Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Found Treasures ...

On Tuesday, as the television screens across Ontario were full of images of Sgt. Russell's funeral in Toronto, we unearthed an aged yellow envelope amongst my mom's belongings ... Opening the envelope, my brother and I were surprised to discover photos taken at our father's funeral almost 43 years earlier ...

As images of uniformed officers standing to honour a fallen colleague flashed across the tv screen in our kitchen, we looked at black and white images of the uniformed officers standing to honour the fallen colleague we call Dad.

There are no words to adequately describe the feelings that came with the images above, and the others we found ... it is a reminder of a tragedy that forever altered our family, while at the same time it is a glimpse into our history that we have never had before ...

As the family of Sgt. Russell mourned his senseless death, we were reminded of our own journey down a similar road ... that tattered yellow envelope, found in a dresser drawer reminds us all that men like my dad, and Sgt Russell, and the other men and women who have fallen on duty truly are "Heroes in life, not death !!"

Good Bye Old Friend ...

Ms. H, Laverne Baumbach, Noahkila, and Beetle
in January 2007, Stratford Ontario.
It's hard to describe what Mr. Baumbach meant to me, and to my family ... after Dad's death, Mr Baumbach was like a dad to me. He opened the door of his garage-workshop on numerous occassions and with the humour and patience of a saint endured my poking through drawers and storage cabinets asking a million and three questions, and no doubt getting in his way as he tried to re-upolster furniture of every size and shape.

Mr Baumbach was a neighbour, but he was also a friend. As I grew and matured, I stopped knocking on the door of his workshop, and instead would sit with him shaded from the summer sun under the canopy of the massive maple trees that bordered our properties. In time Laverne told me stories about my dad, shared with me his memories, and deepened a decades long friendship that spanned the generations.

As Noahkila, Ms. H, and Beetle came on the scene, Mr Baumbach, or "Baumbach" as Ms. H called him (in the same way I did three decades earlier), extended his circle of care to include them ... they saw Mr. Baumbach like a grandfather in the absence of their Grandpa Sam.

When Mom died, I tried for two days to reach Mr. Baumbach by phone, then finally called his daughter to pass the message along to him ... I wept on the phone when she told me that Mr. Baumbach was in the hospital, and was approaching his own death at the age of 87 ... on the phone that day we laughed, and we cried, and we shared memories and recollections of a fabulous man, who touched every life he encountered with laughter, gentleness and love.

I shared with Lyn, his daughter, that I owe my success in ministry to her father ... long ago, almost a lifetime ago, I sat and had a drink with Mr Baumbach in the days after he buried his wife ... her service was an unmitigated disaster ... the presiding minister offered absolutely no pastoral care or concern, and left a family already grieving, very very very angry.

I remember that afternoon very well ... Laverne lost his temper, and for one of the very few times in my life I heard him swear - and I mean REALLT swear ... then he had me make a promise to him that if I went into ministry, I would NEVER treat a family the way he and Lyn had been treated ... I willingly made that promise.

Now, almost 25 years later, it is a promise I continue to honour. A promise I openly acknowledge when families thank me for my help and ministry in the face of death. It is a promise I continue to take very seriously ... and remarkably, it is a promise that Laverne himself forgot ever extracting from me.

But, that is typical of Laverne ... his anger passed quickly, and the values of humour, gentleness, care and love, that defined him never faltered.

Last Monday, as we gathered to say good bye to Mom, Laverne's daughter came and told us that her dad had passed away through the night ... in tears shed for mom and for Mr Baumbach, she honoured me with the request to offer a eulogy for an old and precious friend ... it was a request I readily accepted.

On Thursday, January 20th, I stood before Laverne's family and friends, and a large collection of neighbours who have known me since I was born, and I offered a heartfelt eulogy for a man who was a friend, a mentor, and in many ways like a dad to me ... As I shared my memories and my recollections, there was laughter, some tears, and lots of smiles of recognition as people recalled their own memories of a wonderful man with a warm and caring heart.

Looking back, I can say that not only have I honoured the promise I made to Laverne in his kitchen many years ago, I also took that promise to a new level by ensuring that I offered him the eulogy he deserved.

