Bottling Summer

21 12 2015

DownloadBanner[1]At this year’s Columbia Bible College (CBC) Christmas chapel, I adapted a creative non-fiction piece I wrote awhile back to serve as a structural liturgy leading up to communion. CBC decided to offer this reflection as a gift to their constituents, and made it into a beautiful e-book. You can download it for free here (Bottling Summer) or simply click on the banner above.

Merry Christmas! May it be a season of storing up plenty. And if it feels more like a season of want this time around–may this be an encouragement to pull a few jars off the shelf and feast on the provision from richer seasons past.

Stacey





Merry Imperfect Christmas (take 2)

4 12 2014
This morning at Columbia Bible College’s final chapel service of the semester I was given the opportunity to share a little bit, taking inspiration from a Christmas blog I wrote last year called Merry Imperfect Christmas. So this is a re-visitation of a concept that does, perhaps, need to be revisited. The permissions at the end were used as our benediction.
"Tangled Light" by Tom Cochrane, flickr creative commons

“Tangled Light” by Tom Cochrane, flickr creative commons

I hate watching TV at this time of year.

Too many perfect families (mom, dad, 2 kids, a dog) gathered around a perfect table… or in front of a perfect tree… finding each other the perfect gifts… lighting up with the prefect reactions….

And if anything does go wrong it goes adorably wrong. So the dog knocks over the Christmas tree, and everyone laughs and laughs (while looking at each other creepily)—and no one actually has to go over and clean up the mess. No one throws the dog outside and slams the door unnecessarily loudly or swears when they step on a broken ornament.

So we turn off the commercials and we head out to find that perfect gift, we buy all the perfect decorations, we try to perfect-up our families a little…

But it never really works, does it. We never get that “Christmas card” Christmas. Even if we do enjoy Christmas (and I do!), the warm fuzzies never quite live up to expectation.

Instead, we’re faced with reality: exams; papers to mark; families that are broken, falling apart, or simply not very perfect; wallets that aren’t quite as thick as they need to be to buy those perfect gifts; trips home that somehow never achieve that peace and rest we crave; Christmas pageants that involve bowling balls thundering across the stage of the church (sorry… inside Columbia Bible College joke).

But here’s the thing. We present these pageants—kids in bathrobes with tea towels on their heads, pillow-stuffed Marys, adorably grumpy inn-keepers—and, much as I love those pageants, we’re glossing over reality just like Christmas commercials do. We’re striving for our own version of perfection.

I guarantee you that no one sang the gentle strains of Silent Night as Mary sweated and strained in childbirth. And she did not receive into her arms a clean, contented, sleeping child. What baby sleeps through the birth canal? From what I’ve heard, they ALL come out crying.

And the stable—most likely a cave—would not have been as warmly and cozily straw-lined as we imagine. And there would have been poop. A LOT of poop.

And Mary was young. And her pregnancy made people stare and whisper and shun her.

This. THIS is how a king—no THE KING enters the world. Not in the perfection of a palace, with servants to wait on him and perfumed water to wash the indignity of birth-goo from his skin.

Not our God.

With noise and mess and stink—he entered our world. Screaming his little heart out. He entered our world.

And still he enters our mess and our noise. He enters our exams and the stacks of papers we have to mark. He enters our screwed-up families and our empty wallets.

Every year, quietly, without fanfare, without twinkle lights, tinsel, or gift wrap—he enters our imperfect Christmas.

He enters our imperfection and makes it his own. Takes it upon himself. And gives us instead his deeper, wider, higher vision of perfection.

“From our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee…..”

 

So… let me give you permission for a few things:

This Christmas, you have permission to be tired sometimes, and not up for visiting with every relative and friend on the face of the planet.

You have permission to NOT buy the “perfect” gift for every family member and friend. Give coupon books of hugs. Make people use them.

You have permission to NOT look at Pinterest—not once. Not even a tiny peak to see what type of Christmas scent should be bubbling away on your stove. Nobody wants to smell your orange peels, cranberry, and vanilla anyway. In fact, forget about Facebook and Instagram too. No one is having the type of Christmas they say they are on social media. Not even you. Put it away.

You have permission to spend time with people rather than spend time getting things right. Go for walks. Let people help, rather than feeling like you have to pull everything together yourself. Some of my best memories involve visiting over a sink full of dirty dishes.

You have permission to hide away when you need to. Re-read a favourite book. Take a bath. Dig out some old music and re-enjoy it. Lock your door for an hour or two.

