“There are winds created for vengeance and in their anger they can dislodge mountains. On the day of reckoning they will pour out their strength and calm the anger of their Maker.” ~~ Ecclesiasticus 39: 28
Seventeen days and counting to Christmas: Grey Thursday, Black Friday and the Great Christmas Sales are upon us. Wal-Mart is covered up with people like the great ski slopes in the mountains should be covered with snow at this time of year. The Salvation Army bell ringers are out, but their friendly jingles and smiles aren’t making much of a dent into the general mood with Fiscal Cliffadedron, Egyptian Meltdown, Iranian Idiots, or Syrian Chemical Weapon threats weighing heavy in the air.
People aren’t much in the mood for Christmas this year, perhaps because our expectations are too high. We wanted a “Good Thanksgiving” with a happy family all gathered around the table, but the drunk uncle made his appearance once again and the kids all wanted to text the entire meal, while Dad wanted the food served in the “media room” so he wouldn’t miss any of the game. This didn’t make any of the lady folks happy after baking and cooking for two days for the thirty-minute meal. So the gals took the credit cards and maxed them out on the early deals Thursday afternoon.
Now we have the incessant commercials of increasing expectations berating us on the TV: moving up to a bigger car, a bigger diamond, or giving your stepchild a diamond just like the one you gave her Mom (this is outrageous, children shouldn’t get diamonds until they are grownups! They need to have something to look forward to!). But most of our lives today aren’t like this, for we are more like the 99% and less like the 1%.
I was recently in Turkey in the region of Cappadocia. There is an area called the Fairy Mountains that has unusual stone pillars and shapes that have been worn away by the wind, rain, and blowing sand. One such
shape is a camel, and another grouping of three is known as the “holy family.” This Nativity Scene makes me think of all the precious sculptures I’ve seen. Most of them are highly sophisticated, brightly colored, and “clean” for that is truly how we view holiness. This isn’t the world the Christ Child was brought into by his parents, however.
Mary was a young teenager when the angel came to tell her she would bring the Christ into the world without benefit of a husband, that is, it would be a virgin birth. Folks in the village soon began to talk, and Joseph was going to break off their engagement, but an angel told him in a dream it would all work out ok. When Mary began to show, however, she needed to leave town, so she went to see her older cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. These two were alike in that they were “outsiders:” Elizabeth was alone because her husband wasn’t able to speak because he doubted the Lord was at work in his wife’s pregnancy and Mary was alone because her family and town doubted her story.
When the census time came, everyone had to go to their ancestral hometown. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, the city of David, but no one would let them stay in their inn. The text says there was no room for them in the inn, but Joseph wasn’t a stupid or slow man. He didn’t wait until the last minute to take his very pregnant wife on this trip, so that all the hotels and motels were already full. People back then are just like people now: they talk, they make judgments, and folks decide that out of wedlock babies are unwelcome in their nice establishments. One innkeeper did take pity upon them and gave the family a place in the stable among the animals. The baby was born there; the king of the world had a manger for his throne, and the animals for his court. Angels proclaimed the Savior’s birth to shepherds, outcast persons on the margins of society because they were not clean. They were the first to honor him. Strangers from the east came to worship him and give him gifts, aliens and nonbelievers rather than the Jews themselves. His mother “…treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
The King and the priests heard the strangers from the east ask: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matthew 2:2). They conspired among themselves to murder all the newborn baby boys when they didn’t find out the one name. Joseph took Mary and Jesus in the middle of the night out into Egypt, for he was warned in a dream that the child was in danger.
This Christ Child knows the pains of the world from the very beginning of conception, for he knows the loneliness of the poor and the isolated, the rejected and the misunderstood. He knows that if the king of the world will be rejected and despised, so will all we lesser human beings. If we are persecuted in this world, we are in good company, since he was singled out from birth and many innocents died on his behalf (Matt 2:13-33). His family fled with the clothes on their backs, but they carried the gold, frankincense and myrrh gifts he received as gifts for his ministry and burial.
Most people don’t read the Nativity Story this way, but when I look at the way the wind wears away the stone, I have to think that these figures are the strength that is left after the winds have torn away the soft parts. The hard parts, that core that remains, is the true part that is the inner strength that comes from the inner spirit of a person. The winds may move mountains and reveal a new shape, but that is just God’s recreating power at work.
