Lately I've been reading John Shea's wonderful book on Christmas, Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long. What a thoughtful , perceptive, and gifted storyteller. This morning as I was reading his ideas on the Christmas story as found in the infancy narratives in scripture (mythic expressions of interior spiritual journeys), I thought, I'm going to do that at Mass today. I'm going to listen to the story in a deeper way. I'm going to focus deeply, and find the major payoff he talks about.
And I started off very well, it's true. Sometime during the opening hymn I noticed a woman two pews ahead of us--her dangly, dazzly, snowflake earrings, the cut of her hair, her sparkly sequined sleeves and her faux fur vest. She seemed so well put together.
Then when the Old Testament reading began, I remember hearing Isaiah. . .people in darkness; in gloom. I thought about the gloom we've experienced the past couple of weeks; so damp, so persistent, so dark and pervasive. I looked out the window and felt drawn by the bare trees, and wondered why I am always more easily connected to the natural world than to anything going on indoors. But then I heard, "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace." The Psalm drew me back to the service, and I missed the New Testament reading because I was surprised to hear it was from Titus. When do we ever read Titus?
We stood for the Alleluia, and I remembered the promise to myself to focus deeply on the Gospel. . .the census, Quirinius, Joseph from Galilee, to Bethlehem. So far so good. . .
And then I noticed the woman in front of us again, and realized she was wearing leggings. Leggings! I noticed again she was so well put together, tastefully and trendily so. Right down to her perfectly manicured red fingernails. Only six. The fingers on her left hand, all except for the thumb, were missing. She wore her wedding rings on her left thumb, and that nail, too, was perfectly manicured. Good news. Great joy. To all people. What a marvelous woman, I thought. . .she takes care of herself so beautifully, practically shows off that hand, and I couldn't help but wonder whether she was born with fingers missing or lost them in an accident. "What happened to your hand?" The story of her life. . .Then I remembered my promise to myself.
I had utterly tuned out the Gospel reading.
So I pulled out the missal to read it. ". . .struck with great fear. . . " When have I felt that way. . .struck with great fear? I asked myself. It had to be when my son, Daniel, told me he had been arrested. That he would probably go to prison. That it was possible he could be there for five years. And, then, sitting there across the table from him at dinner last night, I kept thinking, It's over, it's over. . .the worst has already happened, and it's over. Last Christmas he was sitting in jail in Aledo. Such relief. Such good news, and don't we all need good news in our lives.
So that was my experience with this morning's scripture, and I'm still pondering a lot of what John Shea has to say about the Christmas narrative and what it means for our lives. And I've gotten a big dinner started, and am in the mood to write.
I baked cornbread, and while I was making dressing discovered that last year's sage no longer smells like sage. So I threw in tarragon. Then I started thinking about my mom. Prue tried every meal to outdo her own cooking, and she usually succeeded. I thought about her because with cooking I seem to have lost my touch. I keep learning that Sarah is the cook in the family. Anyone who says they like recipes with lots of ingredients and lots of steps must be. . .Jack did ask for his mom's baked corn today, so I called his sister from Hy Vee the other day to find out what's in it. 3 cans of creamed corn, 22 saltine crackers, sugar, eggs. . .then I called her from home to get the actual recipe. So, thoughts of both our mothers, and Christmases past, and my third or fourth conversation with Sarah in two or three days, and no pie, too, so I baked Scottish shortbread.
The centerpiece for this meal is Capon. I stole the idea from my friend Bridget, who says her family always had Capon on Christmas. When I mentioned this to Sarah on the phone last night, she said, "Isn't that DUCK?" (as in, isn't Capon French for DUCK?") No, I said. . .I think it's a large game hen. "Guinea," said Jack. "DUCK" said Sarah. "No," I said :. . .Duck in French is Quaaahhk." (Huh?) As it turns out, the French word for duck is canard.
So she looked it up. We're now having Castrated Rooster for dinner. (We're calling him Al.) Merry Christmas to you, too.