Category Archives: Christmas

It Begins with a Howl

 It begins with a cry            

      a muffled sob at midnight

      a “Help me!” filling the dark    alley with terror

      a fist banging on the door

      a numb, blank stare and a      hand, clenching and     unclenching a ball of tissue       

 a sudden lurch and collapse, facedown in the open field

This is how it begins, what we call Christmas.

Salvation is summoned by its negation.

The Savior is called forth by the raw expression
of the creation’s need,

the howl
that rises from the shattering
collision of what is with what should be.

Christmas begins when God hears

 And God heard the voice of the boy… Gen 21:17

I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Ex 3:7

Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Luke 1:13

Christmas begins when God sees

I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt.  Ex 3:7

My tears will flow without ceasing, without respite until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees. Lamentations 3: 49-50

She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, “You’re the God who sees me!” “Yes, he saw me; then I saw him!” That’s how the desert spring got named God-Alive-Sees-Me Spring. Genesis 16: 13-14

Christmas begins when the earth turns, writhes, and lifts up its lamentation. When the protest of the human heart joins its sorrow with the heart of the One acquainted with grief,


you step out of the forest
and into the clearing
to place in our hands

a child
wet and wild.

Here is my answer, you say.
And the name of the child is


Waiting: The Surrender

Part Four of Four Parts

The earth, muffled with snow, goes about its hidden preparation for spring. Silence spreads over the land. Our pace slows with the burden we are blessed to bear. The angel with his face of fire and his wings is now a dim memory. God has become a long, low hum, a slow pulsing throb. We, like the inside of a struck gong vibrating peace, wait.

The fox in the woods stops in its tracks and sits up listening – still. The hawk on the wing wheels in a broad circle, glides down a current, and settles on the post -still. The chickadee at the feeder lifts and tilts its head listening – still.

Then it comes. Wrenching pain pierces us like a sword in the belly. We collapse to our knees and crouch in the darkness. Impaled by the circumstances of our lives and God’s call to us we embrace the cross of Christ. Extended far beyond our feeble powers, such bearing is more than we can do. With each new contraction we lose our nerve and cower like Peter saying,”I don’t know nothin’ bout no man named Savior.

Now we may recall Jesus’ question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” And we had boasted like idiots, “We are able!” We had no idea what would be asked. Between contractions we pray, “If it be your will, remove this cup from me. But not my will, but yours.”

To entrust ourselves to the will of God at the very moment when we feel most alone and in the most pain requires us to have come to the absolute end of our own will and resources. What makes such a thing possible? How could Mary persevere? How did Paul in prison and facing death continue to preach the gospel?

Perhaps it was their surrender, their sense that something larger than themselves had taken hold of them. An ax had been laid at their roots. A furious whirlwind had shaken and blasted them. Now all in them that was chaff was burning in an unquenchable fire. Finally, exhausted from resisting they say, “Yes, yes. You are in charge. You are God. I love you. I trust you. I don’t like or understand this, but I give myself to you however you want me. My will and desires die to yours.”

A birth is not something one does as much as submits to. Processes set in motion long ago now come to fuller expression. One’s being is given over to a life and purpose beyond itself. The best thing to do is simply hold still, breathe with the pain and wait between contractions.

The Greek word used in the Bible for wait is hypomenein. It means “to stay behind, to stand still, and to hold out.” Hypomenein includes in its nuances to cleave to God in simple, quiet confident waiting as well as to endure, stand fast, persevere; and it includes courageous active resistance to hostile attack.

Wait in the New Testament refers to the endurance that is given for the realization of the kingdom. It is the basic attitude of the Christian as we face the attacks of a hostile and unbelieving world and as we find ourselves in the midst of temptations. The power to persevere is drawn from faith and hope.

