A Manger in the Heart

Being in a new place, just starting to fertilize this ground and root down, J and I don’t really have local communities yet. Forming and contributing to them is one of our primary focuses in the new year. Like many people, though, I find myself craving that sense of connection/sharing/belonging during the holidays. And despite my choosing to release much of what I learned via a Catholic upbringing, and my distaste for any tradition/approach which emphasizes consumption, I love the holidays. I love them for what I see as their best and brightest qualities: time to slow down, reflect, celebrate our many gifts, and share love and warmth. We were blessed with a visit from a dear old friend for Thanksgiving and graced by many good friends, old and new, visiting our home for a holiday gathering/housewarming. And of the past 5 years, besides 2007 in our home in Lexington, this is the first year where we really feel Home for the holidays, like we did back in Kalamazoo. So we were content with the plan of a quiet Foust/LaRue family Christmas.

I loved having our live tree (a tea tree), with its twinkling lights, bring that living energy and warm glow into our home. I loved baking six batches of cookies (w/ J) to share and treat ourselves with. And I loved the anticipation of a cozy Christmas day. But there was still that longing to be part of something bigger than just our family. Growing up, Christmas eve was always special and magical feeling. We would dress up (and bundle up for a blustery New Hampshire night) and go to mass at the church where we would see friends and family. There were lots of wreaths and red and white poinsettias and candles glowing bright. We sang together and prayed together. Then we would drive down to my grandparents’ or aunt and uncle’s and the whole, extended family would eat, talk, laugh and be merry. In some ways, I think I enjoyed it even more than Christmas day – the feelings of tradition and connection really made an impression.

Beautifully, magically, as life so often does, when we let it, it brought forth what I was seeking. Awhile back I went to a workshop at a new, and great, local herb/natural health shop (which I’ll be writing more about.) It was a presentation of Dr. Hauschka skin care which is produced using biodynamic methods conceived of by Rudoph Steiner. One of the women who attended spoke of a local spiritual teacher/guide, Karen Rivers, who’s work draws deeply from Steiner’s insights. She mentioned a “beautiful Christmas circle gathering” led by Karen. And in my remembrance of those special times of the past, and wanting to rekindle that flame, I thought of that circle, contacted Karen and she welcomed J and I to participate.

The rain had stopped and the clouds parted to reveal the winter sun, shining down on the pastures of cows and horses, grazing on the lush winter vegetation of Northern California. We parked near a swift creek and made or way slowly along the dirt path to the barn, savoring the idyllic pastureland, so close to the place we now call home! Inside, the barn was lit only by the orange flames of the wood stove. As people took their seats, Karen and helpers lit the candles of the tree and that light was passed from seat to seat for all of us to light a candle to hold. Soon the whole room was full of candlelight and, along with the piano, we began singing. Together we sang many Christmas songs in that room all aglow. It felt so nice to use my voice, to hear J’s voice, and to join together with and enjoy the voices all around. That spirit of sharing and love, self expression and celebration brought tears to my eyes and made me very, very happy on Christmas eve.

Karen wished for us all to make a manger in our hearts, like the manger where the baby Jesus is said to have lain. I see that manger as a symbol of nourishment, safety, warmth, and love and am grateful for that Christmas eve gathering for lighting up my heart’s manger.

The healthy social life is found when in the mirror of each human soul the whole community finds its reflection and when in the community the virtue of each one is living.

-Dr. Rudolph Steiner

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