Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Train Up a Child . . . Or Not

boxes 1My mother was a big Mark Twain fan.  She had the collected works.  I think she memorized The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  The reason I think this is because she was a genius at getting me to do things by making them look fun, kind of like whitewashing a fence.

She had me ironing small items when I was so little, I had to stand on a chair.  She also taught my sister and me, very painstakingly and at a very early age, to wrap gifts, and she did not wrap a single present again for the rest of her life.  This is genius.

Of course, it can backfire.  It’s because of my mother that I never iron anything if I can help it, preferring to look like someone who sleeps in her clothes.  I tried to convince my own offspring that ironing was more fun than Chuck E. Cheese, if that establishment had white-hot bits on which a child could, with care, be severely burned.  It didn’t work.  My own kids laughed like maniacs and informed me that I could buy fabrics that never need ironing.  They knew this stuff when they were four.  I think it’s one of the things they teach on Sesame Street.  “Buy polyester, kids; it never needs ironing.”

 Wrapping Christmas presents was a different matter.  Wrapping presents is a wonderful form of artistic expression that is all the better for being ephemeral.  I fold and crease and tuck with painstaking precision.  I will not give in to the siren-song of the gift bag, the temptation to shove some tissue paper on top of that carefully-chosen gift and call it quits.   (Unless the carefully chosen gift is round.  Round things were not meant to be wrapped. That is why we do not give people cantaloupes.)

I have obsessed over Christmas wrapping for so long that I never once gathered my offspring and tenderly taught them to make a decent triangular fold.

boxes 2Once in a while I’d incorporate their tiny fingers, temporarily, in a knotted bow, but when it came to wrapping, I was on my own.

Now, of course, I reap what I have sown, since only one of them can figure out how to cover even the most rectangular of objects with colorful paper and ribbon.  The youngest daughter routinely creates packages that look like her dog wrapped them, with ribbon covered in goo and tape over more of the surface area than the actual wrapping paper.  She takes pride in this.  As for the Boy, he has eschewed the utility of boxes, preferring to wrap things naked.  He has taught us that it is possible to wrap a set of maracas in such a way that they look exactly like a set of maracas, covered in tape.  ¡Qué sorpresa!

Now people who should be ironing my shirts and wrapping my presents are showing up with bags of unwrapped items and hopeful expressions.  This is not how it’s supposed to work, and I feel that somewhere Out There my mother is shaking her head in disappointment.   “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” she would say.  Well, unless you’re teaching the kid to iron.

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Incarnation!

For the first Christmas ever, we have none of our children with us.  The girls are with their other families, and their brother has to work.  Last night was a bit lonely after Christmas Eve service, although texting with the Boy made it easier.

This is the cat's eye nebula.  I think God looks a lot like this.

This is the cat’s eye nebula. I think God looks a lot like this.

This morning, though, in the unaccustomed freedom, I feel thankful and peaceful.  It gives me a little time to think about the mysterious, scandalous, hard-to-believe point of Christmas – the incarnation, God-With-Us, Emmanuel.

The tendency of some Christians to Easterize Christmas has always annoyed me – cards with babies reaching out for instruments of torture, for instance, or the shadows of rafters making a cross over a tiny child.  Listen, just because we already know the end of the story doesn’t mean we jump to it first.

Take a deep breath.  Let the crucifixion go for a moment.  Think about incarnation, what it means.  The Word became flesh, John said, and dwelt among us.  And we beheld his glory, as of the only begotten of Father, full of grace and truth.

The scandal of Christianity is this Word-Made-Flesh, God choosing to intersect humanity as a human, born of a human woman, needy as any baby.  God chose to enter God’s own creation.  Stop right there.  I know you jumped to Easter, but don’t.  God chose to enter God’s own creation as a creature.

One summer day (forget carols about the bleak midwinter), God put God’s self into history, into time, and into humanity.  God arrived like all humans, with an expiration date.  God arrived like all humans, helpless and empty, waiting to be taught.  If we strip away the Christian-speak for a moment, we can think about it like this:  the infinite Creator, fathomless and timeless and incomprehensible, a being beyond all knowing or understanding, became one of us, so that God could make God comprehensible to minds that are finite, stuck in time, brief flickers of understanding.

That is Incarnation, the mystery we celebrate with lights, tinsel, gifts, music.  God could not watch God’s creation struggle and cry out in fear and do nothing, so God intervened.  In characteristic fashion, God did not intervene with divine wrath, punishment, and turning people to charcoal; God put God’s self on the line, knowing that there was only one way out of that body.  Now we know what God looks like.

He looks like a baby.

Merry Christmas.

Advent-ures Part Three

This past week leading up to Christmas was not the week I’d planned; you’d think I’d learn.  As our party was winding down Monday night, something in my body was winding up, and I lost four whole days to it, whatever it was.  It could be my own gallbladder trying to murder me, but by  the time I actually went to the doctor (Friday) to rule out gallbladder disease, heart attack, etc., everything checked out okay.

