Wild disorder

Daily Reading for December 18

“What went ye out into the wilderness for to see?” (Luke 7:24). It’s Christ’s ancient question about John the Baptizer, but it always plagues my early Decembers as if I were hearing it each year for the first time. Whatever else Christmas may be, it is surely the one time of year when everyone celebrates the rurality in which I daily live. The folks in Luke’s narratives went to the wilderness looking for a prophet. But for me and my family the trek to the wilderness was a journey to a broader focus, not penitential experience. . . .

I remember the hardness of our way of life during the years when all the children were youngsters: the difficulty of growing and preserving what could have been more easily bought; the vulnerability of having been, during much of each day, miles from any human help. But, even acknowledging all of that, I know again in each December that we could have, and now can live, no other way.

I still feel, even after all these years, that same wash of pride and grandeur when I see a huge city or stand among skyscrapers. No rush of glory comes for me here, not among these low sheds and two-rail fences. There is little about rural living that is inspiring. But sitting here at my desk off the kitchen, watching at least three dozen pinfeathers as they skitter across my clean floor, I know that it is the disorder of it all that makes the difference. In the city, with its certain borders and its arranged structures, I observe life. Here I am life, one among equals. I matter less to myself out here where I am sealed in the center of life as purely as the yolk is sealed within the egg.

We don’t have John the Baptizer anymore. He’s gone headless into some limbo that I have never understood theologically and that will probably always lie beyond my comprehension, but we have his wilderness with its constant flux and its disorder. And within the weeks of dark December, all of us—city dweller and farm dweller, Christian and non-Christian—will try to wrap it around us. We will bring the pine branches in to us. We will string everywhere tiny lights that “glow like millions of twinkling stars,” as their boxes all say. . . . And we will sleep, most of us, for close to two weeks wrapped in the pleasure of that wild disorder, knowing life, however briefly each year, as a rhythm more than as a plotted course; and at least for a little while, we will matter so much less to ourselves. We will do these things until peace itself becomes, like the Baptizer, a kind of forerunner, a herald; and we all shall cry, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

From What the Land Already Knows: Winter’s Sacred Days in the Stories from The Farm in Lucy series by Phyllis Tickle (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1985).

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