christmas eve pie on the road

12/26/11

 The child.  You must become as a little child.  The child’s sense of safety, of trust – this is what Christ refers to.  The arms that reach out to the mother, the father.  The child’s dance around the room, the child’s explorations of the world. 

Christmas Eve begins early in the morning as I stand on the hill outside our home and do a simple meditation as I face west, down the slope towards Ballard and beyond to Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Mountains.  While there my neighbor and friend Bob Martin comes out; we greet each other and he tells me the story of meeting Josephine the day before, a woman he sees almost every day when he bikes to work along the Burke Gilman trail.  A homeless woman of unknown age, she’s lived outside for eleven years – no tent, just a tarp and a sleeping bag. Maybe not even that.  Her space is this stretch of the bike path and its neighborhood from the bridge west to a nearby store which allows her to use a table outside as a place to sit and occasionally eat. 

Josephine.  Claims to be the mother of two daughters, neither of whom she’s seen in years. 

On Friday Bob took the time to stop and talk with her, mostly to tell her how much he is inspired by her presence there on the trail, how much she teaches him simply by being there, and, really, simply by being.  He offers to buy her breakfast which she accepts, and, at the end of the meal Bob asks if he might give her a hug.  She looks at him a long moment and then agrees.

I haven’t been hugged in five years she says.

At the Christmas Eve service at St. Mark’s the Bishop preaches, sharing a story from that same morning, over in West Seattle, near his home, when he, like Bob and myself, was out for a walk.  He came to a crossroads at a major arterial and stopped as a car completely loaded with people and presents pulled up to the stop sign and then roared off into the morning, losing a pie that had been sitting on the roof of the car.  The pie slid off and landed in the middle of the street right side up and undamaged.  Greg ran out to the street and picked it up, then waved frantically to the disappearing car.  A gift from the gods.  A Christmas gift not unlike a child born out there in the stables.  So he took it with him to the cathedral and shared it with those serving at the early service.

As he shared it later that evening in his story.

Gifts, he said, sometimes come in strange packages.

Gifts in the dead of winter. 

I found myself reflecting on the curious fact, throughout that late evening Christmas Eve Mass, that all of this celebration, all of this energy – commercial, communal – is for a date that is pure fiction.  It wasn’t until the 4rth century after Christ that the date was officially established by the church, and even then it was chosen not because of any Biblical authority but because of its proximity to the winter solstice (and, of course, to land on top of other current solstice celebrations, as was so often the case with the church and its calendar).  Odds are vastly against December 25th (on whose calendar?  The one we use, called Gregorian, also came into use. far later) as the birth of the historical Jesus.

And yet, what does it matter?  The date though fiction is also fact – meaning that it is  the birth of Jesus, the birth of all that Jesus represents, which includes words like Christ, the anointed one, or Logos, or son of God, son of Man, light from light.  It is the birth of light out of darkness, the birth of hope, the birth of new possibilities, the birth of a kind of faith in the midst of a truly bleak political midwinter.  The songs have it right in part because the songs have helped create  this rightness.  The songs –along with the liturgy, along with the community of believers, along with whatever genuine connection and relationship happens in the midst of the frenzy of shopping and cooking.  I was fortunate to find Jesus or whatever name you wish to give to this light as I was sipping tea at the Perennial tea Shop in Pike Place Market that same Christmas Eve morning, and found it again sharing an amazing cup of chocolate chaud at Le Pichet with my wife –and indeed throughout the day and evening with Judy and friends. 

Something or someone surely shows up as we sing, as we share a meal and the stories for the hundredth or thousandth time, the grooves worn deep, the road before us clear. 

All is calm, all is bright