Thursday, December 24, 2009

Making Room at the Inn

When our children were growing up, it was very easy to make room. It seemed that the more our lives filled, the more room there was ~ for more energy, more light, more people: more joy. When other kids showed up, we folded them in to whatever we were up to. When my grandmother, well into her 80s and not terribly mobile, came for Christmas week a few times, we made up a bed in the dining room and worked dinner for a couple of dozen people around it. When Hannukah and Christmas fell at the same time, there were children lighting candles in our living room for both. I would like to think that if Mary and Joseph had shown up during Christmas Dinner, I would have asked one to light the menorah and the other to stir the gravy, and moved ourselves, as we often did, to the fold-out couch in the (chilly) sunroom so that our guests could have our room.

The grief that accompanies the death of a child alters everything. There is no energy for anything beyond survival; no desire even for that. There is no light. The people who swarm like bees over the house during the funeral week gradually disappear into their own busy lives. The sense of meaning and purpose that enables you to do even the most difficult of tasks evaporates. Pouring a bowl of cereal is almost impossible; the thought that you once made up beds for guests while planning decorations and food and music for large gatherings seems like something you must have read about in a novel.

And there is, sadly, no room at the inner inn, any more than there is in the house itself. Grief is a process that requires almost complete self-absorption. It offers no alternatives, no respite, no new life. Eventually, your body starts to do things that apparently look unremarkable to others, but your heart is a cold, isolated place, filled ~ and filled completely ~ only by the longing for what cannot be. It is necessary and good to be well-defended, because inside you are made up of thousands of tiny pieces of cracked glass that would shatter irretrievably into millions more if the slightest wind blew your way.

No room at the inn. No room until something not of your own making begins to shift.

The stories we have of the first Christmas ~ what are they? Narratives of actual events? Historical fiction? Beautiful tales for gullible children? Formulaic creations of later writers, looking into their holy scriptures and trying to make sense out of an unlikely companion and his even more incomprehensible resurrection?

It occurs to me this year that, whatever else they are, they are exactly the right stories about exactly the right people ~ all of them finding inner room in which to respond to God out of desperate poverty. Mary and Joseph ~ impoverished by oppression, by rigid circumstances, by potential humiliation and rejection. The innkeeper ~ by hassles and exhaustion, by too little capital and too few resources, by too many travelers needing too many things. The shepherds ~ by cold and emptiness and boredom, by too many sheep and too much ground to cover, by thin-walled tents and danger lurking in the night. And even the magi ~ we tend to think of them as regally-attired kings processing across the desert with gold-laden camels, but: let's be serious. They were trapped in their own way, far from home, dependent upon irritable animals and the uncertain hospitality of strangers, seeking solutions to unresolvable questions
~ and probably tattered and tired as well.

None of the characters in these stories, with the exception of Mary, whose Magnificat indicates that she anticipates the struggle and sorrow that lies ahead for her child, is described to us as a grieving mother. But who knows? The innkeeper, one of the shepherds, one of the magi ~ any of them might be a woman moving blindly through the worst of losses. And regardless of specific histories, every single one of the characters in these stories represents a kind of inner restlessness and poverty with which we are familiar.

And yet they all make room. Not just physical room ~ room in a cave behind an inn, or room for a detour with sheep or camels. They all make available space in the inner landscape of their lives in which to respond to something out of the ordinary, something compelling, someone far more significant even in newborn form than the most extravagant display in the heavens.

Bright Morning Star. The way in which Jesus identifies himself in the Book of Revelation.

Perhaps if we, when we are able or maybe even a little sooner, respond to the invitation to make even the smallest of spaces available in our lives for someone beyond ourselves and our immediate concerns, no matter how all-consuming and overwhelming they seem ~ perhaps we, too, will see it shine.

Merry Christmas.

Image of nebula from


Quotidian Grace said...

That will preach, GG. Beautiful reflection.

I'm remembering with you today
"those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light."

Purple said...

Artfully woven.

I love the last invitation...when each is ready...gracious and open.

karen gerstenberger said...

I love this. Thank you for sharing it with us. I know the changes you are describing, for I saw them in myself, too. May we all awaken - gently - to find that there is always room for that Lover to come in. Merry Christmas to you and yours. XO

Magdalene6127 said...

Gannet Girl, this is so, so lovely. I'm reading it between services. I know it describes the experience of more than one person in my congregation.

Every blessing to you dear friend.

Karen said...

After reading that, I'm sure something wonderful has happened inside of you. I'm wondering what it is, but even without knowing the details, I am so very thankful for the amount of comfort you radiate in that post. I'm certain it's been hard-won.

This is a different Christmas for us. We are more functional than last year, yet still, something is amiss--I guess for as long as I live. We are simply learning to live with things being "off kilter".

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.

Michelle said...

You don't hear sermons that courageous at Christmas -- for courage, for strength, for light -- my thanks and prayers. It made me think that at that time and place, nearly every mother mourned at least one child...

Peace. Grace. Blessings.

artandsoul said...

Thank you.

Very beautiful to read as we navigate through this turn of the old year toward the new one.

I continue to be struck by Mary's presence in the life and death of her child.

And I see it reflected so beautifully in your post.

RevDrKate said...

This makes the most sense of anything I've heard in quite some time....anywhere. Thank you. Deeply.

Rev SS said...

Yes, beautiful. Thank you.

Katherine E. said...

Merry Christmas to you as well, GG. Thank you.