When I met Nita Andrews last year, I immediately felt as if I’d found a long-lost relative. Some of our dearest friends in Charlotte went to school with Nita and her husband, Al. I had heard their names spoken for years, always with deep affection and respect. It is my great joy to count Nita as a kindred spirit and new friend. After reading Al’s Christmas book, I knew I wanted to share it with the Story Warren community and asked Nita to make the introduction. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Nita (and Al) Andrews – – Julie Silander
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“Blessed Jesus, give me a love to answer love.”
Gilbert Shaw, 1945 from A Pilgrim’s Book of Prayers
I love art. My favorite university library has an oversized book collection on the top floor, well past the floors where the air conditioning works. Some days I spend a full day sweating up there. Imagine me, dragging heavy books the size of a flat screen TV, off of the shelves. I untie the satin ribbons and open the heavy chipboard sides to reveal the reproduction prints of fine art through the centuries. The truth is, that so far, I have never been bored by the paintings or woodcut prints that I have looked at inside the old, dusty books. But, I believe, the day will come when my eyes can’t see beauty, and the artworks and I are just not connecting. On that day I may feel repelled. I may feel neutral. But in either case, I hope that I listen to that moment. I hope I notice the difference from all of my euphoric days and get curious. Why?
I believe I can’t grow if I only learn from what my gut says is positive or pretty. My husband, Al, found that out while taking a walk in our neighborhood during the Christmas season of 2011. He was shocked by his own honesty when he looked at a brightly lit manger scene three houses up the street. He felt an eerie absence inside the scene (or inside his heart?) and this screamed at him louder than the commercial Christmas that surrounded this manger on all sides.
It is so hard–that month of toil, we call December. All of us live an insane existence for a month every year. When Al couldn’t shake the dullness of a commercialized holiday he decided not to pretend about how awful it felt. This led to one of the most honest prayers he has ever prayed. He said out loud, “I don’t like these people.” To be exact, he said, “WHY, don’t I like these people?” It was the ‘Why’ that give this utterance the shape of a prayer. It was his wish to meet God and pester heaven with the ‘Why’ that made standing in the rain and talking to saints a good thing to do.
Maybe this year your family could follow his example. What would it be like to review your days a couple of times and ask, “Well, for all the effort and expense that went into that display or complicated worship experience, I wonder, did I feel more like a person? More alive?
If not, it would be OK to ask, “I wonder why I left feeling more alone than I did when I arrived? “
The main thing about this honest approach is it takes the pressure off “things” that have done it for you in the past. We all have a rabbit’s foot approach to the holidays. We live like a football fan trying to recreate the lucky action that led to a touchdown. We remember, “Oh, last year it was driving with that one song at full volume,” ”Oh, last year it was the correct pumpkin pie or the smell of cinnamon on the stove.” Or, “It was shopping after 5 on Christmas Eve or that one high note in Handel’s Messiah.” Craving a repeat epiphany is not surprising. After all, it is human nature. Are you like me? I am always afraid that I will get to December 26th and will not have had my one unusual epiphany about Jesus . I do need the “thing” to be on time like the Polar Express. Right? What if I get through the 12 days of Christmas and nothing? What if I hike up the street to run into Immanuel and it leaves me feeling flat? Then I have nothing!
But, as Al shows us in his new book, A Walk One Winter Night, you live through it.
First, don’t panic. The real moments are always away from a commercially orchestrated plan. Take the family portrait, but don’t trust it to be the bona fide proof you have a great life. That type of thing won’t grip you like accidentally hearing a loving exchange between two siblings that usually war with each other. It pales in comparison to off-key carolers at your door. Second, think through the prayer of Gilbert Shaw often during the holiday season. It is simple and good for parents with tired nerves. “Jesus, give me a love to answer love.”
Al found on his Walk One Winter Night was that his love had grown cold. It had been chiseled away by the frenetic holiday pace.
OUT OF SCALE
Everyone scrambles to make Christmas more large scale. I have benefited so much from the writing of Seth Godin about the problem that occurs when things fall out of scale. Here is a very brief way to describe proportion and scale: Before the industrial revolution you could have a butcher and a baker who each had goods to barter. The meat per pound and the bread per pound were equal in scale; meaning they took similar effort and artistry to produce and they could trade 1:1. In time bread was mass-produced bread using a recipe for refined white flour bread and hundreds of loaves were baked every hour. You can guess that the value of the meat remained the same but the value of the bread was deflated. It no longer fit to scale. More could be produced but it would never hold its value next to food closer to the ground and organically pure. That is the way we often live during the Christmas season. Every square inch is a billboard. Large scale and losing value by the minute. This is true, even in social and church programming.
I believe Al met the Holy Family in a manger scene that was bought and put out in the front yard with the best of intentions. The problem rose from how little it pointed to the flesh and blood story he knew from the New Testament. Due to overuse, ease of manufacture and commercial influences, the plastic manger scene fell out of scale. To say it another way––you have the most glorious hands and feet of the King of Kings and they are painted in such a way that they look false. It doesn’t match the scale of the story. It isn’t a 1:1 correspondence. So, it’s easy to see why Al had trouble with it.
A Walk One Winter Night can be a gift to your family if you use it to prompt some questions. Each of you is taking a journey through hundreds of things that say in Large Bold print that a reliable epiphany can be yours to claim. Things like this are for sale on every street corner. Everything promises to be large scale. My thought is that it would be kind to set every one in your house free to say, “Well, honestly, that (fill in the blank:______________fell on a wooden heart. Mine.” I didn’t hear Clarence ring the bell– to be honest.
Maybe you saw the glue in the glitter and it was kind of funny. Maybe you saw the hand in the puppet and it wasn’t real – good intentioned but just not speaking to you that day. Let that honesty be welcomed. That type of talking isn’t a Christmas fail. It is a Christmas clearing discernment. It opens a way for a moment of authentic love to sneak up on you and you can come back around to another Christmas-ee thing tomorrow. You are asking for the intangible. Looking for something that shopping can’t touch and no one can capture under the mistletoe.
You too, can talk to Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a nativity scene in someone’s yard until your love for them is restored. You can ask Love to come near in a silent moment and like a fox on the edge of the forest you may see a glimpse of Love. That is the everything you wanted anyway. Love answering love.