Nor Thorns Infest the Ground!
A Christmas STIW
So there I was...
Yelling for help.
One of the things that I like best about being old, is getting to be on the other side of conversations. There are some family scenes that get passed through the generations. If you are lucky enough you get to eventually play all the parts. You are the child, then the parent then the wise ancient one. It is especially poignant when you get to take up the words of those who have left the planet. Christmas brings out many of these conversations.
Our family has one scene that may be a bit unusual. My father would walk in from the greenhouse...
“Peg, could you come, and bring your tweezers?” (later - get your glasses and tweezers)
“Coming!” I knew precisely what this meant.
My father harbored cacti. Despite all precautions they occasionally bit. He had one in particular that looked velvety, its spines deceptively small, but especially wicked. When it bit, there was nothing you could do for yourself. You needed a magnifying glass, tweezers, patience and a friend.
As I worked he always said the same thing.
“I don’t know why any human in their right mind would harbor such vicious creatures.”
My part was “You do it for the rare but spectacular bloom”
He would smile.
When he left the planet to pursue other opportunities I had decisions to make in the greenhouse. I am not as fond of cacti as he was. Some found new homes, but there were two, known for their regular blooming habits that when it came to it, I just couldn’t get rid of. They stayed by forbearance and I told them that if they bit - they were gone. I was bluffing.
So the other day when I walked into the house from the greenhouse, I used my special voice and called “Liv, could you get your glasses and some tweezers?” She replied “Coming!” and knew what had happened, and as she worked, I smiled and said “I don’t know why any human in their right mind would harbor such vicious creatures!” And she reminded me of their blooms.
And then I was sitting in waiting worship, and we sang
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”
And I knew then why we harbor the vicious. Not for the occasional blessing amid the pain but in expectant hope of the day when there will be no viciousness to be found.
As a Quaker I believe that this is both incremental and apocalyptic. I believe that we can live in the Kingdom here and now. In my house there is no human viciousness. Nor in my church. Nor in my classrooms. There is pain amidst blessings, but the blessings are ridiculously abundant. I believe that in the world there are more people working for good than evil. The tipping point can come, it will come.
And I also believe, call me old or naïve, I care not, that God has promised a restored world, a second Eden, beyond the metaphorical.
And in that hope I harbor, nurture, treasure, even the wicked and vicious. Someday I may walk out to the greenhouse and find blooms without spines.
Merry Christmas, Daddy, where ever you are.
The spiritual discipline of Enough -a seasonal repeat
A corollary to Christmas Rehab
(A post which is not for everyone - but if it is for you - you will know it)
Well, we are almost there. You are doing fine. The house isn’t perfect but it looks very inviting and comfortable. You sent a few cards and there is still time to bake a few cookies. You are charged with the duty of creating a feeling of faith, joy and abundance. I know how seriously you take that charge. You want to balance the spiritual and the cultural. You want them to be able to enjoy both. You want Light in the darkness. You want home and hearth. You want a connection to the past, participation in the present and hope of the future. You want Peace.
But there is a familiar but unwanted visitor in your heart. It always shows up about now. It doesn’t usually stay long. The actual celebration has a way of melting it away. But while it is here it is quite uncomfortable. It is itchy. Anxious. Fidgety. It asks annoying questions.
“Have you done enough?”
“Have you done the right things?”
“Are you sure?”
It makes you do things; like count presents - many times. It seems to care a great deal about equality - at least economic and physical equality. Will the children understand that fewer things of greater quality equal more things of lesser monetary value?
It can turn an unexpected gift into a quandary. If reciprocation was not in your budget, what do you do? It is hard to even enjoy the gift if the paper it is wrapped in is emotional obligation.
It causes you to feel uneasy about the progression of time as it is represented physically. When it is time to send small family gift to your friends who are doing so well, and whose children are not children anymore, you feel as if the natural transition is somehow a shrinking of your care or attention.
If you have the means it tempts you to just keep shopping, using the scatter shot approach. If you put many things before your loved ones your chances of have a “hit” on the joy meter increases.
If you have not such means, then it surrounds your choices with fear. The stakes seem high and you dread making a poor choice.
You even worry about this worry. You wonder if this concern in your breast is evidence of the encroachment of consumerism and a materialistic outlook.
If you let this feeling rule you, by the Day after Christmas you will be emotionally exhausted, and depression will follow.
So what is to be done?
The first thing to do is to name it. I call it Giver’s Doubt.
The next thing to do is to remember that this is an old acquaintance.
But its dire warnings and insidious doubts have rarely proven to be trustworthy. You have been happy when the cattle were fat, and when they were lean, you did ok. No one who loves you thinks of you as one who is neglectful or thoughtless. Your track record is solid. There is no reason to believe that you will fail now.
This feeling is not your enemy. It is not evidence of corruption or failing. This feeling is the evidence that you have taken up your charge with sincerity. People who are truly careless, truly neglectful never feel this feeling. Some people do get beyond this feeling, they get to a place where it doesn’t come around much anymore.
But you need to respond to this feeling. You must speak to your doubt.
Start by reminding yourself of the priorities.
Abundance. Faith. Joy.
Look about you. Is there a sense of abundance? There are so many ways to make plenty. For a week or so (and only that) feed yourself and everyone else better. Make the time to share memories, and hopes, and kindnesses - to those you love and strangers you meet. Bring out all the pretty things. Hang up all the cards. Lots of color. Plenty of light. Be bold. Be generous.
Is there a sense of Faith. Have you built in time for worship? Music that feeds you? Do you have physical reminders of the story around you? The spirit of the Christmas holiday is about being present. God is with us. We spend a lot of spiritual time trying to live up to being Image Bearers - we want to be more like Christ - of course we do. But on Christmas it is good to remember that He wanted to be like us. He didn’t need us to be better before He joined our team. Share that message wherever you can by being really present to people.
And where is the Joy? What makes you laugh? Do some of that. You cannot give what you do not have. If you do not enjoy yourself, you won’t be able to create a place for joy in your home.
Remember that Christmas was about accepting limits. The Infinite climbed inside the finite and accepted its limitations. The Baby Jesus didn’t get much done on that first Christmas except suckle and wet His swaddling clothes. I don’t suppose his momma did much either.
You have limits: emotional limits, physical limits, financial limits. Find out where they are and live inside them, not just beyond them. It is the Spiritual Discipline of Enough.
The reason for mastering this Discipline is that this feeling is not confined to Christmas, nor celebrations in general. It will come around when your children leave home. Do you do enough? Did you do too much? Did you do the right things? Will it be OK for them? And it will come around when you finish caring for your parents, and at the end of your own days if you are blessed to have time for reflection.
So make yourself a cup of tea. Take a deep breath and say: “It is enough.” Say that as many times as you need to. “I have remembered and honored abundance, faith and joy. I accept as He did, and does, my limitations. It is enough.”