Our wills, knowledge, or technology have no power to bring about salvation, wrote Simone Weil:

The role of humanity is to wait . . . The attitude that brings about salvation is not like any form of activity. . . . It is the waiting or attentive and faithful immobility that lasts indefinitely and cannot be shaken. The slave, who waits near the door so as to open immediately the master knocks, is the best image of it. He must be ready to die of hunger and exhaustion rather than change his attitude…We just have to wait for the solution. . . . Seeking leads us astray. This is the case with every form of what is truly good. [We] should do nothing but wait for the good and keep evil away. (Waiting for God, 195-6)

Might you be entrusted with a task to match the largeness of your soul? Could you, like Mary, tell your cousin, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant”? Is such heroism only for martyrs in foreign lands, prophets defying oppressive governments, and saints whose lives trace truth in their own blood? Of course, not.

“What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?” asks German theologian, Meister Eckhart. (1260-1329)

If you are summoned by an angel, if you find your heart stretched big with some unnameable love with a mind of its own, eat your broccoli. Remember my friend at the beginning of this series, who hoped to live long enough to see her thirteen year old son parent  his own teenager?  (Waiting: Broccoli and Perserverance.) Take your vitamins. Stay focused on your goal. Wait. Trust. It will be worth it just to be around on the day of the Lord, however long it takes.

This post adapted from the author’s book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Loretta (Ross-Gotta) F. Ross, Sheed & Ward, 2000.
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Waiting: The Threats

Part Three of Four Parts

Maybe there will be a miscarriage. Maybe the child will be ill or damaged. Maybe nothing will happen, and I have made this all up. The demons slink in and taunt, harass, confuse, lie, and distort. Feeding on our fear, they float in our minds like bloated carcasses.

Impatience, fueled by fear and lack of faith, has resulted in many an aborted Christ child. Dreams, wrenched too soon from the womb of God’s providence, die torn and bleeding in the back rooms of our souls. Fearing that the Promised One cannot be trusted to save us from ourselves, we join the tribe of those who attempt to seize the kingdom by violence.

Yet the promise always comes in the context of threats, writes biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann.

The land of promise is never an eagerly waiting vacuum anticipating Israel. Nor is it an unambiguous arena for faith. It is always filled with Canaanites. That is how the promise comes… It is the very land of promise, the purpose of the whole journey of faith, which causes the failure of nerve. . . .

God’s people always want to settle for something short of promises, because promises fulfilled remind Israel how vulnerable it is, how exposed it is, and how precarious it all is. Promiseless existence is safer. The Bible knows from the beginning that promises are always kept in the midst of threats. Tables are always prepared  “in the presence of my enemies”and if one would eat at the table, one must eat in the presence of enemies. The land is precisely for those and only for those who sense their precariousness and act in their vulnerability. (The Land, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1977, p 67-69)

Threats, in whatever form they come, tend to scare the wits out of us. We feel like puny grasshoppers compared to these giants. Possibly the greatest threat, according to Jesus, is the failure to believe, or the lack of faith. There is that time before the pregnancy shows and no one can tell what is inside, and even after one has something visible to point to, like a vision, a possibility, the first faint glimmerings of a new idea, when the actual outcome is shrouded in mystery, and the course of the life of the new one to be born is unknown to us. So we must nourish the invisible, the inklings, the suggestions, and the voice of some ethereal visitor who whispered something wondrous and unbelievable.

Whom could you tell? What would they think? Maybe your lover will understand and give his support. Maybe God will intervene in a dream. Maybe a wise old friend, whose own promise leaps in recognition of your promise, maybe the old cousin will understand.

But there is a long time of hours, days, months, and even years –year upon year, when much is hidden and only you sing in your heart of what is to come, the gift you will offer. And what to do until then?

Fall back on praise and being. Notice the leaf in the redbud tree outside your window, curled and brown crisp in the sun. Stand at sundown as the earth grows still and silence creeps into your heart like a cat and curls up and purrs.

“Blessed is she who believed that the word of the Lord would be fulfilled,” announces the cousin. Blessed are those who believe in the glad and amazing truth that sings in their hearts, trusting with Mary and her Son that all will be well and that they are highly favored.

Watch for the last installment, Part Four, of this series on waiting, The Surrender, coming soon.