I miss Mr Baumbach ... but my life is better for him having travelled the road with me ...

Good Bye Mr Baumbach ... you will be missed !!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The world is a better place ...

They married on December 19th 1953 ... he died on June 29th 1968 ... and she died this past week ... and the world is a better place for their presence, and for their legacy, and I don't say it because I am part of that legacy, I say it because this past week we've had time and cause to review that legacy and see the many small ways in which they touched the lives of others ...

Mom wasn't famous, rich or powerful ... but she had a deep and unflinching love for her family and for her friends ... she could be grumpy and get ticked off with you, but deep down inside, she remained loyal and caring, and she would never leave you in the lurch ...

There are so many memories that have flooded back this past week as we've made our preparations, sorted through pictures and looked through the accumulated clutter and memories that fill the house she and dad moved into in 1960, and we've called home ever since ... there are dozens of pictures of cakes and birthday parties over the years ... I remember a time when almost ALL the girls in our extended family asked for a "Doll Cake" for their birthdays, and mom would carefully create a one of a kind work of art: a barbie-type doll in the middle of an angel food panned cake, iced to resemble a long flowing dress, and some of them came with umbrellas, or hats to match !! ... there are pictures of her with my brother and I as kids, pictures of her with nieces and nephews, pictures of her with her grandkids ... over and over there are pictures of Mom holding a wee one on her shoulder and nestled safely into her neck ... to say Mom loved kids is an understatement !!

Then there are the notes and clippings and pictures that mom has tucked away ... over and over she would take note of something and want to pass it on to someone ... letter from her seldom arrived with only a letter ... clippings, newspaper announcements, obits, and other odds and ends tumbled out of the envelope as Mom tried to share things with family and friends both near and far ...

The last few years haven't been easy for Mom ... her health has been challenging at times, and her mobility had become limited ... but she plugged away day after day, week after week, but every step along the way was dogged by a loneliness and a sadness ... she missed Dad ... and in the last few years she took the loss of her own Mom and her elder brother hard ... Mom could see her own mortality sneaking up on her, and she began to look backwards through stories and memories more than she looked forward.

I feel blessed to have been able to be closer to home these last few months ... getting to see Mom once or twice a week, after too many years away let me see what heavy lifting by Brother has been doing, and allowed me to spend some important time with Mom - time that has proven to be precious beyond words with recent events ... On Monday I spent much of the afternoon with my brother, then spent the evening with Mom before coming home to Flesherton ... we chatted about many things - nothing earth shattering, just the usual familial banter ... I am relieved and happy that I left that night telling mom that I loved her ... I don't feel guilty that it was left unsaid. And I am relieve that her struggles and sufferings are over ... we WILL miss her, but for the first time in many years she is at peace.

I was once told by a First Nations person that when we die, we enter the Spirit world - a place that is as far away as your next breath, and as close as the wind on your cheek ... The Spirit World is all around us, but we've lost the ability to see it or feel it ... However, in those moments after we've lost someone dear to us, when we think to ourselves "oh I should ask them ..." or "Oh, I should give them a call ..." the veil between the Spirit World and our world has thinned and we are not only thinking of them, we are seeing and feeling them.

In the last week I've thought a dozen times - "Oh, I should ask Mom about this ..." Only to realize I can't ... yet, in that moment, I know she is there somewhere very near, perhaps shaking her head or rolling her eyes, but no doubt there ...

I miss you Mom, but I know that you are once again with Dad, and ALL is right with your world for the first time in a long time ... Don't worry mom, Scott and I will be okay. We'll be there for each other, and we'll look after Noahkila, Ms H. and Beetle ... thankfully though, they have a couple of wonderful and loving guardian angels to help us along the way !!!

I love you Mom ...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A radical redefinition of self ...

Isabell Yvonne Ankenmann (nee Elliot)
with her grandchildren Noahkila, Ms. H and Beetle in January 2007.

As I pulled the door closed on Monday night my last words to her were "I love you, see ya later ..."

The next morning my brother phoned to tell me that mom was gone ...

