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advent journal: deja war


I started ninth grade in September of 1970, a little over a year after Woodstock, which meant there was time for the soundtrack album to make its way to Nairobi just as I got my first guitar that Christmas. A new world opened up: Canned Heat singing “Going Up the Country,” Crosby, Stills, and Nash singing “Wooden Ships” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Richie Havens’ “Freedom,” Joan Baez singing “Drugstore Truck Driven’ Man,” and Jimi Hendrix playing the National Anthem.

I took my guitar to school because there were several others that did as well, and they all played better than I did. One of them figured out the chords to a lot of the Woodstock songs, so those were some of the first I learned. “I Feel Like I’m A-Fixing to Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish was the tune that taught me how to make a bar chord. I had to slide up on the first line of the chorus, one fret at a time . . .

and it’s one two three
what are we fighting’ for
don’t ask me I don’t give a damn
next stop is Vietnam
and it’s five six seven
open up the pearly gates
well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
whoopee we’re all going to die

Even in Kenya, we were getting news about the Vietnam War. Even in our small American community, there were those who had lost family and friends to a conflict that made no sense. So we learned and sang protest songs and hoped the war was over before we turned eighteen, and we sang loud.

well, come on generals, let’s move fast
your big chance has come at last
gotta go out and get those reds
the only good commie is the one who’s dead
and you know that peace can only be won
when we’ve blown ’em all to kingdom come

I’ve thought a lot about those days this week, not because I’m feeling nostalgic since it’s been nearly fifty years since I got that first guitar, but because of the amazing report on the Afghan War released by the Washington Post–the same folks who broke the Pentagon Papers. The news is no different: this war is a lie. Those who took us to war and who keep us there cannot answer what we are fighting for. We have spent lots of money, killed lots of people, wounded even more, and we don’t know why. The ninth graders who might get guitars this Christmas have never lived a day when their nation was not at war. Neither have the seniors. And it’s not over yet.

The same year I got my guitar, Kurt Vonnegut published Slaughter House-5 Or the Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death–a novel about the war. I didn’t read it until I was in college, but Vonnegut’s words have found me at different times in my life, and they found me again this week through–you guessed it–Brain Pickings.

In a book I have not read, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is: Advice to the Young, he says

I am so smart I know what is wrong with the world. Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?” What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi, a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago. And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too. Are you ready for this?

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi, which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury, real or imagined, shall be avenged. Somebody’s going to be really sorry.

Violence is not a solution. Ever. We have all kinds of human history that makes that clear. And yet, when I make that statement, I am often told I am naive because the world doesn’t work that way. But the world, as it is, doesn’t work, period. More from Kurt:

We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully, violently, to every insult or injury. In this, the Age of Television, they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers, to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on . . .

But in our personal lives, our inner lives, at least, we can learn to live without the sick excitement, without the kick of having scores to settle with this particular person, or that bunch of people, or that particular institution or race or nation. And we can then reasonably ask forgiveness for our trespasses, since we forgive those who trespass against us. And we can teach our children and then our grandchildren to do the same–so that they, too, can never be a threat to anyone.

Our nation has spent all but one year of this century at war, fueling ourselves with fear and revenge. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow walked the battlefield at Gettysburg in the wake of that violence and wrote

and in despair I bowed my head
there is no peace on earth I said
for hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth . . .

He went on to write another verse that offered resolution, finding hope in that God was neither dead nor asleep. I don’t think that’s the issue. Vonnegut, an avowed Humanist, saw hope in Jesus’ response to violence:

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” What kind of a man was that? Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi, would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all their friends and relatives, and make their deaths slow and painful.”

His greatest legacy to us, in my humble opinion, consists of only twelve words. They are the antidote to the poison of the Code of Hammurabi, a formula almost as compact as Albert Einstein’s “E = mc2.”

Violence is not a solution to violence. Revenge doesn’t keep its promises. War, well, what is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.



advent journal: blessed are the compost


I guess it is safe to say that my making soup for the carolers before they go out to sing on the Second Sunday of Advent is a tradition, since I have now done it for three Advents. I had recipes for two of the soups I made: Pumpkin Corn Chowder and Uncle Milty’s Guinness and Chocolate Chili (though this recipe needs to be updated). I made a third soup because I had stuff I needed to use up: a head of cabbage and the left over breakfast sausage links from Breakfast with Santa on Saturday morning. I shredded the cabbage, cut up the sausage, added some diced potatoes, garlic, and seasonings and ended up with a tasty Cabbage and Sausage Soup.

