Month: December 2014

The Disappearing Nativity

Harburg Monument

“Now I can die,” said Simeon, holding the baby high up in the air. “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

Harburg, Germany, as some of you might know, is a suburb of Hamburg. In a public square in Harburg, near the S-Bahn station, there’s a monument titled “The Monument against Fascism”. Or maybe I should say that there USED to be a monument there. Or maybe I should say that if you go there, there still is a monument, KIND OF. Except that it was once there and now it’s gone. Or it’s still there. But you just can’t see it anymore. Or something.

When this monument was first created in 1986 it was 12 metres tall and 1 metre square, a tall rectangular pillar covered in lead. That’s big.

But it was also a performance piece. Most monuments are built to last centuries. “We will forever remember…” – this or that battle, or sacrifice, or person, or whatever. The typical statue, for me, is some bronze bearded guy on a horse high up in the sky with a bayonet in the air. You can see a beautiful example of that down on the corner of Rene Levesque and Peel.

But the statue in Harburg is very, very different. It was built precisely so that it would disappear. So that it would bury itself. Two artists, Jochen Gerz and Esther Shavez were responsible for the idea. Like I said, the column was (or is, depending on how you look at it) huge: 12 metres tall, one metre square, and covered in lead. Germans especially, but also people from all over the world were invited to sign their names on the monument, as a sign of their commitment to the ongoing struggle against Fascism. It was also supposed to represent their memory of what the past held, especially in Hamburg, where after the war everything was rebuilt as if those terrible years had not existed.

The artists provided two steel pencils so that people could mark whatever they want onto the obelisk – their names, their commitments against fascism, their losses, their hopes and dreams and their struggle against the forces that take away our humanity. It was supposed to be about memory and commitment. As it sunk, it was also supposed to be about how much of something we let go, or SHOULD let go, or not, and how much is permanently with us, or should be.

So here we are, barely three days after Christmas and where a few short days ago you couldn’t find a place ANYWHERE to get away from Christmas carols and songs, now you can’t hear them anywhere. We’re busy burying Christmas right now. If you’re like me, you’re thankful that recycling day is right after Christmas because it’s perfect – you can just get all that paper and cardboard right out of the house, pronto, and make everything clean again.

It’s amazing to me sometimes how big we make Christmas, and then how quickly after December 25th such a massive celebration sinks right out of sight. This is one of those times where the difference between secular society and the teachings of the church are the most glaring. In the church, I always feel like we’re saying: “not yet, not yet, not yet” BEFORE Christmas when all the ads are on TV and they’re having the Christmas parades in early November and cutting trees in October and putting up angels before the snow has even hit the ground. And then from December 26th on, when everyone else is rapidly forgetting the whole thing like it was some kind of overindulgent party, here in the church, we’re saying “wait, Christmas is not over yet!”. Hold on for January 6! The gifts are barely out of the wrapping before everything gets packed up again and the world is talking about New Year’s Eve and Retrospectives of 2014.

FORGET Christmas. That’s where most of our world is right now. But you and I are still being invited to gather around the cradle in Bethlehem.

When I read the Song of Simeon, or I think about the Slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem, and I think about the statue in Hamburg, it’s hard not to think that there is an unhelpful way for Christmas to disappear, but maybe also a faithful way to let Christmas go.

The unhelpful way is to to turn away in disgust from the commercialism and all the debt and buying and overindulging and to say: thank God we’re done with that. Or at least: thank God until we all go crazy again next December. Learning from Simeon, the faithful, grace-filled way to remember the Nativity would be to let it enter us in a more permanent way.

That image of that statue of lead sinking into the earth is extremely powerful. I remember a woman from one of my former churches telling me once how she accidentally stepped on a pin, and never had it taken out immediately. Over time it sort of healed over, and now for years it’s been embedded permanently in her foot.

For me, that’s what the Hamburg memorial represents. A needle in the flesh of the earth. It’s not really gone. That’s what the artists wanted. It’s there – and we can either forget it, or not. It’s a memorial beyond fading, because it forms part of the very fabric of the earth that we walk on.

And I think that’s what CAN happen, also, to the good news the angels sang. For some Christmas can just sink out of sight. But if take some time – in and even AFTER this season, to remember the Baby, and Simeon, to think about how life and death and justice are wrapped up in this story, then it can become more like that Memorial. Maybe it can sink into the unconscious working out, day by day, of our faith, no matter who we meet or where we go in 2015.

