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Helplessness, searing bone pain, and fog-brain reduced me to total dependence upon others following last summer’s fall. It also shut down my egoic mind: I was no longer in control—of anything. Suddenly many helpers filled my waking hours; their cues prompted my snail-like return to life.

Dreams of healthy functioning gave way to long hours of exercise atop my bed. Indeed, they became a prayer, of sorts, while therapists eyed my weekly progress and urged more challenging stretches. My leg muscles, atrophied from the hip surgery, began to wake up. My elbow and shoulder stiffness lessened. I could dress myself again. Even neighbors applauded my progress during supervised walks with my cane around the court.

However, all this changed the morning of July twenty-ninth when I awoke to a one- inch-discrepancy in the length of my legs that skewed my balance. There followed a modified exercise program, chiropractic adjustments, and healing massages. After weeks of no change, I consulted my surgeon. An x-ray revealed the displacement of the three pins in my hip, and more surgery was indicated.

During the lengthy work-up of tests and x-rays, I again shut down. Within the ensuing silence I discovered I was still controlling my return to health. Somehow, my Healing Presence was taking orders from me. And when the November first surgery was rescheduled to the seventeenth, I finally surrendered.

The irony of this experience was not lost on me: Unfolding within the wake of last summer’s fall have been untold spiritual riches I probably would have not experienced had I been well enough to attend my annual retreat on the New England coast. Perhaps next September …

 

 

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It is New Year’s Eve.

Womb-like stillness exudes peace as I head outdoors. My flashlight plays in front of my steps, revealing shriveled leaves and twigs and gumballs on the sidewalk. Halogen streetlights impress limpid pools of yellow upon this dark world. Christmas lights hug tree trunks and drape specter branches. Wreathes with blinking lights adorn front doors. A spotlight casts a larger-than-life outline of a crèche onto a plank fence that heralds this centuries-old event. I smile. From somewhere, fumes from a log fire permeate the air.

As moist breezes freshen my cheeks, I move up the hill toward another oasis of yellow; within it, a jumble of cars crowds several driveways, and further on, a battered pick-up. From a bay window shimmers a tinseled tree. And in the next a block a drooping Scotch pine sits tilted upon a front lawn, awaiting removal by the yard waste collection.

I pause. What is it about darkness that prompts us to fill it with light? Does darkness not have its own richness, its own texture, its lessons—both material and spiritual?

Against such a field of darkness the crescent moon waxes tonight, and I’m moved by the text from Isaiah, 45: 7: “I form the light and create the darkness…” Both have value if we seek it.

 

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“… Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.” The last strains soar to the rafters of this darkened church as we snuff out our candles and blink beneath the illumination of the overhead fixtures. The service is over. Once again the story inflames our hearts.

No matter that everything around us feels worn: the electric fans mounted on the dusky pink walls of this cruciform church; the cherry-red velour used in the drape behind the Italian marble altar, the upholstered presider’s chair, and the carpet in the sanctuary; the used poinsettias affixed at intervals along the wrought-iron communion rail; the languishing figures in the crib set; the carved receptacles mounted upon the backs of the pews that once held hymnals; the aging worshipers, about forty in number, in a church that used to hold hundreds; the hickory floorboards smoothed by decades of worshipers since 1894.

No matter that the city’s pollution besmirch the once white stones of this German Gothic church with its steeple enveloped in the night.

No matter that streetlights shadow abandoned houses, vacant lots, and brick sidewalks of North St. Louis as we drive toward home through the womb-like mist.

There is still life in such places for those who seek it. Emboldened by the Christmas story, laced with hardship and sacrifice, we carry its message of lightsome joy into the dark world around us.

Happy New Year!

 

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