In less than 12 hours my world was radically and irreversibly re-defined ... Mom was gone, and suddenly my brother and I are the eldest generation ...

There are few words to describe the maelstrom of emotions I've swirled through in the last 36 hours since the phone call came ... on one level has been relief that mom's health issues are over and she is at peace ... on another level has been anger that it all happened so fast and so suddenly ... on yet another level is sadness at losing her after a few short months of finally being 'home' and being able to pop by and see her with the kids in tow ... and on still another level comes a profound ache at what has happened, and what we've all lost as a family.

I've spent most of my adult life helping families in times like this, and by all accounts I've been quite effective in my ministry ... but standing on the other side of the experience is different ... it's exhausting ... it's heart-rending ... and it is truly unrelenting ... yet, I stand in a place of hope, knowing that mom is at peace, and that she is together with dad and the extended family who have gone before us, and I know that she is not suffering any more.

As bad as my ache and my hurt is today, mom has carried a heavy burden for long enough and she earned her Shalom ... I'll miss her. Her grandkids will miss her. Her circle of family and friends(even though it has been diminished over the years)will miss her.

Thankfully though, we have a collection of memories of mom, grandma, Aunty Bell, and Isabell ... like the many stacks of pictures we've been sorting through in the last couple of days, there are many memories to make us laugh, cry, smile and shake our heads ... because that's just how mom lived her life.

I'm glad my last words to her were: "I love you, see ya later ..." because I meant them.

Rest in peace mom ... we miss you !!!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A funny think happened along the way ...

Almost three years ago, I mused about the power fear sometimes has over us, and I proclaimed OPENLY my trust and my belief that one day I would find myself in a better place ... (click here to read 'Fear is a Funny Thing' from July 2008)

Last night driving home from a visit with my mom, and having to struggle with some of the health and age related issues she is confronting in her life right now, I got thinking about what it means to face our fears, trust in God (or the cosmos) and live fully present in THIS MOMENT (in the NOW that Tolle speaks of).

While I didn't come up with any answers, I kept thinking about the Gide quotation that is part of the entry from July 2008, and the other bits and pieces I cited there ... I kept thinking over and over that sometimes we have to let go of the comfortable and the familiar to find ourselves where God wants us to be, and more importantly, where we NEED to be to find the wholeness that is required ... in July of 2008, had you told me that I would be where I am now I would have scoffed and said "Never."

Yet, along the way I had the courage to let go of some stuff ... I had the ability to see some other stuff that needed work ... and I put my trust in God to see me through ...

Along the way, I've moved TWICE, lost my job TWICE, worked a dozen part time gigs, discovered my voice as a writer, engaged in serious and intentional social activism, found myself outside of the United Church only to be cared for and nurtured back to wholeness by a wonderful group of Presbyterian folks, and I found myself encountering again and again and again the gift of God's grace.

Has my life been perfect? NO.
Have I made mistakes? Oh yeah, a few and then some.

But along the way, I've found a place of contentment and joy by trusting in God to see me through ...

Last night over and over I heard in the back of my mind the mantra by Gide about consenting to lose sight of the comfortable shoreline before us, and to trust in God to carry us through the storms and out into the open ocean so we can discover new lands ... Today, many aspects of my life are new and unexpected, while others are familiar and comfortable, but overall, when it feels like the storms unfolding around me are about to overwhelm me, I do truly find myself reflecting back on the understanding I found almost three years ago in the midst of all that was swirling around me, and I find myself smiling and saying: "OK God, it's up to you ..." and I content myself with seeing where the journey will take me ...

Life is too short to take it too seriously ... sometimes we need to just let go and trust in God to see us through. The affirmation to that came this morning in my early morning devotional as I read a passage my Standish, who said it is vital for Churches to find themselves in a place where they simply trust in God, and live their faith as a VERB not a noun ... he cites an example of a Chruch stressed by budget concerns, and rather than calling a special meeting, or making a special appeal for funds, they opted instead to trust in God through prayer to see them through ... it worked.

Life is like that sometimes ... what we want, may not be what God wants for us, nor is what we need ... sometimes we need to simply let go and be present to the moment and leave the rest in the hands of God, our higher power, the cosmos, fate (whatever term you wish to use), and see what unfold ...

