Welsh Christmas story (Nadolig Llawen!)
Diolch yn fawr Rhian I will make sure that this gets posted everywhere. Nadolig Llawen from all at AmeriCymru
They actually drew lots in the teachers’ lounge to see who would direct this year’s Nativity play. Rachel tried to assert the division of church and state, saying “Come on, you guys, in this day and age, you’d think,” but she was cut off by the sharp edge of “tradition.” Nor did her Jewishness save her, though she tried to play that card. Roger countered that he’d organized the latest bake sale, and he was gluten-free. Rachel said, “that is not even remotely the same thing.”
Now here she was, in the multi-purpose room, standing before a gathering of K-6 children, deciding who would play each role.
“Give me your best donkey bray!” She said. “Come on, now. Hee-Haw! Heeeee-Haaaaw!”
The assembled group brayed. Some of them also got down on the floor and kicked their legs back, knocking their neighbor.
Rachel had no idea what she was doing. She was, by title, the reading specialist, but what that usually meant was she came in to relieve teachers for an hour at a time, making the rounds through the school, so everyone had a chance to do their laminating, or whatever. The students knew her as “The Fun Lady” because she brought activities that tended to be colorful, often messy, revving the kids up so that, teachers complained, they were nearly impossible to calm, after. She was young, just out of grad school, and believed kids needed plenty of hands-on lessons, that silence and restrictions limited abstract thought and experimentation. Most of the kids ran up to her, when she came, “The Fun Lady’s here!” and if she was simply “Miss Rachel,” it didn’t bother her much that she didn’t rank a last name.
“Okay, let’s hear the bleating of sheep! Baaaa. Baaaaaaaa!” Rachel had the most ovinely adept students step to one side. By the time she got to the principle roles, The Innkeepers (one child would voice the repeated rejections), Joseph, and Mary, three of her most challenging students remained. How did that happen? Leon, who was prone to random rages, Enrique, who was all but mute he was so indrawn and sullen, and Maeve whose disfigured face caused her so much shame and bitterness, she trusted no one -- all cast her furtive looks, wondering what fresh hell she might have in store for them.
“Now,” Rachel began, unsure of how to proceed. “Now. We have just three more parts and lucky for us, there’s the three of you!”
They shifted under scrutiny like the accused. She had just to say it: “Leon, you’ll be the Innkeeper, Enrique’s our Joseph, Maeve, our Mary,” but she hesitated. It occurred to her that she would be responsible for the creation of these children’s memories, that ten, twenty years from now, who knew, maybe their whole lives, Maeve would say, I was cast as Mary in 4th grade, or Enrique would have echoes of identification with Joseph, with unanticipated meaning resounding. She was going to ask these young people to take on key roles in Christian civilization, and what might that mean to a future reckoning?
“Miss Rachel,” Eddie, one of the Wise Men, said.
Jogged out of her reverie, Rachel assigned the last roles, handed out scripts, and dismissed the group.
At the first real practice, Rachel faced the difficulty of keeping the nonspeaking characters occupied while she worked with the others.
“Good afternoon, young thespians. We are about to embark on a dramatic adventure together, one based on the illusion that you are not who you normally are, not Renata or Rain or Stanley, but the characters of an entirely different time, more than 2,000 years ago, in an entirely different place, more than 7,000 miles from here.” She knew from experience that kids were impressed by large numbers.
“How do we do it? Now I know this may be a bit much for you to understand, but there are several different schools of acting.” She’d read up on this the night before. Might as well treat her actors with respect, right? “There’s the Chekhovian method, invented by Michael Chekhov, we’ll use that for the manger animals. It says that your physical expressions and actions should always come from an inner state.”
Rachel was met by stares. The children had stopped mooing and neighing and stood there, heads cocked like confused retrievers.
“What I mean is, you guys are animals on a winter night in Bethlehem. What are you thinking? What are you feeling? How does that make you stand and move?
One of the donkeys raised her hand/hoof.
“When I’m cold, like when I’m at the bus stop waiting, waiting, waiting, I sometimes like to dance to keep warm,” and she showed the group how.
“No, no, don’t do it now! Oh boy,” Rachel said. All of the manger animals had launched an impromptu ungulate dance party.
“Hold on guys. Wait a second. This is Bethlehem, remember. It doesn’t get that cold. You’re animals, used to living outside or in a barn. What I want you to imagine is how it might feel when these humans come into your barn and lie down on your hay. You don’t know it yet, but maybe you get a hint that something amazing is about to happen. How does an animal, a goat, a donkey, show that?” But the kids were still dancing. Rachel realized it was a lost cause.
“All right, all barnyard animals move to the back of the room. I’ll be sure to work in a dance number, so figure out your moves, okay? Angie, you’re in charge. But quietly. Quietly.”
