A young woman we know is trying to love people in San Francisco for the sake of Christ. In a recent prayer letter she wrote:
San Francisco downtown
The hardest part of doing ministry in San Francisco is the cost of living factor. My rent is $1975 for my two bedroom apartment, which many in the city will tell you is a good deal. Because of the high cost of living most pastors and missionaries don’t live here. The problem is that you can’t relate to the people and become effective at reaching the city for Christ if you don’t really live among them.
People think that if they just have some fancy strategy they will see people come to Christ. These programs become like the welfare system; people just learn how to work the system, and there are so many that the homeless get to pick what they want at different meals.
They get used to sitting and allowing the word of God to come in one ear and out the other…rarely do you see any lives change. The old fashioned way of living among the people is gone from many Christians’ concept of what a missionary does. The majority of pastors live outside the city because it is cheaper. They then drive into the city where they have a reserved parking place and never spend time out in the community.
But this woman meets people on the bus and the playground, and they get to know and trust her as their lives interweave with hers. The words of her letter came back to me as I was reading On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius:
The Saviour of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body. Human and human-minded as men were, therefore, to whichever side they looked in the sensible world they found themselves taught the truth….For this reason was He both born and manifested as Man, for this he died and rose, in order that, eclipsing by His works all other human deeds, He might recall men from all the paths of error to Know the Father. As He says Himself, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
The greatest pleasure and thrill of Christmas can’t be had without a little waiting, something like children of yore had to do, when their Christmas trees weren’t even ready for viewing until Christmas Day.
That thought is on my mind as I say Hello! to all the friends I see here at Pom Pom’s Childlike Christmas (blog) Party, a party for which we can show up four times over the next month! I had barely noticed the open invitation, with no time even to lay a finger aside of my nose, when she added me to the published guest list — I was signed up! I am happy to attend, Lord willing, by posting a blog each Wednesday.
It seems to me that the way we Eastern Orthodox Christians get into the Christmas spirit can be combined with the theme of children and simple pleasures that Pom Pom describes:
“Yesterday I asked my students, ‘Why the big greed festival over the holidays? Aren’t we fine right now? Don’t we have enough?’ …Here at Pom Pom’s Ponderings, we are going to think about the simple pleasures of the holidays, the childlike wonder that doesn’t involve the ka-ching ka-ching of the cash register….four holiday Wednesdays of posts that attend to the simple childlike thrills of Christmas. ….that babe in a manger and the children He loves and cherishes.”
The modern world likes to jump into Christmas immediately after Halloween or Thanksgiving, but the more traditional way to celebrate involves some Anticipation and Preparation. Children might think of it as Waiting and Getting Ready. Some of us have been in Advent, which we call the Nativity Fast, since November 15th.
I’m not experienced in helping children to forgo the treats that are pressed upon them in every shop and neighbor’s house at this time of year, but even before I found the Church and its traditions I tried to keep the family thinking ahead to a special Holy Day, and not just because of the presents.
We need some weeks to sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” and for it to register in our minds that God’s people had to wait many generations and thousands of years for the coming of the Savior. A little bit of suffering in the form of doing without the usual quantity of food, or rich foods, (in the Orthodox Church we eat less, and almost vegan, when fasting) can make it more real for us that the world before Christ was suffering under the curse of sin. We feel our own weakness, too, when eating less, and that can soften our hearts.
Why the photo of Holy Trinity Cathedral above? My church and sister churches sponsor Advent retreats every year, usually a day or half a day when we can hear a lecture and attend services together to help us focus on the coming feast in a fruitful way. Last year I went to one at Holy Trinity and took the picture. (By the way, I saw the same flowering plant at a winery last week and still don’t know what it is.)
One children’s book that might contribute to a child’s understanding of time and the processes that are necessary preliminaries to accomplishing a goal, in particular a few points on the timeline of our salvation history, is The Tale of Three Trees, “a traditional folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt with illustrations by Tim Jonke.”
Three small trees stand on a hilltop and dream about what they might do when they are grown. One wants to be a treasure chest, one a sailing ship that carries kings, and one just wants to stay where it is and point to God.
It takes many years for them to get big enough to be cut for lumber and fashioned into items that play a part in the earthly life of our Lord. The first tree is made into a manger — and this first creation of wood that the Christ Child came in contact with establishes the story as one for Christmas.
All the trees feel initial disappointment and humiliation, none more so than the one that is made into a rude cross and used for violent purposes: “She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.” But in the end all of the trees realize the blessedness of being used for the glory of God, and the young reader is reminded of the reason a Baby was born at Bethlehem.
Even our Lord Jesus went through a period of preparation, growing up as a man for 30 years before He began His ministry, but He surely wasn’t idle during that time. As we wait for Christmas we can prepare our hearts by prayer and fasting and acts of love.
Those of us with families are blessed to have many possibilities under what might be the Acts of Love category. (They might even include some noise of cash registers, but I won’t say any more about that at this party.) I know I have cookie-baking, doll-clothes-sewing, decorating and menu-planning and making up beds on my list.
The truth is, I’m not very good at being child-like before Christmas. I feel so many responsibilities that children don’t have to concern themselves with, and I get pretty busy with all the fun type of preparations.
Somehow, though, all of that, when combined with participation in the church traditions and services, adds up to make me feel some of the longing and the weakness that are appropriate right now.