Simeon was content to witness the good news and then let it sink into him. “Master, let your servant now depart in peace,” he says, “for my eyes have seen this amazing salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” And he knew it wouldn’t be easy, either, for the people around Jesus. Why else would Luke have him turn to Mary and say, “and a sword will pierce your own soul also”?

Whatever else you can say about a baby, anyone who’s ever been close to one knows that once they arrive, whether you are a mother or a father, a grandparent or an aunt or uncle, the family is never the same again.

And Jesus, in particular, was to be a life that would forever change the world. Starting with the babies the Gospel of Matthew says were slaughtered by Herod, Jesus would turn out to be the kind of new life that resulted both in violence AND peace.

From the time it was first created in 1986, because of the incredible weight of all of that lead, and also because of the location the two artists chose, the Monument Against Fascism began sinking into the earth. This was what the artists wanted. You can see the thing on the internet, and see how it lost height every year as it sank into the earth. By 1993, seven years after it was built, the last of the signatures and the graffitti at the top of the column sunk below the surface. Apparently, if you go by that square in Harburg now, you will only find a plaque with a text in seven languages, reminding visitors of what was once there.

There is a text that the two artists put at the very top of that 12 metre column, and now it’s the only text you can read on a sign by where the statue USED to be. It says this: “In the end, it is only we ourselves who can rise up against injustice.”

We ourselves. You and I are in a world that would now like to forget the Nativity and move on. And in that context we are the living monument, the ones who have signed this remembrance and must now keep it alive. May the child born in swaddling clothes, the God made flesh, and the Word who came to his own even though his own knew him not, help us to live out the true message of Christmas. May we, as we should, become LIVING Christmases, embodying, as did the Messiah, God’s love in our lives.

A Pointe St-Charles Nativity

(with thanks to Alice Zorn, )

From the south shore of Montreal, if you were to drive over the Victoria Bridge and then, just past Costco, turn left on Wellington, you’d pass the train yards toward my house. If you did that, you’d go right through Pointe-St-Charles.

We all know the Pointe. The Pointe will always be the Pointe. But it’s changed. Property values have gone up. Gentrification has set in. Lots of it is still a tough neighbourhood, but it’s mixed now – there are plenty of upscale places sharing space with some of those old, hard-times homes. And they really know how to do up Christmas in the Pointe. In particular, if you were paying close attention as you drove down Wellington, you’d see a very special Nativity scene set up outside a clinic.

Nothing special about a Nativity scene. Right? There are hundreds of them in that neighbourhood. But if you were to slow down and look more closely at this particular one, you’d be surprised. My friend Alice Zorn, a writer who lives in the Pointe, alerted me to this. The centre, when you read the sign, is actually a Birthing Clinic. A place where young women go to have their babies. Nowhere more perfect for a Christmas nativity scene.

Except that, despite how it looks, the Crèche out front of this Centre turns out to be NOT very traditional. There’s a roof, and what looks like a stable. But when you get up close and look at the little figures, the manger is actually a bed. And while there’s a Mary, sort of – a young woman, anyway – she’s not wearing a blue robe and staring peacefully at a baby Jesus. She’s on her back. Shouting. And there’s no Joseph, standing in a bathrobe doing not much of anything. There’s a midwife, in action, helping the baby to be born. And there are no angels. Instead, there are a whole bunch of other pregnant women figures, standing around watching and helping as the young woman gives birth.

The first time I saw this, I felt tricked. From a distance, it LOOKS like a manger scene. But where’s Jesus? Where are the cattle and sheep and oxen (even though the Bible doesn’t actually mention any animals except sheep)? Where’s the little drummer boy? (And Rudolph?!!!) And where are the shepherds and the angels?

This isn’t a REAL nativity scene! Or is it?

Well, that depends, maybe, on what the nativity really means.

In the eyes of many people, tonight and tomorrow are the highest pressure times of the year: Christmas. And in our usual way of seeing the world, Christmas is supposed to be about love and happiness and warm feelings and family and forgiveness. If we’re religious, as we are, then it’s about the birth of Jesus, which is remembered as a sort of lovely historical event that means something nice, but not always very defined, for us now.