The biblical word for wind and spirit are the same, so the Holy Spirit can be the rushing wind that changes our hearts and minds into the new shape God has in mind for us. The American Bible Society says that each American home has 4.3 bibles in it in 2012. However, most people aren’t reading it, for 46% couldn’t tell the difference between the Koran, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon. What’s worse, 50% of Americans, including Christians, couldn’t name ANY of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John). The Bible’s oral traditions have been around for 6,000 years, and it’s been written down for 4,000 years. Surely that is a testimony to its robustness: the winds of other ideas may blow against it, but its inner strength stands firm against all the storms.
As a spiritual art project, make your own nativity from found objects, the more humble the better. If you go on a nature walk, find rocks or pine cones and paint them with minimal decoration so that they are recognizable as “figure” or “animal”. If you make them from toilet paper rolls, use construction paper and simplify the figure drapery. These should be fun because you need to quit thinking “perfect” and allow yourself to “enjoy Christmas for a change!” Have yourself a Merry Simple Christmas!
This is a strange & dark veil of bamboo and vines that I found in Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Looking into the sun, the image was backlighted, so it seemed to be a fence guarding against my entry.
I thought about the fences that keep me from progressing in my spiritual and artistic life: some of them are barricades of my own making. I seek perfection, but if I were to seek the good first, the perfect would eventually follow. Because I seek the perfect, sometimes I don’t even reach the good! It’s crazy of course, but that is what happens when one tries too hard.
I belong to a Facebook prayer group. One of the members is overwrought because they are exhausted from trying to wrangle, cajole, force, convince or otherwise browbeat a member of the family into a better behavior that will indeed save their life. No doubt quitting the alcoholic lifestyle would save that person’s life and maybe someone else’s life. However, no amount of logic or emotion will make an addict change until they are good and ready. When they lose all they have ever trusted in and all their support systems are gone, then they might change. Or maybe not. It’s not up to us. This member is so worn out that she wanted strength to keep going. I wrote, “when sawing gets hard, stop and sharpen saw.”
At some point in our spiritual and creative lives, we need to stop and sharpen our saws. We can’t keep pouring out all things for others and expect to have any creative energies left. We need to be filled up again. The best life is to be constantly filled, spilled, and refilled.
I was reading an article today on http://www.alternet about the 40 hour work week and the 8-8-8 plan (hours for work, sleep, and enjoyment). After 40 hours, workers begin to react as if they are tipsy with alcohol as their reaction time and production begins to lag. Their production goes down with each additional 10 hours added to the work week. Even more interesting was the fact that the loss of even one hour of sleep each night had the same effect as adding an extra 10 hours of work to the week! For folks that labored with their minds, it was even worse!
In this world today, folks are so happy to be employed, they are willing to work any amount of hours to keep a job, but they aren’t happy and they aren’t healthy emotionally or physically. They also aren’t very productive either. We could probably put a few more folks to work, cut the work week back, decrease the cost of our health care (the cost is claims based, so fewer claims based on illness is a lower premium), and get this country moving again!
But no one listens to me, I’m just an artist with a spiritual heart who has been crying in the wilderness for a long time! I cried in the 60’s for peace and civil rights, I cried in the 70’s for women’s equality, I cried in the 80’s for an opportunity to lead where my heart went, I cried in the 90’s for the liberation of the human soul, and I’m still crying today for the whole person to become wholly human and wholly holy. At least today I understand that the forces of evil may try to hold us prisoner, but God in Christ has defeated them! These chains cannot hold us, and neither can the chains of sin and death.
Therefore, perfection no longer holds us. Instead, we work for the good of all (Gal 6:10). As a creative project, you might want to photograph fences you see on your walks or travels this week. We all travel the same routes to the store, to work, to our favorite haunts. Our cars can drive themselves automatically, or we can sleep on the subway or bus and know when our stop is about to come up. Seeing our environment anew is always good practice. Take photos with the cell phone or a single use camera. Note the “fences” and “barricades” in your environment. They may be a keep out sign, a locked gate, a decorative wall, a privacy fence, or a japanese decorative screen between the sleeping and living areas of a small apartment. What fences are around your heart and soul? Give these over to God in prayer. Joy and Peace, Cornelia