Verdun

Vintage Love

Norwegian teapot

This last week I was in a used-items store in Verdun when something on one of the tables caught my eye. It was a 1960s teapot, white with green figures in peasant costumes. There was a man and two women at an outdoor picnic. I loved the design – in fact, it looked kind of familiar. I picked it up. Underneath was stamped: made in Norway. Wow, I thought. Norway. Right here in Verdun! I don’t remember this particular teapot. But given the fact that I was a child in the 60s, and with all the Norwegian-background families I grew up around (my church was called ‘St Olaf’s’), it wouldn’t be at all surprising that maybe I’d seen that exact design before. Definitely something from my past.

I loved it. So I carried it to the clerk at the cash.

Oh, she said, with a funny expression. I was wondering when someone would take that. She didn’t look entirely pleased. It’s one of my favourite pieces, she went on.

Now. Maybe store owners always say that, to make the customer feel good. But I don’t think that was the case here. She turned it gently in her hands and looked at it again. This one, she said….This one deserves a good home.

Well, I told her. I see it’s made in Norway. My grandparents came from Norway, and my father’s first language was Norwegian. She brightened a bit at that. Not that I’m all that Norwegian myself, I hastened to add. But I will DEFINITELY appreciate it.  At that she smiled. We had a little back and forth about what it’s like for her to go out looking for items, to spend time and attention and care on things and to have them in her store, just to have someone come along and take them away again. She wrapped the pot carefully and almost reluctantly handed me the bag. There, she said, I hope you enjoy it!

I will, I answered.

Then, just as I turned to leave, she blurted out again: make sure you take good care of that teapot. I want to hear that it’s in a good place.

Don’t worry, I reassured her. It will be!

All that, over a teapot. Don’t get me wrong. I’m already quite attached to it. But the teapot, and the fact that two sensible human beings were both so worried about giving a home to this inanimate object proves one thing: everything we do, we human beings do within a web of attachments, memories, hopes and desires. Life is never just a question of functionality. We’re so biologically and spiritually wired for contact and attachment that even a teapot – and the memories and culture and symbolism and life and expectations attached to it – can be important. You are with me, says the twenty-third psalm. You anoint my head with oil (which means – you call me your special one, the one YOU turn over in your hands and say: this one deserves special care and attention). You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You cancel all my appointments, and make me breathe and wipe the worry off my forehead  and anoint me with oil. And you do this in Mosul and Montreal and Attawapiskat. Whereever the need for justice and care are the greatest. Maybe the best and most valuable thing about shepherds, especially in light of what Jesus says in the Gospel, is simple. Maybe it’s just that a true Shepherd is always THERE. To relax in the presence of, to be oneself with. To be cared for. Like one is with a really great teapot, full of tea.

Advertisements

Which Star We Follow

De L'eglise after snowstorm

It’s January third. And I think it’s safe to say that this year, there’s not a lot of optimism. New Year’s Eve I was at a small dinner party. One of the people there had prepared some lovely cards with questions on them that went around the table and we all had to answer. When the questions were about last year, each of us shared warm memories. It was great. Lots of laughter. But then came the question: “what significant happenings do you expect on the world stage in 2016?” And all of a sudden, you could feel the chill. Each of us had wonderful recollections of the year past. But most of us were quite apprehensive about the year coming. War, violence, financial crisis, disease, climate change, breakdown. One after another we laid out forecasts of doom. That’s what we saw in the stars.

When the Magi heard the king, it says, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star they’d seen at its rising.

Apparently, not all stars say the same thing. At our dinner party, we saw bad things. Trouble, and difficulty, and pain, and disaster, despite our fairly rosy personal stories. But according to the Gospel of Matthew, the magi also followed a star, right to the Messiah.

So which is it? Will our coming year be guided by a star of great difficulty, or a star leading to Bethlehem? Which ways are we being led?

Epiphany is such an important moment that every year it surprises me we don’t make more of it. It’s huge. If it wasn’t for Epiphany, there’d be no Christian faith, as we know it. Without the kind of trip commemorated today, those of us from European ancestry, at least, might still be worshipping the god of some oak tree or other in the vast, dark, northern forests.

To put it another way: Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jew and died a Jew. That is fact. Insofar as anyone in his day believed he was a Messiah, it was a Jewish Messiah. “Born to set his people free” as the old hymn says, emphasis on HIS people. That we who are non-Jews got in on the Jesus thing is actually kind of surprising. If wasn’t God’s plan – which of course, Christians believe it WAS – then it’s one of the greatest ironies of history (as Nietsche believed!). Christianity is what happens when Israel’s Messiah comes and everyone believes it BUT Israel.

We Christians are not the originators of the Christmas story. And we’re not even its first and most important recipients. Yet, according to Matthew, we were at least invited to the party. How do we know this? Because of Epiphany. Because of the Magi, the first non-Jewish worshippers, following the star to find the baby, born in Bethlehem.

So the very first image we get of our own spiritual ancestors is that they were pilgrims (which is, of course, great for me to be able to say!). They were outsiders, and foreigners, and seekers. They were also a little bit lost.

I started out asking which star you thought this year might be hanging in our skies: a star of difficulty and danger, or a star leading to the love and transformation of the Christ child. The irony is: they are probably both the same star. And isn’t that a pretty good description, maybe, of who WE should be, following it? Pilgrims, outsiders, foreigners, and seekers – despite often being a little bit lost.