You’ve probably heard me tell this story about living in Colombia. At least in el Valle del Cauca, the state where I grew up, there is a colorful tradition for New Year’s Eve. It starts right after Christmas Day, when children in small villages stop traffic and ask for donations. They make a man of straw and fill him with firecrackers. They get a papier mache head ( it too is filled with straw and firecrackers) and wheedle an old suit from a neighbor or dad. For a couple of days, the old guy sits out in front of the house or on the main square of the town. Close to midnight on the 31st, everyone gathers around him and some member of the community (sometimes even the mayor of the town), dressed in drag in widow’s weeds shows up in high drama. On the stroke of midnight that Año Viejo, the old sucker, is blown sky-high. He usually leaves a last testament written in verse and and read with great fanfare and laughter. And then the party goes on.
I love the symbolism, love the recognition that in the midst of hardship and suffering one should not get overly sentimental about another year that has ended. There have been years in my own life that felt like they were only good for blowing up when they’d finally ended. With all its sadness, all that changed out from under me in 2012, I couldn’t blow up this year. For today, it seems enough to recognize there are some pieces of my life that are now in the past and best left there. I stumbled on something in the past few weeks that I copied and put away for use maybe in a sermon, or maybe just to read. It seems a fitting way to look at this in-between day.
For Those Who Have Far to Travel
An Epiphany Blessing
If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
as it comes into
There is nothing
but to go
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond what would
from the way.
There are vows
that only you
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
you could not
Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;
each choice creates
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
the gift that only you
before turning to go
Jan Richardson, Painted Prayerbook (http://paintedprayerbook.com/2011/12/31/epiphany-blessing-for-those-who-have-far-to-travel/#.UOGCQ6WLYco)
Tonight at the usual time and in the usual way, I will put on my shoes and head out to keep walking. I will try, in the words of Jan Richardson, “to be faithful to the next step”. I am less sure than ever before of where I am heading even though I am certain that the grace, the love and the hope are still to be found in the walking.
Happy New Year, friends, and all manner of blessings be with you and yours.
So it’s time to get serious in preparation for the half marathon I’m going to walk in. Saturdays are going to be the days for building endurance. Today I am walking seven miles, starting at All Saints, going down to A1A and over the 17th St Causeway, up US1, across to 3rd Ave and over the 3rd Ave bridge and then down Las Olas to All Saints. There may not be hills here like there are in B’ham but at least we have the bridges…Woot Woot!
If you see me, wave!
Update: 2:09 Pace 3.2 mph.
WordPress, the platform for this blog, provides the blog administrator some information about readership in a section called “Dashboard”. I just on the link that tells me the country/ies of origin for readers of the blog and this is what came up for February 20, 2012 to today. Pretty amazing. I know some of the people who come check in on this blog at least occasionally. There are so many more I don’t. Whoever you are, thank you.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||4|
|Macedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic||2|
|Republic of Korea||2|
|United Arab Emirates||1|
Christmas in Cali, the city where I was born, was something else. “La Feria de Cali” began on the 25th of December and lasted for 8 days. It marked the opening of the bullfighting season—too barbaric for our Swedish family, but woven into the very fabric of life in our city and our experience of Christmas. There were street parties all over town each night, wonderful food sold by vendors on the street, the Ferris Wheel came to town, there were lights everywhere, and music, non stop music. Every sense got its own party and celebration.
I was so much a child of privilege. One of the rites of passage for young people in my family’s circle of friends was the first invitation to a “Novena Bailable”. The nine days before Christmas were celebrated in a way similar to the Mexican observance of the Posadas. Different members of a single family or close circle of friends would take turns hosting an evening of prayer, song, drinking and eating. When you were thirteen or fourteen, you started getting invited to a slightly different version of these gatherings. The novenas bailables began with prayer but very quickly became dances that went on pretty late into the night. After the 25th, the parties no longer involved prayer and most were called “remates de corrida” (literally, the “finishing touches” of a bullfight). Except for the prayer, the pattern was the same: dancing, a meal at midnight, a fair amount of drinking and lots and lots of laughter. It wasn’t hard to go to a party every single night from the 16th of December to the 6th of January.