This post adapted from the author’s book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Loretta (Ross-Gotta) F. Ross, Sheed & Ward, 2000.

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Christmas and the Recollected Soul

The ferocious intensity and strain that many of us bring to Christmas must suggest to some onlookers that, on the whole, Christians do not seem to have gotten the point of it.

“Without me you can do nothing,” said Jesus.  Yet we act, for the most part, as though without us, God can do nothing. We think we have to make Christmas come, which is to imply that we think we have to bring about the redemption of the universe on our own. However, all that God needs is a willing womb, a place of safety, nourishment and love. “Oh, but nothing will get done,” you say. “If I don’t do it, Christmas won’t happen.”

God asks us to give everything of ourselves away. The gift of greatest power that we can offer God and creation is not our skills, talents, or possessions. The wise men had their gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Paul and Peter had their preaching. Poor Mary had only interior space, love, belief – her being.

What is it that delivers Christ into the world? Is it preaching, art, writing, scholarship, social justice, mission? These are gifts well worth sharing, but preachers lose their charisma, scholarship grows pedantic, and justice alone cannot save us. When all other human gifts have met their inevitable limitation, it is the recollected one, the bold virgin with a heart in love with God who makes a sanctuary of her life, who delivers Christ, who then delivers us.

Recollection is an old-fashioned word, rarely heard anymore. In the spiritual sense recollection means quiet tranquility of mind and self-possession. Recollection is the gentle art of prayerful gathering in in preparation for deeper prayer. One calls back the scattered, fragmented self, strewn about one’s world like trash on a windy day. I pick up the pieces, sweep out the psychic debris, reorder the clutter and bring back to the center – wholeness. All about me that is frantic and frayed, dispersed helter skelter, leaving me anxious, confused and overwhelmed is drawn back.  I am no longer like a cracked and broken bowl which leaks and spills its contents, but I am mended and suitable once again for holding my life, for containing safely and serviceably who I am.

Try it. Leave behind your briefcase and notes and proof texts. Leave behind your honed skills and knowledge. Leave the Christmas decorations up in the attic. Go to someone in need and say, “Here, all I have is Christ.” And find out that is enough.

Imagine a Christmas service where the worshipers come in their holiday finery to find a sanctuary empty of all the glittering decorations, silent of holiday carols. What if this year you canceled the church decoration committee and the worship committee and called off the extra choir rehearsals and the church school pageant?

What if on Christmas Eve people came and sat in the dim pews and someone stood up and said, “Something happened here while we were all out at the malls, while we were baking cookies and fretting about whether we bought our brother- in- law the right gift. Christ was born. God is here.”?

We wouldn’t need the glorious choruses, the harp, the bell choir, and the organ. We wouldn’t need the tree strung with lights. We wouldn’t have to deny that painful dissonance between the promise and hope of Christmas and a world wracked with sin and evil. There wouldn’t be that embarrassing conflict over the historical truth of the birth stories and whether Mary was really a virgin. And no one would have to preach sermons to work up our belief.

All that would seem gaudy and shallow in comparison to the sanctity of that still sanctuary. And we, hushed and awed by something greater and wiser and kinder than we, would kneel of one accord in the stillness. A peace would settle over the planet like a velvet coverlet drawn over a sleeping child. The world would recollect itself and discover itself held in the womb of the Mother of God. We would be filled with all the fullness of God.

You might try a small experiment this year. Deliberately do not do something you usually do at Christmas. Choose something that feels like a burden, or is no longer a source of fun or delight. Instead of doing something, be something. Be womb. Be dwelling for God.

Be recollected.

Adapted from Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Loretta (Ross-Gotta) F. Ross, Sheed & Ward, 2000.
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Choosing Joy

Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images:
Today the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Within your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you.

      W.H. Auden, For the Time Being – A Christmas Oratorio 


Here it is: a choice – a nod, a hushed “yes,” a hearty “you betcha!” a desperate “Ok what else is there?” Our assent to what seems impossible sets in motion a radically different way of perceiving reality and living our lives.