I’ll post on Wednesdays more about some of the simple pleasures that our family has enjoyed over the years, even while remembering that the fullness of joy, the acting like a child, will start on December 25th. And won’t it be wonderful!
More than a week remains of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and am I glad! The days leading up to and including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day flew by in such a flurry of church and family that I am fairly flattened. Today is the first of my restful days and I’m in happy R&R from wonderfully happy times.
Here is a hodgepodge of photos and memories from the last two weeks, probably not in precisely chronological order.
Of course, there were the doll clothes I sewed on for a couple of weeks, and did manage to mail to Littlest Granddaughter (working on a nickname for that one) on the 15th. An entire blog post will have to be dedicated to the small garments, later. I hear that the lucky dolly donned them immediately.
Then K. and I went to San Francisco again with little T. who is now 5. We did the usual cable car, Chinatown, and riding the elevator to the 31st floor of the Saint Francis Hotel to look over the city broadly and straight down at Union Square and the ice rink (photo).
We rode up and down several times and there was never a doorman to tell us, as he told poor Babar, “This is not a toy, Mr. Elephant.”
The gingerbread house in the lobby at the Fairmont Hotel was even more glorious this year, being two stories high. We were favored by meeting a baker who was doing maintenance on the candy that had already been nibbled by children.
Last year there were signs asking people not to eat the house, but not this year. So evidently some have felt more liberty to partake, at least of parts that were protruding a bit; I didn’t notice any chunks missing from the gingerbread bricks. The baker repairman gave T. a chocolate Santa.
Not to be outdone, the Saint Francis Hotel had a giant sugar castle in the lobby there.
After the San Francisco trip I mostly cleaned and cleared rooms to make places for six soon-arriving family members to sleep. We didn’t get our tree up until the day before Baby flew in, so she helped us decorate.
One of my favorite ornaments is this doll who came from the Czech Republic just as the gifter had: our friend Tylda had sneaked across the border to Austria about the time I was born, when Czech was still joined to Slovakia.
The little man is about 35 years old, the last remaining salt dough ornament of which B. and I painted and baked a whole set with which to decorate one of our first Christmas trees. He is looking a bit crumbly, as though his flesh is gradually vanishing into the atmosphere.
Pippin and her family left the snow to come and be with us. “My” deer looked like this when she snapped their photo before driving down.
Seventh Grandson Scout was way livelier than last year and entertained us all. We managed to keep him from falling down the stairs, and he was heard exhorting himself, “No, no…” not to bother the Christmas tree. His aunt gave him the perfect hat!
Newlyweds Soldier and Doll were with us, too, for several days. Oldest daughter Pearl sent them darling Mr. and Mrs. Snowman ornaments that she made.
And I got my own striking couple,
crazy-eyed marionettes brought from India last year by Kate.
The married couples returned to their homes already, and as I write, we are nearing the departure of the last child and the return of Quieter Nest. But I plan to enjoy all the remaining days of Christmas, with meditations on the Nativity, and wait a while before I get out the After-Christmas to-do list I made a while back.
Yesterday friend K. and little T. and I went to The City for the second of our annual Christmas outing.
First we stopped by Union Square to see the Christmas tree. My photo is from last year, but this year’s looked just the same. And this year the giant tree was an “85-foot Shasta White Fir from the Carlton Tree Farm in Mount Shasta.”
The St. Francis Hotel features an elevator with windows looking out on the Square, so we rode up to the 31st floor and down several times.
Then on to lunch at the famous John’s Grill. The restaurant has good food, and a replica of the maltese falcon from the movie by that name, hearkening to a scene from the movie shot in the restaurant. A couple of years ago the “original replica” was stolen, so this one is new copy.
John’s Grill is a favorite spot for politicians to meet for lunch, and you can see framed photographs of various famous people all over the walls. Right above our table was a picture of our former-maybe-future governor with a past owner in 1984.
We rode the cablecar as we did last year. This time T. was happy to watch the guys adjust the cables at the end of the line and push the car into position for its return ascent.
After a steep ride that had T. and me hanging on to our post and sliding down the seat nevertheless, we arrived on Nob Hill, where after the 1906 earthquake and fire, big hotels were built and named after the wealthy people whose mansions in that neighborhood had been destroyed. I enjoyed the grandeur of the Fairmont Hotel, its spaciousness and the marble columns.
Even the gingerbread house was on a large scale, and made with real gingerbread and gumdrops, half a ton of ingredients and days and days of work. I was impressed by the silky evenness of the ribbon candy, as I’ve recently been on the hunt for some for my father-in-law. What I found in the supermarket is downright ugly compared with this.
It smelled rich and gingery, too!
We were on our way to Grace Cathedral, also on Nob Hill. The original church was also destroyed in 1906, and the new cathedral not complete until the 1960’s. K.’s parents were married here.
The crèche was my favorite part of our time in the cathedral.
Chinatown brought us back to the hustle and bustle.
This year’s oddity was these dragons made out of rope…
…and in another window, this year’s winner of the Christmasy Shoes contest.
Last year I snapped pigs resting in a Chinatown window. They were there again yesterday–or had they ever left? Those pigs prophesied of this morning, when I slept late, dreaming that I was writing a novel.
A relaxed outing, a lazy morning….it’s the last I’ll see of those for the next week. I’m going to enter the fray in earnest, now.