This Christmas, you have permission to NOT exude “Christmas Spirit.” What on earth IS that, anyway? Instead, pay attention to the Spirit. Notice the moments in which the kingdom of God breaks in—they will be small—and they will not look like our version of perfect.

This Christmas, you have permission to not be perfect. Or to have a perfect Christmas. Find a quiet space. Light a candle. And take time to read again the story of the God-baby. Who came to earth in dirt, and pain, and noise. Close your eyes and give Christ permission to enter the imperfection—to enter your mess and teach you a new way of being fully human.

Have yourself a merry, imperfect Christmas!





Merry Imperfect Christmas!

2 12 2013

Watching TV the other night, I was struck once again by the number of companies urging me to have a perfect Christmas. Every year we are bombarded. Get the perfect gift. Make your house perfectly clean. Get the perfect lights, the perfect tree, the perfect tinsel. Cook the perfect turkey. Set the perfect table. Have the perfect family. BE PERFECT.

No.

Nuh-uh.

Not this year.

This Christmas I’ve been given the power (by the powers that be) to grant you a few permissions:

2011, 2012 030

Andrew and Stacey’s Wonky Christmas Tree, 2011

This Christmas, you have permission to grab a crappy tree from the bush because that’s all you have time to find. Or to grab the first tree leaning outside your local grocery store, without looking for the BEST one. Put some home-made kids’ ornaments on it and call it a day. Make some hot chocolate and sit and admire the imperfection together.

This Christmas, you have permission to leave the dirt and dog hair on your floor for another day. Go out for a moonlit ski or snowshoe instead. There’s dog hair and dirt out there, but nobody seems to mind. Why should your house be any different?

This Christmas, your kids are allowed to yell and be crazy and get dirty. Because kids are kids. Run around with them for a bit. Push them down a hill. Instead of cleaning your bathroom, make a few snow angels and some snow polar-bears OR a snow polar-angel-bear! Instead of washing your dishes, make two forts and pelt each other with snowballs. Let the kids stay up late. Let them help. When people look at you with raised eyebrows because your kids are over-tired and a little ill-behaved and your house is a mess, just tell them it’s my fault. Pick ONE thing to do in a day and throw away that list of “perfect family Christmas memories.” Don’t look at Pinterest.

This Christmas, you have permission to NOT make three million cookies. Just a tub or two will do. Unless you like making cookies. Then make five million and give some to the neighbours.

This Christmas, your table can be decorated with a few candles and some branches from the yard. Or not at all. And your turkey does not have to be perfectly browned and moist.  Just don’t’ give anyone salmonella poisoning. Maybe have a wiener roast instead. Let people help you in the kitchen. Accept all offers to wash dishes. Let people bring food. Spend more time visiting and less time slaving. Cook with wine so you can have a glass. Sometimes soup from a can or pasta from a box is the only way to go. You can drink wine with that.

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Snowy Christmas Walk (a.k.a. Sacred Moment)

This Christmas, you do not have to exude “Christmas Spirit.” What on earth IS that, anyway? Instead, pay attention to the Spirit. Notice the moments in which the kingdom of God breaks in – they will be small. The joy of a child going off-script during a Christmas play. A single line from a well-worn Christmas carol that suddenly sounds new, and fresh, and scary-in-a-good-way. The sight of your breath rising in front of you as you tromp through snow-covered fields with your dog. The shouts of children as they play outside, their snow-suit-shrouded forms ungainly, and their mittens-on-strings flopping at their sides. A quiet moment to yourself, re-reading the story of Christ’s incarnation by candle-light, tree-light – opening yourself again to the hush of amazement.

And, if you are a worship leader, you have permission NOT to plan the perfect Christmas service, or the perfect Christmas program, or the perfect Christmas banquet. Give jobs to children. Let them screw those jobs up. Allow a few sour chords to make the rest sound sweeter. Practice, but not extensively. Keep it simple. Just tell the story. But tell it in a way that reveals its imperfections. Tell people about the poop in the stable. Tell people about the smells and the sounds. Tell people that Mary was young, and that her pregnancy made her look disreputable. Tell people that Joseph wanted to abandon her. Tell people again that, to God, KING looks different. No gold. No power. No throne. Just a baby in a barn.

You see, all the perfection we are supposed to achieve at this time of year – all of that work – takes something from us. It takes away Christmas.

That first year there was no perfectly browned turkey, no perfect tree, no beautifully decorated home, no hushed angelic children’s faces gathered around a perfectly lovely crib. There was mess, and noise, and smelliness, and discomfort. Dirt and a fair bit of chaos. A crying baby. That is the standard.

So this year – maybe let things slide a little. I’m going to.

Have a merry imperfect Christmas!