Many say, “No, absolutely not, no way!” Others – “Well maybe, later, we’ll see.” Or, “I tried it. Nothing there for me.” One cannot fault them too much. We have all demurred, delayed, hemmed, hawed, and held out for what our senses and minds can deliver. One ought to hesitate, for a sword will pierce through your heart too. For this yes is not to a social security card, a 401k, or health insurance. This assent will require the suffering and sorrow that deep down, mature Love asks of us.

The angel, Gabriel, in W.H. Auden’s poem, holds out the choice and the promise that await Mary and us on the brink of a new year. This notion of choice has been a recurring theme in my prayer and study over the past year.

Moment by moment we get to choose. Perhaps it is obvious to you, but it just slays me.

An angel stands perpetually at the doorway of our hearts posing the question. “Will you conceive, apprehend, take hold of Christ?” What God has willed the angel to ask, our own will has to answer. A dozen times a day we may turn away and polish up our “no.” We embellish it with our needs, our way, our life, our opinions, our truth.

No matter what issue, conflict, trauma, joy, or disaster is unfolding before me I get to choose how I will respond and what sort of “meaning” I will give it. Will I conceive the promise of new life, possibility, and the presence and power of God in the mix of my life experience? Or will I play out some dead-end soap opera with those same sullen resentments and fears?

If I say yes, I assent to live in mystery, to let go of control and surrender to a power and wisdom greater than mine. I choose not to be an American idol, but rather a bit player in a story far more sweeping and magnificent than my own drama.

Come on now. Don’t quibble. Don’t make that angel stand out in the cold, you standing there clutching your worry and anxiety. Take a chance on Love. Go ahead in 2010 and choose the Child who is choosing you.

Get pregnant with Joy!




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The Shepherd’s Story


Once in the fields in a storm
hunched down in a cave
I saw a red tongue of fire
leap from the heavens
lick down a cedar,
and split it in two.

The cloven tree shuddered
and screeched
as it crashed to the ground,
like an animal in the jaw
of some great beast.


It wasn’t what you’d think –
lovely heavenly hosts
in neat rows and pretty song.

It was mostly wings and terror.

Cold night
stars like ice
fire down to coals
flock settled in the fold.

Some scattered for cover, crying
the world is ending
which it was,
but not the way you think.

Fear –
tomorrow’s frets
yesterday’s regrets –
that ember of anxiety
that never goes out
no matter how much religion
you throw at it –

fear rose up and choked me.

The great heaping clouds
of wings
and the Word that wrote itself
in the marrow of my bones
split me
into before and after
and left me puddled
on the ground
soaking into mystery.

Most don’t reckon the sheer terror
of God crashing into their lives.
I learned fear was not my enemy,
but a sign of His presence.

Ignorant and blind as a wood tick
on a lamb’s flank,
I’d been crawling
through a patch of fleece
and a bit of warm skin
without a clue
as to what is really going on.

I froze, stupefied.

The sovereign almighty God was asking
something of me,
God wanted me,
my will,
the way I held my world together in my
wood tick brain
my perceptions and understanding
my sense of competence,
my adequacy
seized and consumed by wings.

A master’s painting?
A Messiah chorus?
A quiet pastoral scene?

It was gasping for air,
trying to stay upright
with not a thing to hang onto.

What’s the Almighty to do –
all hobbled up with majesty
finally having to slip in the back
of the world
through a virgin’s womb?

It was Truth
taking aim
condensing its enormity –
its hosts and universes,
its fire and power and goodness –
and homing into me
like a dove returning to her nest
like a lamb turning to the breast.

It wasn’t what you’d think.
It was mostly wings and terror.

Then, something so plain
and ordinary,
a baby,
and a Love small enough
for me to carry.






For who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? Malachi 3:2
One Christmas I got a good dose of the awesome power of God. I wrote this poem in an attempt to describe that experience.  I love the way Annie Dillard puts it: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.”
May the Almighty God knock your socks off this Christmas!

