Merry Christmas: A Vigil for a Starry Night

On a night when the clouds cover the stars like an impenetrable mountain cliff, I wait for a sign. A small tinge up my spine. A desperate plea for the ancient ways to speak once again. I wait for the light, hoping it will come, hoping it will be enough. .

The stars, spread brightly out like colored snowflakes flickering across the onyx sky, reflect a distant constellation, and begin to re-enter the atmosphere, piercing through the fractured clouds, giving faint and distant light to the voidless black, the empty sea, the sandless desert, the vacant abyss that is deep within me. The light, hushed and dimmed by a millennium of travel, is all I have. Is all I ever had.

I wait for the reflection to reach me, hoping one refracted beam from a star long ago still exists, the same ancient light that awakened the shepherd’s eyes one cool and lonely night. Can the light that ushered in a new millennium, awaken a new epoch within me. If so, it might be enough for my heart to go on.

In the midst of tears, in the solitude of our inner being, we yearn to be on that impoverished hill, to understand the magnitude of that sight, a heavenly light illuminating a darkened heart, a heavenly chorus rising to a crescendo of glory.

Will I choose to believe its truth, not blindly though because I know what the light can do for one’s soul.  And though the unbearable pain releases not its grip, I have a question to answer. Does the light still exist for me?

Does the same sky, which God ripped open that night with his right hand, planting angelic heralds of peace on the clouds to rustle awake the shepherds, still exist for me? Can he reach into my clouded heart and announce the truth like a heavenly chorus? If it is so, all suffering and cause of angst still present throughout the world will be no match for the blessed announcement: “A Child is born.”

PERSON: This child is born.

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The 12 Days of Christmas: Revisited

In the spirit of the season, I’m happy to publish below a little piece I wrote earlier this year entitled “The 12 Days of Christmas Revisited.”  It was performed brilliantly by Seth Kelly and the RLT Players in their recent Christmas show.  It can be used and performed with attribution however you like.  Try it out on Christmas Eve with your family. Enjoy!

 

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …

… a partridge in a pear tree.

It’s creative, I’ll give my true love that. Nothing says Christmas like a bird in a tree. I guess it’s that existential relationship between fruit trees, birds, and Christmas that I never learned about. I’m assuming this is a tree in a planter, and come spring I can transplant it in the yard. A symbol of our love growing, perhaps, that it’s stable, dependable year after year. But the partridge. I don’t know. Does the tree come with a bird house? At least it wasn’t a vulture in a dead tree. Chocolates would have been nice.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… Two turtle doves. I’m not sure I like where this is going. On day one, at least I received a fruit tree. And let’s not get haughty and sophisticated about this. A turtle dove is a pigeon. A pigeon. You got me two pigeons for Christmas. What is wrong with you?

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… three French hens. Okay, hens are a step above pigeons. They have some practicality. But is this a hint, my true love? Have your eggs not been fresh enough lately? How would you like your omelet?

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… four calling birds.

What is this fascination with birds, my love? We are only on the fourth day of Christmas and my house is starting to look and smell like an aviary. That’s 10 birds. You gave me ten birds in the last four days.  How much do my relatives hate me? I’m an ophthalmologist, not an ornithologist.

(yelling to the birds)

Get down from there.

(bird poops on his shoulder)

Really. You had to do it right there, didn’t you?

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… five golden rings. Okay, this is actually sweet.  You’re trying to make up for the birds aren’t you. I think 5 golden rings will do that admirably. But I really don’t need 5 rings, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to put them to good use. I’m going to sell this one to build a bird aviary in the back yard. I’m going to sell rings 2 and 3 to buy the adjacent property. It has a nice open field and a large pond. I’m going to sell the fourth ring so I can graft that pear tree you gave me into the perfect strand, and then I’ll plant an orchard in my newly acquired land. And the fifth ring? I’ll keep it … as a symbol of our true love.

On the six day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… six geese a laying. We are back to the birds? What happened to the gold? I’m going to give my true love a goose egg or two. The omelets are getting bigger. Geese, go, go roam in the pear orchard.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… seven swans a swimming.  I knew that pond would come in handy. Swans, get thee to your lake. And in case you lost count, my true love, you have now given me 23 birds. 23!

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… eight maids a milking. Really. I was not aware that I had cows, even one cow. But enough cows to employ eight maids? In case you forgot,  I have birds. Birds! And anyhow, how can you gift me eight maids? Is that even legal?

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… nine ladies dancing. My true love, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but what is wrong with you? Are we having a party you didn’t tell me about? Is that what all the birds were for and you just forgot to send the skewers? Do I have a say as to what type of dance these nine ladies will be performing?

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… ten Lords a leaping.

