Tag Archives: nighttime

The Advent Writings: Christmas night

All the stories start with Christmas morning. But what about the night?

I am a birthkeeper. I enter those spaces in the hours before and after birth, with reverence.

I know to keep the lights dim. A baby is new to the world. Eyes used to womb light, rosy in tone, are unsure about bright lights. The time is now, these hours of imprinting on mom’s face and dad’s voice.

Voices are low and singsong. Baby’s ears have heard these familiar sounds through the abdominal cushion. The startle reflex comes too easily, limbs out, eyes wide, head arched. We fold the arms and legs into the familiar, swaddling the wee one.

Smells are important too. The salty smell of amniotic fluid lingers on the skin. Vernix rubbed into soften, the new baby smell that Johnson & Johnson can never replicate. The baby follows the unique smell of the mother, able to pick out that one mom from a roomful by 24 hours of age.

Smells draw, and instincts follow, leading the baby to latch onto the breast. The golden milk, packed with goodness, drips out bit by bit. All this baby needs is here, unique for the gestational age, the perfect balance of protein and fat laced with sweetness.

And touch. Not the myriad of painful ways a baby encounters the world today. But gentle touch, reassuring this new one that the world is a safe space.

Was it like this, that holy night more than two millennia ago? One undisturbed birth, interrupted only by some sheep herders accustomed to dark and lonely quiet spaces.

It matters how we are born. It matters how we welcome new humans. And this more than a baby, welcomed as a caravan stopped for a government rule, deserved no less.

Oh Holy Night after.

The Advent Writings: holy ground

tonight I took off my shoes….

Sitting by the tree, I was studying herbs. Latin names swirled with the lights as I reached into my memory bank for their common English counterparts. Spanish names danced through, adding color and spice. Classes, and mechanisms of action, layered with properties and contraindications. The course goes back to old Materia Medica material, looking at ancient patterns of use. This rivaled my long ago nursing school pharmacology class! Where in the world did the notion of herbalists as some sort of back woods witch come from?!

The course also invites a stretch, exploring intuition and delving into story. To be a healer, a person must be a student of their own story. You cannot go where you have not gone yourself.

We watched “The Nativity” this weekend. It is a beautiful rendition of what might have been, woven with the well known threads of the story in the ancient texts. It gives permission for my imagination to wonder. As this young man ran through the town, wouldn’t someone have whispered the name of a local healer; a midwife or an herbalist? Where were the wise women? Perhaps not, as birth in its raw and natural state is most often powerful and safe. But there have always been those who honed their gifts. And in a small town, like an inner city Neighborhood, those women are called. I have gone to a woman’s house, unknown to me, with herbs to soothe or a simple syrup to calm. I have held a woman’s hand, gazing deep into her eyes and swaying in the ancient dance; and later learned her name when words returned. Who came alongside in this holy night, in space set apart by the raw power coursing through her body?

The movie also touches on the scandal. Whispers, eyes averted, the presence of absence. These things happen in small towns. My story was hushed, silence protected at all costs. Conservative circles share similarity with small towns.

The old songbook says that the rocks themselves will cry out…. I know that is true. Our very cells, scientists now know, carry cellular memory. Trauma, in particular, imprints in a bath of catecholamines embedded in sensory markers. Until the time is right, and the story births…

After the flight in the night, the refugee years in another country, they returned. Did the whispers begin anew? Small towns have long memories. Particularly around a scandal….

In the glow of the tree, as the firelight danced, conversation flowed with another young man. Teenagers need silent spaces to talk. Then another teen came and plopped down, wanting to share her writing. I looked down, and caught the outline of my Danskos kicked off under the tree. Maybe for a reason….

Perhaps this too, was holy ground. A space, set apart on a Monday, for the herbs and the wondering, teenage talks and the smell of pine.

The Advent Writings: watching the star

Last night I watched a star. Round and amazingly bright, it did a dance with the evergreen that tried to hide its brilliance.

I watched the star for hours.

I am sick, 3rd in the family to succumb to a viral throat morphed into bronchitis… miserable combo. Any mom of littles knows, coughing is worse at night. So finally I gave up on sleep and sat by the fire, watching the star.

photo: The star at sunrise

There were some smart fellows that did that some years back. Most people thought they were crazy. You see, they loved to get up in the night and look at the heavens. (That’s an old fashioned word for the sky). Then, get this…they made an international, once in a lifetime trip not because it got a five star rating; but because of a star.

A star.

This star, it seemed, was unusual. It moved. All stars move, in a seasonal pattern. And the stars in the Southern Hemisphere are a whole different sky. I don’t know quite where they lived, in the East. But these smart folks knew this one was doing its own dance. They couldn’t figure it out.