When Hope Fails


Hope is what gets a lot of people through the Christmas season. And the failure of hope is what leaves some souls shipwrecked on the treacherous rocks of the sin and imperfection of this world.

What is it for you this year? Death of a loved one? Spouse in Afghanistan? Unemployed? House foreclosed? Cancer?

Hope is the presentiment that the imagination is more real, and reality less real, than we had thought. It is the sensation that the last word does not belong to the brutality of facts with their oppression and repression.  It is the suspicion that reality is far more complex than realism would have us believe, that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the present, and that miraculously and surprisingly, life is readying the creative event that will open the way to freedom and resurrection.  Rubem Alves

She was fourteen. She sat next to me as we drove home after the Christmas Eve service. Lights sparkled from distant homes across the snow covered fields. Shattered with pain and trying not to show it, I tried to focus on driving. After a while she spoke out of the darkness, “Mom, things aren’t ever going to be the same, are they?”

That year, our family had been struck by a blow from which we would never fully recover. In spite of  brave efforts, prayer, and sacrifice we could not put back together what was broken and, perhaps, fatally flawed.

During that season of suffering, hope became nearly eclipsed by fear, anger, shame, and pain. Each evening I turned briefly from my grief in defiance of “the brutality of facts with their oppression and repression,” and lit a candle for hope. Even though I felt no hope, I let the candle hold my hope for hope.

In those days I clung to the verse of scripture the minister preached at our wedding. Remember thy word to thy servant in which thou hast made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that thy word gives me life. Psalm 119: 49-50 What an odd text for a wedding, you may think. Yet as the years unfolded it became more and more meaningful. I prayed it, holding God accountable to the goodness promised to me in scripture and whispered to my soul. God’s promise of joy, peace, and love comforted me and gave me the ability to keep breathing in my affliction.

Carmelite writer Constance Fitzgerald writes about the movement in our spiritual journey from “naïve hope to theological hope.” Through experiences of loss and suffering, naïve hope in a Santa Claus god and other illusions nurtured by our egos give way to a different, richer kind of hope. We let go of placing our hope in our own efforts, our own goodness, our own “luck” or deservedness. We let go of our “right” to ourselves and our way. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, we numbly watch our way wrenched from our grasp. We face our helplessness and the truth that we are not in control. Hope in oneself and one’s little plans and projects dies on the cross of our life experience.

It is there in that stillness of a drive back home on the worst Christmas Eve in one’s life, while a child’s heartbreaking question hangs in the air, that hope in God is born.

You may miss it at first, especially if the pain is choking you. But refuse to let the last word be the brutality of facts. Go ahead and light that tiny candle. Defy the darkness. And pay attention. A baby is on its way. Something fragile and new and unimaginably sweet is making its way into your consciousness. 

I tell my daughter, “Yes, honey, things will not be the same. But I believe somehow or other, things will be all right.”

And they were.

Special thanks to artist Anne Emmons for her permission to use “Hope” in this blog. You can reach Anne at or on Facebook. 

Here is Anne’s story about this painting:  I was trying to think of one moment in the Biblical narrative which captures the theme of hope.  Each year I have made a new image for Christmas since 1997, and in 2000, I was struck by the idea of hope as the source of light. The images in this series reflect the thought that Christ came, the Light of the world, into darkness. So I was thinking about one single moment in the story and I realized the moment Mary heard the announcement from the Archangel Gabriel must be the moment hope found a form, in her face. At the time, my daughter was almost 14, the estimated age of the Virgin Mary, and I suddenly connected with the story in a particular way. I kept her home from school that morning to have her sit for the painting. What struck me, and this has since been confirmed from other sources, most recently Anthony Bloom’s book, Beginning to Pray, was that the Incarnation was possible only through God’s will in union with the “yes” of the young Mary, who became the bearer of the Uncontainable God. Just after I painted this I saw the Pontormo Annuciation in a small side chapel in Florence, and Mary had the same sort of look of wonder I tried to catch.  Now my daughter Claire has a two year old son, Theodore. She is a single mother who said yes to the birth of this child, whose name she chose, not knowing it means “gift of God.”

