As Eyes Open





A flower needs to be this size
to conceal the winter window,
and this color, the red
of a Fiat with the top down,

to impress us, dull as we’ve grown.

Months ago the gigantic onion of a bulb
half above the soil
stuck out its green tongue
and slowly, day by day,

the flower itself entered our world,

closed, like hands that captured a moth,
then open, as eyes open,
and the amaryllis, seeing us,
was somehow undiscouraged.

It stands before us now

as we eat our soup;
you pour a little of your drinking water
into its saucer, and a few crumbs
of fragrant earth fall
onto the tabletop.
~Connie Wanek “Amaryllis”
It came home with me over a month ago,
a non-descript bulb with a green sword-blade shoot
emerging shyly from the top.

Its care and feeding
was a lot of “watch and wait”
and just a little water.
It was our December morning entertainment
as we munched down cereal,
gauging how many centimeters
it rose over night.

It took over the dining table~
two tall stalks topped with tight-fisted buds
which opened oh-so-slowly over several days
like a drowsy student on Christmas break,
not yet ready to meet and greet the world
but once the commitment to wake is made,
there is no other blossoming quite like it anywhere.


The Work of Christmas Begins







When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
~Howard Thurman from The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations



All the Advent anticipation is spent, Christmas and New Years are past and I find my energy waning just as the work of Christmas is beginning.

Instead of the Twelve Days of Christmas it should be the Twelve Weeks, or better yet, Twelve Months– maybe the lights should stay up until St. Patrick’s Day at least, just to keep us out of the shadows, inertia and doldrums of winter.

As I sweep up the last of the fir needles that dropped to the floor from this lovely tree that I watered faithfully in the house for over two weeks, I too have been drying up, parts of me left behind for others to sweep up.   There has been the excitement of family brought together from far away,  friends gathering for meals and games,  special church services, but now, some quiet time is sorely needed.   The party simply can’t be sustained.  The lights have to go off and be pulled down, and the eyes have to close.

The real work of Christmas lasts year-long — often very hard intensive work, not always the fun stuff of the last month, but badly needed in this broken world with its homelessness, hunger, disease, conflict, addictions, depression and pain.

I walk into a winter replete with the startling splash of orange red that paints the skies in the evenings, the stark and gorgeous snow covered peaks surrounding us during the day,  the grace of bald eagles and trumpeter swans flying overhead,  the heavenly lights that twinkle every night,  the shining globe that circles full above us, and the loving support of the Hand that rocks us to sleep when we are wailing loud and need it.

And I am readied to do the real work of Christmas, acknowledging the stark reality of the labor to salvage this world begun by an infant in a manger.

We don’t need full stockings on the hearth, Christmas villages on the side table, or a blinking star on the top of the tree to know the comfort of His care and the astounding beauty of His creation, available for us without batteries, electrical plug ins, or the need of a ladder.

As I take down lights and ornaments, the memory of Christmas pulls me up from the doldrums, alive to the possibility that even I can make a difference, in His name, all year.

Every day. Twelve months. Life long.

And I’m ready.













Christmas Mess


When the barn doors are opened
on a bright frosted Christmas morning,
the inner darkness penetrated by a beam of sunlight,
exposing an equine escapee.

His stall door stands ajar,  the door unlatched,
he meanders the black of the unlit barn aisle lined with hay bales
munching his breakfast, lunch, and dinner
all of which lies strewn and ruined at his feet.

Not only did he somehow escape his locked door
but he has chosen to leave poop piles
on every other horses’ breakfast, lunch,  and dinner
as futilely they watch from behind their stall doors.

He has had the run of the place all night~
obvious from his ubiquitous hoof tracks amid
the overturned buckets, trampled halters, tangled baling twine,
twisted hoses, toppled hay bales and general chaos.

At least he didn’t climb up and start the tractor
or eat the cat food or pry open the grain barrel
or chew a saddle or two, or rip horse blankets apart,
but from the looks of things I think he tried.

His head goes up as the sunlight highlights his nocturnal escapade,
catching him red-hoofed and boldly nonchalant, proclaiming innocence.
Like a child asking for milk to go with a stolen cookie
he approaches me, begging for a carrot after his all night repast.

I grab a fist full of mane, put him back, double lock him in.
Surveying the mess, I want to turn around, shut the barn doors
and banish it back to the cover of darkness,
hide his sins now illuminated in the light of day.

I remember all the messes I’ve made in my life.
I clean his up, give him a hug,
and forgive as I’m forgiven.



God Among Us: The Glorious Light


For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given
Isaiah 9:6

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1:3

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
John 1:9-10

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
~Luci Shaw “Mary’s Song”


We still don’t recognize Him.
Despite the evidence all around us, above us, beneath us,
inside and within us,
coursing through our veins and arteries
and synapses,
we still don’t know Him.
Listen to the call of the heart
that leads you to His side,
your darkness bathed in His glorious light,
your hurts healed forever by His wounds.