By the time I was 15, I was going to parties where young people my age were served weak alcoholic beverages and I have an image in my mind of waiters coming through in their smokings, weaving their way among the crowds of teenagers in our formal clothes, serving hors d’oevres and “Ron Con Coca Cola”. One of the very typical delicacies at those parties were grapes that had been hand peeled and seeded (I had never tasted a seedless grape until I came to college in the US), then glazed in sugar. Biting through the crunchy exterior to the sweet-tartness of the grape inside when you were hot and thirsty from all the dancing was pure decadence and sin.
One Christmas, probably when I was 16, my brother, Hans, and I were invited to a remate de corrida at Gilanda and Raymond Miezelis’ house. Gilanda was one year behind Hans and one year ahead of me; her brother Raymond was in my class. They were some of the ultra cool kids of our school—beautiful, sophisticated, really, really popular. I was surprised that my parents allowed us to go.
I had been tutoring a little kid that year and with my money had figured out a way to buy a blouse that my mom wouldn’t have dreamed of getting for me. It was short sleeved, with a strap that threaded through the middle of the neckline and was tied in knot. Depending on how tightly you tied it, the neckline was more or less revealing. Each year, my grandmother would send a piece of fabric for my Christmas outfit and that year she sent a particularly beautiful piece of red silk with a lovely, understated floral pattern. I had chosen to have a long, very simple skirt made with it. I wore my new blouse and that wonderfully sensuous and luxurious silk skirt to the party.
The night of the Miezelis’ party, I was careful with the neckline and how I tied that little strap in the middle, careful enough to pass muster with my mom. However, as soon as I got in darkness of the back seat of our car, I tied it a whole lot tighter. My mom either didn’t notice or looked the other way and I walked into the party feeling beautiful. We had a great time. Hans and I had a wonderful circle of friends and I can remember dancing and dancing and dancing. The Miezelis’ house had a lovely terrace and it was one of those typical tropical nights that just kiss your skin. We danced to a lot of different kinds of music—Salsa, Spanish “Paso Dobles”, Rock.
My mom had agreed to let us stay at the party until 2:00 AM and just a few minutes before she was coming to pick us up, the DJ played “I’d Love You to Want Me” by Lobo. There were a lot of people I didn’t know at the party. I was aware of one guy who I thought was particularly handsome but I had no clue who he was and wasn’t about to be gauche enough to ask. I was stunned because when the piece started playing, he came up to me, took my hand and led me out to dance. It was perfect. We fit against each other perfectly, he led me perfectly. The music was just the perfect volume, the lights were the perfect dimness. Oh dear Lord, it was all so perfect. When the song ended, my big brother, who was shooting darts on fire at me with his eyes, came up and commanded me to go out with him to wait for my mom in the driveway. This person I had just danced with and I never said a word. I never saw him again and I never even tried to find out his name–I didn’t need to.
My mom had not put the car into gear before my brother began excoriating me for “dancing that way” with someone I did not know, and even worse, someone who Hans didn’t know either. He turned to my mom and bawled her out for allowing me to go out dressed so suggestively. I sat in the back of the car and didn’t say a word. Everything my overly-possessive brother said only confirmed that something had really happened. I was powerful and alive in a way that I had only half-imagined, half-hoped I would ever be. I was myself without the doubts.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties and read Fear of Flying by Erica Jong that I finally got more words to put around what that experience taught me. There’s layers and layers of life that make up who I am now and I’ve discovered strength in other ways. I know as well that vulnerability and weakness are every bit as much a part of my existence as the power I discovered that night. But incarnation (with a lower case “i”) as it was lived out in those palaces of privilege I grew up in, did help to shape my notion of Incarnation. In this season when we celebrate that the Word was made flesh, those memories are part of what allows me to say unequivocally, that it is good, it is very good, to be of flesh as well as the spirit.
This is what it looks like.