Today, looking out my window, I realize that life isn't about the destination ... it's about the journey. And to fully enjoy the journey sometimes we simply have to let go and see where we'll end up.

Today, looking back over the last four or five years, I can say honestly I've drifted to a lovely place physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally, and it wouldn't have happened without having the courage to let go and see where life was about to take me !!!

Dayenu !!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

My how they've grown ...

Ms. H, Noahkila and Beetle trying to "pose" for a family picture.
(out of the twelve I took, this is pretty much the ONLY one that has them sitting
and not flaying around ... somethings NEVER change !!!)

A revisit and a reaffirmation ...

Krishnamurti once offered his secret of life ... his answer was simple and succinct: "I don't mind what happens."

Eckhart Tolle tells the tale of Zen Master Hakuin, who lived in a town and was held in high regard by many people who came to him for his spiritual teachings. One day the teenaged daughter of his neighbour was discovered to be pregnant. When asked who the father of her child was, the terrified teen answered "Hakuin".

The girl's parents rushed to Hakuin's house and confronted him angrily and with accusations based on their daughter's revelation.

The learned man replied only with the words: "Is that so?"

As news of this scandal spread, The Master Hakuin lost his repuation. But this did not trouble him. No one came seeking his wisdom, but still he remained un moved.

When the child was born the girls' parents took the baby to Hakuin and said - "you are the father, you can look after him ..."

Hakuin took the child and cared for him with great love and care. Then a year later, the teenaged mother confessed to her parents that she had lied, and the real father of the child was a young man who worked nearby.

The parents were deeply distressed when they went to Hakuin to apologize and ask his forgiveness.

Hakuin's reply was "is that so?" as he handed the child back to his mother and grand parents ...

Tolle cites this story as an example of living present to this moment, and remaining apart from the drama and the value judgment of the events unfolding ... Hakuin, in replying "is that so?" is allowing the moment to be what the moment will be, with no value of good or bad brought to bear. Rather than taking personally the happenings around him, Hakuin accepts what is, and
releases himself from being enslaved by the events and happenings. Hakuin finds contentment by not allowing the world around him to determine his happiness or his unhappiness.

He remains present to the moment, and simply accepts what is happening as it happens ...

By Tolle's admission, this step is a challenge for some. In the introduction to his book "A New Earth" he ackowledges that many are not ready for this shift in consciousness, and they will only benefit from his writings, and the healing they and other resources offer, when they are ready and open ... the challenge is to overcome the veil of delusion (called maya in Hinduism) that convinces us that our 'normal' is healthy and alright ...

I value Tolle's counsel to stand fully present to this moment -to the NOW, as he calls it:

"when I don't mind what happens, what does that imply? It implies that internally I am in allignment with what happens. "What happens," of course, refers to the sucness of this moment, which always already is as it is. It refers to the content of this moment - the only moment there ever is - takes. To be in alignment with what is means to be in a relationship of inner non-resistance with what happens. It means not to label it mentally as good or bad, but to let it be. Does this mean you no longer take action to bring about change in your life? On the contrary. When the basis of your actions is inner alignment witht he present moment, your actions become empowered by the intelligence of life itself."

Tolle goes on to share the story of Hakuin, which he then uses to explain the vital importance of checking one's ego and choosing instead to live present to THIS MOMENT:

"To the ego, the present moment is, at best, only useful as a means to an end. It gets you to some future moment that is considered more important, even though the future never comes except as the present moment, and is therefore never more than a thought in your head. In other words, you are never fully here because you are always busy trying to get elsewhere.

When this pattern becomes more pronounced, and this is very common, the present moment is regarded and treated as if it were an obstacle to be overcome. This is where impatience, frustration, and stress arise, and in our culture, it is many people's everyday reality, their normal state. Life, which is now, is seen as a "problem" and you come to inhabit a world of problems that all need to be solved before you can be happy, fulfilled, or really start living - or so you think. The problem is: for every problem that is solved, another one pops up. As long as the present moment is seen as an obstacle, there can be no end to problems ..."

