ICONS: A Moment of Mystery

adult learning, Altars, Christmas, Creativity, Faith, Food, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Ministry, mystery, New Year, Prayer, purpose, Reflection, renewal, salvation, Secrets, Spirituality, vision

Making Found Object Icons is an art project that evolved out of the Great Macaroni Multimedia Traveling Artandicon Show. In seminary during Art Week our fellow students were horrified we were making sacred images out of edible products, such as macaroni, lentils, peas, and beans.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

“That’s sacrilegious!”

“Jesus is the bread of life, and macaroni is just another form of wheat,” we replied.

“But it’s so ordinary!”

“Clay is ordinary, and so is stone. Can an object only be worthy of God if it’s made of expensive materials?”

“Well….”

“The value of all the chemicals in a human body is about $5.18, but we’re worth far more than that in the eyes of God. Some say God doesn’t make junk, yet too many people of faith despise and debase the body. I’ve always wondered why this was so, since the Son of God came to earth in human form, and as the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV) says—

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Jeweled Cross

When we meet Christ at Christmas, we can get all warm and fuzzy because who doesn’t like a warm, cuddly baby? Maybe I have a soft spot for babies, but I really don’t trust people who don’t get a little ga-ga when the little ones coo and smile. I can understand folks getting squeamish at Good Friday and the cross. Most of us avoid as much pain as possible. Humility and obedience to God are not high priorities these days for many people. 

Flight into Egypt

Many tend to ignore this wonderful call to the Christ-like life, preferring instead the cop out of “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38, NRSV). “Forgive us,” we say, but we hold others up to high standards. 
We make a distinction between our dual natures of the flesh and the spirit, a concept inherited from the Greco-Roman culture. It’s notable that the often quoted verse, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit,” is found in Galatians 6:8 (NRSV), for this was a Roman province. 
The ancient Mediterranean area had a knowledge/mystery tradition. The Greeks had their cult of Bacchus, the Egyptians the cult of Isis, and the Jewish had their mystical Kabbalah. The Romans had their dying and rising god cult of Mithras, the bull. Entry into all of these groups was by word of mouth only, given to a special few, and all had secret rites known to the members only.  Most promised salvation through secret knowledge, and the true world for them was spiritual rather than the physical world in which we live today. Ecstatic worship separated the believer from the body and the ordinary world. 
You might recognize these traits in your own church or worship community today, except for the ecstatic and enthusiastic worship brought about by mood altering substances. That’s not my church anyway! How do we come close to God? Across the centuries, the tradition has discovered contemplative prayer, singing, searching the scriptures, serving the poor, attending the sacraments, and creating art for God or the Holy Icons.
Making an object for the glory of God, to enhance the worship experience, and to honor God is a gift of the artist’s time and talent. No artist is ever paid what their training and talent is worth, for it’s a treasure from God to begin with—it can’t be valued. Artists have learned over the centuries to live simply, accept fame if it comes, and put a fair price on their work. 

Gail’s Cross

They get value in the spiritual real from the work they do, for the icon opens a window into heaven. As they arrange the jewels and found objects, and move them to a better position, the icon comes alive under their hands and begins to breathe. Only the person, who will be still long enough to hear the silence from beyond the open window, can hear the voice of God in this world. For this person, the icon is a treasure, and a place of holy focus, no matter how small or how simple the materials. 
This is the reason the artist makes an icon—to have a moment of mystery, a time of intersection, and a communion with the holy. In today’s hurried world, each of us wants a place in which we can experience for a moment the timelessness of heaven. 
When we return in the New Year, we’ll begin painting our own holy icons. The process is a spiritual journey, more than a destination or the attempt to reach perfection. We only need to “go toward perfection” each day!

Advertisements

TIME AND THE TWO CLOCKS

art, Christmas, Faith, Family, Healing, Imagination, Love, Meditation, Ministry, Philosophy, Pi Day, purpose, Retirement, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Work

On The Death of Stephen Hawking: March 14, 2018

With the death of the esteemed scientist Stephen Hawking on Pi Day, I wondered what do The Corpus Clock and the Banksy Rat Clock say about these artists’ concepts of time? All musings about chronological time lead me to ask, Does God experience time in the same way we mortals experience time? Is time the same for all persons? Do all people in the same event experience time in the same manner? What do we humans do with our time? Moreover, do people of faith have a particular calling from God to use time in a certain way?