I love seeing what I can do with leftovers.

Cooking teaches you how to deal with what’s left. When I roast a chicken or a turkey, I save the bones; I also save celery and carrot scraps, as well as corn cobs. When I get enough to fill my big soup pot and I have a day at home, I make stock to use for soups I haven’t thought up yet. (You may notice that onions aren’t on my list. Ginger is allergic to them, so I have had to learn other places to find flavor.) The other way I use the scraps takes a longer look: I compost them. Even in winter.

We have two big compost bins in the church communal garden and I am diligent in saving vegetable scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds to “feed the garden,” as my mother-in-law likes to say. I keep a plastic bucket on the kitchen counter where we collect what might be thought of as garbage but will become fuel for future food. Occasionally, some of what gets composted is something that was not used in time and began to spoil. I find relief in knowing I can do more with it than throw it away. We may not have eaten it, as I intended when I bought or picked it, but it still makes a contribution.

I have had composting on my mind because of another chapter in David Whyte’s book, Consolations. The word today was ambition. Much of what he had to say contrasted ambition and vocation. One of the things he said was,

No matter the self-conceited importance of our labors, we are all compost for worlds we cannot yet imagine.

A more poetic way, perhaps, to say we are worm food.

Since Galileo, humanity has continued to struggle, on many levels, with the reality that we are not the center of the universe. We are wonderfully and uniquely created in the image (imagination?) of God and we are appropriately insignificant. We are called to grow while we are here and we are destined to be compost for the growth that will come in seasons after us.

But temporal, or even temporary, and meaningless are not synonyms.

We may not live forever, but we are called to invest in these days. To actively participate. To live intentionally. To live like it matters that we are here, which is not the same as being famous, or even being widely remembered. Listen to Whyte again.

A vocation always includes the specific, heart-rendering way we will fail at our attempt to live fully. A true vocation always metamorphoses both ambition and failure into compassion and understanding for others.

Make no mistake. Whyte is not offering a romantic idea about failure. Tom, who is my gardening buddy from church, and I talk a great deal about how many things have to die for new things to grow. Regardless of the season, something is dying in our garden, which makes the soil and the relationships between the dirt and the nutrients and the plants and organisms all richer for the sacrifice. To say ambition and failure become compassion rephrases Jesus saying we must lose our lives to find them.

Blessed are the compost, for they feed the world with compassion.

Almost twenty-five years ago, I bought a record called The Sting of the Honeybee by Diane Zeigler. (I am happy to say you can still find it on iTunes.) I bought it because she covered James Taylor’s song “Millworker.” But one of the last tracks is the one that has burned itself into me. It is called “You Will Get Your Due.” Listen through the link at the bottom of the page while you read the words.

there’s a man that I don’t know well
but I’ve seen the way he cast his spell
straight across a room until the people had to listen
he was singing from a quiet place
and you could only hear the faintest trace
that he wonders if he’ll ever taste the kiss of recognition

but you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
and you will get your due

I want to call him friend
because I love the way he works that pen
and spinning stories seems to be his true devotion
but he says he’s gonna pack it in
because he doesn’t see it rolling in
he thinks that ship is somewhere lost out on the ocean

but you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
and you will get your due

I know you want to leave it behind
but it’s all there in your mind
and you can no more stop the songs
than stop your breathing
I can’t tell you how it’s gonna end
I know the lucky ones sometimes win
but not before they’ve paid a price
for all their dreaming

but you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
and you will get your due

The song used to give me hope because I thought it meant that one day I would finally get really noticed for my song lyrics or my writing. That is not what the song means to me now. I have gotten more than my due in many ways, based on the love I know and have known and the chance to sit down at night and write. But beyond that, I am compost for life and growth I cannot even see. I am–no, we are vital members of God’s imaginative work. Not leftovers or spoiled things, but created and creative compost.

Blessed are the compost.



advent journal: give a little bit


This summer, Blazing Fresh Donuts opened across the street from our house.

They make the donuts to order. They drop the batter when you get to the counter and then you get to choose a glaze and any number of toppings and drizzles. The maple-bacon-pretzel donut is one of my creations, along with the chocolate-graham cracker-marshmallow drizzle. They also have a Boston Creme donut, which is a longtime favorite of mine.

