Something Precious To Hold
By Lynne Elwinger, O.C.D.
Christmas seems to be coming so “early” this year, that I really am not ready for it. This is a big contrast with the first Christmas, which seemed to be so long in coming, as things that are eagerly anticipated often are. For many generations, the Hebrew people had heard the prophecies concerning the coming of God among them in the birth of a child. I have been impacted this past year by an awareness of the similarity of moods between those of the people of Jesus’ time and of our time. Fear, discouragement, and anxiety increasingly characterize the personal and collective moods of people here at home and all around the world. Again, as in those days in Judea, we seem to be looking for signs of hope.
Bringing Along A Stone
Recently I read a chapter in Rachel Naomi Remen’s inspiring book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, entitled Making Caring Visible. Rachel, a physician and counselor, often works with clients who have cancer. This chapter shares a ritual she uses to encourage these patients and to help them through surgeries and hard treatments such as chemotherapy. She gathers together the patient’s family members and friends along with the patient, who has been asked to bring along a stone that will fit in a palm of a hand. With everyone seated in a circle, the stone is passed from person to person, and in turn, each one holding it tells of a hard time in their life that they have survived. They then “put” the quality that they felt most contributed to their successful survival into the stone for the patient. It might be courage, determination, faith, or things we wouldn’t even think of. The patient then carries this special stone with them through their difficult times, whatever those may be, drawing strength from the visible physical reminder of the caring and sharing ritual with their loved ones. They have been given something precious to hold.
If We Ever Forget
For days after reading this story, I walked around with it in my heart, thinking about how the birth of Jesus (the nativity story) could be thought of as a “stone”, gifted us by God, with the same idea of making love and encouragement visible. The recounting of the nativity story, which we do in many different ways each December, renews our faith, hope and courage in the midst of whatever life circumstances we may be experiencing at the time. If ever we “forget” that God’s Divine Presence always holds us in a loving embrace, we can think of the Christ child in the manger, Emmanuel, God-with-us. The image itself is a sign to us that God is with us, among us and within us always. We know that all life is sustained by God’s invisible Presence, but, like Dr. Rachel’s patients, we sometimes need a “stone,” something visible, something to hold, that reminds us how totally loved, cared for and upheld we are by that Divine Presence in human form in the humble manger in Bethlehem so long ago.
At Christmas time, in the many ways in which we share God’s love with one another, both loved ones and strangers, we become “God-stones” for others in our troubled world. Let us keep the light of Divine Presence burning, undimmed by outer circumstances, and thus make Christmas last all year long!
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., Kitchen Table Wisdom , New York, N.Y.: Riverhead Books, 1996, p.151 ff.
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