We might fill a book with the fully fleshed out answers to all these questions, but let’s just sketch out a few points on each.

THE BANKSY RAT

The Banksy rat running in a 14th Street clock face, as if in a hamster wheel, is believed to be his first work in New York since 2013. One of Banksy’s trademark rats was found painted on the face of a clock adorning a building façade, on Pi Day, 2018, with the distinctive silhouette of the Empire State Building looming in the background. The clock in question adorns a former bank and post office at the northwest corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street in Greenwich Village. This building is currently slated for demolition.

Banksy seems to think time is a circular and continuous event, ever repeating, and perhaps monotonous. If the wheel goes nowhere, we can be very busy, but gain nothing for our efforts. Therefore our lifespan, the time we have on earth, is an exercise in futility. Do we know this, however? If we’re rats in a cage, do we have the cognitive awareness to perceive this? The good news is, we are more than rats, and for this I’m grateful.

Of course, pi/π is an irrational number and irrational numbers don’t repeat forever. If you write out the decimal expansion of any irrational number (not just π) you’ll find that it never repeats. That means that π is irrational, and that means that π never repeats. It also never completes, or comes out even, as my old third grade teacher Mrs. Dickey used to say, under the old math I learned in elementary school. In November 2016, y-cruncher, a computer for large calculations, took the value of pi out to 22.4 Trillion digits. I was always doing well to remember “yes, I have a number,” for my math classes.

Since Banksy’s Rat appeared on Pi Day, his wry humor might be evident in the rat race is never ending for all time. If it’s on a building meant for destruction, however, it shows he has hope for a change in this world and a creation of a new world. We need to take care to create a better world, rather than the same old world which we destroyed.

THE CORPUS CLOCK

The Corpus Clock, created in 2008 by the inventor and horologist John C. Taylor, doesn’t look like a clock. Its shiny gold disk features 60 notches that radiate from its center. Lights race around the edges of the disc, and a spherical pendulum swings slowly beneath it. The Corpus Clock has no hands or digital numbers, but has three rings of LEDs, which reading from the innermost ring show the hours, minutes and seconds. When an hour is struck, no bells chime, but chains shake and a hammer hits a wooden coffin. Time passes and we all die, a fact further represented by the Latin inscription underneath the clock, mundus transit et concupiscentia eius, meaning ‘the world and its desires pass away’.

The most eye-catching detail is the fierce-looking grasshopper sitting atop the disc. Taylor called it a “chronophage,” from the Greek for time-eater. Like a locust devouring the harvest, the chronophage opens its mouth. Ordinary clocks emphasize the cyclical nature of time. The hands, moving in a circle, always make it back to the same place and suggest if we lose track of time today, we’ll always have tomorrow. This, of course, is only partly true. As the chronophage reminds us, we can never regain lost time.

Weirdly, the pendulum of the Corpus Clock slows down or speeds up. Sometimes it stops, the chronophage shakes a foot, and the pendulum moves again. Because of that, the time display may be as much as a minute off, although it swings back to the correct time every five minutes.

“There are so many expressions in everyday life about time going fast, time going slow and time standing still. Your life is not regular; it’s relative to what’s going on,” Taylor said.

He noted Albert Einstein’s observation: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”

“Time is a destroyer. Once a minute is gone you can’t get it back.”

As a note of irony, Prof. Stephen Hawking, cosmologist and author of the global bestseller, A Brief History of Time, was due to unveil the clock at 5.45 pm, but in the end the curtain covering it didn’t fall until 5.59.55 pm.

Two theories of time

Actually, philosophers have multiple theories on time. Scientists hold a few more yet. Two of the main ways of looking at time are movement and stasis.

1. Time moves. The A-theory (or the process theory) holds that time moves from one point to another in a unidirectional line.

2. Time stands still. The B-theory of time (or the stasis theory) holds that time essentially stands still. B-theorists holds that the process of time is an illusion and time itself is rather static, or unmovable.

Does God experience time in the same way we mortals experience time?