I have taken their presence to be a sign from God, and so part of my Sunday ritual is to walk over there on my way to church to get a coffee (and, sometimes, a donut) and read for awhile before church. This morning I began reading David Whyte’s Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. I jumped around a bit and read “alone,” “confession,” and “giving.” Part of what he said about the latter was

To give is to make an imaginative journey and put ourselves in the body, the mind, and the anticipation of another. . . . looking for the imaginative doorway that says I know you and see you and this is how I give thanks for you.

I carried those words to church with me where Ginger preached on the humility of John the Baptist, which was an imaginative doorway I had not gone through before. She looked at the way he was willing to spend his life pointing to someone other than himself, to prepare the way for someone else. He was not intent on being the hero of his story, or anyone else’s. He opened the imaginative doorway for Jesus to walk through.

After the sermon, the choir sang a Shaker hymn as we passed the offering plates:

love is little love is low
love will make our spirits grow
grow in peace grow in light
love will do the thing that’s right

love is gentle love is small
love will find the best in all
find the peace find the light
love will find the thing that’s right

love is silent love is strong
love will sing a quiet song
sing of peace sing of light
love will do the thing that’s right

The words were printed in the order of service and I kept staring at the first phrase: love is little. It sent me back to words from Annie Dillard that I read a few days ago.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

The quote comes from The Writing Life, and she was talking about how to get words on the page, but her sense that our lives are built by the days we live is another imaginative doorway through which we can enter a life of giving–of putting ourselves in the mind, body, and anticipation of one another. How can we give the little gifts, the daily gifts, whether they are words or hugs or things, that say, “I know you and I see you and this is how I give thanks for you”?

I love that last one: this is how I give thanks for you. How do we give the little bits of love that say that to spouses and siblings, to coworkers, to store clerks and servers? How do we become those who open imaginative doorways that make our spirits grow? I think it matters that Whyte named the doorways as imaginative and not imaginary. Imaginary is just making things up. Imaginative is to infuse small things with significance. To spend our days imaginatively is to create a life of love.

A few weeks ago, during our prayer time, a woman gave thanks for the person behind her in line at the supermarket who bent down and picked up the blueberries she dropped and that scattered across the floor. “Her small act of kindness gave me hope,” she said. Me, too.

Love is little. Love is daily. Love says, “I know you and I see you and I give thanks for you.” Imagine that.



advent journal: cover me up


As we finish the first week of Advent, it feels like a good time to offer some music for the journey. All of the songs are covers, that is they are songs recorded by someone other than the songwriter. I hope these songs offer some warmth and light for the journey.

The first is Sara Watkins’ version of “Give Me Jesus.” Her lyrics are different from other versions I have heard, as are the quiet harmonies.

Jimmy LaFave is one of those who left us too soon. He died in 2017 after a battle with cancer. He was a wonderful songwriter as well as one who interpreted others’ songs well. Here is his cover of Pete Townsend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” which is a wonderful theme for Advent.

when everything feels all over
everybody seems unkind
I’ll give you a four-leaf clover
take all worry out of your mind
let my love open the door
to your heart, to your heart

“Love’s In Need of Love Today” is one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs and Joan Osborne offers this soulful version.

good morn or evening friends here’s your friendly announcer
I have serious news to pass on to every-body
what I’m about to say could mean the world’s disaster
could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain
it’s that love’s in need of love today . . .

The third verse of Mary Gauthier’s song, “Mercy Now,” says,

my church and my country could use a little mercy now
as they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
they carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now

And here’s Kathy Mattea singing it.

“Ring Them Bells” is the first of two Dylan covers that will close out this post.

ring them bells for Saint Catherine from the top of the room
ring them bells from the fortress for the lilies that bloom
oh the lines are long and the fighting is strong
and they’re breaking down the distance between right and wrong

Sarah Jarosz is the one singing the song.