If we’re being honest, we have to admit that part of the charm of the traditional Christian Christmas is that it’s set so firmly in an imagined, highly-stylized past. During the reign of Caesar Augustus a decree went out that all the world should be enrolled. And Joseph went with Mary, his betrothed, who was heavy with child, to the town of Bethlehem… and she gave birth in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn.

It’s lovely. The problem is, the past we celebrate is also wrong. I grew up thinking about Jesus being born in a stable, with straw and hay and cold puffs of air coming out of animal’s nostrils and the smells of a barn. I LOVED that image, the traditional image of the crèche, and the manger.

But in fact, as I learned when I was in the Holy Land in 2009, the place most people kept their animals in Biblical times, in Palestine, was in caves. So if there was no room in the Inn, Jesus would have been born in a cave. Not some quaint medieval European barn.

Our manger scenes are beautiful. But absolutely inaccurate. Which goes to show that maybe history isn’t the most important thing going on here, and that the Birthing Clinic in the Pointe may not have everything wrong after all.

So what ARE the basics, then?

There’s a birth. The most human of beginnings. The birth takes place in a marginal place, an uncomfortable, makeshift place, because of society’s indifference. There’s a young woman. A scared man. An oppressive political system. A baby. Witnesses who are used to living outside in the cold and dark. And God is present, being born into the darkest time of the year and the darkest places of our world.

On second thought, it sounds to me like the people in the Pointe may have the essence of the Christmas story exactly RIGHT.

Do not be afraid, said the angel to the shepherds. To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

Why? Why these people? Maybe Luke’s Nativity is a way of saying two things: firstly, it’s the poor and outcast and outsiders whom God is paying attention to. And secondly, it is what is poor and outcast and an outsider in US, and in our lives, where our Lord is being born in us. When we are stripped of all the fancy clothes, the bells and whistles and the pretensions we load on ourselves, maybe that’s when Christmas really comes.

Luther said, again and again, that the fact that Jesus was born in a rough and rude stable means that the Gospel can go, and BE, anywhere. In the most desperate of situations, hope can be born. This also means something very important for us: if and when we fail, and we find ourselves marginalized, or feeling like we don’t belong, or knowing we’ve messed up, or simply cast aside by a success that passes us by, then our place with God is not worse. It’s just as strong, or stronger. Do not be afraid, said the angels. This good news is for you. And this will be a sign, for YOU.

Above the unusual Nativity scene I was talking about is a sign in French that reads: Pointe St-Charles birthing centre. On ne peut plus attendre. Ca pousse! Which might be translated as: we can’t wait any longer! It’s coming!

That, also, is the essence of the story from Luke. Ca pousse! It’s coming! Once Jesus is born, there’s no turning back. Once Messiah has come, and come in a way that surprises and shocks and upsets the normal order, then nothing normal should ever be normal again.

For it is only when we are outsiders ourselves, and realize that we are so, that we can stand with the Shepherds, watching in wonder as rank on rank of angels fill our skies, singing their hope and love and promise into our lives.

“For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord.” What a promise. What a wonderful blessing. And in faith, and from faith, our answer is clear: Glory to God in the highest, we can respond. And on earth: peace and goodwill!

The Pregnancy We All Have to Go Through

veiled in Chicago three

Do not be afraid Mary, said the angel Gabriel, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb…

Now: I’m a man. And if I’ve learned nothing else, in my earlier years, from having spent quite a bit of time around pregnant women, I’ve learned that for a man to talk about what it’s like to have a baby is a dangerous thing! How can ANY man really know? I’ve been fortunate enough to rub pregnant bellies. I’ve watched bellies grow, put my ear to a belly and listened to heartbeats, put my hand out and felt a belly kick while a tiny little arm or head or bum inside is moving around. I’ve done all that.

But I’ve never ever owned that belly that’s full with child. I’ve never ever had all that blood and amniotic fluid sloshing around inside me, never felt the water retention, the sore feet, the growing breasts, the relaxing ligaments, the stretching and pulling and fatigue and hormones. I’ve probably been almost as close as most men can get to a pregnancy. But I’ve CERTAINLY never been pregnant.

The fourth Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of pregnancy, and I am a man. What’s more, it’s the Sunday of the Virgin Mary, what the Church Fathers called the Theotokos, and I am a Protestant.

