started telling me about a dream she had:
Olivia: "Mommy, I had a happy dream. The wind lifted me up to the sky."
Me: "Wow, Olivia! Really?"
Olivia: "Yep."
Me: "And what did you see up there?"
Olivia: "I found a rectangle."
Me: "Wow. Did you sit on the rectangle?"
Olivia: "No. We just played and played."

I spent much of breakfast trying to figure out what might have happened yesterday that would have triggered such an idea, but I came up with nothing.

Later today as we were sitting outside, the wind started to blow pretty strongly, and Olivia said, "Mommy! The wind is going to lift me up to the sky again! I want to see the rectangle!"

For my own sanity, and so as not to overstep any bounds, I never try to "interpret" dreams. I'm just not comfortable assuming any kind of understanding in that area. But regardless, I think I can safely say, playing with rectangles in the sky is pretty outstanding.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An Acceptable Time

In the past year, I've been slightly moved by the deaths of significant figures like William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, and Luciano Pavarotti--just enough to pause, soak in how they'd changed me, and then carry on. But last week, when I heard about Madeleine L'Engle's death, I couldn't process it so easily. And I'm not ready to be done with it, because I've figured out that any time I spend "with" Madeleine L'Engle usually results in my becoming, if only for a short time, a more honest, loving person.

The night I found out Madeleine L’Engle had passed away, I slept with the windows open. The moment I found out, I sent the article from the New York Times to everyone I knew that might share in the paying of respects with me. And within a few hours of finding out, I’d picked up one of her Crosswicks journals, wanting to be reassured that she’d still speak to me from her new location. I was relieved to find the connection still strong. Over the past few days, I've been going back through her books, looking at the passages I'd marked. Below are a couple of excerpts I found particularly fitting for this time of remembering:

“I look at Mother, and I think that if I am to reflect on the eventual death of her body, of all bodies, in a way that is not destructive, I must never lose sight of those other deaths which precede the final, physical death, the deaths over which we have some freedom: the death of self-will, self-indulgence, self-deception, all those devices which, instead of making us more fully alive, make us less.” (Summer of the Great Grandmother)

“What I think is that if we’re still around after we die, it will become more like those moments when we let go, than the way we are most of the time. It’ll be--it’ll be the self beyond the self we know.” (A Ring of Endless Delight)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oh Toodles

Meet Toodles and Mama Toodles. To most people, they would appear to be child safety locks to be put on cabinet doors, but to our daughter, they are Toodles, the handy machine from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, that helps Mickey get out of various jams by offering up odd tools at the most critical moments. Today Toodles and Mama Toodles have helped us clean our playroom, find special leaves, and get to the bathroom before we have an accident. In return, we've put them down for a nap, taken them on hiking trips, swung them in the hammock, and read bedtime stories to them. It's in moments like these that I long for the untainted creativity of a child.