Even more important, these men allow people from All Saints and St Ambrose and El Centro–the New River Regional Ministry–to be their church, their community, their brothers and sisters on a clear, lovely warm morning in South Florida. The light shines…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
We know the story so well. During the reign of the emperor Augustus a decree went out that all the people of the Roman Empire must register for ia census. A man, Joseph, from the House of David, and his betrothed, Mary, who was with child, went from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Joseph’s ancestors. While they were there, it came time for Mary to deliver her child. When this child whom she called Jesus had been born, Mary laid him in a manger because there was no room at the inn. Shepherds watching their sheep by night looked up in the sky and saw an angel proclaiming the miracle of this holy birth and then more and more appeared till the heavens were filled with a host of angels who sang hymns to glorify the Lord for the birth of the most holy child.
Thousands of years later, as we have year after year, we stop and in the magnificent words of the Gospel of John remind ourselves, What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I have been thinking a lot about light and dark, recently. If you take a flight into Fort Lauderdale Airport on a clear night and are landing from West to East, you will go over the Everglades for several minutes and if you are sitting at a window, you will see dark and darker shades of dark slip past you in the night. Then suddenly, up ahead, there is a line like a line drawn in the sand, a seemingly endless trail of light that extends as far as the eye can see in either direction. If you are like me, there’s a sense of relief that the journey is almost over.
During the final approach, when the plane is so low you could reach out and touch those stars glittering below you, it is likely that you will see one light that towers above the others, that dims all the rest, a hard and calculating light that flashes and beckons endlessly, a light that illuminates the darkness and yet, turns out to be a light that reveals nothing and leaves nothing to the imagination. It is the Hard Rock Casino on 441 and when I have seen that light I have to ask myself: is it in the light that I find my hope or is it in the darkness?
Surely, the question had to be asked in the days of Jesus’ birth. I imagine that there were places all through the Roman Empire where light shone more brightly than anywhere else, places where the crowds were gathered, where the dresses were a little flashier and the laughter a little louder, where there was more wine and fancier food and amazing art. There were also places of darkness like the Everglades, that no one wanted to go near, places that roiled with the mystery of the wilderness and the unexpected.
The Roman Empire was thriving and if nothing else, people knew what to expect, and how to behave, where to go and how to get there. There was order. It’s just that there was something else too. Someone far more eloquent than I has said that the Romans made synonyms of order and desolation (1). It was the order that is possible only with fear and oppression. It was the order of those who conquered and those forced to submit, winners and losers.
We can safely assume that the Son of God was born in relative darkness, that the shepherds who visited strained to see this Christ child because the fire that burned that night in the stable was small and cast as many shadows as light. I bet the fire was as weak and improbable as the tiny child who lay in the manger.
And yet. And yet it was there, it was precisely there, that all the hopes, all the promises, all the possibilities of creation were made manifest in their full glory. While surely there were –people partying, living it up, maybe even casting lots—in Rome, on a cold, dark night in Bethlehem, a young family gave quiet testimony to another possibility.
The Gospel of John tells us, What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
That night in Bethlehem, when order and desolation were one, in the darkness that was the darkness of God, the gift was the gift of life—life with all its mess, confusion and complexity. Life was the gift. Life was the light. And that light who we call Jesus, would not have amounted to much of anything if it had not called others—others like you and I—to itself, into the kind of life that respects darkness as dark as the Everglades and light as seemingly insignificant as the light we are capable of casting in this place tonight. The light we call Emmanuel extended an invitation to a life of decency. Of generosity. Of hospitality. Of hope—not some gauzy, hazy version of magical thinking—but the kind of hope that makes people not quit, that allows them to forgive, to risk trying something new or to try again. A life not of consumption but of holiness.
It is an infinitely fragile light, always at risk of being extinguished. It is a flame that casts long shadows, shadows that God can move in and create anew, surprising us and making life out of death (2). It is a light dependent on individual lives and daily choices. It is a light that we are all woven into on this dark and lovely and unsettling night. The true light still shines. It shines and the darkness has not over come it.
(1) Marilynn Robinson–http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20121210JJ.shtml
(2) Rainer Maria Rilke–Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy