Unsettled ?

This is an unsettled time in our country. While it is clear that change is in the air, no one knows what those changes will look like, and that is an uncomfortable feeling for most of us. That was the context of this Christmas for our family. Not only were we deeply impacted by the political change, we were not in our own home for the holidays. We had agreed to meet Kaia (who is doing her medical residency in Anchorage) in Minneapolis where she had lived for 10 years. We had a good, if a bit unsettled week, with each other and other extended family, culminating in probably the ugliest Christmas Day in memory, with a cold rain falling all day on icy streets and sidewalks. Even our dog, Sunny, was unsettled by the proximity to my sister’s very aggressive young dog.

At the end of the long Christmas Day, Jan, Sunny and I went to the hotel where we were staying that night after moving out of the AirBNB we had been all week. I was exhausted and needed to just go to bed, but Jan needed to do something to settle her spirit, and was sure that the hotel would have a piano somewhere. Sure enough, they had a piano downstairs that she could play the carols that would help bring her peace. As she played her own beautiful improvisations and arrangements of familiar carols, a Christmas family reunion was breaking up in a nearby banquet room, and as members left, now at 11 pm, a number of them stopped to listen and to thank her for adding to the joy of their gathering. But it was what happened after they all left that was the remarkable thing of the night.

The affirmation that she received from the family inspired her to keep on playing, and soon she discovered that she had another audience. The young black janitor who was cleaning up after the party seemed to be concentrating his cleaning efforts on the areas where he could better hear Jan play. When he came close to the piano, she wished him Merry Christmas, and a wonderful conversation began. It turned out that Tay had worshipped that morning at the church his father is starting, but had to come and spend most of the rest of the day working. Jan asked him if he had a favorite carol, to which he replied ‘Joy to the World’. So Jan played that for him in two different arrangements – one pretty traditional, and one with more of a Gospel feeling. They talked as she played, and discovered that they both were sharing a lot of anxiety about the future, especially regarding the place of African American and other religious and ethnic groups in America who had felt excluded through the long political campaign.

But as they talked about the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate, they also spoke of Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, a place where peace, justice, healing and compassion have primary place, and about His call to us to participate now in that vision. As she played more songs with a Gospel flair, they moved into a couple of songs that are significant in the black church tradition, realizing that they, too, are songs about God’s coming to the world – “We Shall Overcome” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Tay could hardly believe that a middle-aged white woman not only knew these songs, but could sing the words as she played. He told Jan, “I can’t wait to get home and tell my wife that God came to me this Christmas – in you!” And Jan felt the same way – God had come to make Christmas giving real to her in the form of a young black janitor. When Jan returned to our room, now after 1 am, she was fairly glowing with the experience of God’s coming into our world, bringing together those who the world would never expect to connect. God gave her the peace she was craving, and then some, just by doing what she does – playing the piano – a primary mode of prayer for her.

Dear God, Thank you for breaking into our world in surprising ways – first through the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, and more recently in a hotel lobby in Plymouth, Minnesota. Please keep us alert to signs of your coming to us as we go through our daily activities. And help us to look for opportunities to connect with others and to share the love that you have given us. As we move through unsettled times, may we be faithful to the vision that you give us and do our best to be your faithful people where we have been planted. Amen.

David Erickson-Pearson

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