God is absolutely timeless and exists beyond the scope of space-time. Since God’s not mortal, and not a created being, the laws of creation don’t apply to God. God is the creator, the uncreated one. We, who are the created ones, can’t experience time in the same way as God. In a sense, all time is the same for God. The past, the present, and the future are all the same for God, since all things seem as “now” to the one who is. We never say “God was,” except in reference to our own experience. For God, all events are always happening concurrently, as it were, with the present, and with all the possible futures.

We too can experience time, somewhat like God, in those moments when memories flood into our present experience, such as when a certain smell reminds us of a loved one, or a melody brings to mind old friends and old haunts. Even unpleasant associations can bring the past into the present for us. While we’d rather only have positive feelings and thoughts, at least we can know we are in the same mysterious time stream with God when our time sense begins to meld the past and present together. If we’re in the same space and time with God, we’re sheltered from any harm. If we relax in these times, we can put our focus on the God who’s cared for us before we were born and will carry us through any storm.

For us, in an excruciating time, we might sense time stands still, or moves as slow as molasses. Slow motion is a description of the telescoping or expanding sensation some of us feel. Actually, Time happens at the same speed, but our sensation or experience of it is different. The expression “Time flies when you’re having fun,” is an example of the how fast moving time is when you’re enjoying yourself. Ask a child how long it is till Christmas, then ask the parents the same question. The child says”Forever!” Mother or Daddy swears they need another month at least. My well worn Advent calendar had many little doors, which I opened daily as a child to help me count down the days until Christmas. My parents had crafts for us to make for the holidays to help pass the time and give our eager hands an outlet for our energy.

Is time the same for all persons?

I think most of us count time linearly, for we begin at our birth and count our days and years until our death. We see this life unfolding along a single line. If we were to view our lives from beyond this world, we might perceive our lives as a circular spiral which orbits around our sun as the sun makes its route around the outer edge of our galaxy. The first seems to be a straight line like a ship crossing an ocean, while the latter is more of a spiraling circle on a larger circle.

Most of us are just trying to make it to the weekend or to payday, so our concepts of time aren’t vast at all. If we think about time, it’s about quitting time, lunch time, coffee break time, or time for bed. Thinking ahead to vacation time or retirement is a future too far, so wrapping our minds around infinity or eternity is too great a stretch. God can see all our possible futures, for we all have choices and there are always events beyond our control which will affect us. Nothing is preordained or fixed, except God’s generous love and grace. If we could stand out beyond our galaxy and see our small world, I wonder if we would see our lives in a different manner?

Do all people in the same event experience time in the same manner?

If we come from different places and upbringings, we won’t take from an event the same experiences. When one person sees the flickering candles of a worship center and feels fear and shame, while everyone else feels joy and serenity, the pastor has to ask what’s wrong. The association for this person was from a cult with ritual sexual abuse on the altar. Yes, things like this happen, and thank goodness this person came out of that environment. Yet the same setting was a trigger for old memories, and an opportunity for compassion, prayer, support, and the offering of healing.

For those who found the experience uplifting, the time passed quickly. For the suffering, Time was agony, for it united the ugly past with the present. The present ministry of those who sat with her eased her pain until she could return into the present once again, and begin to have hope for a better future.

What do we humans do with our time?

Too often we overvalue work and undervalue relationships. As a city person pastoring in a country church, I often felt they didn’t value the work of ministry among the people, since God calls all to be priests (priesthood of all believers). My people felt I didn’t value relationships very much. Maybe we should have met each other in the middle. What we do with our time is more than being honest in our business dealings, doing good in our community, and being faithful to our spouse. It has to be more than giving a tithe to our place of worship. Are we rats in a hamster wheel, or mere cogs in a great industrial production machine? When we spend our time at work, have we lost it, and only get to live on the weekends or when we retire?

Does God call people of faith to have a purpose for our time?

If our time at work is only a means to an end, but the time spent there has no meaning at all, we might want to consider a career change. One person I know said, “It just wasn’t fun anymore.” Another’s eyes only lit up when she spoke about her work with the hospice patients, but she gave the pat answers to “how’s your church doing?” I knew before she did her call had changed. I taught school and sold Insurance before I became a pastor. Now I cook, paint, and write in my retirement years. I get to study anything that suits my fancy, which is perfect for one who’s a professional student!

What is God’s call for your life? It doesn’t matter what age you are, the time to answer it is now, at the present moment. Tomorrow you’ll be a day older, and this day will be long gone. It will be only a memory, but not for taking action. Like the chronophage, the monster which eats time, each moment is precious and worthy. Seize the Day! Do the work God’s got for you!

