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“I can dance! I can jump! I can run! I can work! I can play!” so sings the ecstatic Amahl, the lame shepherd boy, in Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act opera for children of all ages, Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951).

Set in Bethlehem, a fiery star, “as big as a window,” lures Amahl into the December hills where he pipes his heart out, one melody after another. An impossible dreamer, he frequently frustrates his widowed mother, further impoverished by the recent sale of their sheep. Piercing cold, hunger, no fire in their hearth, only sleep’s oblivion keeps death at bay. However, from out of the night emerge Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthazar, kings/astrologers and their page, seeking lodging in this widow’s hovel. Stories of their star-quest for another king quicken Amahl. Like their visitors, he will bring a gift, his crutch, all that he owns. In that decision, his withered leg throbs with new wholeness. He stands tall. He will have a life. He sings.

What was it that compelled Amahl to disregard the need for his crutch, without which he remained immobile, this reckless heart-gesture that gave its all? What did he see in that moment? What empowerment that changed everything?

Unfortunately, many of us still hold on to crutches, of whatever stripe, to inch us through challenges, to enhance functioning, to conceal our human foibles from others and ourselves. What would it be like to stride free from such hobbling compulsions and enjoy the sun’s warmth on our backs?

Perhaps in 2019, we’ll find out. May it be a very Happy New Year for you and your loved ones!

 

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Soils engage spidery bulbs beneath wintry graves.

Hesitant blades pierce the mulch.

March rains dampen tentative greens like children forgetting their lines.

Weeks pass.

Spiked blades pattern gardens like players on chessboards.

Hard nubs stretch like infants flailing rubbery limbs.

Flickers of color balloon and soften the petals.

Tulips have returned.

We give thanks!

 

 

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When was the last time your belly shook with laughter, your heart skipped a beat, your imagination flooded with joy? Such discoveries enlarge worlds with zesty breezes, with bracing colors, with new purpose. Such is the spontaneity of children at play, jumping over puddles. They sense what to do and do it with abandon.

In my neighborhood, in all weathers, moms, dads, and grandparents push strollers, walk behind rubbery-legged toddlers exploring twigs still moist from melting snows, create snow-children with sprigs of juniper hair and raisin eyes, and hunt for squirrel tracks, and so much more. Observing such play challenges me to create my own.

It begins with switching off the unfounded “shoulds” contaminating our inner wellsprings, followed by humble silence. Within the stillness, listen. Allow clear space to emerge. Surrender to the uncanny spirit surrounding us. Then let go and see what happens: water coloring, dancing the rumba, stitching a quilt, singing in the shower, forming words into a poem, placing a stone atop another by the creek, carving a mouse from soap, sex, throwing an impromptu party – all mirror the process of ongoing creation in the universe.

In Proverbs 8: 30-31, we read, “I was by his side, a master craftsman … ever at play in his presence, at play everywhere in the world…” Through play, life happens and giggles erupt from unexplored caverns.

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