Dancin’ Through the Pain

December 31, 2011

It’s been a rough year.

 Not just for me, but for many. 

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2011 is The Protester. 

I like that.

From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, protesters have called out for change and affected it.

I am doing my own sort of Protest.

I am dancin’ through the Pain.




December 30, 2011

I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
through my fault
through my fault
through my most grievous fault
Therefore, I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

–Penitential Rite of the Catholic Mass,

  (A prayer often called the Confiteor, and less frequently the Mea Culpa)

Sin is sad.

The sin of commission is sad enough—those things we have done. 

But I am not sure there is anything sadder than the sin of omission—the things we have failed to do. 

Omission is a negative sin, a Bermuda Triangle. We disappear from space as if we never existed. We diminish, not just others and God’s Creation, but ourselves. 

I remember after my nephew died, the first time we took a family photo. 

There was an empty spot, a void where he had been. Our family was diminished, not just in number, but in spirit, in heart, in courage. In Love. 

The sin of omission is like a missing family member.

We look for him, but he’s not there.

Il Est Ne

December 29, 2011

Il est ne, le divin Enfant,

Jouez haut-bois resonnez musettes! 

  –Il Est Ne (He Is Born), Traditional 19th cent. French carol

I am being tutored in French.

I have been tutored in French for as long as I can remember. 

I want to be fluent, but have a long way to go. 

The solution, I know, is to live in France.

Context and immersion are the only way to truly learn another language, especially as an older person. 

Over the years, I have learned some key phrases: Je ne parle pas bien Francais I don’t speak French well); Je voudrais…I would like..(fill in the blank); Je t’aime I love you; Merci beaucoup or je vous remercie bien Thank you very much. Allez let’s go; S’il vous plait Please; Ca va? How’s it going? and Je suis content I am happy. 

I haven’t–yet–used the phrase many of us learned from a cheesy song in the seventies–Voulez vous couchet avec moi, ce sois? Would you like to go to bed with me tonight?–One can always hope.

But the sentence that may be the most important one for me to know and comprehend, learned from a French carol is: Il est ne He is born. 

It is contextual and involves immersion.

What child is this, who laid to rest,

on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

  –William Dix, What Child Is This?

Every Christmas Eve, for as long as I can remember, the Ryle family has gathered in the living room for worship–and tradition.

 First, we sing carols. In three or four part harmony. 

Then Daddy reads the Christmas story—the birth narrative in Luke. 

Then, until an embarrassingly late age, the children recite Twas the Night Before Christmas. Dixie and I would prompt the younger three in the middle portion, when Santa’s parts get confusing—his stomach like a bowl full of jelly, his twinkling eyes, his merry dimples. After which we’d hang up our stockings and climb the stairs to bed, ears strained for jingle bells and the light touch of hooves on the roof. 

We no longer recite the long Christmas poem, or hang stockings with blonde angels, toy soldiers and sequins that our Nana made for each of us. The stockings have made their way to new homes and been added to with new ones for husbands and grandchildren.

But the carols around the piano while Mom plays by ear, and the Luke narrative we all know by heart, but Daddy reads in his resonant bass, persist. Even this year, when both parents have reached the respected and wonderful age of 84, our tradition continued.

Over the years, different children have offered gifts of music. Once, my sister, Dixie, and I sang O Holy Night in French. My brother, Dallas III, often plays Silent Night on the guitar as he did this year. Several years, I played I Wonder as I Wander on the dulcimer.

My mother usually has a creative version of a carol, a round, a new tune to Away In a Manger for us to try. This year, it was the words to one carol set to Pachabel’s Canon. Hank requested Good King Wenceslas after telling us about the real king by that name.

My favorite part of the night is the singing. Everyone has their most-loved carol: The First Noel, O Come All Ye Faithful, We Three Kings. Grandchildren add funny lyrics to Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

 But my favorite carol What Child Is This? hasn’t changed for forty years. 

I love the minor key and the reference to Mary. I love the question and the chorus.

 It occurs to me that the question, What Child Is This? is key. Our answers vary:

He’s the Savior, the King, the Messiah.

He’s the Word, the Incarnation.

He’s a baby who will become a good man, a teacher, and martyr–and that is all.

He’s a myth gone wild who will be the cause of wars and oppression throughout history.

People around the world have argued and fought over his role, the reality of his birth, and who this Jesus really is for two millenniums.

I suppose, sooner or later, we need to close the case for ourselves.

What Child is This? is a good question for each of us to wrestle with and try and answer.

A similar question was posed by Jesus to Simon Peter in the scriptures, “Who do you say that I am?”

I think this morning about the most famous quotation from Hamlet: To be or not to be, that is the question.

I believe Shakespeare’s line and the title of my favorite carol are related.

For I believe, God is the great I Am, and our being and non-being have as their source, a manger in Bethlehem.


