Back in the summer of 2008, my immediate family took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe for two months, time granted for dad’s sabbatical and funded by the Lilly Foundation’s Clergy Renewal Program. Before iPhones, or my spouse and children, or my granddad’s ALS diagnosis, or grown-up jobs for my brother and me, this summer was a magical space, a sliver of time and resources in the span of four lives that allowed for us to travel in ways we had only imagined. In each stop along the way (despite merciless ribbing from my brother), I bought a Christmas ornament. Among the many were some instant treasures: the hand-painted mosaic eggs from Prague, the little German bartender from Rudesheim, the precious glass candy-cane from Venice, and the jolly and jointed wooden dancing man from Florence.
Ten years, multiple cities, several houses, a few jobs, a marriage, a handful of deep losses, three kids, and a partridge in a pear tree later, that ‘dancing man’ has become the highlight of my family’s Christmas tree. In the days since we put our tree up, our kids spar nightly over who gets to make him leap. They were at it again last night, and I found myself unexpectedly overwhelmed. For this little treasure, found in another physical, emotional, and spiritual space in my life, had come to be cherished in a new way, miles and moments later.
The next morning, Liam and I were talking on the way to school, as is our custom. “You know how much I love you?,” I ask him. “How much?, he says.” “More than all the stars in the universe!” “But Mommy, how much is that?” For my curious kindergartner, it led to an unpacking of time and space as we rattled down University Parkway. The growing awareness of place — home, street, neighborhood, city, state, region, country, continent, world, galaxy, universe — and our little spot in it made for a holy conversation about our role in it all.
“If you imagine your own experience, your own past and all it contains,” began the morning Advent devotional I read minutes thereafter, written by my friend, Perry, “you know time is elusive and beautiful, often arbitrary, sometimes profound. So, it is for us mortals who are but dust from beginning to end. Even so, within the ebb and flow of time, God is there in each and every stroke of the tapestry. As we carry time forward towards new beginnings and new life, God is weaving in and through us. As we carry time forward by violence into the dark night of the soul, God keeps watch until the light breaks through again. We cannot understand time itself, and we are but brief flames flickering underneath the stars. But the God in and through whom we have our whole being is eternal.”
There are ordinary moments, like marveling at an ornament on a tree or sharing in conversation with a child. And there are extraordinary moments, like the heavens tearing open to reveal God coming as Love made flesh. But somewhere in the vast in-between, time and space reveals the Eternal One, who gathers up us and all our moments, and calls them good.
Together in the work of Love,