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AN AWKWARD CHRISTMAS DANCE
December 24, 2011
 
"I didn't know cats ate popcorn," I told Santana. Two kernels had fallen from my bowl, and he scarfed them up immediately.

"We don't. I am reduced to this because you never feed me." This was a patent untruth. We feed Santana a half dozen tiny meals a day, a regime that has brought him safely from his top weight of 22 pounds to less than half that. Santi has never looked better.

"I look like the Spirit of Christmas Past," he says. "You can almost see through me, I'm so thin." This was an exaggeration -- nobody would describe Santi as thin. He's just no longer fat. Lots of loose skin, though.

"I think you're doing fine, Sant."

"You should know that I'm considering contacting the authorities. I think my diet may be illegal."

"Well, good luck with that." The oven timer went off, and I went into the kitchen to rescue another sheet of Swedish ginger cookies.

The house is holding up under Christmas. There was a large overnight crowd yesterday. Of members of the animal phylum measuring more than 10 micrometers in length, a total of 23 individuals: 6 adult humans, 2 human toddlers, 3 cats, 2 dogs, 1 parakeet and 9 tropical fish. The tree is three feet tall and unlighted -- it is made of feathers. The Christmas teapot will probably not be found in time, although the sugar bowl has surfaced. Gifts have been procured, though not wrapped, and it is by no means certain that they won't be presented just as they are. This has happened before: after all, there are two sermons to prepare.

There have always been two sermons to prepare: one for Christmas Eve and one for Christmas Day. The dance of church with home is an awkward one, less so now than when my children were small, but awkward nonetheless. How do you manage it, a newly ordained priest or a seminarian will ask somewhat nervously. Situationally, is the answer: you plan for what you can, do what needs to be done, and weigh your decisions about unexpected choices as they arise. You are more successful at some times than at others, but there is no leisure to fret about your failures. You make a point of being loving with your family whenever you can, for you know that there will be times when the press of other people's needs claims all of your oxygen. You are aware that your profession will contain both happy memories and ones that are less so for your children, memories of sharing you when they didn't want to share, and you learn to learn from them what they need, and to mend your ways in response to what they tell you in word and deed. You learn this and relearn it many times.

Clergy families aren't the only families who must do this dance. Physicians' families must do it, too, and military families. Firefighters' families and the families of police officers. Anybody upon whom society has a claim must live in the tension of that tug. It can hurt to live there.

We send each other cards, often with a tender picture of Mary and her baby. But we remember what we read in scripture: of the very few moments we see them together, all contain conflict. She takes him to the temple and old Simeon foretells his death. He gets lost on a family trip and she rebukes him; he answers her back in a way we would not tolerate from our own children. They attend a wedding and argue about his performing a miracle; she wins that one. At a public event, she comes after him, imploring him to come home, fearful for his safety with good reason, and he brushes her motherhood aside coldly.

Yes, the stories in the Bible are sharp, written to make a point. These exchanges were not intended to be accurate records of actual conversations. But they are real, nonetheless: they touch the painful places in which our love falls short, the places in which stern reality pierces love's attempt to gentle a harsh world.

Open your heart to receive what gifts there are, and open your eyes to see what gift may lie buried under your pain.anything not anything you could have expected. There is pain in the world, and there is also love. The two will intertwine for as long as you draw breath. Then, at long last, there will be only love.
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Christmas Eve at St. Luke's, Metuchen: Holy Eucharist at 8 and 11pm. Barbara Crafton preaches at 11.

Christmas Day at St. Luke's: one service only, 10 am. Barbara Crafton preaches and celebrates.

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SWEDISH GINGER COOKIES
These drop cookies replaced my usual cutouts. I can't find my cookie cutters.

3/4 cup butter. 1 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup for dusting the cookies
4 tablespoons dark molasses. 1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour. 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg, molasses and stir until smooth.
Combine dry ingredients and stir in, to make a stiff dough.
3.Chill the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours. Form the dough into 1-tablespoon balls, roll in sugar, space 2 inches apart on cookie sheet and press flat with fingers. Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until dark brown. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to finish cooling.
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