For many, Tolle's counsel - a counsel grounded deeply in the spiritual traditions of humanity - is about living present and fully in THIS MOMENT - in the now ... and for some it is an alien and uncomfortable place, but for others, it is the ONLY place to find wholeness and healing ...

As Tolle says - when you're ready, living in the Now just makes sense ...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Christmas Service for 2010 ...

I posted the sermon for Christmas Eve earlier, and then got thinking about it, and decided to post the entire service ... it was a collaborative effort with the Sunday School and the Choir combining their two services into one, then asking some very talented musical folks to join in ... Along the way, I had some fun weaving in readings, a visit from Salim my camel friend (puppet), and putting ALL the various bits and pieces together.

The service ran a tad long ... but it moved well, and we've already had several conversations on how to keep the essence of the service for next year while making it shorter and more congregational friendly ... as in anything, you learn from your mistakes and miscues, and do better the next time ...

So, if any one is interested, I posted the entire Christmas Ever service, complete with a couple of relevant links to other sites, over at Meditative Moments. Click here to check it out ... then let me know what you think ...

Peace, and Happy New Year !!

And so it came to pass ...

Sunday, in my sermon (posted below) I mused that ANY time now, we will find ourselves confronted with displays for Valentines' Day and Easter ... little did I know !?!?!

I went to the grocery store today to pick a few items and noticed that the Christmas displays were still up (appropriate to me, after having spent the last 10 years living in Manitoba where Ukranian Christmas is celebrated on January 6th - AND, appropriate given that until the 6th (Epiphany) it is the season of Christmas in the church calendar !!). I even noted that some of the Christmas items were marked down ... then I turned a corner and was confronted by the display of Valentines AND Easter Candies !!!!

I laughed out loud when I saw it ... not so much because it was there, but because I had just said on Sunday that we could expect to see them anytime now ... I just never expected them quite this soon !!!

Such are the wonders of the modern retail world ... no time to pause and reflect ... gotta get the next season out and selling !!!

Kinda makes me want to find a quiet rural hillside somewhere overlooking a stable, and see if I can hear the rustle of angels' wings ...

Sermon for Sunday January 2nd 2011 - Flesherton Pastoral Charge

We are standing in an in-between time. Releived that our Christmas Season has finally wound down. Now we can begin to clear away the decorations and the clutter that come with this time of year. We can get on with the new year and cast our gaze to the coming seasons.

Yet, the challenge for those of us in the Church who want to continue to live out our faith, is how do we keep from packing all of the good stuff that is part of this season, away with the other stuff ?

How do we journey from the events of Christmas Eve in Bethlehem into the new year and on into the rest of our lives?

How do we keep Christmas beyond the two or three weeks at the end of December?
Especially in a world that in a few days will start putting out Valentine’s decorations, and getting retail space ready for spring and summer?

Journeying as a people of faith is a challenge – but not a big nor a negative challenge ... it’s all about getting our priorities straight and being about living and sharing our faith.

My intention for this week was to tie in the origin and history of the Huron Carol to the idea of living out the Christmas message throughout the year. Given that the Huron Carole was written not far from here by Father Brebeuf in 1643 when he lived and worked amongst the Huron People at what we now call St Marie among the Hurons a relatively short jaunt to the east, it would be apt to connect the first Canadian Christmas Carol to the challenges and opportunities of living out the Christmas message all year long ...

I said – that was my intention ...

Then in reading a book I had picked up at the local library’s ongoing book sale, I found an article written by the late Peter Gzowski, with another angle on the whole Huron Carole. In this case, Peter was writing about Tom Jackson and Tom’s commitment to feeding the hungry by using the beauty of the Huron Carole.

Peter describes the Huron Carole event as a party where any number of people might drop in and join in the singing and entertainment on stage. But more importantly, Peter touches on the formative experience that has given rise to Tom Jackson’s commitment to the fund AND awareness raising that under girds the annual Huron Carole events, the Singing for Supper events and his involvement in the CP Holiday train, all of which have raised money and awareness in dozens upon dozens of communities in the fight against poverty and hunger.