LINKS

Pi calculation records link: http://www.numberworld.org/y-cruncher/

Discussion on theories of time link: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/time/

The Man of Sorrows

art, Creativity, Faith, Healing, Holy Spirit, Icons, incarnation, Love, Man of Sorrows, Meditation, Painting, Reflection, salvation, shame, Spirituality, Strength

Most of us try to put our best foot forward every day. If we have the means, we want to wear nice clothes for work and put on our “game face.” In private, we might “let it all hang out” and put on our sloppy clothes, but only if we’re staying inside. This is why the pajamas at Walmart memes persist as the walk of shame from sea to shining sea.

We like our art “pretty” also. Indeed, if it doesn’t match our current decorating theme, we don’t buy it. We want our art to fade into the wall and not interact with us. If this is our attitude, we aren’t candidates for an icon in our space. The icon is meant to open up a conversation with the viewer and with the Holy Spirit. The icon opens a window into the world beyond this reality, into eternity, in which the Holy Trinity and the communion of saints live forever. While the image itself isn’t Holy, what it represents is Holy. Therefore the icon is venerated, but not worshipped. Only God is worshipped.

Because most of us like our images beautiful, we prefer gold and silver over fading and flaking. We also like polished and pleasant more than brutal and broken. This is why most of us like Christmas more than Good Friday, even though both are necessary to understand at-one-ment and atonement.

The oldest icons often show the ravages of age. Centuries of use, with smoking candle soot and oils from many hands, have worn their surfaces raw. Many of us also show the scars of Time, but we also are the image of God, just as Christ is the living image of God. We are like the ancient icons, worn and weathered. If we were given an ancient holy icon, damaged by circumstances or desecrated by human hands, we would treat it with tenderness, reverence, and compassion. We wouldn’t pay attention to the damaged parts, or to the tragedy of the act of damage, but we’d focus on what is left of its beauty, not what was lost.

Only those who are rapidly aging may be able to understand this concept, or those who’ve suffered. Yet, the Man of Sorrows icon exists for those who know life isn’t always a bowl of cherries and even the best people will suffer. The suffering servant contradicts the promises of prosperity gospel, but the icon reminds us we aren’t alone when hard times strike.

The Virgin Hodegetria and the Man of Sorrows

This double-sided icon in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D. C., depicts two of the most influential images in Byzantine art. On the front, the Virgin Hodegetria (“she who points the way”) gestures toward the Christ child as the path to salvation.

The image derives from a venerated model, which was legendary. Saint Luke was the purported artist who painted the original from life in Jerusalem and others brought it to Constantinople in the fifth century. Pilgrims flocked to the Monastery of the Hodegon to revere the original icon, which was paraded weekly through the streets of the capital. Widely copied, it’s one of the most common types of images of the Virgin.

On the other side is the icon of Christ after the Crucifixion, laid out for burial with his arms at his sides. This is the earliest known panel painting of the Man of Sorrows, a name taken from an Old Testament description of the Messiah:He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).”

Called Akra Tapaneiosis (Ultimate Humiliation) in the Greek Orthodox Church, the subject originated in Byzantium in the 11th century in response to liturgical changes and became widespread in the medieval West. This icon dates from the last quarter of the 12th century.

The Kastoria icon imbues the traditional Virgin Hodegetria with heightened emotion found also in hymns and sermons, especially after Iconoclasm. Her sorrowful expression and furrowed brow suggest that she foresees her son’s death. On Mary’s grief at the Crucifixion, the ninth-century bishop George of Nicomedia wrote,Who will enumerate the arrows that penetrated her heart? Who will recount in words her pains that are beyond words?” His sermon served as the lesson on Good Friday when this icon was displayed during the church service commemorating Christ’s Crucifixion.

https://www.nga.gov/features/byzantine/virginmanofsorrows.html

PROMISE OF HOPE

arkansas, art, Christmas, Creativity, Faith, Icons, Painting, poverty, purpose, Spirituality, Stations of the Cross, Uncategorized

Today is an official snow day here in our town. While other parts of our state got up to 5 inches of the fluffy white stuff, we got a mere dusting. However, our temperatures fell into the low teens with wind chills in the single digits. Those of you from our northern states might think we’re silly, but our schools don’t have heating systems adequate for these temperatures and our school buses don’t have special tires for icy back roads. I’m not leaving for nothing!

