Traveling this season to see beloved family, we also took two days to visit old and cherished friends, all of whom well into their 80s and all in more advanced stages of decline since our last visit. I felt overdosed, overwhelmed, afraid for my own future, and sad. I called a friend to make sure she was still 61! This is the first time in my 77 years I've thought: Shoot me first.
My anxiety shared and expended, I began to see the new in the very old. Each circumstance was different, yet each beloved friend shone with some peculiar newness within the clear, and new, advancement of the diminishments of age. One friend had even had had a new cancer which turned out not to be cancer—medical error or miracle? No matter, there was renewed rejoicing!
I listened to one 89-year-old friend speak about how grateful she is to be able to pick up the phone and order an egg in the morning if she's feeling "collapsed." What does collapsed mean, I shouted, because I knew she'd lost one hearing aid, and the other is "somewhere in the bed where I spend most of my time." Despite several reminder calls, one just 20 minutes before our arrival, she didn't remember we were coming when we arrived. Still, she appeared, after another 20 minutes,—downstairs, out of bed, not collapsed, and full of toothless cheer to see us.
My friend chattered on as we ate sandwiches in the dining room of the residence where she lives. I listened, interjected some queries, and struggled mightily to make sense of all the pieces of roaming story my friend related—until I gave up and, without reason, felt sweet all over. It was terrifying and exquisitely tender all at once. The many intriguing unhinged tidbits, loosely strung together and unbound by requirements of time and space mattered as much as anything ever could. Like the Bible, I thought, mercifully free of facticity yet full of grace and truth. Whether you believe or understand a story or not is not what matters.
Take Mary, mother of Jesus, full of grace and truth we are told. Her story is a whopper. She is the most famous woman in the world, making it onto the cover of the current National Geographic magazine. But in the New Testament her story doesn't get much play, and only four times does she speak:
1) To ask an angel, who delivers terrifying news about pregnancy and the birth of a son called Son of God: "How can this be since I am a virgin?"
2) In the wake of the angelic elaboration, Mary hears the punch line: Nothing will be impossible with God and utters her brief acceptance speech of the the angel's proclamation and her role in it: "Let it be to me according to your word." (In other words, Ok I'm in!)
3) Mary rejoices and delivers her lengthiest oration, the ancient hymn, Magnificat, to her cousin, Elizabeth, also miraculously pregnant, though in her old age.
4) Mary's last speech is to an adult son, Jesus, something like "We've run out of win, son. Time for a miracle."
All this is a very long way to say that in this 21st century world so full of violence, war, terror and genuine inhumanity, the best stories to notice, and to praise as signs of divine presence, are those which intrigue us, hold our attention, are new to us, have beauty, no matter how strange, make us exclaim in wonder and joy, and infuse all life with hope. All Nativities. Here are three more.
Urban Sacrament: This week across the street, construction workers are building a house. We have watched from our windows as it evolved from foundation to rooftop. It has come in pieces, all ready and put in place atop the sturdy foundation. Today we saw the crane. I'd seen cranes before but never up close. This one was enormous and bright orange-gold. Wonderstruck, we watched as the crane, manipulated by a skilled operator, himself coached by many men shouting and swarming to make sure things fit right in their proper places, module by module, slowly descended without knocking down trees in the way. The crane did the heavy lifting and never dropped its charge until the exact right moment into the right place. In one day a whole house was born, while people gathered about gawking, craning their own necks to look up at the splendid machine, pointing and exclaiming with joy at this "miracle"—something completely new in our neighborhood.
Nativity: Unto us a child is born............
The artist who created this beautiful image of human birth within groves of evergreen trees—ever green—is MaryKay Eichman, RSM You can see more of her work at www.mkaycreations.com
Little Reader: Dylan Robert Brakeman, age 16 months, loves his books even more than stuffed animals. He is the youngest of 12 in our brood of grandchildren from our blended family group.
Nothing will be impossible with God. Nothing therefore is ever new to God. Nativity everywhere. Just notice. See the new.