Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!


We were all amazed.

An impoverished teenage girl, now the strongest, most powerful woman in the world, had just given birth to the greatest of kings: the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. But right now, He was just a baby, tiny, wrinkled and red, with that little cry you only hear on newborns because they have such itty-bitty lungs. He'd traveled through 42 generations, a descendant, according to Matthew, of some other strong but broken women; Bathsheba, an adulterous, was one of his grandmothers from way back, and so was Rahab, a whore who knew how to do what she had to do. Don't get me started on His grandfather from way back, David. And don't you just love God for letting Him come through broken people?

And God Himself was His Daddy, who He'd teach us to call Abba.

And that girl, the new mother, that lovely, amazing girl, Mary? She was the world's first Christian, having received Him as Savior in a more personal way than any of us ever would. Now He lie suckling her breast. My God! She was feeding God with her sweet mother milk.

I couldn't help but think of the Word. Isaiah, my favorite prophet. I even remembered it in King James Version, because that's how I learned it.

Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.

Who has believed our report? Certainly the shepherds did. After His birth they regaled us with the stories of how those angels nearly scared them out of their heads.

"We were just watching the flocks like we always do?"

"Then we see this light. Huge light! We thought we were toast."

"And then this big angel__"

"We didn't know it was an angel at first."

"I knew it."

"You did not!"

"Anyway, the angel said, 'Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."

You got the feeling listening to them that there was a big party in Heaven because God was so very happy to give Himself to us this way.

The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. And of course, we all know, Immanuel means, "God with us." That was the point. God was with us now, and He'd stay with us in one way or another. The One who spoke light and universes, and breathed His own breath into dust to give it life! He was a tiny bundle of God/humanity now in His mama's arms.

I know, the prophet Isaiah said that the tender shoot emerging from dry ground would have no comeliness or beauty when we saw Him, but honestly, He was adorable. Blinking His eyes at the world and people He'd created once upon a time. Stretching forth his tiny arm and wrapping the fingers of that miniature hand of His around our fingers.

His mother was generous enough to let us all hold Him, and we all did, all of us gathered. Some of us laughed with infectious joy. Others of us wept. That's how it is with Him: joy and sorrow preceding unfathomable crosses to bear sooner than we wanted to believe. But tonight, good news! Tonight, glad tidings and peace.

After we'd all held, cuddled, and kissed Him we handed Him back, and the Blessed one among women lay him in a manger. I thought, imagine that. He's in that thing you put food for the animals in. And ain't that a rockin' metaphor? for one day, He'd be bread to us, and not only that, He'd be the bread and the wine--a holy meal in and of Himself. We'd bless Him, break Him, and partake of Him-all of us, and He'd be good, good, good. He would erase all our other hungers. He would intoxicate us with the succor of His red, flowing Life-blood, and we'd never thirst again.

Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to all men!

We were all amazed.

Later, the man with the long gray hair and beard, Melchior, would come and bring Him gold, for the mocking sign of shame above His head, "King of the Jews." And we would crown Him with thorns.

Lord, have mercy.

And the bearded, ruddy man, Casper, would come bearing frankincense. I can almost catch the scent of it now, in that dark, damp stable, sweet like prayers ascending to heaven, prayers like the Psalms He would cry out one awful day to His Father at His darkest hour:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

And later, we would come to understand the stunning beauty of that prayer, but much later, Thank God.

Balthazar, the darker brotha, would give God incarnate myrrh, to sooth his wounds and prepare him for the death he would undergo, but he and his friends hadn't arrived yet. They were still following the sign in the sky for now, as it moved from the East to Jerusalem, in a very unstar-like pattern.

A sign.

But tonight, a simple gathering of watchers turned witnesses. Tonight, a Virgin, and honorable man, and a tiny, helpless God. Shepherds, angels, and us. Tonight glad tidings and singing songs.

"In Bethlehem is born the Holy Child,
On hay and straw in winter wild;
O, my heart is full of mirth,
At Jesus birth."

And He would never leave us or forsake us, no matter how big our crosses to come.

We sang, and sang, and sang.

Peace on earth, and good will toward men. Glory to God, in the highest. And the angels sang with us.

Merry Christmas!
mair

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Advent

In a way I came by invitation. I mean, I didn't get a paper invitation that said show up here on such and such a day and watch God be born. It wasn't anything formal. And I didn't get any kind of John the Baptist herald shouting for me to show up. It was just...a call...the kind you feel on the inside in the deepest part of yourself. A call from that part back to the deepest part of yourself, and you know you didn't have anything to do with it at all. God simply called you, and for some reason, despite yourself, you showed up.

It looked like any old nondescript place of worship. Just a church. I'm not talking high church either, with onion domes , iconostasis, or any kind of exquisite worship inspiring beauty. It was all clean lines. Square. Boring. It was a building that had the feel of being temporary. There was a cross--really plain, on the roof. Just a wooden cross. Nothing impressive or even compelling to look at.

I walk inside and there are no holiday greens or poinsettia plants to distinguish the season to be jolly. It was stripped bare--if it ever had any pizazz in the first place. And it looks just like the whole manger scene, only without the animals. And the wise men hadn't shown up yet. It was just...you know...a kid and this guy. A shepherd or two.