Remaking Christmas

24 11 2012

Advent begins next Sunday – but the stores have been decorated and pumping out Christmas music for weeks already. This year makes a record for me: I saw my first tree on August 29. Well done Costco. Each year the music seems to get louder. The tinsel seems more garish. Each year Santa Claus gets bigger, and the manger fades just a little farther into the background. Even in Christian churches. Even in Christian homes. Even in Christian hearts.

That is what makes me saddest.

“How insidiously did the enemy work to slowly hijack Jesus’ birth and hand it over on a silver platter to Big Marketing, tricking His own followers into financing the confiscation? We all know it. We all feel it. Every year we bear this tension. Each December, the world feels off kilter. But in the absence of a better plan or an alternative rhythm or – let’s just say it – courage, we feed the machine yet again, giving Jesus lip service while teaching our kids to ask Santa for whatever they want, because, you know, that’s really what Christmas boils down to.”

A friend of mine shared Jen Hatmaker’s 2011 post “The Christmas Conundrum” on facebook, and I want to share it with you – because it spoke to me, and it might speak to you as well. In it, Jen asks the question: “What if a bunch of us pulled out of the system? What if we said something very radical . . . like: ‘Our family is going to celebrate Jesus this year in a manner worthy of a humble Savior who was born to two poor teenagers in a barn and yet still managed to rescue humanity.'”

What if.

Please follow the link to read the whole post. This woman’s got some great ideas: http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2011/11/29/the-christmas-conundrum





Christmastide – or why Christmas isn’t quite over on Dec 25th: Ch. 14 of Chittister’s The Liturgical Year

13 02 2012

By Andrea Tisher

The last section of W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio is my favourite. It starts like this…

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.  (full poem here)

But I guess the question remains, what all is entailed in our celebration of Christmas. Is it Christmas Eve and Day and then, thank-you-very-much-I must-get-to-the-mall-for-those-Boxing-Day-sales, followed by the dread of a not very celebratory New Years and the impending credit card statement that will show me once and for all how ineffectively I managed to ‘show my love’ to family and friends, while still managing to live way outside my means?

For me, this is where the idea of Christmastide offers a layered experience of the Christmas story that enables me to stay in the story for a bit longer, perhaps in a similar way to how Advent allowed me to live by a different narrative than the countdown of shopping days til Christmas that the general culture observes.

Now, Chittister describes a series of celebrations that is still more than anything I have yet celebrated, but that gives me hope. There is yet more. Four more in fact:  The Feast of the Holy Family, The Feast of Mary the Mother of God. Epiphany, and The Baptism of Jesus.

I’m most familiar with the final two – those two dates that are not usually more than a few days apart, when I always feel the time swirling as in a movie montage. Jesus is a babe in arms one day – visited by the Magi, revealing Himself to the WHOLE world, not just a select group. And then suddenly, he’s a grown man, being baptized by His strange cousin John. Whoa. Did I miss something? But as the poem says, it is that “whiff of Lent and Good Friday” that is already in the air. We cannot linger at the manger forever.

But what of the first two, perhaps less-known feasts?

Again, the poem speaks to the Feast of the Holy Family if, as Chittister suggests, it is cause to ponder our own families… Even the least religious among us end up facing our families, or at least our memories of them during the ‘holiday season’. Auden writes,

attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.

And we marvel once again that God took such a risk, not only to become a human being, but to become part of a family. Perhaps it is opportunity to see Jesus in our own families?

Then, the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. This one is the trickiest for me. And, unfortunately, I don’t find Chittister very helpful. Perhaps one of you have some helpful experience or thoughts regarding what this feast is and why it adds to your celebration of the calendar?

But meanwhile, Christmas, when spread across a series of feasts, does take on a layered celebration that staves off both unrealistic expectations of a single twenty-four hour period AND invites us into a richer celebration of the birth of Jesus and all that it means for us and for the whole world.

How did you celebrate Christmastide this year?





A Sliver of Light: Chapters 13-14 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

6 02 2012
By Stacey Gleddiesmith 

A few years ago my father, in an attempt to bring Christmas alive for his grandkids, created a nativity scene in our barn. There had been an unseasonable birth – a few Christmas lambs. We started at the house, bundled up against sub-zero temperatures, following the star (a flashlight attached to a long pole) as we sang “We Three Kings.” Arriving at the stable, we peeked through the door to find my sister-in-law cradling her baby, a lamb at her feet. A ewe and her lamb and one or two of our tamer cattle rustled in stalls nearby as we sang “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.” It was a holy moment.