The first time I heard “To Make You Feel My Love,” Garth Brooks was singing it—and I think it was about the time the video below was recorded.

when the rain is blowing in your face
and the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
to make you feel my love
when the evening shadows and the stars appear
and there is no one there to dry your tears
oh, I hold you for a million years
o make you feel my love

I hope love is finding you in these days.



advent journal: missed opportunity


I have a growing list of words and phrases I have collected from things I have read and heard. I am hoping to use them as kindling for a poetry book. Tonight, I offer one of the poems to you. The inciting phrase is “the compliment of your curiosity.” Here is what it set to burning.

missed opportunity

when my brother decided
to become a musician

I ceased to be one in
the eyes of my parents

they felt they had to choose
so we didn’t compete

but we both loved to sing
every song became his solo

I brought my guitar home from
college every chance I had

hoping for the compliment
of their curiosity

when my mother finally asked
what I was singing one Christmas

afternoon I didn’t know
how to take the compliment

I should say she meant well
but I wanted her to know

all the music she had missed
I don’t think I kept singing

or that I ever brought my
guitar home with me again

the words we think we deserve
are so much harder to hear



advent journal: winter companions


I had to go to New York two days in a row this week, which meant the long night was short for me and rode the train both ways in the dark. Winter in the Northeast is so much fun. As I walked the chilly streets to get to my office building, an old Simon and Garfunkel song crossed my mind.

a winter’s day . . .
in a deep and dark December
I am alone . . .

I had some time before our meeting began when I got to the office, so I turned to Brain Pickings to help wake me up and remind me of our shared hope as humans. I hope I get to meet Maria Popova someday so I can say thank you in person. Not only does she make wonderful connections and point to amazing writing, but she ends each article with sign posts to other great things. This post about a children’s book that looks at the shortest day led to this post about another book on the solstice, which led to an article about Winter: Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik, which led me to these words:

Human beings make metaphors as naturally as bees make honey, and one of the most natural metaphors we make is of winter as a time of abandonment and retreat. The oldest metaphors for winter are all metaphors of loss.

When we took a lunch break from our all-day meeting, I went outside so I could see some daylight and get out of the conference room. My office is on East 34th Street at the opposite end of the block from the Empire State Building and two blocks from Macy’s, which is Shopping Central. The street was packed with people. What I noticed as I walked is how many of them were grouped as they strolled—families, couples, friends—taking pictures, talking and laughing, enjoying the holidays.

I know nothing about the people I passed on the street. When it comes right down to it, I don’t know many details about most of the folks I work with, and they don’t know much about me beyond what happens to come up at work. I don’t mean to imply that we are not collegial, but our days are filled with things other than hanging out.

On the train home tonight, I read through the quotes I had saved from my morning meander, and came back to one by poet David Whyte:

[T]he ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

As long as I’m making Simon and Garfunkel connections, how could I not sing these?

when you’re down and out
when you’re on the street
when evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes
and pain is all around . . .

The ultimate touchstone is not improvement, but witness.

Those words fill me with gratitude because they have names behind them. Stories. I hope that is what was happening in the lives of those I passed on the street. I hope they were making memories that will come back some other winter night when one turns to the other and says, “I remember that afternoon with you in New York.”

Those words make me hear Jesus differently when he says, “You shall be my witnesses.”

I was taught that meant I was supposed to go tell people things. But what if it means go befriend people: really see them, walk with them, believe in them, accompany them for whatever time you have on this journey we cannot make alone. It’s not about improvement; it’s about bearing witness.

In this deep and dark December, who are your witnesses? And for whom are you bearing witness? Who walks with you and believes in you? Who needs to hear that you see them and believe in them?

Okay—one more from Simon and Garfunkel.

old friends
winter companions
the old men
lost in their overcoats
waiting for the sunset
the sounds of the city
sifting through trees
settle like dust
on the shoulders
of the old friends

The bridge that follows says,

can you imagine us years from today
sharing a park bench quietly?
how terribly strange to be seventy

A week away from my sixty-third birthday, its not so far-fetched. So, tonight, my winter companions, I will rest here, like the old friends lost in their overcoats, grateful to see and to be seen, to know and to be known, bearing witness like a badge of honor rather than a burden.



advent journal: nothing matters


nothing matters

from my window seat I can see a bench
concrete sides holding wooden slats
under the tree that has taken a century
to grow beyond the telephone pole

meet me there with nothing other
than a cup of coffee, or a pup
leave anything that beeps or vibrates
and we will linger with a sense of purpose

as though nothing matters
(as in we have nothing to prove other)
let us linger with a sense of purpose
as though it’s as natural as working

nothing matters so much that we must do
nothing other than find ways to each other
so meet me on the bench–and bring snacks
all this talk about food has made me hungry



advent journal: word power


People who think poetry has no power have a very limited understanding of what power means.–Christian Wiman

If you look up power in the dictionary, the definitions revolve around influence and control, as in the power to make people do what you want. If you look at the way we talk about power these days, it seems almost synonymous with force, as in do unto others before they do unto you, which leads us to things like preemptive strikes and redemptive violence.