But despite that, I believe there’s something for all of us in this story of a conception and pregnancy. It’s no mistake that the last Sunday before Christmas is the most pregnant Sunday of all, not just literally, but also figuratively. Somehow, this particular day in the church’s calendar, just a few days before the most brash and crazy and hyped and frenetic and overadvertised and overstressed and yet somehow, we hope, one of the most holy – of all festivals, you and I are supposed to sit for a minute, like pregnant women who have to put their feet up. Today we’re supposed to consider what it means to be growing, like Mary, the Christ child within us.

In one sense, the story of Mary, placed as it is right now just before Christmas, is a call for some common sense about all births, but this Birth in particular. You can’t have a baby without a pregnancy, the Bible is saying. Right? Right. Of course! And we shouldn’t expect to have a real, meaningful Christmas without something growing and developing in us, either. In our world of instant everything, there is no disposable Nativity. I can hang out my Christmas lights at the last minute, but not my spirituality and my faith. If we think we can pull out love and joy, peace and goodwill like pulling the Christmas ornaments out of a box in the basement at the last moment, we’re sadly mistaken.

Babies don’t come from nowhere (now there’s a line!). They take nine months – sometimes awkward, sometimes difficult, sometimes joyous, sometimes frightening, sometimes even painful months, to develop. The same is true of a real, meaningful celebration of love and peace and justice.

This last week has been more horrific than most. The gunman in Australia who held hostages, resulting in deaths, in a Lindt café in Australia. The poor children murdered in Pakistan. North Korea hackers cause the shutdown of a Hollywood film, jurors deliberate in the Luc Magnota case right here in Canada.

Can you and I celebrate peace in the next few days? That depends: have we made a commitment in a hundred small ways to living peacefully and in justice from day to day with our neighbors and our family and children or whomever, throughout the year? Have we felt the growing pains of peace?

The same is true of love. Can we celebrate love born in the manger? That may depend on whether we’ve been willing to go through the hard slogging of loving each and every day, fulfilling the joyous commandment to love even those who do not love us.

It’s always seemed to me, as a man, that pregnancy is partly the baby starting to make its presence felt with the parents even before it’s out of the womb. At the very moment of the annunciation, Gabriel is already saying to Mary what kinds of things to expect: you will name him Jesus. And he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

I find several things illuminating about this passage. It’s also more than a little strange that the angel Gabriel shows up in Mary’s private apartments. During that time, and in that society, for a young woman of Mary’s age to be caught with a visitor in her private space would be extremely scandalous. And dangerous.

And so: I’ve always wondered if, especially for a woman, there isn’t just a touch of irony in what Gabriel tells the young woman: Greetings, favoured one. The Lord is with you.

To be a thirteen year old, scandalized young child, pregnant and under suspicion? Some favour, and we who are Christians should keep this in mind when we think that we want to be God’s favoured ones. God’s favour is a difficult road. By the way, notice that it’s a woman who hears first the “good” news of the incarnation, and a woman who bears the pain.

This is God’s favour for Mary: she was about to become pregnant out of wedlock, risking losing her future husband and with him her chances for survival. She was about to live, for her whole life, the stigma that Jesus was an illegitimate child. She would never live down the accusations, and then when Jesus got old enough to go on his own and teach, he would almost deny her by saying that whoever listened to him was his mother and sister and brother. And then, finally, she would see her own Son, the one for whose sake she had already suffered so much, nailed between his wrist bones to the wood by the Romans for a crime he did not commit, there to die a most horrible death.

And Gabriel says that this is good news.

Mary seems much more realistic. She was much perplexed by his words, it says, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

In these last few days before Christmas, we would do well to ponder the message that we are also hearing this morning in these lessons. Because I believe that the Gospel writer wants us to consider Gabriel to be talking to us as well.

God would like us to be messengers in our world. But think of Mary – pregnant and unsure of what would happen to her. We are to be a new type of messenger – not just communicating with words, but also by growing a new way of life, a more Christ-like way of life, within our very bodies and homes.

Some people cannot have children of their own, but what this Gospel talks about is the kind of life we can all bring to term, whoever and wherever we are.

Being a man, I don’t really know ‘from the inside, as it were’ what pregnancy is all about. But even from the outside, I can tell you one thing for sure – clearly, even when ultimately it’s joyful, it’s never easy!

May you and I, wherever we find ourselves this blessed season, learn from Mary to be realistic about what God wants to do with our lives, and still have the courage to say: “May it be done with us according to your will”.