What I remember most clearly, is the frail light of the flashlight illuminating our path and the faint glow from the stable window spilling out across the snow.

I was struck, as I read these two chapters of Chittister, by her description of the ancient hope for light: “light is more elusive than we like to remember. When the ancients observed the winter solstice, it was with thousands of years of fear that once gone, the light might not come back. It might not, this time, return to warm the earth or grow the seeds or prod the harvests upon which they depended for life” (p. 86). Today we are cut off from that fear. Our scientific knowledge assures us that the earth will tilt back toward the sun as it orbits, and that the days will get longer: that spring will inexorably follow winter; that summer will follow spring.

But imagine. Imagine the days getting shorter and shorter. Imagine watching the plants around you stop producing as the light fades. Imagine struggling to find feed for your livestock. Imagine watching your food supply dwindle.

Now imagine the first day you realize the day is a little longer. The first day you realize that the hold darkness seemed to have on the earth has been loosened by the tiniest sliver of light.

That is the celebration of Christmas. Our lives depend on it – on that tiniest sliver of light that we call the Bright Morning Star. The star that appears when night is at its darkest. The star that heralds the dawn.

I am amazed by the death and resurrection. It brings me to my knees. But I am left with my mouth gaping and my legs shaking at the thought that God – God almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing – considered it within his character to step down into the goodness of his creation, and into the darkness we made of it.

The feast of Christmas is not just a merry time to celebrate with friends and family. It is a realization of light. “Christmas is not meant to leave us with nothing more than a child’s perception of what it means to see a baby in a manger scene. It is meant to take us to the level of spiritual maturity where we are capable of seeing in a manger the meaning of an empty tomb. It is meant to enable us to see through the dark days of life to the stars beyond them” (p.88).

It is the frail light of a star, the faint glow from a stable window, that shatters the darkness that surrounds us: then, now, each year, and forever.





Facing the Light of Life: Chapters 11-12 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

30 01 2012
By IanWalden

After a couple of chapters squarely focused on Advent, Chittister here returns to her habit of interspersing thematic musings between her considerations of specific feasts. All three of us are finding that these tend to apply to the nature of discipleship and spiritual practices in general, rather than the liturgical year in particular. So I’m going to take this as licence to focus on chapter 12, on Christmas – using chapter 11’s comments on ‘Joy: The Essence of It All’ as postscript and illustration.

Reading Chittister joyfully requires practice and patience, and chapter 12 is a great example! After five pages of what seem like irrelevant filler on the origins, dating and history of the feasts (East and West) of Christmas, she hits us with three pages crammed full of helpful observations, with some memorable one-liners thrown in for good measure.

Hers is a nicely ecumenical stance, emphasising what the West has to gain from the Eastern Church, and suggesting we see their feasts as one single celebration of Christmas/Epiphany, between them portraying four aspects of Jesus, Divinity in our Midst. He is baptismally-declared Son of God Almighty. He is Hope and Lord of the Nations, to whom eastern magi (and one day the whole human race) pay their homage. He is Lord of creation, transposing mere water into rich, intoxicating wine. And oh, yes – He is also manger-baby, thoroughly one of us in all our poverty…

This, then, is our first major feast of the year: “the clear manifestation of the One we follow.” It forces us “to recognize who it is that we, like the people of Jesus’ own time, will, in everything we do in life this year, either accept or reject.” It’s a shocking reminder that the God we have longed for in Advent is rarely the God we wanted; far less tame, far more apt to embrace humiliation, far harder to explain or answer, far sadder to hide from.

And yet this, like all the liturgical year, is (Chittister insists) really about joy. Good News of Great Joy, even. It brings us “face-to-face with life stripped down and effulgent at the same time, simple and radiant at once. Here in the Child is promise and meaning, purpose and potential.”

And these very things – “something to do, something to love and something to hope for” are the essence of joy, both human and divine. “At the very outset of the liturgical year, the church presents a model of them all: a Child who lives only to do the will of God, who opens His arms to love the entire world, who lives in hope of the coming of the reign of God by giving His life to bring it. At the very outset of the year, we are given the model of how to be happy.”

Here are a couple of questions to get the conversation started:

If Christmas is so multi-faceted, so awe-filled, so complicated, a “very adult feast,” should we even try to convey some/all of that to children? How? What do they take in, beyond the fun of lighting candles, dressing up, and swinging toy sheep round by the tail? Maybe that’s enough? What does it look like for a child to confront this Light, this Joy, for themselves?

Where have you seen Christ living out His joyful life recently? Especially from within his saints (even yourself) – what did it look like? What impact did it have on you as witness of it?