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Judge lies by the fire at Merv’s feet, looking at him with longing, with anticipation, with love, with alertness with expectation, with adoration. Judge is waiting. He is waiting for “Good boy,” he is waiting for a treat. He is waiting to go on the walk. Judge matches the snow today. Judge’s fur lies white and rippled on his dark skin. The snow lies on the dark mud and earth. If the snow is waiting, it is waiting to melt, to join the mad rush of water around here to the Niagara Gorge.
I waited yesterday, at a church door propped open just so I could hear where the narrators were in the Christmas story. Sitting in chairs in the parlor behind me were sheep in their fluffy outfits, shepherds in old pieces of cloth stitched to make sleeves, wise men in beaded robes and jeweled head gear holding treasure boxes, angels in choir robes or organza skirts, with gossamer wings behind them and halos above them. Some moms stood, a hand on a shoulder of a shepherd, perhaps.
They were quiet! Last week, as we read the story, they poked and pulled and hurt feelings and ran away and made faces and squirmed and kicked and tiptoed to the toy room. “I won’t sing!” “I don’t want to be an angel!” “I don’t want to be a Wise Man!” “I don’t want to be Mary.”
I heard voices in my head. “You are the teacher. Tell them what to be. Make them do what they have to do.” Then the other voice. “This is a teaching moment. Take a deep breath.” And then my true voice of wisdom. “You are the wrong person for this job. Put the right person in this job.” A big sister, 11 or 12, was standing next to me. I handed her some paper and a pencil and the request: “Just make a chart. Try to make sure we have at least one of each: a Joseph, a Mary, an angel, a shepherd, a wise man, a sheep, a baby Jesus.” “We can always use a doll for baby Jesus” she calmly said. She took the paper and the pencil and went child by child, asking them what they were going to be. They told her.
Yesterday, everyone came early, rowdy, energetic. They robed up. They put on these old crowns and pieces of cloth, took up shepherds’ crooks and fleece hats, halos and head gear and boxes of treasure.
I let them through the door to the sanctuary in their groups, Joseph and Mary first. Baby Jesus, a real baby, went gently into the manger nestled in his car seat. The shepherds took up their old canes and even the littlest one gently moved the sheep down the aisle and up to the manger. The angels moved out above the rest, near the pulpit.
The Wise Men (Wise Women, actually) all went through the door, up the aisle, to stand at the other side of the manger. I slipped out, the room behind me empty now, to watch and wonder. The children had all taken their places, stood or knelt, calm and sure in front of strangers and friends, parents and grandparents.
Merv, who was reading along with a young man of 13 or so was the one who told me. He said the robes, the crowns, the crooks, the wings had taken up their performers into the story and their part of the story. The adoration of the Wise Men, the awe of Joseph and Mary, the joy of the angels all happened. It just happened! And then, a little shepherd patted and stroked the head of the sheep close by, just as shepherds do.
They all sang ‘Away in the manger.’ We left the sanctuary. The participants disrobed. The costumes were rehung, those magical costumes that transformed the children. The children played.
I am in no rush today. Judge, coffee, the fire. Waiting over. Comfort now.
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