December 22, 2011

We are in limbo.

As difficult as this concept is, the practice is harder.

Remember the dance? Ducking low under a stick, back bent, stomach muscles key, as we shimmied and inched our way forward, praying we didn’t touch?

Christians live in this state. I don’t care what Joyce Meyers says, or any preacher who teaches differently.

We cannot stand tall all the time. We are between two sides.

On one hand, there exists this marvelous birth. The miracle of Grace and Light, the Word made flesh among us. Low to the ground and humble.

On the other hand, there exists this marvelous return we still wait for, the birth of completion, where all things become new and resolved and finished.

Meanwhile, we shimmy.



I Am a Poor Girl Too

December 20, 2011

We are the Little Drummer Boy. We are poor too, so poor.

We come with nothing except the beat of our hearts and a drumstick.

We wait for Mary’s nod to play.

Mary, will you nod at me?

May I sing your Son a song with my heart?

May I keep rhythm in the barn

and see the Savior smile?

The Books Within Us

December 20, 2011

Each of us has a book–or two or three–within us.

Ask Craddock, as in Fred, the great homiletician and professor of preaching at Emory during the 1980’s and 90’s.

I’ll  never forget one Sunday when Dr. Craddock and his wife, Nellie, showed up in my church.

It was 1996, and I was in a new parish in the mountains. It might have been my third Sunday.

We had experienced a tragedy in the community, when a member’s house burned to the ground the day before. Everything went up in ashes, except the wedding ring of the wife’s, found by the daughter, covered in soot but still golden.

We cried with them, provided shelter, and learned about a new sacrament–that of community.

And so, I told the story. I preached the narrative we were given.

I didn’t realize my preaching professor was present until I leaned over the altar rail and served him communion. He smiled with the twinkle of humor he so easily lived.  He had caught me unaware.

I believe each of us is a story, a narrative–a book.

We turn pages like a good novel, dogear favorite passages, stay up late into the night because we can’t put it down.

Soemtimes, we want to skip to the end, to know what will be resolved, to solve the Mystery, and discover the conclusion before its time.

But that is not the way God has given our lives to unfold.

It is a daily writing, a patient discipline, the development of characters and plot, the infusion of details, and the focus of a theme.



December 11, 2011

As most of you know, I am newly divorced.

I also suffered a breakdown last summer.

But the way I feel right now, may be worse.

The feeling is emptiness, an emotion and state of being new to me.

It is uncomfortable. I ask for God to help me through.

Perhaps, it is a good state to be in for Advent.

Instead of Mary’s hope and ripeness, I am empty like the manger.

A concave shape with a few strands of straw.

There is no baby yet. No new life, loud and wriggling.

The time for me is way back in Genesis, the Void.

I know God is creating something new, and soon I will be full like Mary.

But for now, I am pre-chaos, post excitment, empty like a barren womb.




December 10, 2011

It is 6:31 AM.

I’ve been sitting on Lynn’s front porch, basking in moonlight.

The coyotes started up, a tangle of yelps and howls, close to her home. Then, like an orchestrated pause, they were silent.

It is so quiet–one of the greatest gifts of coming here.

I think this morning about Blackjack.

Once, I was in a casino at Lake Tahoe.

Men sat with drinks studying the table. I believe math is involved and although I was good at math, I have no desire to play the game.

Yet..I think life might be more like Blackjack than we want to admit. And even if we don’t understand the rules, or know how to move chips, we still place our bets on something, someone.

We gamble.

We motion for another card.

It is 2:30 AM.

I suppose it is still night, but I think of it as morning.

I take my coffee, wrap up in my green cape, pull on my REI gloves and go outside.

It is startling beautiful, beyond stunning.

I catch my breath.

My sister taught me a song, years ago, and I sing the words,

The stars, the stars, O how bright they shine

on a world which the Lord must have helped design.

The Big Dipper is above me to the East, like the Wise Men’s guide. Grace spills from it like a Grandmother’s ladle.

Orion is behind me, very male, in a confident pose, sword brandished in a virile show.

I think of stars as holes, where the light of God peeks through. We are given the glimpse.

And God is very generous this morning, filling my plate with good thoughts and beauty.

I wonder if Jesus was fat, you know, all those feasts.

I wonder if Jesus ever laid in a field, the terra firma pressed hard against the small of his back and stared into His Father.

I wonder if he ever crawled in a forest on all fours.

I did once, with a friend in high school. It was a miniature hike where miniature creatures were studied, an ant’s body parts, the iridescent wings of a beetle, the feathered detail in a clump of moss, the feminine smell of the soil beneath a rhododendron. The experience was a wonder and I highly recommend it.

My inclination this morning is to look up–and to tell you to look down.

See, feel, experience the wonder of the world.

Get up and discover.