A nation based on power cannibalizes itself, intimately, because power, when construed as force or violence, destroys. It is never a solution. Violence breeds more violence. Brazen power is not a path to peace. Just because I can force you to sit down and shut up doesn’t mean I have made the world more peaceful. I have only planted the seeds of revolution.

But there’s another way to plant–that’s the power the poets know.

If you look up poet in the dictionary, it says, “a person possessing special powers of imagination or expression.” I love the word imagination because it is family to image, as in image of God, which is us. We are created in the image of God; we were birthed out of the imagination of God. Talk about special powers.

I am going to let the poet Tara Sophia Mohr say it in her words.

Your Other Name

If your life doesn’t often make you feel
like a cauldron of swirling light —

If you are not often enough a woman standing above a mysterious fire,
lifting her head to the sky —

You are doing too much, and listening too little.

Read poems. Walk in the woods. Make slow art.
Tie a rope around your heart, be led by it off the plank,
happy prisoner.

You are no animal. You are galaxy with skin.
Home to blue and yellow lightshots,
making speed-of-light curves and racecar turns,
bouncing in ricochet –

Don’t slow down the light and turn it into matter
with feeble preoccupations.

Don’t forget your true name:
Presiding one. Home for the gleaming. Strong cauldron for the feast of light.

Strong cauldron for the feast of light:
I am speaking to you.
I beg you not to forget.

I’ve got more words, some I’ve read and some I’ve written, but let’s rest here and keep begging each other not to forget who we are:

Home for the gleaming. Feast of light. Image of God.



advent journal: grating expectations


One of the songs sure to show up over the next few weeks is “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” In our congregation, we sing it to the HYFRODOL tune, which is warm and familiar to me. As long as I have heard the story of Jesus’ birth, it has had expectations attached to it: the people in his time expected a certain messiah; we have expectations of our own as we move toward Christmas, even and we sing about love and hope and forgiveness.

The expectations didn’t stop with his birth. One of the ways to read the temptations he faced in the wilderness is as a trio of expectations: feed everyone, impress everyone, take control. We might even say we killed Jesus because he didn’t meet our expectations.

The word expect has some waiting built into it, at least etymologically–we are waiting for something to happen. Too often, however, it is colored by judgment. Whoever we are and wherever we are on life’s journey, it’s hard to live up to expectations. Most of us do not become what others (or at least some of them) are waiting for us to become.

But that’s not the hard part–at least, not for me. The hard part is when the equation gets flipped around and I realize I am the expector, not the expectee. (I’m not sure either of those are real words, but what did you expect?) I want the grace for me to fall short, but I want others to measure up. So when I came across this sentence in Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace it felt worth sharing:

[People] owe us what we imagine they will give us. We must forgive them this debt.

The first time I read that sentence, I thought about my father saying in a sermon, “In life you have to learn the difference between a problem and a predicament. A problem is something you can solve; a predicament is something you have to learn to live with. I used to think my eldest son was a problem; now, I understand that he is a predicament.”

I learned the same thing about him. Our relationship grew when I learned not to expect what he was unable to give. I had to learn how to find it from someone else. He did, too.

I watch the kids in our town try to negotiate middle and high school and I wonder if I could have measured up had the expectations been the same. I never thought about my “resumé” when I was applying to Baylor. I just went to school and church and my after-school job and sent in my stuff. I never took an honors or AP course. I was a good student, but based on today’s expectations, I would be an also-ran.

I think Jesus would suffer much the same fate, based on the metrics we use to measure success in church life. The man wandered around that tiny little country with a handful of friends and followers, without much of a schedule or a plan. And he only lasted three years. He wouldn’t make it out of the first round with most search committees in big steeple churches.

My anachronistic comparison is not particularly original, and I am not as cynical as it sounds when it comes to church. My point is to raise this question: how do we forgive Jesus of the burden of our expectations?

For many years, one of the quotes that gives me hope in this season is from Meister Eckhart:

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace?