The group moved to the back and worked on a kind of 4-legged cancan.
Rachel asked the three wise men and Clive -- who volunteered to be the star of Bethlehem because he had the perfect costume at home -- to go to another corner to practice their lines using the method acting technique.
“Try to connect with your experience. Have you ever seen a newborn baby?”
Rachel spoke through the many voices piping, “I have!” “I have!” “Teacher, I have!” “My baby sister’s a baby!”
“And what a miracle they are, right? Try to get into that state of mind.”
When she was alone with Leon, Enrique, and Maeve, she had them sit on the floor in a circle.
“For you guys, we’ll use the Stanislav method. Now don’t worry about the name. It’s just a name. The trick with this is to climb right inside your character to know what motivates them, so you can live them.”
“How am I supposed to live a bunch of hotel guys? What does that even mean?”
“Hold on, Leon. Give it some time. Before anybody says anything, I want you to think. Go deep. Consider, now don’t answer out loud, just consider these questions: who am I? where am I? when is it? what do I want? why do I want it? and, maybe most important of all, what do I need to overcome?”
“Oh, man, what the--” Leon groaned, but with a stern glance from Rachel, he made a show of closing his lips, of pressing his fingers to his temples in intense concentration. Enrique stared down at his hands in his lap. Maeve closed her eyes.
“Okay, have you had a chance to come up with answers for each of your characters?”
“I’m done Stanislaving. No room is no room, you know? What am I going to say? I’m not about to let a couple of stinky hobos sleep in my lobby,” Leon said.
“That will work. Okay. You, Enrique? What do you want and why?”
He pulled the neck of his jersey up over his mouth and mumbled his answer.
“I can’t hear you. What did you say?” Rachel asked.
Maeve answered for him.
“He says he wants to know how God got his woman pregnant and what he’s supposed to do with that.”
Rachel tried to catch Enrique’s eye, but he stared at his hands.
“Damn straight,” Leon said. “And she a virgin right? What’s up with that?”
Oh god, Rachel thought. Of course the kids would fixate on the details of Mary’s pregnancy. What could she possibly say? She didn’t want to disrespect anybody’s religion, but nor would she say anything she considered not fully factual. Why was she, one of the few Jews on staff, tasked with directing this play, anyway? The whole immaculate conception thing had always struck her as either a kind of retroactive whitewash of original sin, following the birth of the “savior”, or an example of a simple man’s utter gullibility. Enrique might be quiet, but he just wasn’t buying it.
Before Rachel could summon a response, Maeve said simply, “I was hailed by the angel, fool. Gabriel, and he’s not any angel, he’s a full-on archangel, that means he’s got an even higher rank than your regular angel. Archangel Gabriel renamed me “full of grace,” get it? FULL of grace. Do you even know what grace is?”
Rachel stared at Maeve. She was constantly surprised by what her students knew. Maeve spoke with such authority, the Innkeepers and Joseph were struck silent.
“And what do you want, Mary?” Rachel asked.
“I just want to have this baby somewhere safe and warm. I am the ark of the covenant, the ARK. That means I’m like the boat for salvation. I don’t need anyone’s love. I’ve got Jesus inside me,” and with that, her snarled features did indeed seem illuminated from within.
“Okay, now, Mama, breathe, breathe,” Enrique said into his collar, and Leon gave him a soft smack on the shoulder.
“Is it cookie time?” a sheep called from across the room, so Rachel broke up the practice for snack.
The costumes alone would carry the performance, Rachel thought with relief. A group of moms and Tricia’s two dads had designed and sewn fake fur, eared pelts for the animals, resplendent gowns and crowns for the wise men, a modest smock for the innkeeper(s), and rustic elegance for the holy couple. Clive arrived in an iridescent spandex jumpsuit spangled with dime-sized silver sequins.
“I’ve worn this pretty much non-stop, Miss Rachel,” he said, his mother affirming the truth of it with an indulgent eye roll. “You told me to connect with my stardom.”
“We could hardly get him down from the ladder or to stop singing ‘The Prettiest Star,’” Clive’s mother said. Which is an unusual choice for a Christmas play, I must say.”
Rachel had allowed herself some latitude with the musical numbers. She figured it was the least she was due. And they could get Mrs. Kelly to do the play next year, if they didn’t like Bowie, Lennon, or The Pretenders.
“All right, thespians, say goodbye to your folks, and… places everyone.” To her ear, Rachel sounded like a real director.
She stepped into the wings, ready to prompt her players, should they miss a cue or forget a line, but she needn’t have worried. Every step and misstep was adored by a proud and purring audience.
With Clive’s sidereal scintillation spot-lit above the stage, the 3 wise men, astride their camel headed broomsticks, crossed the desert bearing boxes with block lettered labels: gold, frankincense, myrrh, toward Jeremy’s baby brother who miraculously slept, silent through his big scene, cradled center stage. And if Enrique and Maeve went off script in the final scene, Rachel didn’t blame them. They were only following Stanislav’s directives and they did bring down the house.