And us.

People were sitting on the floor just watching them.

I take a seat with the other, I dunno, spectators. I sit by this redhead--well, her hair is actually reddish brown, and it's big. Like beauty queen big. Big gal like me. She looks kinda soft and kind...welcoming. She's oddly familiar, though I know I've never met her before. I lean toward her and say, "Is this like some kind of living nativity or something?" And all she does is look at me with those kind eyes of hers and she touches me. She puts her hand on my shoulder and rubs me, then puts her hands back in her lap. I think, "Oh, we're supposed to be quiet," to myself. But I'm grateful that she touched me. Even if she didn't say a word. It comforted me.

But damn. Now I've got to deal with my thoughts, which is the wicked consequence of solitude. I don' t see what the hype is Thomas Merton. I get to torment myself with thinking of the fact that I've been in bed for days crying and feeling dead on the inside. I don't tell people that these are devilish times when I envision my suicide endlessly. Or dream I'm falling in love. It's never anything else. I'm blowing my head off or falling in love. Sometimes a prayer pierces my despair. I say, "I'm so sorry." And I cry again. I don't have the energy to fight my way out of it. I lie there and hope mercy covers me. The good thing is I've trained myself not to harm myself. I don't want to admit how appealing the idea of offing myself is. It would scare the people who love me. And I don't want to hurt them. You know, I'm not even thinking how this is bad for me.

So, no. I don't want to be quiet any freakin' more. I've been quiet for how long? Three days? Seven? I've lost count. I know it's Friday but I don't know what the date is. I'm just...lost. And now here I am in a church that looks like a barn on the inside. With my thoughts.

The lady by me has tears in her eyes. I wish I could ask her how she got here. If she got the same inward invitation that I got. She seems like she deserves to be here. Like maybe she homeschools her kids, or at the very least pays attention to them. I'll bet she hasn't been in a damned vegetative state for days. I'll bet her kids haven't learned, at God only knows what cost, how to leave mama alone.

And speaking of mamas, the girl we're watching? She's pregnant. And she's so much younger than I imagined her. Maybe all those holy card images got to me. The beautiful woman in the blue. With the sad eyes. Or the icons of her got to me. She always seems older to me in the icons. Likes she's been around for a really long time, but here she could be my sixteen-year-old daughter, Abeje. She looks younger than Abbie. And that kinda amazes me.

She's in labor all right. But she's not screaming, or whining her way through like I did with Lumumba. I was so surprised by the pain of it. It felt like my insides were going to come out. Well. That is kinda what happened, only a baby came out. Now with Abbie it was different. I'd been reading those "Farm" midwife books and Ina May Gaskin had me convinced I was having "rushes of energy" instead of contractions. So I rolled with that. Found a mantra that was like "Om" only it was "Ho" so when a "rush" hit I said, "hoooooooooooooooooooo", and you know, it wasn't that bad.

She's not saying ho. Or om. She's just kind of breathing intuitively. I want to ask the lady next to me if she thinks God gave her a break on the labor thing since she was having His Son. But she's really feeling this. I don't interrupt her again.

Doesn't look like God gave her much of a break. I mean, she's in a barn-thing under less than ideal conditions hygiene-wise. And to be honest, she isn't as pretty as the holy cards make her either. But I've got to admit. She's tough. I mean, she's doing this. Away from her mama. And all she's got is this guy who married her even though she said, "The Holy Ghost got me pregnant." And the shepherds. She's got shepherds. And a winking star. And she's got us.

There aren't that many of us. I wonder how many got the invitation. Did they walk away from malls and holiday parties and church activities to come sit in this cool earth? And it is earthy with all its dank "remember that you are dust" smells that leave no doubt. God is coming to terra firma.

I remember that we are dust.

And now I want to be quiet, too. I lay my palms on the cool ground and realize with a start that this is exactly how thy kingdom come began: with God, and a girl. Not even a rich, pretty girl. And she's not giving birth in a palace fit for a king.

And then I do the strangest thing. I rub my dirty palms on my face. Smell it--the dust we're made from. Taste it. And I think, God wrapped Himself in the same dirt that I am made of. He is making His way, right now, in a tiny body of flesh, through the birth canal of a teenage girl. And somehow, He pulled me out of the miserable prison of my brain chemistry so I could bear witness to this.

I see why my friend next to me is so quiet. Why tears have sprang to her eyes. Why she's leaned forward in anticipation.

I fix my eyes on the girl again. Think of the foolishness of God choosing a nobody to be His mama. It comforts me. Somehow I don't feel so alone. The guy? He holds the girl up. Supports her as she leans back into him. I realize God didn't leave her to do this all alone. He doesn't leave any of us alone, and isn't this...the incarnation, proof!? And I like that. I mean, you just know that they're going to be all right, the holy family and you're going to be all right, and all of creation is going to be all right because she's going to have this baby. This flesh and blood Savior who is also God.

I know it sounds crazy. I smile to myself through my tears. He's going to come out, and that first sharp bite of wind He created is going to hit Him, and He'll break those unused lungs in. He'll leave the safety of her warm womb and the comfort of the rhythm of her heartbeat and come out so He can die. And it won't be long, either.