To be full of grace means, perhaps, to be mostly empty of expectations–at least the ones that come with weights of judgment attached to them. Charles Wesley wrote,

come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee

May we all rest in the Love that gave birth to us, even as we prepare to give birth to Love once again.



advent journal: slow train to bethlehem


On my train ride to Grand Central Station, the penultimate stop is Harlem/125th Street. Once the doors close, it takes about fifteen minutes to go the last eighty blocks to the terminal on 42nd Street. The closer we get, the slower the train goes. Passengers get up, put on coats, and line up in front of the doors so they are ready when we finally arrive, but it feels like it takes forever. All we can do is wait.

Advent feels like that ride to me: the slow train to Bethlehem. It takes a long time for Jesus to be born again.

Wait shares a common root with the word wake. Both hold a sense of watchfulness and awareness, as in we are waiting for something. Or someone. Even the lectionary passage this morning was a call to stay awake. Pay attention. Don’t fall asleep at the switch. Waiting can carry a sense of expectancy, as it does in Advent, or a sense of dread, as it might in a doctor’s waiting room or worrying about a thieves in the night like the verses from Matthew, and a variety of graduations in between.

Even as we wait for, we can also wait on—as servers do in restaurants. To wait means to pay attention to someone else’s needs, which also carries a sense of awareness. Those empty water glasses aren’t going to fill themselves.

Over the past year, wait has taken on another connotation for me—as an acronym—WAIT: Why Am I Talking. I learned it in the context of discussions around white privilege, or should I say white-cisgender-male privilege, and our tendency to explain the world on our terms. If I really want to know how someone else understands the world, I need to learn to WAIT, which is a kinder way of saying, “Shut the hell up and listen.”

Our ride on the slow train to Bethlehem calls us to wait in all three ways. We wait for Christ to be born again in our time and in our cultures; we wait on one another, paying attention to what those around us need to get on board; and we WAIT so that we can among those who in silent stillness lay to hear the angels sing.

That sentence makes it sound so easy, doesn’t it?

It’s not—at least, not for me.

Throughout the history of my depression, sleep has been an escape. When the shadows are the deepest, I close my eyes. I don’t want to be awake because it hurts too much, so I sleep. Staying awake is hard work. The cost of paying attention feels prohibitive. Sleeping is easier than swimming in molasses. I am exhausted by my daily commute, if you will.

Many years ago, my friends Billy and Kenny wrote a song that asked

why does love come like a thief in the night
warning no one like a thief in the night

Good questions. Why is it so hard to stay awake for love: to wait for, to wait on, to WAIT, to listen for the sound of the whistle in the distance? I don’t know all the answers, other than to say it just is.

As I have been writing, the first significant snowfall of the season has been falling. At times, the flakes have been the size of silver dollars and they have fallen just like the carol: how silently, how silently. The temperature is not cold enough for the lovely covering to last long, but for this afternoon our town is at its snow-globe best. Night is falling along with the snow. Currier and Ives could not have imagined it more beautifully. It does feel like we should all go stand in a circle on the Green and sing.

The storm warnings yesterday caused one of our annual town traditions to be postponed. It is a service of remembrance for children who have died. Parents who have lost their kids—of any age—come together to wait on one another, in a way, as they face another holiday season without their sons and daughters. The service was put off so more people could come. We will gather next Sunday. My part in the service is to sing “I Wish You Peace,” a song written by Bernie Leadon and Patti Davis and recorded by the Eagles. The chorus says

I wish you peace when times are hard
the light to guide you through the dark
and when storms are high and your, your dreams are low
I wish you the strength to let love grow on
I wish you the strength to let love flow

Our first candle today represented Peace, which, I think, is not the official order but it was a candle worth lighting in these days of endless war and shouting. Hope, Peace, Love, Joy: they all need to be lighted; the order does not matter so much other than to those who ordered the candles to begin with. I came home and turned on all the electric candles in our windows that will burn through Advent and Christmastide and Epiphany and as long as winter stays. On Sundays, we let them burn all night.

I am not waiting for Christ to be born because I think his birth makes things better magically somehow. The power of love to change the world is its own slow train. As we tell the story each year, I wait for the angel to say to Joseph, “You should call him Emmanuel”—God with us. We are not alone in our waiting, our waking, and even in our sleeping.

God is along for the ride.