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The Virgin Daughter of Jerusalem

A virgin is someone who is free of all false images and is detached
toward God’s dearest wish and ready to fulfill it unceasingly, as was Jesus.  Meister Eckhart


 My small daughter, playing with the holy family in the wooden stable sings her lullaby: Round yon urgent mother and child, holy infant so tender and wild.

 This mother, more urgent than virgin, smiles: Yes, Holy Infant tender and wild, you are so wild, so undomesticated, so radically other than anything known and familiar. No matter how hard we coax, you will not eat out of our hands, but remain out in the timber hidden in the brush. We set out bait, offerings on the snow. Cowboy theologians toss ropes into the forest and lasso decoys.  And roughrider ecclesiastics try to corral you in sedate doctrines.          


The virgin daughter of Jerusalem sings at the gate. In the dark we lay a trail of bread crumbs to our door. We wait, stilled, hushed. Come,  Lord Jesus.

But who can stand when you appear? The earth shudders, mountains topple, creatures shiver with fear. Shots ring out in the forest. Innocence awakens and moves toward us and the rough hand grasps for its lost treasure.

The virgin daughter of Jerusalem stands on the path and suddenly she is falling, falling into the blue sea into the wide sky, falling through pain and fear and despair, falling faster and faster, picking up speed, plummeting like a stone, falling through a tunnel formed at the intersection of the cross hairs in the telescopic sight aimed at redemption where opposites meet and all things come together.

She is whizzing down the tunnel like a child’s slide, sleek and silent, silver in the sun, falling free. And the kingdom does not suffer violence, and she is not taken by force and the two, who have been made for each other, delight to have found ground holy enough to hold each other’s purity, ground strong enough to bear each other’s pain. And in her joy she funnels greatness from the wideness of her hope down the narrow passage of her being into us.

So now I pray for passionate virgins who have died for love and dwell beyond the clutch and fever of desire. I pray for eccentric virgins who live on the outskirts of propriety and raise geese and talk to trees. I pray for violated virgins and their reconsecration. I pray for virgins who find the courage to reject the lie that eats away their souls and leads them down a winding path of mirages and fun house mirrors that mock Truth.

I pray for virgins who know they are only as holy as they are willing to see how horribly they have been profaned, and how horribly they profane.. . .I pray for revolutionary virgins who despise the shame and take up the suffering for the joy that awaits. I pray for virgins whose land, enclosed by strength, is untouched and guarded by a flaming sword. I pray for virgins, who with unveiled eyes gaze unflinchingly at evil and at God and live to tell the tale. I pray for virgin martyrs who are witnesses with the conviction to believe their own eyes. I pray for chaste, intrepid, impeccable virgins incapable of doubt.

I pray for virgins who apply themselves to prayer until their souls become clear focused lenses, through which we spy enlarged for us the intricate dazzling structures of divinity. And God, hidden in the forest, is magnified by them; and glory sprints across the clearing kicking up a cloud of blessing.

And I pray for a virgin with a heart which dilates. A bold virgin, who when she has grown as big as she can be, when she has come to the outer reaches of her being and all that she thinks and knows and hums to herself, will give up encompassing Plentitude. I pray for a virgin who becomes Emptiness, who will let go of her edges, the taut boundaries that separate this from that, and flinging herself like crumbs in a fragrant trail from what was once her heart to the forest will say: Let it be to me according to your word.

And the shy, tender God takes the bait. And she and holiness are won. And their child tumbles wet and wild into the wounded world to heal us with his stripes.



Virgin comes from Latin and means literally slender branch, twig or shoot. The original sense of the word is a person who is one in him or herself. Such a person is free from possession and possessiveness and capable of the total giving of self, body as well as soul. The virgin aspect is that which is unpenetrated, unowned by humanity. It does not need to be validated or approved by anyone to know its own innate worth. Virgin carries much of the same intent as the word for holy, which means set apart, the temple. The parthenon (literally the virgin’s place) was the temple to Athena on the acropolis in Athens. In the New Testament virgin is used to depict the host of the redeemed in Revelation and to refer to the community as the bride of Christ. But by far the most frequent use of the word virgin is in the Bible’s figurative description of cities, nations, and communities. We often find virgin daughter as an expression for Jerusalem.