“I am baby Jesus’s one and only mother. I’ve had to overcome homelessness and crazy contractions, but just look at him. Isn’t he wonderful? Just wait until you see what he’s going to get up to.”
Enrique stepped closer to the cradle, looking down to where the baby slept. Rachel heard him, but she wasn’t sure anybody in the audience did. Maeve linked her arm through her husband’s and said, “He says, he’s happy to be stepfather to such a great kid. He’s going to raise him like his very own.”
Enrique turned his head and spoke into Maeve’s shoulder.
“Huh?” She asked.
“I said,” and his voice rose, loud enough to be heard, “Sorry, I doubted you, Mamí.”
Rachel joined the group on stage for a few overlapping rounds of Dona Nobis Pacem, because, she figured peace was an ecumenical sentiment everybody could sing about. And if a couple of donkeys and one sheep reprised their cancan, Michael Chekhov would have approved the physical gesture of the internal dynamic. The children were only expressing an animal sort of joy.
A shimmering stillness emerges
within day’s fretting and toil and task.
Suddenly, juicy marrow penetrates breath
and bones of our lives as everything glistens
Body and world bathing in calm, a buoyant
space of allowing without judgement or speech
where pepper trees, ravens, rosebushes, stones,
people strolling with dogs, memories of grandmother
in her blue woolen coat, even fragments of boyhood’s
escapades arise, a cascading of fabric woven from light
into a single carpet of shine where there’s no separation
nor need for thought to dissect this mystery of wholeness
risen from root that dances in fields sprawling and spacious
beyond yours, beyond mine.
Nor extraneous words, well-intentioned but paltry,
this attempt to describe and to trace an everywhere
and nowhere of place in lines such as these --
faintly imperfect reflections birthed from one
freely given all encompassing moment --
this wild taste from Life’s heart
a gift ever-present, in plain sight well hidden,
being touched by such luminous foundational grace.
Afloat in a pool of July sunshine and mesmerized
by waterfall’s pounding cascade onto granite slabs
below, there came a day when suddenly she stood up
in the stream of all of it, locked her freckled eyes
onto spruce treetops a mile up the mountain and
like an ecstatic animal burst into such laughter, such
utter freedom from the past and its earthquakes
of grief, now gifted by purity of water and rock,
wild wind and sturdy cliff, that three hawks circling
high overhead ceased their incessant hunt for this moment
becoming points of reverent stillness, love’s witnesses
in the great sky of her hard-won joy.
“Light takes the tree but who can tell us how?”—Theodore Roethke
When imaginal light floods the mind receptive
carves a Bosporus where a tanker plows its freight
steaming eastwards like an insomniac’s tortured
evening and a robust blue skinned swimmer pounds
her warrior’s arms swirling towards her lover on the Asian shore
perched upon a Vespa sputtering contentment,
and when the humble breathing body careens
with its moles, fatigue, scars and scabs towards
a holy sprinting, a limping dance inside
a manic undertow,
what then occurs may take our babbled breath away
earthquakes us to another kind of earth
where caterpillar ooze births a lone
imaginal cell, old testament for the good news’ butterfly
as we’re plunged like seed 3,000 feet beneath this ground
--are bewildered in the boisterous heaving--
all the way from last century’s insane wars, those years
of bloodshed bombed out Dresden Guernica Nagasaki,
Dachau’s cattle cars of clustered skeletons, China’s
perfumed slavery days king opium on his tawdry throne,
let’s not forget Vietnam and those dirty tricks,
to the cloistered monks of worthy Benedict
and the MASTERS OF THE GOLDEN WAY
and far, so far beyond….
ahh, when imaginal light floods the mind receptive
Bent over, he’s reeling like a has-been
Southern sheriff and wobbles into Wal-Mart
"for just a couple things" on a gray Monday
afternoon past the dented cars, crushed cups
and homeless shopping carts left for dead
on the outskirts of the mall.
The air, sticky as wet flour, bruised
peaches leak onto his hands.
He shuffles past tenements of papaya stacked
next to purple plums hard as stone.
This still life reflects back at the old man
making his way through onions and rhubarb
and chard and on toward the gallon of whole milk
and, later, four jars of Metamucil before unfolding
ancient paper sacks at the cash register.
Outside behind the steering wheel of my parked car
I wait for dad and write down these lines searching
for some story to tell of shared life, of our love really,
before the wordless drive home, before the slow
veer up the concrete stairs.
My brother has 8 or 9 teeth,
about 1/4 of his hearing,
a lifelong love of booze and drugs,
old Mercedes, gaudy turquoise bracelets
and the fern-laced woods and waterfalls
of western Oregon.