The holiest of all holidays are those
    Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
    The secret anniversaries of the heart,
    When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
    The sudden joys that out of darkness start
    As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
    Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “Holidays”


One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem
Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep
Three for the kings bringing gold, brining myrrh, bringing incense
Four for the angels that watch over his bedside
Blue for the robe of the sweet Virgin Mary
White for the dawn of the first Christmas day
Red for the blood that he shed for us all on Good Friday
Black for the tomb where he rested ‘till Easter
Lullaby, see Jesus asleep. Angels and shepherds their watch on him keep
Lullaby he soon will awake for the oxen are stirring and morning with break
One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem
Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep
Three for the kings bringing gold, brining myrrh, bringing incense
Four for the angels that watch over his bedside
And one for the heart, one for the heart,
One for the heart that I give as my offering to Jesus!

Oh Little Child

Oh little child it’s Christmas night
And the sky is filled with glorious light
Lay your soft head so gently down
It’s Christmas night in Bethlehem town.

Alleluia the angels sing
Alleluia to the king
Alleluia the angels sing
Alleluia to the king.

Sleep while the shepherds find their way
As they kneel before you in the golden hay
For they have brought you a woolly lamb
On Christmas night in Bethlehem.


Sleep till you wake at the break of day
With the sun’s first dawning ray
You are the babe, who’ll wear the crown
On Christmas morn in Bethlehem town.


Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Alleluia



God Among Us: Entrusted as Brother



And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Luke 1: 76-79


Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Luke 2: 28-35


It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.
~Denise Levertov  “On the Mystery of the Incarnation”


Tainted and stained, we approach the manger barely aware how grimy we are, feeling completely comfortable with visiting such a dark and dank place.  We have lived in the dark for so long, the light shining this night from the face of our new Brother is so blinding, so revealing, He leaves no place to hide.

The Light is come; blessed is He who comes to rescue us from the dark. ~EPG



Benedictus Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Benedictus Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.Benedictus Benedictus qui venit, qui venit in nomine Domini.
Benedictus Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.Benedictus Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.Hosanna in excelsis.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Hosanna Hosanna in excelsis.Benedictus Benedictus qui venit, qui venit in nomine Domini.
Benedictus Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini,
qui venit in nomine Domini.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
Blessed is he who comes, who comes,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
Blessed, blessed is he who comes in the name,
Who comes in the name of the Lord,
Blessed, blessed is he who comes in the name,
Blessed is he who comes, who comes,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna in the highest, in the highest!
Blessed is he who comes in the name, the name of the Lord,
Hosanna in the highest, in the highest
Hosanna in the highest, in the highest, in the highest, in the highest!

That old man in the temple
Waiting in the court
Waiting for the answer to a promise
And all at once he sees them
In the morning sunshine
A couple come and carry in a babyNow that I’ve held Him in my arms
My life can come to an end
Let Your servant now depart in peace
‘Cause I’ve seen Your salvation
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people, Israel

Mary and the baby come
And in her hand five shekels
The price to redeem her baby boy
The baby softly cooing
Nestled in her arms

Simeon takes the boy and starts to sing

Now that I’ve held Him in my arms
My life can come to an end
Let Your servant now depart in peace
‘Cause I’ve seen Your salvation
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people, Israel

Now’s the time to take Him in your arms
Your life will never come to an end
He’s the only way that you’ll find peace
He’ll give you salvation
‘Cause he’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people, Israel

Behold, a Branch is growing Of loveliest form and grace,
As prophets sang, foreknowing; It springs from Jesse’s race
And bears one little flow’r In midst of coldest winter,
At deepest midnight hour.

Isaiah had foretold it In words of promise sure,
And Mary’s arms enfold it, A virgin meek and pure.
Through God’s eternal will This child to her is given
At midnight calm and still.

The shepherds heard the story Proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory, Was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped And in the manger found him,
As angel heralds said.

This flow’r, so small and tender, With fragrance fills the air;
His brightness ends the darkness That kept the earth in fear.
True God and yet true man, He came to save his people
From earth’s dark night of sin.

O Savior, Child of Mary, Who felt our human woes,
O Savior, King of glory, Who conquered all our foes,
Bring us at last, we pray, To the bright courts of heaven
And to the endless day.

God Among Us: Turning Darkness Into Light


For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4: 6

The love that descended to Bethlehem is not the easy sympathy of an avuncular God, but a burning fire whose light chases away every shadow, floods every corner, and turns midnight into noon.  This love reveals sin and overcomes it.  It conquers darkness with such forcefulness and intensity that it scatters the proud, humbles the mighty, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed (Luke 1:51-53).
~from the editors’ introduction in Watch for the Light


On this morning before the longest night of the year, I look out the window eagerly desiring a post-solstice reprieve from interminable darkness.  I seek that promise of being led back into the light, even if it will take months to get there.  It is a promise that keeps me going even if I will barely perceive the few minutes of extra daylight tomorrow.  It is from the simple knowledge that things are changing — getting lighter and brighter — that I harvest hope.