(awkward look at the audience)

I am very curious about this one. Ten lords. And they are leaping. Why are they leaping?  And are these real lords? Like the British parliament kind of lords? I did not know that leaping lords could be hired out for Christmas parties. Will they be donning their gay apparel? Perhaps a rendition of swan lake? We have the ballerinas, the swans, and a lake already. We could make Tchaikovsky proud. This is going to be some party.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… eleven pipers piping. Now it’s making complete sense. We needed music to keep those ladies dancing and those lords leaping. My love, perhaps you should sit down, you look flush. You have been busy.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… twelve drummers drumming. I gave it some thought. And the only thing I can figure is this:  The 12 drummers drumming and the eleven pipers piping form the fife and drum corps, so therefore you were not giving me a subtle hint about ballet. No, fife and drum corps can only mean one thing: war. You are at war. With what? I have no idea. Perhaps sanity. Perhaps an aviary has harmed you in the past and you are seeking retribution. Or perhaps you are at war with me. Is that it? You are marching in with fife and drums to announce it’s over. If that is true, then I will tell you what I will do.

Take back your …

Twelve drummers drumming

And your eleven pipers piping

Remove your

Ten lords a leaping

And your

Nine ladies dancing

Fire your

8  maids a milking

And those

7 swans a swimming

Cook the eggs of the

6 geese a laying

But I will keep the

5 golden rings

Call away your

4 calling birds

Fillet those

3 French hens

Release those

2 turtle doves

And cut down the partridge out of the pear tree.

 

What?

This was meant as a joke?

You mean you do love me?

Oh, well thank you my dear. I loved it.

(geese honking)

Endings Affirm Meaning

An ending knows what it does. It also knows what it means.

An ending forces one to divorce the beautiful. It brutally parts the ways with an uncomfortable finality. An ending sees the past clearly. Perhaps too clearly for comfort. And that is why an ending brings tears, regrets, wishes, and what-might-have-beens.

But an ending knows what it does. And it knows what it means.

If it means a lot. If it hurts beyond what you want to admit, you can be assured of one thing: it was good.

As tears fall, they fall for one reason: there was once something worth crying for. The absence of tears doesn’t necessitate happiness. It could just as well mean that bland life has nothing to awaken the emotions within you. Likewise, the presence of tears does not necessitate pain or loss. It could just as well mean a realization of blessing which is no more. A thankful cry which pronounces growth and understanding. A thankful  heart which acknowledges the shifting of time painting the past in static form slightly out of reach.

But they are nothing to be feared. Endings, that is. Should be embraced. Every tear, every wish, every desire, every difficult step it takes to walk away should be embraced. It is better to walk away from happiness than to run away from adversity. The happiness will sit forever on your heart with memories and experiences that push you one step further in your walk.

I’m thankful for the endings in my life. This is how I know I’m alive. This is how I know that meaning exists. When living in the absence of that which you love, you understand how real the love really was.

 

 

Good Friday: Dead is Dead

Good Friday is the penultimate day for Christians around the world. It’s a reminder that the first day of the week is coming, the day that brings hope, the day that brings faith. But I’m sure the first Good Friday didn’t feel like it was a penultimate day, waiting for another reveal. Not, it would have had an air of finality about it. After all, dead is dead. Or is it?

To commemorate this Good Friday, I’d like to share with you a short play I wrote for a Good Friday service last year, simply entitled “Dead is Dead”.


 

Characters

Jabez, husband of Naarah, follower of Jesus

Naarah, wife of Jabez, follower of Jesus

Daughter, of Jabez and Naarah

Roman Soldier

Setting: At their home in Jerusalem the day after the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

Jabez is sitting eating some bread, giving it to her child. Child runs off to the side of the stage and is playing in the dirt. The Jabez is standing in a contemplative pose.

 

NAARAH: Do you want something to eat? (He shrugs it off.) I remember the first time I saw him. He had a single loaf of bread in his hand. (in thought) On the hillside. The crowd was massive, and I pushed my way in. I was just curious, nothing else.

JABEZ: Curiosity is better left alone unless you want a dagger in your heart.

NAARAH: I refuse to believe it was all for nothing.

JABEZ: It doesn’t matter what you believe when yesterday is still seared into our memory. We saw it with our own eyes, and that’s the end of it.

(The girl runs up from behind and tugs on the arm of her papa.)

GIRL: Papa, papa. Come here. Come here.

NAARAH: But it doesn’t make any sense. How can it be finished? There’s more to it than just yesterday. Our eyes have seen things, and you know it. It’s not like the first unbelievable thing we saw was yesterday.

GIRL: Papa, papa.

JABEZ: (gruffly to girl) Not now. Can’t you see your mother and I are in a conversation? (The girls runs off and starts digging and playing in the dirt off the side of the stage.) Why did I let you drag me into this?

NAARAH: Don’t blame your lack of faith on me.