Tom’s commitment began when he wandered the streets of Winnipeg as a teen ager, hungry and homeless. As he grew and became a singer, musician and actor, he turned his talents towards helping others ... in 1987, his first attempt at a Huron Carole in Toronto fizzled, but the next year Tom tried again, this time in Winnipeg ... and for the next 15 years he toured Canada with an assortment of people entertaining with music and stories while helping out local food banks and soup kitchens in their vital work.

It is hard to even estimate how much money and food has been gathered through the commitment of Tom Jackson and the circle of folks he gathers each year to share their talents ... but having spent time in the circle of Brandon’s Samaritan House, and having been part of the Minnedosa Food Bank that benefitted directly from Tom’s generousity, I have witnessed first hand the difference his involvement has made in helping people day to day, and that is repeated across Canada wherever the Huron Carole or its replacement Singing for Supper tour has stopped ... and it has all happened because a First Nations singer, musician and actor took a simple Christmas Hymn written 3 and a half centuries ago in a First Nations’ village not far from here, and made it something distinctly his ...

That, at the end of the day is the proof of Christmas’ transformative power ... Tom Jackson once knew the hard streets of Winnipeg and the hunger of mind, body and spirit that stalks those living on the street, and he in time took his immense stature and talent and chose to do something to help others in similar stead ... the events might happen in the lead in to Christmas, but the planning, the inviting, the dreaming and the work happens ALL year round – something Tom and his wife Alison do quietly and without much fanfare ... perhaps without even realizing it, they live the Christmas Spirit throughout the year because of their personal connection to a simple and beautiful Christmas Carol.

Now, as we begin the cleaning and the packing up of the Christmas Season, the challenge we face is ensuring that we don’t pack up the wrong things ...

I must admit to a certain guilt
about stuffing the Holy Family
into a box in the aftermath of Christmas.
It’s frankly a time of personal triumph when
each Advent’s Eve, I free them (and the others)
from a year’s imprisonment
boxed in the dark of our basement.
Out they come, one by one,
struggling through the straw,
last year’s tinsel still clinging to their robes.
Nevertheless, they appear,
ready to take their place again
in the light of another Christmas.
The Child is first
because he is the one I am most reluctant to box.
Attached forever to his cradle, he emerges,
apparently unscathed from the time spent upside down
to avoid the crush of the lid.
His mother, dressed eternally in blue
still gazes adoringly,
in spite of the fact that
her features are somewhat smudged.
Joseph has stood for eleven months,
holding valiantly what’s left of his staff,
broken twenty Christmases ago
by a child who hugged him a little too tightly.
The Wise Ones still travel,
though not quite so elegantly,
the standing camel having lost its back leg,
and the sitting camel having lost one ear.
However, gifts intact, they are ready to move.
The shepherds walking or kneeling,
sometimes confused with Joseph
(who wears the same dull brown)
tumble forth, followed by three sheep
in very bad repair.
There they are again,
not a grand set surely,
but one the children (and in time the grandchildren)
can touch and move about to reenact that silent night.
When the others return,
we will wind the music box on the back of the stable
and light the Advent Candles
and go once more to Bethlehem.
And this year, when it is time to pack the figures away,
we’ll be more careful that the Peace and Goodwill
are not also boxed for another year !! (Boxed – Ann Weems)

As we clear away the clutter and trappings of the Christmas Season that has been, may we be careful not to box up and tuck in a darkened corner the gifts of peace and good will that have come to us from the child born in Bethlehem.

As the new year begins may we have the boldness to carry the light of Christmas into the darkened corners of our world as we live our faith with confidence and joy.
May it be so, thanks be to God ... let us pray !

Christmas Eve Service 2010 - Flesherton Pastoral Charge

What do we seek this night?

What draws us to this place, to this service?
What draws us to the familiar yet extraordinary events in Bethlehem?

Are we here because it is tradition? Because we were brought as children, and coming to Church on Christmas Eve is something we’ve always done?

Are we here as an escape from the crass commericialism of the season that places its emphasis on the importance of presents, and gifts and having the right decorations, the right food, the right drink, and the right music playing in the background?

