Monday, December 26, 2005

The Secret of The Barn

There is a church on a hill just outside of my hometown neighborhood that, year after year, sets up a small, wooden barn at the front of their lawn. They fill the floor with hay, but aside from the night in which they use it for a live nativity, this makeshift lean-to of a barn sits empty and dark. However, for the past three seasons of Christmas, I have pulled up into the parking lot late on Christmas Eve night or Christmas night, walked out to this wooden shed, and knelt in the silence of the night. It has become something of a tradition - a ritual if you will - for me at Christmastime. Though seminary has taught me that our traditional religious concepts are slightly incorrect in recognizing what exactly was the poor shelter for the travel-weary Joseph and Mary so many years ago, this small barn that the people of this church have erected serves me well, if not in a scripturally accurate manner, but a metaphorical manner.

This barn has served as a kind of confession booth for me. I kneel - or, when my knees and ankles begin to shudder in discomfort, sit - before this empty space and I speak with God. It is a two-sided conversation, but not in an audible way. God replies with quiet; his reply is in his gracious silence. I poor out my heart, however reluctantly, and describe the tumultuous and joyful emotions that have filled my heart and mind over the past year. Sometimes I am quietly rejoicing when I come to the barn, other times I am wracked with the guilt of familiar sin. I am beginning to understand I am most often, in my day to day life, a measure of both. At the threshold of the barn I rest, with my hands dug into my pockets for warmth and the sounds of the night becoming a non-intrusive cacophony around me - nocturnal birds rustle and occasionally chirp, nearby coyotes bark at each other and the stars, domestic dogs respond in their own words, insects click and go about their own business in the grass. It is a noisy scene that would have terrified me when I was younger; in those years I would have been certain some ghastly creature was slowly slinking toward me in the shadows, intent on devouring me. But, now older, the peacefulness of the empty barn calms me, even when my childhood fears echo in my head as I ponder and pray.

I believe that there has been so very much attached to this "holiday season" that is despicable to God, in the talking points of the Religious Right as they rant and rage about the commercialism of Christmas vs. the complete disregard of the season, nor is it in the recovery fire of their opponents as they growl about the loss of deep tradition and sarcastically attack those who have made Christmas, and what is more, Christianity, into an empty shell of a religion, devoid now of any life-altering significance. (Oh how I so often side with the latter.)

In the quiet of the barn I begin to notice, even as I find peace in my personal confession and request for blessing and direction, that God is revealing his very nature to me, his nature that stands unchanging and unblemished by all of this holiday confusion. He is silent. He is quiet. He is both desperately concerned and transcendently uncommitted with the hub-bub both Christians and non-Christians are making out of this season. His Church is both deeper and grander than such things, and I feel that it is his only desire that we all forget "Christmas" and remember the Savior. That we would do as I feel the very throne room of God does: fall silent before the reality of the Incarnation. It is new every year, yet is historically from of old, and such a truth, when really pondered, silences even the most righteous tongue.

The angels may indeed break into a heavenly chorus, and the coyotes howl back and the insects chatter and the birds warble, but God Most High sits quietly and blesses the Incarnation and communes in powerful silence with all those who would stop and rest with him.

Here are some photos from my holiday break, in which I have helped Leigh move back to Houston, spent some time with her and her family as well as my own, and enjoyed a good, replenishing rest.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Procrastination and Love

Life is procrastination until death.

That was not meant to be melancholic or morose. It is simply a funny truth I am starting to discover as yet another semester of seminary comes to a close. Granted, I consider myself an expert in procrastination, if only by my large amount of experience, and I have found that some of the greatest acheivements come while delaying and then finally starting an activity (though these acheivements are often coupled with a significant amount of stress).

Right now I sit in a comfortable chair on the second floor of my girlfriend's house, procrastinating. The task at present is to somehow make good on this love of writing that I have and fashion a meaningful framework of a toast for Leigh's best friend, who is getting married this afternoon. Leigh only recently found out she would be expected to give a toast (she is the maid of honor), and with all the other responsibilities she has before her today, mulling over a short toast is not high on the list. She does indeed want it to be good, but is afraid she will not have time to come up with something poignant for the occasion. This is where I come in, and thus, this is where procrastination seizes me and instead of thinking pointedly to the happy couple and, though I hardly know them, considering how to describe and praise their love for each other, I blog, spinning off like an awkward paper airplane into considering the meaning of Love itself. Well, that and the art of procrastination.

What follows will be the strings of some ambitious musings on the nature of Love ...

Love is laughing and finding that someone is already laughing with you, and crying and finding someone already has their hand around your shoulders ...

Love is better construed silently through the five senses than through words. The eyes gaze with wonder upon the one loved. The ears open to everything that person has to say. The nose recognizes the aroma, beyond any perfume or cologne, of that person. The tongue knows immediately and distinctly who it is kissing. The feel of that person, close to you, hand in yours, is not recognized because of any measure of softness or roughness, but how well that person seems to fit with you, arms around each other, heads bowed together, a perfect embrace ...

Love is saying you are sorry, finding out that deep down this could never be necessary, but saying it and meaning it anyway ...

Love is not replacing a best friend for a more intimate one, but discovering that everything your best friends have taught you - loyalty, affection, humor, closeness, devotion, compromise - is finding new depths of truth in this wonderful person beside you ...

Love is not merely "practice for eternity," but finding that eternity has spilled into this present life ...

We shall see where these take me. Procrastination, be a friend - we have work to do.