Off-Road in Bethlehem

Five years ago I was in Bethlehem. Five years isn’t that long, but it’s odd how the memory works. Or doesn’t work! I remember touring the church they say is built over where Jesus was born. I remember the Lutheran Centre where we heard speakers and bought some crosses and shared worship. But from the actual streets of Bethlehem I remember little.


My strongest recollections are NOT of the official streets, the paths we should have taken. My strongest memories of Bethlehem are of the very few times – two, I think – of going off-road. Leaving the group. Abandoning the security of our guide and just exploring.

There was one main street that led from a drop-off point downhill to the Church of the Nativity. We had walked up and down that street a couple of times and frankly, to me, it got kind of touristy and boring. There were so many other streets to explore. So I asked my friend DL, whom I knew would have the same urge, if she’d like to try the side-street. Off we went.

It looked like it should run parallel, but you know the old saying about looks. Soon there was a left turn, and a right turn, and then a whole warren of little alleyways.

As we walked we were both getting quieter and quieter. I didn’t want to say anything to DL, and I suspect she didn’t want to say anything to me. It had only taken maybe ten minutes.

We were lost.           

A voice says: Cry out! And I said: “What shall I cry?” Did you hear that from Isaiah this morning? Get thee to the desert, it says, to the wilderness. And there prepare the way of the Lord, a highway for our God.

For whatever complicated historical and economic reasons, we live in a society that, more and more, wants to train the unpredictability out of us. We live in a world of systems. Computer systems. Communication and transportation and economic systems. Everything is a system. We’re told to behave in a certain way. Not only do most of us more or less successfully behave like that, but we get VERY upset with those who don’t. Or can’t. We put them into institutions. If John the Baptist were around now he’d be in a hospital or on the street. Or on meds. The only times we allow ourselves to see our wildernesses, our wild places, is up on the movie screens, where we can safely walk out of the theatre and tell each other that that’s nice, but it’s not real life.

We’ve become slaves in so many ways, and the worst kind of slaves – slaves that actually WANT to be where we are. We’re like the ancient Hebrews who told Moses: “why did you bring us out here into the desert where there’s no food? Weren’t we happier to be well-fed – even if we were in bondage”?

Today’s lessons, each in their own way, are about EXODUS, which is a word that doesn’t mean all that much in our world right now. But liberation, which is what Exodus leads to, DOES mean something. Or it should.

Advent is about preparing for liberation. And however much we decorate the church or our houses, Advent is ultimately about how well we prepare ourselves and our communities for justice, and truth, for incarnation and for the risk of being out there, maybe a bit lost, preparing for a new way in the world.

This last week some of us at the university got free passes for the movie “The Exodus”. It was a big Hollywood production, with absolutely fantastic costumes and sets and 3-D effects. It must have cost millions, maybe tens of millions, to make.

But the point, for all that, was simple: there is captivity, and there is freedom. And sometimes we make ourselves captives even while we think that we’re free. Where does liberation await us? Almost always, the movie seemed to imply, it’s off the beaten track. In the “wilderness”, wherever that is.

Our churches are failing. Not all of them, but many. We’re closing buildings, shutting down congregations, bemoaning the fact that there is so much grey hair in the pews.

In one sense, that’s sad. But I wonder if what’s really happening is that we Jesus-believers are being forced out to where it all began: in the wilderness. It’s in the wilderness of NOT knowing what a building should be, in the wilderness of NOT knowing who should be part of our group, and in the wilderness of NOT having big budgets and buildings and programs that we can do what the prophet says we should be doing:

Cry out, says God. Cry out that the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice – and how are we supposed to lift it up? – Lift it up, without fear, and say“Behold! The advent of your God!”

It starts, I believe, with allowing ourselves, every day, in our homes and work, to be less safe, and more spontaneous. It means forgiving ourselves, and others, for failure, because only by doing that can we learn to try again to succeed. It means relying on others, for only in community can a person survive the wilderness.

And it also starts by seeking justice, however imperfectly, and by keeping our eyes open. By so doing, says the prophet, we will be preparing our hearts for the Christ child. And if we don’t spend some time in the wilderness, it won’t matter how many lights we’ve hung or how Christmassy our houses look, we won’t be ready for Jesus no matter what.

If it sounds unsafe, it should. Can you imagine a crazier-looking character than John the Baptist? But every year he is our model of preparing a way for the Lord.