JABEZ: Faith is now the last thing we need. We have given everything for him. And now what are we going to do? We’ll be outcasts. That bread in your hand might be some of the last you’ll ever have.

NAARAH: Stop it.

JABEZ: How could we have been so foolish?

NAARAH: I came to you and told you what I saw. That’s all. The rest was your decision.

JABEZ: And what exactly did you see? Perhaps your heart was a little too emotionally involved to see things objectively.

NAARAH: I’m not going to let your bitterness cloud my vision. I was on that hillside, and he took that loaf of bread and a small fish and fed thousands with them. Emotion doesn’t fill an ox cart full of bread. Tears have never multiplied fish. It happened, and you know it happened. Because you saw what he did for the blind beggar. (He turns away disgusted.) Don’t turn away from me. You know what I’m talking about. How many times did you pass him in the streets as he sat near the well in his ragged clothes? And you saw the rabbi heal him. I know it. I saw the faith in your eyes when you came home that day.

JABEZ (emotion) Where is faith now? Nailed to a bloody, wooden cross.

(The daughter comes back over to him.)

GIRL: (pulling on his arm) Papa! Come over here and look.

JABEZ: Not now!

(Daughter walks away again.)

NAARAH: It may not all make sense, but I refuse to believe it was all for nothing.

JABEZ: Yes, I saw with these very eyes what he did to the blind beggar, and I can’t explain it. But those same eyes witnessed something very different yesterday. Stop blinding yourself with reckless faith. Stop seeing what you only want to see. He’s gone.

NAARAH: But perhaps …

JABEZ: Dead is dead. It’s no different if he had fallen into a well or been bit by a viper or the Roman Legion sliced off his head. Either way, dead is dead, and we’d both be much better off if we can admit that fact. Jesus of Nazareth is dead. And life doesn’t come from death.

GIRL: Papa …

JABEZ: Not now!

GIRL:  Someone’s coming.

(He looks and sees a Roman soldier coming at him quickly.)

ROMAN:  Jabez!

(Jabez tries to run, but knocks into his daughter who falls to the ground. He stops to pick her up and Naarah comes to get the girl as the soldier punches Jabez to the ground.)

I should slice you here, and I would if it were up to me.

(Standing over him with a sword to his throat.)

JABEZ: What have I done?

ROMAN: Your neighbors have let it be known that your household was part of the rebellious movement of Jesus of Nazareth.

JABEZ: Please don’t hurt my family.

ROMAN: I am here to make one thing perfectly clear, and let the pointed edge of my sword re-enforce it. The governor of Judaea will crush anyone who perpetuates rumors or prophecies about the Nazarene. He is dead, and all thoughts of rebellion are buried in his corpse, or the likes of you will be buried alongside him. Do I make myself understood?

JABEZ: Yes.

ROMAN: Stand to your feet. (Jabez slowly stands) I just need to make sure you understand.

(He smacks him twice and Jabez staggers to the other side of the stage and falls on his face near the place the girl had been playing. Naarah and the girl are crying, and they go to his side.)

ROMAN: I think we understand each other now.

(The soldier exits.)

NAARAH: Jabez. Are you all right? Oh, God our father help us. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Jabez. He’s gone. It’s okay. He’s gone. Are you all right?

JABEZ: No matter what happened yesterday, I’m not going to let Roman tyranny rip the faith out of me.

NAARAH (smiling) No, I suppose you wouldn’t.

GIRL: Papa, I want you to see something. Look! (She points out to a place in front of them.) The olive seeds we planted. Remember, you said they were no good. But look, they are sprouting, papa!

(He looks out on the plants and reaches for them.)

JABEZ: That’s impossible. I stopped watering those a month ago.

NAARAH: Look at them!

(Jabez starts laughing.)

JABEZ: A miracle in the desert. Life indeed coming from death.

(Holding on to each other.)

Maybe we should wait and see what tomorrow will bring.

 

Happy Valentines Day from Prince Casimir

Happy Valentines Day! Here’s the ever romantic Prince Casimir from one of my favorite plays – “The Secrets of the Magic Pool” – with some prodding from Majji, telling the Princess how he feels about her. I miss this cast and crew so much. It was so much fun. Here’s hoping Casimir gets you in the mood for the day!

CASIMIR

              You really are a foolish girl.

PRINCESS

As is often said, foolish girls are chased by foolish boys.

CASIMIR

Then I am a fool. The most complete fool for love who has ever existed.

(He takes her hand. She turns away from him in embarrassment.)

PRINCESS

I heard you were leaving.

CASIMIR

Perhaps. If I do have to leave, will you miss me?

PRINCESS

                (coyly)

Oh, I suppose, a little.

CASIMIR

Literally a little? Like a grain of sand? Or a little like an understatement, like the summer would miss warm evening air or like the sea would miss the cadence of the tide? Which is it?