His rages sudden and wild
like Multnomah Falls crashing,
crackling the night sky blind
in an electric storm.
Chris lives in a small home smack
in the stony middle of the State
Penitentiary down in Salem.
He lurches when he walks,
staggering, almost feral, grasping
for himself alone.
Our history isn't easy nor
a simple story, my recoiling
from Chris, my groans
about his jagged wounded
ways, our bonded perils,
these earthquakes and volcanoes
shrouding a tender heart,
is visceral, automatic,
an addiction of my own,
Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife. (Proverbs 17:1)
The following is born of my pain. I hereby dedicate it to the altar.
By Your humble, obedient servant,
I find refuge in silence
when words only increase the distance between us,
hoping cold isolation will numb the hurt
and resentment oppressively intense.
I seek sanctuary within myself
when companionship turns to contempt,
veiling my soul from every grief, every joy, every sense.
Rather than safety and soothing balm,
I drift in deep space,
awed by my own overpowering insignificance,
frantically gasping for air
in a vacuum of despair.
My heart experiences the turbulence
of a dying star,
collapsing into itself
under the weight of inflicted negligence,
left a wandering black hole
to consume light and life
with an apathy worse than malevolence.
It knows only hunger,
always feeding, never satiated.
In its wake is a blank existence
of darkness and expansive emptiness.
A waking sleep turns to a living death
as heart and hope both lose cadence.
Except the occasional sigh or faint groan,
no sound escapes these pallid lips;
for this is the reign of silence…
and it will exact its price.
But I find that it is greater than I can bear.
I grow desperate in your absence.
When will the grave finally release me?
Why such a slow, agonizing demise?
My soul is indeed in an environment of virulence.
It grasps for relief,
like the parched tongue reaching for any water droplet –
blindly clutching at any chance.
I cannot continue to wander this emotional desert.
A mirage offers me temporary escape –
an oasis of the mind, in essence –
a place where I am somebody else…
somebody lovely and loveable…
and loved in abundance.
But I am not somebody else.
I cannot forget forever,
for I sense imminence.
Reality, like space debris, knocks me about
and awakens me to fresh hurts.
It leaves me with bruises and bloody dents,
severe pain but no morphine,
a hopeless diagnosis,
broken bones but no splints…
and no one to comfort me
to the end.
“Nay,” says my Prince,
“neither alone nor hopeless…and not the end.
Never forsaken nor forgotten…but loved abundantly.”
And that has kept me alive since –
those Words that traveled through emptiness,
a voice that carried in soundlessness –
revived me by His unfailing presence.
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)
At the town’s edge and
past the gates lie earth and stone
in rows and columns.
While it is still new,
count the seconds and heartbeats
ere laying to rest.
With each breath of life,
each step taken, not taken,
with each thought of death,
the earth keeps whirling.
The world does not fade away –
it forces your move.
Footsteps on the grass…
minutes and hours will pass…
Footsteps grow fainter…
At first, fresh flowers,
solemn words, and somber tears
meet that patch of ground,
sink into the dirt
in exchange for sprouting life,
searching for sunshine
and the mourning dew.
Familiar voices murmur
with sorrow downward
and prayers sent upward.
When days and sunsets go by,
soil stays drier
(except when the rain
washes away parting gifts…
and more memories).
The leaves have fallen.
The grave is no longer fresh.
The ground is hardened.
Less company means
wilted flowers on the grave.
The frost has arrived.
Weeks and months go by…
Snow has covered everything,
but not erased yet.
Some hold on to grief.
Others happily forget.
Holidays will pass.
(Those are the hardest.)
The worst over, pain lessens.
Wounds close up and scar.
They reopen less.
When seasons then years go by,
scars of heartache fade.
Love and laughter mend.
Then thoughts no longer linger –
in sadness, at least.
The grave grows silent.
Visitors no longer pause.
When decades go by,
merely old letters
and photos bring remembrance.
Then lifetimes will pass…
centuries will pass…
generations come and go…
New graves will be dug,
the old forgotten.
Only God will know that name
written on the grave.
The bloom had arrived,
and it was lovely at last –
glittering with dew,
glowing in the morning sun,
supple to the touch,
emitting a seductive scent,
waiting to be plucked.
But spring was too brief,
and a summer storm had come.
The wind bent the stem.
The rain buffeted.
It left the petals mangled.
Then the sun came out.
Its sweltering heat
aged and withered that flower.
The bloom passed too soon.
What good is it now?
Does it have any use left?
Will it decay – die –
in a dusty vase?
Will it be left between the
pages of a book
and then forgotten?
No. Crush it. Extract its oil –
an anointing oil
placed upon the brow,
poured at the feet of the King,
stored for such a time
when lovers wed…when
we rise from the dead – part of