God made light through His Word, not once but twice.  In the beginning, He created the sun and the moon to penetrate and illuminate the creation of our hearts and our souls.  In the stable He came to light the world from below as well as from above so those hearts and souls could be saved from self-destruction.

I am showered with His light even on the longest night of the year and forever more,  lit from the glory of God reflected in the many faces of Jesus: as newborn, child teacher, working carpenter, healer, itinerant preacher, unjustly condemned, dying and dead, raised and ascended Son of God.

Let the dark days come as they certainly will.  They cannot overwhelm me now,  lit from within no matter how deeply the darkness oppresses.

I know His promise.
I know His face.
He knows I know.

A spotless rose is blowing,
Sprung from a tender root,
Of ancient seers foreshowing,
Of Jesse promised fruit;
Its fairest bud unfolds to light
Amid the cold, cold winder,
And in the dark midnight.

The rose which I am singing,
Whereof Isaiah said,
Is from its sweet root springing
In Mary purest maid;
For through our God’s great love and might,|
The Blessed Babe she bare us
In a cold, cold winter’s night.

A tender shoot has started up from a root of grace,
as ancient seers imparted from Jesse’s holy race:
It blooms without a blight, blooms in the cold bleak winter,
turning our darkness into light.

This shoot Isaiah taught us, from Jesse’s root should spring;
The Virgin Mary brought us the branch of which we sing;
Our God of endless might gave her this child to save us,
Thus turning darkness into light.



God Among Us: Reason to Fear Not




And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.”
Luke 2:8-10


We forget that God is right there, waiting for us to turn to him, no matter how dire our situation.
We forget the reassuring words of his messengers: “Fear not.”
God always seeks to draw close to us — even in the depths of hell.
…it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death
is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.
It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others.
It means choosing generosity over greed.
It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power.
Finally, it means being ready to die again and again
— to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.

~Johann Christoph Arnold from Watch for the Light


“How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource!
We go to Him because we have nowhere else to go.
And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us,
not upon the rocks, but into the desired haven.”
~George MacDonald


 The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life.
You might never have been, but you are,
because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.
Here is the world.

Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.

I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner
in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words


Fear often becomes the thing we fear the most. And it need not be. Being afraid in the face of the unexpected happened years and years ago to people who were society’s cast-offs, relegated to tending flocks as they had no other skill of value. They were the forgotten and the least of men. Yet what they saw and heard that Christmas night put them, of all people, first in line to see God in flesh,  allowing them access no one else had.

Within the routine familiarity of their fields and flocks came this most unexpected experience, terrifying in its sheer “other worldliness”, and blinding in its grandeur. They were flattened with fear and dread, “sore” afraid, hurting all over in their terror.

And so the reassurance came: “Be not afraid”.  It is reiterated over and over:  “Fear not!”

The shepherds picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and obediently went on their way to the safety and familiar security of a barn, to see with their own eyes what they could not imagine: a baby born in so primitive a place, yet celebrated from the heavens. The least becomes first, and the first becomes the least.

Sometimes, in these dark times, our terror is for good reason, and we feel driven upon the rocks of life.  But we need to understand where we truly land in those terrifying moments.  It is the safe haven of God’s arms,  as He gazes up at us from a manger bed, walks with us through the valley of our fear, and gathers us in to safe haven when we were sure there was nowhere else to go.


We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves,
We give to your son.


1. Methinks I see an heav’nly host
Of angels on the wing
Methinks I hear their cheerful notes
So merrily they sing:

Let all your fears be banish’d hence,
Glad tidings I proclaim,
For there’s a Saviour born today,
And Jesus is his name.

2. Lay down your crooks and quit your flocks,
To Bethlehem repair;
And let your wand’ring steps be squar’d
By yonder shining star.

Seek not in courts or palaces,
Nor royal curtains draw;
But search the stable, see your God
Extended on the straw.

3. Then learn from hence, ye rural Swains,
The Meekness of your God,
Who left the boundless Realms of Joy
To Ransom you with blood.

The Master of the Inn refus’d
A more commodious Place;
Ungenerous Soul of Savage Mould,
And destitute of Grace.

4. Exult ye oxen, low for joy,
Ye tenants of the stall,
Pay your obeisance, on your knees
Unanimously fall.

The royal guest you entertain
Is not of common birth,
But second to the great I Am;
The God of heav’n and earth.

5. Then suddenly a heav’nly host
Around the shepherds throng,
Exulting in the threefold God
And thus address their song.
To God the Father, Christ the Son,
And Holy Ghost ador’d;
The First and Last, the Last and First,
Eternal praise afford.