Excerpted from  Letters from the Holy Ground, Chapter 10, “Urgent Mother and Child – Holy Indifference and the Repose of the Virgin,” 39-43.

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An Advent Story

The people gathered in small clumps, on this Sunday early in Advent, chatting and laughing before entering the sanctuary.  Some sipped coffee while they caught up on the week’s events.  Outside in the bright sun the children were playing.  A man with a yellow dog who was walking by the church stopped and asked the children for directions to the rail yards.

The children invited the man into the church.  They tied his dog outside and brought it a bowl of water and someone gave it a cupcake.  They led the man to the preacher, telling him that the stranger needed directions and a little money for food.

The preacher, tall, well-groomed in his black robe and satin stole looked at the man and caught the smell of whiskey.  He invited the man to worship and said that afterwards we’d see about some food.

That Sunday amid the handsome suits and stylish dresses, the colorful wool sweaters, and the neatly styled hair and deodorized bodies, sat a man in a torn jacket, baggy pants and wearing shoes with cracked soles. 

They had gathered on this morning to keep their observance of Advent.  They spoke and sang of things to come, of waiting, of expectation, and of hope.  The minister admonished the people to be alert, on the look-out, for Christ might come at any moment.  Afterwards the people went downstairs for a pot-luck lunch and an afternoon of games and songs and making gifts for shut-ins.

The man in the torn coat did not join them, though he was invited.  He sat on a gray folding chair upstairs and talked about Jesus and wept.  He said he knew he had done bad, that he was just a bum.  He rode in empty boxcars across the country with his dog.  Then he said his father sold him when he was six for a case of beer.

The pastor was uneasy.  He needed to be downstairs to say the grace.  Was the man’s story true?  How many other churches had he been to that morning?  He handed him a sack of food and drove the man and his yellow dog to the rail yards.

The children who had found the man asked their teacher why he had no money and why he wouldn’t stay with them and how could your parents sell you and wasn’t his dog wonderful and would he come again?  “I don’t think so,” said the teacher.

Christ entered our midst, right on schedule with our liturgical calendar, wearing a torn jacket.  His only follower was a yellow dog.  There was whiskey on his breath.  He saw quickly how the inn was full. 

We told him politely as possible that we just didn’t have much room for folks who ride boxcars and have a problem with alcohol.

Once a young student asked a rabbi how it was that no one ever saw God any more.  The rabbi responded:  “Because nowadays no one is willing to stoop so low.”

Think of the person you have most despised, whom you have found utterly repulsive, revolting.  See that person in your mind.  Recall your disgust.  Now answer this question:  Who did you think it was that needed to be loved, anyway?

For God so loved the world . . .

This post is an excerpt from a Reader’s Drama I wrote many years ago, titled Adventually – Waiting for the Messiah. It is also a true story.


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Thanksgiving Reverie

My ninety six year old mother dozes in her chair. Her toast remains half eaten on the tray. The dog sleeps at her side.

Frost last night. Now bright morning sun streams through the windows. The refrigerator hums. Outside the gnarly cedar with its silvered bark shelters the house. When did it get so tall?

Memories – laughter, faces of loved ones, snatches of conversation, four dogs romping in the back yard, good food – play in the mind.

Today is Black Friday, the make or break retail sales day of the U.S. economy. Only twenty eight days until Christmas.

There is no rush here. No need to shop.

All is calm
All is bright
Round yon mother and dog.

Here in this old house on Madison Street, whatever it was we thought we needed to do has given way to the art of being – of watching the leaf shadows play on the trunk of the cedar, and peering long into the deep blue sky.

The mother dozes. The dog stirs, turns on his side. His breath is slow and deep.

The air is tender and mild. Nothing to disturb the flow of grace.
Relax. Christmas already came here a long time ago.

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