“Okay” does not get my four days back.

I had things to do, shopping to finish, meals to fix for the fam, games to play, carols to sing, services to attend.  My body said, “No, we’re going to hang out upstairs and alternate between pain, sickness, and sleep.  Got that?”

(This is why, BTW, if you happen to be on our Christmas Card list, you will be getting a card from us a bit late.  Sorry.  It was on the list of things to do Tuesday, when I mostly crept around trying to pretend like the worst was over.)

Here’s the thing, though.  Stuff went on without me.  My Beloved and kids had a great time together.  They cooked, watched football, played some dance game on Jeff’s Kinnect.

Their big project, though, was to make a gingerbread . . . Death Star.

When I hesitantly ventured downstairs, I discovered a space station on our dining room table, under construction in a stainless steel bowl.  It had toothpicks for scaffolding.  Nearby, a bunch of disproportionally huge TIE fighters could be found in formation on a plate, with a couple of them looking like they’d been scorched in battle.  Two big X-wing fighters had marshmallow jets on the back.   A number of other “wings” had a severely nibbled look, and something that could have been part of a spaceship or Jabba the Hutt had been iced and then mostly eaten.

 Image

Other people’s kids make traditional gingerbread houses, with peppermint doorknobs, Necco wafer roofs, gumdrop landscaping, etc.  MY children make a gingerbread copy of the Death Star from Return of the Jedi, AND they blow it up.  They also made TIE fighters and X-wing fighters from the same movie.  The nondescript, mostly eaten thing in the previous paragraph turned out to be a gingerbread analog of Jek Porkins, the X-wing pilot whose tragic death in the first movie in no way offsets his hilarious name.

If, upon reading this, you expect the kids to be, oh, about twelve, you’d be off by better than a hundred percent.  Three of them are 25, and one is 21. In years lived, they represent 96.  In maturity, they are somewhere between kindergarten and Yoda.

I’m not sure I have a point, except to say that this has not been our traditional Christmas in any sense.  I missed a lot of stuff that I thought, on Monday, was essential.  It turns out, the essential things happened a couple of thousand years ago, and this other stuff is just our culture’s way of saying “Woo-hoo!” The cultural layering doesn’t really make much of a difference, no matter what I might have thought a week ago.

What matters is that Love has come into the very world He created  —  not for some, or for just me, or for people who think a certain way, but for everybody.  Done.  Finished.  Consider yourselves loved, for you are.  Merry Christmas!

Advent-ures, Part One

One of the problems with blogging is that one gets self-conscious after a while, and then has to shut up. I’ve been shut up for long enough. I’ve been reading Barbara Bash’s wonderful little book, True Nature. It is her journal (drawings and words) of four retreats that she took at a cabin in upstate New York. I read it periodically, when I want to refocus my own life and can’t quite get out of town. I took it with me when I went on my own retreat on the river this summer.

That seems impossibly long ago, now. Semesters define my life, and here in the middle of the holiday season, I long for some sort of retreat. My Advent reading this morning was about peace – and about how it isn’t just the absence of conflict and upheaval, but it’s also the state of the soul that trusts God and remains balanced in the middle of conflict and upheaval.

Yep, that’s what I want. Peace that stays unfazed by schedules, end-of-term grading, dozens of emails from college students who want grace and mercy to replace personal responsibility. (Dang. I want grace and mercy to replace personal responsibility, too. The hypocrisy doesn’t escape me, believe me. )

Sometimes I get really irritated with Barbara Bash. She puts a lot of pressure on herself during her retreats, which kind-of defeats the purpose, and she’s afraid of the dark. She allows that fear to eat into the daylight hours. The world out there in the dark is the same world that is out there in the light, (except in our neighborhood, there are way more skunks in the dark). It’s a fear I don’t understand.

But then I remember the things I’m afraid of, with failure right up there on top of the list. The Christmas season always seems to hold multiple opportunities for failure, and not just the typical ones about meeting other people’s expectations or not. The real failure I’m always afraid of is that I will let the season go past and fail to really experience Advent in a deep way. That happens, too, so it’s not like I’m afraid of something that never quite materializes.

I do a lot of yoga. Inverted on my sticky mat, I think of Barbara and her way of following the breath when she is anxious or frightened. I think about my journal (untouched for most of the semester) and my blog (ditto) and feel things start to tighten up. Fail! My breath turns shallow and fast, and I start to sympathize with her unwillingness to walk out into the dark. I’m not real excited about picking up my pen, my paints, or even sitting down at a keyboard.

But it’s Advent. Good things do come to those who wait, but only to those who wait expectantly, who allow themselves to pick up their tools, take a deep breath, and create. The fear can’t win.

 

 

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