Are we here because there is something deep within us yearning to step into the light that spills from the stable door, and beckons us from the darkness to something so much more ...

We may even be here without any certainty about why we’re here at all ... we’re here to be part of the familiar songs and stories that mark this season. We know that Christmas is important, but along the way we’ve forgotten why it is important ... we’ve left behind talk of angels and shepherds, stars and mysterious visitors from the east, concerns about education and careers have take precedence over something that supposedly happened two millenia ago in a stable behind an inn, in a tiny backwater village in a remote corner of the Roman Empire ... what happened there isn’t really relevant to us today ...

Or is it?

What if, in the midst of everything else – the familiar carols, the comfortable readings, the usual cast of characters and happenings ... what if, in the midst of that, someone stepped up and told the story from their perspective.

Someone who was there, someone who watched, and listened, and wondered ... someone like you and I, who wondered what this was all about ... Christmas is a time when we’ll believe that reindeer can fly, perhaps tonight for a moment, a Camel can talk and tell us his story ...

My Master was one of the Magi, the visitors who came from the east, and you call the Wise Men. He was a learned man back home, people came from all around to seek his wisdom and his knowledge, people would come to him and ask questions, and seek his guidance.

Other times though, my master sat upstairs in his room full of scrolls and ancient texts, studying their strange words, and watching the stars at night for signs from the gods ... he and his friends often spoke of the things they read, and the things they saw and whether it was time to go and see ...

Go and See? Go and see what?

Ah, that’s just it. I never really knew what it was they were talking about going to see. I usually just over heard them as his friends were getting their camels ready before and after their visits. But I remember one day there was a strange excitement around the palace. My master had spotted something in the sky, and after he and his friends met and discussed it suddenly we were getting ready for a journey.

A journey?

Yes, a journey – a long trip. It took several days to get all the supplies ready, then one early morning the servants piled my back high with all kinds of things that would be needed on the long trip we were taking. And just as the sun rose, my master’s friends came with their camels and donkeys and a few pesky horses, and we started to head into the desert, following a star that was still visible near the horizon.

We travelled for many days, always following that star.

I had been on trip to places like India, and China, and I had even been through snowy mountains ... but this trip was different. Usually we would stop and rest and enjoy lounging for a few hours every day. But on this trip we started long before dawn, and we continued long into the night. We never set up the big tents like when we visited other kings and important people. My master and his friends would just pull out their blankets and curl up near the fire.

They seemed excited ... like they were on an important trip to meet someone special ...

Finally, after days and days and days of travelling, we came to a walled city perched on the top of a mountain. My master led us into the city and he asked to speak with the king ... they were gone along time, then when they came back my master’s face looked worried and almost angry. He spoke in angry whispers with his friends. I heard them say that they must not let the King know where they were going, and when it came time to come back they couldn’t and they wouldn’t come here again ...

I heard my master say it was too dangerous, and this King named Herod couldn’t be trusted ... his friends didn’t seem to agree, but my master wouldn’t change his mind.

We travelled a short distance south that night along a broad smooth roadway through the desert. And the whole time the star seemed to hang in the sky just in front of us, almost like it was leading us ...

It’s funny you know, it was always in the western sky, then after we talked with Herod it was in the southern sky ... it was almost like it moved ...

So, then what happened?

Well, we travelled through the night until we came close to a tiny village. My Master stopped and talked to some shepherds outside the village and they spoke of angels, and voices from heaven, and they pointed towards the village and said “you will find him there ...”

My master was very excited. He thanked the shepherds and invited one of them to show them exactly where he was ... one of the young shepherds agreed and climbed into the saddle on my back and lead the way through the narrow winding streets of the village. At last we came to a rambshackled building on the outskirts of the town ... the young shepherd said it was an inn, but the one we wanted wasn’t there, but was around the back in a stable carved into the stony hillside.

It was very dark when my Master climbed down and approached the door of the stable. It was like the star had gone out ... he looked back at us and said to me – “well, Salim old friend, we’ve come a long way to see if this is the One the prophets told of ...” Then with a shrug he knocked at the door.

