I limped around the house this morning, feeling an irritation against my food but unable to locate the cause. Each time I searched my shoe and sock for something spiny, I could find nothing; yet when I put them on again and tried to walk, the same painful stab returned. Finally I comped the sock with my fingertips until I found a broken piece of sand spur that had lodged near a thick part of the sock. Its spike tips were causing the irritation. Such a small bit of spur to generate so much discomfort! I think of my ‘small’ sins, those little acts of omission or commission which seem so trivial, but which eventually cause me—or others—pain. Selfish behavior, reveling in someone else’s losses, petty revenge, gossip, laziness, failure to speak out when there is injustice—these, like the sand spur, wound both God and me. Locating these ‘minor’ irritants may be difficult but necessary. Forgive me, Father, when I fail to behave like your child. Please strengthen me and grant me the resolve to do your work with diligence and love. Help me get rid of the smallest of sins. Amen.

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A Prayer for ChristmasA Prayer for Christmas

Dear Heavenly Father—I see all of my past Christmases as pages in a photograph album, each year a separate picture. Tomorrow there will be 80 pages. They begin with my earliest foggy memories—a doll, a stuffed Scotty dog, a trike. And then the pictures are clearer—the 8 of us including three grandparents. Some years there are fewer of us in the photo—first grandparents and then my father who died when he was 52.

There are funny pictures—the year Mother made me a green velvet skirt, but she didn’t have money enough to take the nap into consideration, so I had a dark green velvet skirt in front and a light green velvet skirt in back. I was narrator at the church service that year, and embarrassed. Mother said people would see me walk up the aisle and then down the aisle—no one would see me from the side. It’ll be fine, she said, and so it was.

We didn’t have a car during the war, so we took the bus to the Christmas Eve service; friends drove us home, all crowded into the back seat. My box of cheap candy, in a church-shaped box, spilled, and my heart was broken. A boy from catechism class gave me a gold bracelet—I didn’t have the sense to invite him in, but I still have the bracelet.

I remember the Christmas in 1973 when I had my first spinal surgery and spent 6 months in a body cast. My hospital bed and trapeze were decorated with lights and tinsel; two days before Christmas, the cast was sawed off and I could sit again. No more meals balanced on my chest—I could sit at the table like a real person! Finally I could bend and sit after 6 months of immobility! I felt like a queen despite the pain of muscles unused for six months.

I look at the photos and I see sadness—my sister in law’s drinking becoming a problem. My brother losing the will to live. My brother in law, an engineer, so deeply in the grips of his obsessive compulsive hoarding disorder that he lost his last job working in a giant junk yard because he refused finally to sell anything, no matter how it was exactly what the customer wanted. He so wanted to hold on to everything.

I see failures and betrayals, disappointments and sadness. I look out the windows and wars rage—WWI, the Korean War, the War in Viet Nam—on and on, war after war. Clustered around the tree are human beings, failed human beings, coming together to celebrate good tidings of great joy. We are imperfect creatures who gather to celebrate perfect love.

Can I rewrite history? Yes–I can go over each photo and forgive each beautiful person, not beautiful as in Hollywood or model beautiful, but beautiful because they were alive and real, struggling to do the best they could with what they had—what they knew. I can look at each face and say I forgive you—forgive me. I can be one with them, that modern day group of shepherds gathered around a tree—around a manger—and say, “With tonight’s gift we become perfected in love, in forgiveness. There is only this good news of great joy for us—for all people.”

And so Lord, I pray tonight that as we open the Christmas album of our lives– each individual here this morning–we will find there the beauty God intended, the beauty of imperfect people celebrating God’s perfect love. May we find pardon and love, may we be able to come together around a manger, around the good tidings of great joy, and rewrite the past to make it beautiful and whole. May we never stand so tall as when we kneel together around the birth of love, becoming ourselves perfected. May this Christmas enable each of us to find God’s presence in the pattern—in the photos—or our lives. Amen.

Crumbling AwayCrumbling Away

The sand cliffs were being steadily eroded by the approaching tide, sharply outlined and then crumbling under the advancing waves. From where I walked I could see the waves had undercut the sand cliffs’ foundations, leaving them vulnerable to the next assault. And yet, from on top, they continued to appear sturdy and secure, as if one could walk safely to their very edge. Then suddenly the entire outcrop would tumble into the sea, washed away with the water’s sweeping power. My life is sometimes like that sand cliff. It seems secure and safe, rooted in worldly assurances of control and popularity, of success and material possessions. But somewhere deep within, I know it is being eroded beneath by these very forces, their presence no guarantee of safety or salvation. Father, I need help in correctly building my life on you and your will. I feel sometimes as if I am poised on crumbling cliff; please strengthen my faith so I have a life firmly fixed on your promises and your love. Amen.

Fresh SightFresh Sight

As I crossed over the boardwalk this morning, I met a woman taking a photograph from the walk, focusing on a giant stump half buried in the sand.  I offered to take a picture of her on the walk, but she declined.  I couldn’t help but look at the stump from her perspective.  It was something I’d often photographed before, but always from the end of the walk, never from the high bridge over the dune.  Suddenly the stump looked new and fresh, as if I’d never noticed it before.  The change in angle and height had given me a different understanding and appreciation of what I’d come to take for granted.  How easy it is to be blind to the familiar gifts that surround us each day, to fail to value the people closest to us who share our lives.  Please help me, Lord, to walk through my day with eyes newly opened; help me see your world and the people in my life from a fresh perspective, loving both them and you more as a consequence. Amen.