That's why we're so quiet.

I don't know how long the Mother of God will be in labor. I just wait with her. I pray for her to have a good labor, whatever that is. I think of what all of this means, and once again, I cry, and I am glad to not be crying for myself for a change.

I think of the words to a prayer that recalls the annunciation:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

I mean, that sounds really good to me right about now. She's got to know something I don't. Right? And she's just doing it. Whatever God said. No complaints. Just "Be it unto me according to thy will." I could learn a few things from this young woman.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.

Please.

You know, every time I had a baby, even the ones who died in utero, there was this sense of "presence" in the room. Angels. I couldn't see them, but I felt them. And I feel them right now. Who needs Christmas decorations when you can have this?

Let us lay aside all earthly things, even our thoughts.

All of us waiting; angels, humans, dust.

This is it.

He's coming. He's really coming.

And we were invited to watch and wait.



Friday, December 07, 2007

Writing With 50,000 Coaches

I finished writing Wounded: A Love Story, or rather, I finished the first draft of Wounded. On average now I will write a novel two or three times (a few got twice that many drafts) before it's ready for the world. And if you think I had one big lament after I finished The Exorsistah, I was ready to pack it in when I finished Wounded.

I mean it. I didn't want to write another novel except the last two I'm contracted for. It's an awful feeling to desire to be an artist when you are not. Once I had a talk with one of my editors, a real book guy, much like my agent. I told him I wanted to go through an MFA program so I could learned to write since I was still on the "Hooked On Phonics" stage and he said, "Maybe in a few years. Mair, you've got five underage children at home and you don't even have health insurance. You have to take care of your family." I was so discouraged. I thought, "I have to write enough books to take care of them until I can go learn how to write later." Crazy, huh?

Well, I can say I did learn a few things; I spoke in many voices in this one. Some better than others. I took risks with a structure that is not yet sound, but I can fortify it (I hope) on the rewrite. I wrote a love story for a stigamatist! I wasn't the first, but you just don't see a whole lot of that, so it's kinda different. I poured myself into it, so much so I forgot to fill in gaps for people who don't know me so well. I finished that draft feeling like I was wearing Saran Wrap, not that being transparent is anything new for me, but that doesn't mean I don't feel awfully exposed every single time I am. Here was an experience. For the first time in anything I wrote, the kindness of Jesus' mother upheld me as I wrote. She must like broken people. Jesus is very good to loan her to us.

Pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death.

Thank God for rewrites. That was my passion draft. I tone myself down later, and with a little help from my friends.

Still, I felt awfully alone. I felt afraid. And then I stung with profound disappointment when I'd finished knowing it is so delicate, and not ready for the world.

I punished myself. I cried, and yelled, and snapped, and hurt, and lashed out while cleaning my bookshelves as my family watched in horror. But really I was just scared. Afraid that I've written another mediocre book and some poor tree has to die for it. And everybody will see I'm far from being an artist, and it'll be over before I can even get good at it. Anger is a compelling cover for grief. When I was completely sick of myself I retired upstairs to watch a movie.

I chose Akeelah and the Bee. I bought it when it was first released on DVD, knowing already I'd love it, but I never watched it before. I burrowed myself under my bed covers and put the MacBook on my chest and oh, my. What a journey and a gift. Here's the quote than anchors the story:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?


I don't personally want to be fabulous. Like St. Teresa the Little Flower, I want to be small. But I want my work to be fabulous. I want it to be brilliant and gorgeous. And powerful.

I saw so much of myself in Akeelah; the 'hood stuff, the finding yourself suddenly (and unexpectedly) running with the big dogs, totally unprepared, and the wanting it just the same. I knew how scared she was, because I'm scared. I write scared every book. And I have often felt like I only had one coach, and maybe He wasn't so available. Yes, God feels absent many times, even though I don't let on so much. But it's true.

But I'm not alone. Like Akeela, I have 50, 000 coaches; people reading the worst of my drafts and whispering prayers for strength and endurance; publishing friends who trust me to somehow pull it all together and make it the best I can; an agent, who, when I said to him, I'm just not good at this," said, "On the other hand, you might be better than you give yourself credit for."

I have my family who misses me but leave me to do it. Lord, have mercy, an eight-year-old girl who needs me very much, but will content herself to crawl in bed with me if that's all she can get. I watched Akeelah work and work and work with broken tools and she became a champion. I told myself I can do this. I can be an artist. It will take everything, but I can't be afraid or think I'm not capable of working hard, because I am. God helps, even when I can't sense His nearness, suffused with darkness. And he sends 50,000 coaches to get me ready for the task. With so much L-O-V-E, love.

I learn each time I go through edits. I learn every time I try something new, whether I succeed with the effort or fail, at least I would have learned what I did wrong. I'll make a lil' piece of art one of these days.

And, in lieu of a MFA, there are always Writer's Digest books.

Mercy, Jesus!

Just wanted to thank you, Coach.

Pax et Bonum,<-- the movie made me want to learn Latin, too. And it made me fall in love with words again. mair