A moment later a scruffy looking man opened the door and looked at my master, he was angry and surprised at the same time ... he asked what we wanted and who we were looking for ... when my Master answered the man smiled nervously, then opened the door and let my master and his friends in. It was hard to see what was happening, but what i saw was a young woman with a tiny baby on her lap sitting in the corner of the stable.

My Master smiled, and then as he approached the mom he knelt ... Imagine that, my master, a man who others come to for his wisdom, kneeling infront of a mother and her baby !


But then he did something remarkable. He came back out of the stable and took from my back the wooden treasure chests that had been tied there. He was so nervous that he dropped them as he was untying them. They broke open and he just grabbed the wrapped parcels that had fallen out. He then went back into the stable and handed the gifts to the mom and the dad.

I couldn’t see what they were, but knowing my Master and his friends, I’m sure they were valuable treasures. And given the reaction, they must have been very valuable gifts ... All night my Master and his friends sat with the father and they talked in whispers about the things that had happened. They talked and talked. I heard only tiny bits and pieces of thier conversation. Words like angels, prophets, visitors, and they kept talking about God ... it was like God had come and done something special in that stable. From what the other camels and I heard, we wondered if the baby was God’s baby ...

In the morning, while the mother and baby were sleeping nestled down in the hay, my master and his friends started to get ready to head back home. Imagine – spending ALL that time on the road to come and cuddle a little baby ... and they say animals are crazy ...

What I remember most clearly though was my Master saying over and over that this child – THIS BABY, was named Jesus but he was really “Emmanuel – God is with us.”

My master was very excited by this, and the rest of us wondered what it could mean ... I mean, afterall, it WAS just a baby, and he was born in a stable, behind an inn in a tiny village so far off the trade routes and away from anything important that was really hard to find. Honestly, had it not been for the star I doubt we would have found it at all ... and yet, in that horrible god-foresaken place, my master kept talking about how important this child was, and all the things God had in store for him ...

Imagine, that ... pretty wild huh ?!?

Then what happened?

We went home a different route then we came, my master wanted to avoid that Herod guy. I always wonder what happened to that baby, and whether he really was someone important or not ...

Christmas ultimately, is not about the gifts, the lights, the decorations, the gatherings, or any of the other stuff that is often part of the season. Christmas is that moment in time when we stand in the light of the stable door in Bethlehem and know in the very core of our beings, that with God not only, are all things possible, with God, the unexpected and the unlikely are not only possible, they are happening all around us ...

Tonight the message we long to hear, and that echoes across the sands of time is one that guides us to a place of peace, love, joy and hope ... a place filled with light and life in the midst of a darkened world !!

May it be so, thanks be to God ... let us pray ...

Saturday, January 01, 2011

And so it begins ... thoughts for the new year ...

I suspect that if I reclaimed all the minutes, hours, and days I've sacrificed to worry and fear, I'd add years to my life.

When I succumb to worry, I open a Pandora's Box of terrifying pictures, paranoid voices, and relentless self-criticism. The more attention I pay to this mental static, the more I lose my foothold in reality. Then nothing useful can be accomplished.

To break the cycle of worry and fear, I am learning to focus ALL my attention on this very moment.

I can turn away from destructive thoughts and concentrate instead on the sights and sounds around me: light and shadows, the earth beneath my feet, the pulse of everyday living - all pieces of the here-and-now. These bits and pieces of reality help rescue me from the 'what ifs' and the 'should haves' by anchoring me in the present.

Prayer and meditation, reminders, and phone calls from trusted friends are other sources of serenity that bring me back to this moment.

As I shut out the noise, I am more receptive to my Higher Power's will, and therefore more able to work my way through difficult times.

This day is ALL I have to work with, and it is all I need. If I am tempted to worry about tomorrow's concerns, I will gently bring my mind back to today.

I'm not a big believer in New Year's Resolutions ... but this crossed my path in the last few days, and as I read it, I realized that my 'resolution' will be to be more intentional about focusing on what I have control over (the present) and living my life from a positive place ... may 2011 be full of such blessings for you and yours !!

Dayenu !!!