Today is a good studio day, since the sunshine is bright here in my sixth floor home overlooking the lake. I’m working on a new icon of the entombed Christ. These take a common form of the figure in repose, with the eyes closed as if in sleep, but the viewer reads the image as the sleep of death. The compact body lacks all physical power, so the truth of death is real. Christ doesn’t pretend to die, but suffers death for all creation.

We in the western world have limited the new creation to humanity, but scripture speaks of a renewal of this world at the Great Day of the Lord:

“But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” ~~ 2 Peter 3:13

Too many today are waiting for God’s destruction of this world so they can get on to the better world beyond. Instead, the icon of the entombment calls us to grieve over this world and hear the Easter call to make it new and fresh again.

When Good Friday’s sadness leads us to the joy of Easter’s resurrection, we discover the same cycle works out in our own life also. Most of us want only to go from joy to joy, but we forget the power of suffering. The prophets saw suffering as an opportunity for change and transformation, as well as hope. If we meditate on the entombment icon, we’ll hear the call to bring hope to the poor, justice to the marginalized, and joy to the suffering.

If we go from Christmas to Easter, we’ll always celebrate the festivities and parades. If we never look at the flight into Egypt, we miss the refugee holy family bearing the gifts from the three kings. If we only eat the hot cross buns, we dismiss the suffering servants of every age and every continent. If we only celebrate our success and prosperity in Christ, we are complicit in the suffering of our world and our failure to be God’s co-creators in the New and better world.

As an artist, I’m always creating a “new thing,” so perhaps this is why God’s message about humanity’s role in caring for the world and our neighbors, no matter where they are, is important to me. This painting will look different when I put the blues and greens on it, but right now it looks like a blaze of sunshine! I hope you will be a ray of sunshine in your corner of the world today.

HOW DID A SAINT BECOME A SANTA?

art, Children, Christmas, Civil War, Faith, generosity, Icons, Imagination, Love, photography, poverty, purpose, Spirituality

Once upon a time, Bishop Nicholas of the Greek Orthodox Church was known for his charity to the poor and other good deeds. After his death, enough miracles in his name elevated him to sainthood. People began to give gifts to others in his name to celebrate his feast day, December 6th.

Later on, the gift giving at Christmas became more important. After Clement Moore’s 1823 Poem, A Night Before Christmas, the visit of “Old Saint Nick” came alive in children’s imagination. With Thomas Nast’s Illustrations during the Civil War era, Old Saint Nick transformed into Santa Claus.

Of course, even though the two were once one person, their personalities are different. Everybody loves Santa Claus. He embodies holiday cheer, happiness, fun, and gifts—warm happy aspects of the Christmas season. How do Santa Claus and St. Nicholas differ?

Santa Claus belongs to childhood;

St. Nicholas models for all of life.

Santa Claus, as we know him, developed to boost Christmas sales—the commercial Christmas message;

St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the hope-filled Christmas message.

Lorenzetti—Saint Nicholas giving gold to a poor family

Santa Claus encourages consumption;

St. Nicholas encourages compassion.

Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time;

St. Nicholas is part of the communion of saints, surrounding us always with prayer and example.

Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole;

St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.

Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem;

St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.

Santa Claus isn’t bad;

St. Nicholas is just better.

We can actually keep the spirit of both Santa and the Saint all year long if we keep the joy of giving and receiving gifts to all, especially by giving to those who have less than we have.

If we keep the love of all persons in our hearts, then we’re loving as God loves us, for this is how the saints love the world. Even Santa loves all the world like this—really! Does any child ever get coal in their stocking? No! This is only a grownup threat to make the child behave. All children get a Santa gift, for the “Santas” in the community will make it happen, for they are the Saints who walk among us.

I want to thank the folks at the St. Nicholas Center for this idea. They have good resources for teachers for downloading. Check them out. I found the images on google search.

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/compare-santa-st-nicholas/

The Fairy Nativity: A Simple Christmas

Creativity, home, Imagination, photography, purpose, renewal, Uncategorized, vision

“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 holy family 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

fairy mountains cappadocia

fairy mountains Cappadocia

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!