“Here is the rest we seek…”

“Who knocks tonight so late?”
the weary porter said.
Three kings stood at the gate,
each with a crown on head.

The serving man bowed down,
the Inn was full, he knew.
Said he, “In all this town
is no fit place for you.”

A light in the manger lit;
there lay the Mother meek.
This place is fit.
Here is the rest we seek.

Come, come. They loosed their latchet strings,
so stood they all unshod.
“Come in, come in, ye kings,
and kiss the feet of God.”

–Laurence Housman

I’m not sure if it is just because I’m getting older, or if it has been an especially bad year for my friends. But for whatever reason, or perhaps for no reasons at all, many of my dear ones are bearing hard, heavy burdens this Christmastime. It hasn’t been an easy year for me, either. I am tempted to despair.

**************************

The great Jewish Buddhist teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, said something I’ve found helpful in staring down this temptation:

…the Buddha said we have one of five genetic fallback glitches when we’re challenged. He said some people fret, some people get angry, some people lose heart and all their energy goes and they don’t know what to do with themselves, some people think, “Uh-oh, it’s me. I didn’t do things right. It’s always my fault. I messed things up.” And some people need to be sensually soothed. They think, “Where’s a donut shop? Where’s a pizza?” People have different tendencies.

When I heard her say this, it was one of those moments when you say “Eureka!” and “duh” at once–instantly knowing something true and important that is so simple and obvious once you see it that you can’t believe you had missed it. My own strong tendency is to lose heart. I love that way of saying it, because it isn’t just the desire to quit doing whatever hard thing I’m facing, although there is that. “Losing heart” suggests also the sinking-ness of it, the way it feels a little like dying, or wanting to.

I imagine in Housman’s scene with the three kings turned away by the porter, that I would have been the one complaining, lamenting that we had come so far only to fail at the end. I would have immediately doubted all the prophecies, all the careful astronomy, the yearning to believe in something large and true–all the things that had made me brave enough to attempt the journey in the first place. All of that would be gone in a moment. Hopelessness is the known, familiar territory I would retreat to.

**********************************

Once, after I had spent a day with a friend who was very, very pregnant, I dreamed that we were walking along together, and she asked me to stop for a minute. We stood together, and she carefully unzipped her belly and handed it to me. I zipped it onto my front (conveniently, we both had built-in abdominal zippers) and we continued our walk. We walked for a long time, and then we sat down. She drank water and I drank diet coke (of course. Even in my dreams, my friends are more virtuous than I am!). Then she said “ok, I’m ready now” and I unzipped her belly and gave it back, and she walked away.

***********************************
In 2006, President Hinckley told the story of a single mother who had gone across the street one evening to deliver something to a neighbor. She said:

“As I turned around to walk back home, I could see my house lighted up. I could hear echoes of my children as I had walked out of the door a few minutes earlier. They were saying: ‘Mom, what are we going to have for dinner?’ ‘Can you take me to the library?’ ‘I have to get some poster paper tonight.’ Tired and weary, I looked at that house and saw the light on in each of the rooms. I thought of all of those children who were home waiting for me to come and meet their needs. My burdens felt heavier than I could bear.

“I remember looking through tears toward the sky, and I said, ‘Dear Father, I just can’t do it tonight. I’m too tired. I can’t face it. I can’t go home and take care of all those children alone. Could I just come to You and stay with You for just one night? I’ll come back in the morning.’

“I didn’t really hear the words of reply, but I heard them in my mind. The answer was: ‘No, little one, you can’t come to me now. You would never wish to come back. But I can come to you.’”

**************************************
Yesterday, at twilight, I was even sadder than I had been last week about the early darkness. The solstice is past but there is still so much darkness to go through. So many long nights to follow the longest one.
**************************************
The stable wasn’t a place to stay long. Actually, despite the thousands of paintings and sculptures and crêches, it’s hard to imagine what it could have been like. What could anyone have said? So awkward. And where would they sit? The wise men came, offered their “gifts”–emblems of their anxious avarice, their religious duty and burdensome status, their relentless awareness of death–and stayed just long enough to come to their senses, to realize they had to go a different way. It was just a moment’s peace after a long weary journey, and with the same distance to travel again.

Perhaps the mistake we make is not to realize just how ephemeral Christmas is. The light is there, the patient baby and his bewildered parents will accept our strange gifts, we can worship for a moment. But kneeling is uncomfortable, the baby will need to sleep or eat, the parents grow tired of uninvited guests in outlandish clothes…

Most of the things we love to hate about Christmas–the decorations appearing in the stores in October, the parties, the endless shopping and cooking, the photo shoots and the impossible yearly letters–they’re all about holding on to the thing we cannot quite grasp. “Du bist der Gast,” says Rilke to God, “der wieder weiter geht.” The guest who is always leaving.

Christ’s gift to us is eternal, and one day we may enjoy it eternally, but for now our awareness of it comes in passing moments of piercing beauty, that leave us wounded and longing. Perhaps it must be so–maybe it is only that desperate yearning that makes us hear the invitation–“Come in, come in, and kiss the feet of god.”

Comments

  1. This is beauty, Kristine. Thank you, and a merry Christmas to you, however briefly it stays.

  2. Thank you. Just right for my Christmas morning, a time that has become inexplicably melancholy in the midst of family and blessings.
    I’d like to quote someone famous, but will have to do with my own experiential learning that holding tight feels like trying to own with the constant threat of loss, whereas letting go feels like love to be refreshed not at every moment but always again.

  3. Mama Lynnie says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for helping me find a bit of my heart again.

  4. Kristine N says:

    Piercingly beautiful and wise.

  5. Wunderschön.

  6. You have spoken to my weary heart. Thank you.

  7. Thank you Kristine.

  8. Thank you. Your gift with words continues to be an inspiration.

  9. Thank you. Your words always help me to see the beauty in even the most difficult situations. Thank you.

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