Special Advent & Hanukkah Tour Report from east of Tucson, Arizona on I-10: When I was a kid, we ate bagels after going to Presbyterian Church. We got them from Kupel's Bakery down Harvard street from Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts. After a while -- probably after going over to a friend's house in elementary school -- I learned that bagels were a Jewish food and the neighborhood where we went to get them was a Jewish neighborhood.
I didn't think of Jewish people as much different than Presbyterians. I just understood that my Jewish friends had, what in my mind, was a longer Christmas called Hanukkah which featured dreidels which were better than regular spinning tops because they had an official song -- a song I learned at a Hanukkah party at our local library. I was invited to the party by my Jewish friend who didn't think my Presbyterianism was a drawback where making menorahs was concerned. I was well known for being a good crafting partner.
And that brings me to Vacation Bible school crafts which is something that has come up a lot in our concerts recently. There are no Jewish people on Jewell Ridge in Southwest Virginia and no bagels, either. One summer, while going to one of the four or five Vacation Bible Schools I went to with my sister every year, I mentioned making a menorah and learning the dreidel song to my craft partner while we made our own Jonah and the whale spoon rests.
He looked at me with shock and, as though he were a Biblical scholar, said in a huffy voice, "Don't you know they killed Jesus?"
I decided that was a great time to break into a Bible song and that I'd wait to talk with my Dad, who was an actual Biblical scholar, about that indictment later.
From then on, things seemed to get more complicated as far as religion was concerned, right down to my third grade friend, Katherine, who was a Jehovah's Witness, being picked on for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Perhaps I mention all of this because we just spent nine days in the desert which was also a big moment in the Bible -- though John the Baptist didn't have an Airstream travel trailer and a banjo, so the mere idea of being in the desert will have to be the extent of the comparison.
But we came out of the desert on a Friday and, if it were another Friday in months past, you many have found me at Shabbat welcoming the beloved in song with my Jewish friends. And on the following Sunday, you may have found me seeking the light at a Friends meeting, or singing up grace at the Friendly Chapel Church on Smith Ridge. Last Sunday, as Advent began, I welcomed much needed rain from under the awning of the Airstream while staring at Joshua Trees and volcanic rocks.
The greatest lesson that I hold from the First Presbyterian Church of Brookline, from the Friendly Chapel, and Oseh Shalom is the enduring gifts of love and kindness, and the call to celebrate the goodness of others. It all sounds so simple, but of course it's not in a world that often wants to push you to hold fast to certain beliefs at the cost of kindness and friendship.
The desert teaches kindness, too -- from the tiny bacteria that form a protective, life-giving, crust across thousands of acres of sand to the thirsty coyote who howls alone at night, from the tiny electric yellow lichen to the glorious Joshua Tree -- each being has it's vital place in the delicate patchwork of the desert wonderland. If any one piece was lost, the desert would suffer dearly.
In this expectant season of Advent, I find that my enjoyment of the wait is deepened because I have sung with my Jewish friends who await the arrival of the beloved every Shabbat, and because I have prayed with my Catholic friends whose saints awaited their own union with the beloved.
I, too, have been waiting expectantly during this season of Advent, waiting for repose after a long and busy tour, waiting for inspiration for my art, and waiting for renewal of spirit for the work to come. Each day in the desert, I was rewarded with a solo butterfly, a quintet of chipmunks, a duet of kangaroo rats, a quartet of yipping coyotes, and a solitary shooting star.
One night, I sat in the cold for half an hour in three layers of summer clothes to look at a perfect circle in the atmosphere around the moon which I had never seen in all my life. The haloed moon reminded me of singing carols -- "Star of wonder, star of night" -- with the Presbyterians in Brookline, Massachusetts. Many of them have passed on now, but I love them for being the people with whom I worshiped and wondered nearly every Sunday for seven years when I was a kid -- which was also seven beautiful years of Sundays going to the Jewish neighborhood to buy soft, warm, unforgettable, salt bagels at Kupel's Bakery.
Wishing our friends joy, understanding, and kindness during this season of Advent and very soon for Hanukkah as well!