Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gift Wrapping 101

Gift-wrapping is another one of those tasks which divides the human race: you like to do it and are good at it; or you think the idea of wrapping gifts is goofy and you despise the task.  I fall into the second group. I like buying gifts. I love the people to whom I give the gifts. I despise wrapping gifts. Now, you need to know that I buy 7 gifts each year: one for my wife, one for each of my four children (two by blood; two by marriage); and two for my grandsons.  Some years, if I see a good dog toy I buy two more for Rocky and Peanut, our grand-dogs, but they just don’t seem to get into the whole Christmas thing. They like to tear at paper though. So, maybe I will buy 9 gifts this year. But that’s it. My wife takes care of the rest, bless her. And she take a day off to wrap them.  Seriously.  I, on the other hand, take 15 minutes on Christmas morning to wrap my gifts with whatever wrapping paper is left around the house, and I fill in the gaps with the plentiful newspaper around my chairs. ( Yes, I still read print newspapers.)  There is never any doubt when it is time to open gifts which come from me and which are from “Santa”.  Thus it was and it ever shall be. I can live with the shame.

Some years I think that I will try harder, despite my inability to understand the purpose of gift-wrapping.  So when a late night talk show host had on the winner of a national gift-wrapping contest ( I am not making this up…there is a national contest for gift-wrapping; oh my) I was trying to write down his special technique to which he gave the acronym “WRAPS” (clever, huh?).  Each letter stand for a step in his award-winning process.  “W” is for width, “R” is for ridges, and so forth.  The last one, “S”, was a stretch in that it stands for “special”, but what he really means is the bow on top. I will tell you that the national talk show host did put a beautiful wrap on the box by employing this nationally-awarded technique. What-ever. Gift-wrapping 101 is not going to change my life, I fear.  But it did get me thinking: where did this gift-wrapping idea come from?

I don’t know, but if I was forced to give an answer I would say it comes from the story about a young girl who gave birth to a baby in a barn, a baby she was told was the Son of God.  I picture Joseph and Mary scrambling for some water with which to wash the baby boy and then, staring at him strangely thinking, “this is what God looks like?”; and then,  at his first cry, Mary takes him to her breast while Joseph runs to his travelling gear for the clean cloths they brought along ‘just in case’.  “She wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid in in the manger.” With trembling hands and dripping eyes, I imagine, the perfect gift was wrapped like no other gift since.  Keep on trying.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Singing in the Shower Joy

You cannot manufacture joy.  You might be able to make yourself or someone else happy, but you cannot set out to make yourself joyful.  I encountered a restaurant sign which invited me to spread joy by buying their gift certificates.  While my purchase of the gift certificates would bring the restaurant owner happiness with another sale, and while my giving the certificate would make the recipient happy to have a free meal of food they enjoy, and while even I might be happy to have made someone else happy, I don’t think there is any joy being spread around in this transaction.  I don’t believe I can manufacture joy for myself or anyone else by trying to make joy happen. No, there is an essential difference between happiness and joy. Happiness might be “two kinds of ice cream”, like the Charlie Brown song says, but that isn’t joy.  Joy is something else. Joy is what you happens to you when you encounter something so unexpected, so startling, that it makes you feel like you are dreaming; that your mouth fills up with laughter; that you start singing even though you don’t consider yourself a singer. (Psalm 126)

THE JOY BEYOND the walls of the world more poignant than grief. Even in church you catch glimpses of it sometimes though church is apt to be the last place because you are looking too hard for it there. It is not apt to be so much in the sermon that you find it or the prayers or the liturgy but often in something quite incidental like the evening the choral society does the Mozart Requiem, and there is your friend Dr. X, who you know thinks the whole business of religion is for the birds, singing the Kyrie like a bird himself—Lord, have mercy, have mercy—as he stands there among the baritones in his wilted shirt and skimpy tux; and his workaday basset-hound face is so alive with if not the God he wouldn't be caught dead believing in then at least with his twin brother that for a moment nothing in the whole world matters less than what he believes or doesn't believe— Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison—and as at snow, dreams, certain memories, at fairy tales, the heart leaps, the eyes fill. (F. Buechner, Glimpses of Joy)

In this season of waiting for light, may you find so much more than momentary happiness. May you instead be surprised by joy. May you be blessed to have revealed to you something so totally unexpected that it your heart leaps, your eyes fill. May you be startled with a vision so powerful that the mere memory of it makes you want to sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.  May your song be that of the angels: Let heaven and earth rejoice!  The gift of Love is revealed once more. To you.