Wednesday, December 9, 2009

where there is room

"Mother & Child with sparrows,"  Brian Kershisnik, by permission

I’ve been asked to write a Christmas story. But there is no Christmas story better than that first story, the one that begins -
AND it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . .
Perhaps the world would be a dimmer place without Tiny Tim's "God bless us everyone!" And yes, I’ve chuckled at the story of the school pageant where the 3rd grade innkeeper ad-libs, “But you can stay in my room!”  I'll even admit to getting a throb in my throat at the story of the struggling newlyweds who give tortoise-shell comb and watch-chain only to discover the beloved’s auburn hair and golden watch have been sold to buy the other’s gift.  

But really, there is just one story at Christmas. And it is this story that matters.  The one I listened to on Christmas Eve, holding my breath as my father read, word by precarious word.  About the time when
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
I say “precarious” because my father had a speech impediment:

He stuttered
      each sentence like shutters
            banging in the wind      I had
                  to learn to listen
for more   than words   to sit
      silent   holding   back
            my quick   inaccurate
                  translations until he
                        wrestled his own words
out   panting   into the open
He wouldn’t like me to tell you this – that he stuttered. He worked all his life to overcome it, to work around it, to be so smart and quick in other ways that any slowness of speech became unremarkable.

When I read my poem to him, he sat back like I had just slapped him. I think all he heard was lack and failings.

He didn’t hear how it was the very slowness of his speech that opened the story for me. How his slow and careful reading, slowed me. Made me see, instead of swiftly skating over.

Made me hear.

Let the starlight and the light of love in the mother’s and the child’s eyes shine in and fill me. Made me feel how it could possibly be that an all-powerful and flawless Love, the Creator of the universe, could enter into this broken world of taxes which thought it had no room for Him.

So that now, any one else’s voice is never as good, is too quick, too slick, too sure of itself. Now when I read these words to myself,
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
I read it slow and hesitating, remembering how as a child
I would shut
                  my eyes    hunkering
                        down until the fretwork
opened and there
      in the articulated    hes-
            itation    between
                  words    see starlight    see
                        lantern's glow on
heaped straw    see the shifting
      feet of cattle    their warmth
            their whuffling breath    the lamb’s small
                  bleat    and far off the icy    voice
of angels

 for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people



Neighbor Jane Payne said...

I'm sorry if this made your dad uncomfortable, but I am glad I got to hear it, so thank you to you and your dad. I love the line, "But really, there is just one story at Christmas. And it is this story, the one I listened to on Christmas Eve, holding my breath as my father read, word by precarious word, that matters." I love the fact that he didn't let his imperfections get in the way of teaching his children "the story."

Moria said...

This is wonderful. I look forward to giving it an actual read when imminent doom subsides.

Not because I adhere to the doctrines of any brand of Christianity (I don't), I always wonder what this time of year, culturally, would be like if it were actually about that story. Maybe it's the premodernist in me - I also wonder what late spring would look like if we still had civic Corpus Christi pageants and got to watch townfolk portray the Antichrist. Sigh.

Lori J said...

Hello there from a frigid ALBERTA, Canada

I curiously hit the button that connected me with anyone that had SHADOWLANDS on their was very popular with many people.
Anyhow just wanted to wish you and yours a very MERRY CHRISTMAS...



Emma J said...

Jane - thanks, btw the song on your site brought tears to my eyes - lovely!

Moria - I know! A good friend of mine grew up in Mexico - her stories about the festivals there convince me we need much more pageantry.

Lori J - Good wishes and a lovely Christmas to you, too!

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