And they followed it.

Okay. I am identifying with this part of the story more this year. I am following a dream; or more accurately, a disruption. I didn’t invite it, and I tried to make it go away. Instead of diminishing, it got bigger, welling up in the most unwelcome places. Wise women around me began to affirm that this was not my imagination. The star, in fact, was moving.

And so we came. The star went north, where the air is clear (cloudy actually) and the stars bright. The whole group of us. And now we wait, for a sign. (An acceptance to grad school actually. It’s like a long pregnancy…September to May).

And when they came…they worshiped.

This is so often quoted it can get cliché. But really, take the churchy voice out and think about it. What do you do when you have no idea what you are doing? How do you respond when you come close to Mystery?

You fall on your face.

And maybe that is worship.

Late at night, coughing my socks up, and watching a star.

My epiphany.

The Lenten Writings: exposed to God

“Somehow by day, no matter what, I patch myself together whole, But all my effort can’t offset–the nightly nakedness of soul– When Angels in a dark descent–strip off my integument.

I am a cornered rebel pinched–Between night’s armies and my lack, And when inside the bedclothes hunched- I feel the force of their attack, I hardly know what I can do, Exposed to God at half past two.

I once believed my being full, But night thoughts prove that it is not. Waking scared and miserable, I scrape the bottom of the pot. And then must bow down and confess–totality of emptiness.

Kings once ventured, it is said. To offer gold and frankincense But I send nothing from my bed–except a tattered penitence. So very little has accrued–From years of doubtful plenitude.

God who tear away my cover, Oh, pour your Spirit into me–until my emptiness runs over with golden superfluity, and so bow down and offer up–Yourself within my earthly cup.”

Night Thoughts by William F. Bell

For all of you who have wrestled with God at half past two….

Everything is more intense at night. Long ago times and spaces swirl with the present in a dance of cellular memory.

Perhaps in those spaces there is also a wrestling in the places unseen.

God who tear away my cover…

I love the poet William Bell’s honesty. Those Kings of old? Gold and frankincense were in their hands. Me? I send nothing from my bed. Even my prayers are tattered.

And then the paradox. Until my emptiness runs over…

And the cup is full. Of something other than me.

I see this again and again in the still spaces between Day and night. These are the spaces between, in which babies like to be born.

It is always when the woman is utterly at the end of herself that the baby births, right into the mama’s waiting hands.

That image feels appropriate here, reflecting on these haunting words. It is holy ground, the long waiting in the long night.

And I bow down and offer up, Yourself within my earthen cup.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

Bell, William F. “Night Thoughts” from America Magazine, Vol. 187, No. 18, 12/02/2002.

The Lenten writings: holding hands with sorrow

I might never have asked what could be

but for sorrow.

I might never have opened to the terrible vulnerability of love

but for tears.

I might never have begun this treacherous path to God

but for emptiness**.

I remember, as a child, being fascinated with the book “Hinds feet on high places”. Much Afraid, the main character, is invited by a gentle Shepherd to go on an adventure to the high places. She longs to go to those mountain that she can see from afar. But even the idea is utterly impossible. She has feet that don’t let her walk well. When he takes her to the foothills to begin her walk upwards, he introduces her to her traveling companions: sorrow and suffering. She recoils from their touch, tinged with pain. “Why couldn’t you give me joy and peace as traveling companions instead” she asks.

I Identified with Much Afraid on so many levels. My rheumatoid disease came early, before age two. And with it, came many rules. I was not allowed to run, or to play outside, or take PE. The idea of going to the high places would have been just as laughable for me.

My night child also carried much fear; each bedtime it permeated the air. The idea of doing something bold and brave was just as unreachable as the distant mountaintop.

I think of the girl who was, and the woman who now inhabits this body. This much stronger body can take walks, dance with my daughter in the kitchen, plant a garden, and choose to do bold things. It’s still invites care with kindness, but it is full of possibility and hope.

Would I be this woman without these journey mates?

Something to sit with on the second day of Lent.

**poem: But for Sorrow by Rob Suarez. Source: from America Magazine, Vol. 184, No. 10, 03/26/2001.

The poem is for the first Thursday of Lent from the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

In the shadow

“you who sit down in the high God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s  shadow” (Psalm 91:1)

I do that. I can do that.

So much right now is unknown, more questions than answers. The not knowing threatens to overwhelm. All of the things that can’t be done are so in my face.

But I know how to breathe. To be still. To listen. And in the night times when the fear can come, I would like to be in the shadow.

So for tonight, this is the place to rest.