PRINCESS

If you must go…

CASIMIR

I must. And I know exactly how much I shall miss you. I shall miss the complexion of your skin, a gentle pale hue, the envy of every heavenly sky. I shall miss your ruby lips, as soft and moist as a droplet of morning dew on the petal of a ruby-red rose.I shall miss the sound of your voice – how it echoes my heart’s yearning. How I long to hear just one phrase roll sweetly off your tongue into my ears. It’s all my heart desires.

PRINCESS

                (getting flustered)

What phrase is that?

CASIMIR

The same phrase I’ve been trying to tell you for a long time.

PRINCESS

And what phrase is that?

CASIMIR

The same phrase that Antony said to Cleopatra.

(Majji is sneaking back in and eavesdropping.)

PRINCESS

And what phrase is that?

CASIMIR

The same phrase that—

MAJJI

                (Majji quickly stands up and yells.)

I love you!

(pauses awkwardly for a moment)

Would you two just say it?

jstef-apr2016-2703

Merry Christmas! Enjoy the “Snowflakes”

Merry Christmas, everyone. To celebrate, here’s the dramatic piece we preformed earlier this month. “Snowflakes.” If you aren’t in the mood yet, you will  be now. Enjoy!

SNOWFLAKES

A hushed winterland, a joyous hinterland – uncharted, crisp and clean, untouched by man or beast,

quiet and undisturbed, slowly awakened by the audible delights of a child,

“Snowflakes,”

with cumbersome boots sinking inches into the virgin land, unspoiled and serene, until perfectly molded footprints follow him in the snow as he sloshes every waking breath into the wonderland.

Vibrant eyes, large and bold like the static black coal of a snowman’s eye,

Pupils dilated with wide-eyed delight, writing tales of wonder on the lens of the eye.

Ruddy-red cheeks, puffy flesh, numb to the touch, indifferent to the coldness,

Warmed by the laughter and sighs and taut screams of glee directed at only one object:

“Snowflakes.”

Snowflakes piled in billions and trillions, each one exclusive and uncommon,

Each unique pattern its glories unknown by human eye alone,

But the beauty of the snowflake does not frame itself on the mind of a child,

It’s not the patterns or artistry which foolishly draws the child into the coldness,

It’s the possibilities that the falling, gentle crystal stars create,

Wet and heavy, big and slow, floating on the wings of the air,

Head tilted, eyes towards the heavens, listening patiently for the message, mouth oval-round, measuring the flight pattern as he catches the cold design on the tip of the tongue.

The mouth tastes the wetness, the nose smells the freshness, the cheeks touch the dampness, the ears hear the deafness, and the eyes, yes, the eyes see a kaleidoscope of light, sparkling and shifting as the sun peeks its frigid nose out from behind mile-high clouds,

Winter captures every sense, compelling the child to leap to the ground, to rest amidst the tranquil frozen sea and release the awaiting angel, ready to announce the joyous arrival.

Peace has come. Join us, let us rest, in the

“Snowflakes”

for Christmastime is here.

christmas-tree-on-snow-wallpaper-wide

A Vigil for a Starry (Christmas Eve) Night

On a night when the clouds cover the stars like an impenetrable mountain cliff, I wait for a sign. A small tinge up my spine. A desperate plea for the ancient ways to speak once again. I wait for the light, hoping it will come, hoping it will be enough. .

The stars, spread brightly out like colored snowflakes flickering across the onyx sky, reflect a distant constellation, and begin to re-enter the atmosphere, piercing through the fractured clouds, giving faint and distant light to the voidless black, the empty sea, the sandless desert, the vacant abyss that is deep within me. The light, hushed and dimmed by a millennium of travel, is all I have. Is all I ever had.

I wait for the reflection to reach me, hoping one refracted beam from a star long ago still exists, the same ancient light that awakened the shepherd’s eyes one cool and lonely night. Can the light that ushered in a new millennium, awaken a new epoch within me. If so, it might be enough for my heart to go on.

In the midst of tears, in the solitude of our inner being, we yearn to be on that impoverished hill, to understand the magnitude of that sight, a heavenly light illuminating a darkened heart, a heavenly chorus rising to a crescendo of glory.

Will I choose to believe its truth, not blindly though because I know what the light can do for one’s soul.  And though the unbearable pain releases not its grip, I have a question to answer. Does the light still exist for me?

Does the same sky, which God ripped open that night with his right hand, planting angelic heralds of peace on the clouds to rustle awake the shepherds, still exist for me? Can he reach into my clouded heart and announce the truth like a heavenly chorus? If it is so, all suffering and cause of angst still present throughout the world will be no match for the blessed announcement: “A Child is born.”

PERSON: This child is born.