In the Shadows of Christmas Eve

Shadows marched back and forth in the hall . . .

Such a dark room; I wasn’t asleep, and I wasn’t alone.

Were the others also open-eyed and alert, faking slumber?

Who were the others? Memory fails me. All of the California family on my mother’s side had gathered for Christmas on the ranch. Or, as I called it when a child, “Grandma and Grandpa’s farm.” On that way-back-when gathering, all the west-coast siblings were together. For me, they were the best aunts and uncles in the world. My cousins were also there. Our collective numbers challenged the limits of our grandparents’ house.

Who was jammed into the room with me?

Was it just us guys? Did the girl cousins have their own room or were we kids divided by age or matched by happenstance?

I can’t remember.

But who cares about roommates when it’s Christmas Eve? What I do recall is that I was a “loser:” no bed for me! Instead, in my jammies, and with a full tummy after one of Grandma’s endless meals, I was delegated to the floor. Continue reading →

No Answers

Matthew 2:1-12 – The Epiphany of the Lord – for January 6, 2013

“…wise men from the east came to Jerusalem…” (Matthew 2:1)

Seven years ago, I wondered if the priest burned frankincense or myrrh for the incense.

I didn’t wonder why I was there watching that priest. There being a place I did not want to be. There being a time of grief with unfathomable sorrow. There being an infant’s memorial service, occurring only two days after Christmas.

A parent experiencing the death of a child is as unfair as it gets and few can stand with them and say, “I understand what you are going through.”

The memorial service was held in the Catholic Church where the child’s parents were members. I was not there to help lead the service, but to support the grieving family with my presence. The grandparents were my friends and I couldn’t not be with them.

And so I watched, and so I also felt disoriented.

Now, 500 and more years after Martin Luther’s reformation, and the separation between the Catholic and the protesting—or Protestant—church, clear differences remain in how the two branches of Christianity worship.

The use of incense is one small difference.

At a key point in the mass, the priest lighted a censer (the metal container where the incense is burned) to ritualistically disperse the scent.

How strange for this Protestant nose to be filled with the distinctive, room-filling odor. The smell stays with you. And that, I assume, is part of its purpose, part of its sensual, inexplicable power.

In all of our inadequate ways to discern where the Holy One fits in the human times of tremendous hope or terrible sorrow, using the sense of smell has its role.

We humans are sensual creatures. We respond to what we see, hear, feel and smell. Yes, we Protestants may shake our heads in amusement about the Catholics’ peculiar use of “bells and smells” in their worship, but those ancient rituals can connect to some of our needs. Continue reading →