Lift up your voice with strength O Judah. Do not fear. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. And all people will see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

At one point in our wilderness way to the Church of the Nativity, we stumbled into an open square. It was a market. Spices, meats, nuts, dates….everything seemed to be there. There were lots and lots of people. But as far as I could see, not a single other face that looked like mine. They were all locals.

We went left. No exit. Right. Again, no exit. Down a stair…dead end.

Eventually, we found our way to another street, and from there to another street, and emerged, eventually, via a series of lanes and stairs, back onto the main thoroughfare that we had left behind.

Was it a bit frightening? Yes, at least to me. Was it interesting? A thousand times more than the other way.

Prepare the way of the Lord. How? By being less afraid, by being more human, by being willing to act a bit crazy and look a bit lost. By loving, seeking justice, and by embracing the life we’ve been given and not worrying quite so much about the opinions of others. Maybe it was a risk going off-road on the way to the Nativity. But five years later, that’s the only street I remember. May we each, in our own ways, hear God’s call to go “off road”, and learn what it is to be out there, preparing a way through our homes and through our lives.


Yard-Art Love

Christmas in Verdun

(author’s note: This story was published on line in Maisonneuve Magazine a few years ago. Although it may not be immediately obvious, it’s actually a kind of Advent, Annunciation story. Interesting that it’s set in St-Henri, and I now live nearby in Verdun, although I didn’t when this was written.)


There I was, butt-up, head-down, outside at midnight in my dressing gown. Smack-dab in the middle of lining up my plastic snails, someone at Hydro threw the city’s breaker. The darkness was just so – you know – total, with no big fat moon sitting like a pumpkin just over the neighbor’s clothes-line, that I lost the snails for a moment. It kind of makes you think you could be anywhere. Or anyone. It’s like when we were St-Henri girls pulling down the shade pretending to be camping dans les bois even though we could still hear the humming of the fridge downstairs and the adults talking, voices rising and falling with the rye and coke, the shuffling of cards, the arguments, the calling through the screen door for fresh packs of du Mauriers.

It wasn’t easy making it all the way back to the porch in that kind of blackness. Every footstep’s a decision. I closed my eyes – for concentration – and figured my place in relation to the big cement angel fountain in the centre of the yard. Saint-Gabriel help me see my hand in front of my face, I said, and then I just went. Stepped right around the flock of pink flamingoes, each with their one foot up, waiting. Inched my feet around the frog, knowing the little rascal was there, even without the sound of water shooting out of his mouth. Pictured the glass fairy globes on their poles so clearly I could touch them, passing. Waited till I could hear the lazy clack-clack-clack of the windvane duck, so I wouldn’t bump it off its tethered flight.

I heard geese that night. I swear I did. It was a remarkable Passover. Their calling out in the high darkness to each other made me look up. Oh my God yes. If it’s true what they say, that in this world there are ghosts wanting bodies, then they could have had mine. Perhaps they did.

The night drifted, with the streetlights out. I don’t know, I really don’t – what happened, exactly. Stars trespassed the city, came up my street, crossed my eyes. I fell right over the yard butts (a family of four in descending girth, thick white legs like sausages from their slacks), still looking up. Don’t know how long I sat there. Like eating candy at the drive-in. A good long while, I guess.

What we long for, we live in fear of finding, open and waiting, wanting nothing more than to fall into our laps like fruit off the trees, forever luscious. I’m not saying it was the stars, exactly. But two things happened that night: my troll disappeared, the one sent to me by my mother’s cousin’s sister (somewhere in Norway, I’ve forgotten where). That nasty short fellow with his long nose never did fit with the leprechaun. Better he’s gone now.

And best: I sit on the porch, growing fatter and closer to term with my precious little baby each passing week. A real-estate agent came by today, a nice man in a fancy car, sweating in his spring suit as he hung over the fence trying not to look at either my big belly or the manger scene (I decided to leave it up at Christmas). He said “Ms. Elizabeth, I could sell your house for a lot of money.” I told him about the ultrasound the doctor ordered, about the bulb in the streetlight over my yard that keeps burning out now, the city crews that come back every few weeks to repair it. I showed him how my ankles have swollen with the edema. I asked him about my collection – what would happen to it if I sold? But he didn’t really answer. Eventually he left, my leprechaun making rude faces after him.