My nephew Hunter loves to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, except he calls the Grinch the “Grunch.” Hunter does not like the new Jim Carrey Grunch. Only the old-school cartoon Grunch will do (and I totally agree). So the other night he was over at Ming’s house–that’s what he calls me, “Ming” like the Ming Dynasty– and we watched the Grunch about 150 times.
I would love to post the picture I took of him cuddled with Harper on the couch because it is the most adorable thing ever. He had just gotten out of the bath and as our visit was impromptu and he brought no pajamas, he was wearing Stella’s rainbow ice cream cone pajamas. He and Harper were eating deer jerky and it must have been a crucial moment in the Grunch because their faces are quite intensely focused in the picture. The problem is that Harper is shirtless and I am not allowed to post shirtless or otherwise embarrassing photos of Harper. I learned this after another blog entry I wrote once, or maybe it was a Facebook post. I forget which. But I have not forgotten the principle. (Life lessons are so fun!) Anyway here is a picture of Hunter on his birthday in November so you can still get the full effect of his cuteness:
Seriously. Every time I look at him I die of cuteness.
After watching the Grunch 150 times I had it memorized. So when I lay down in bed that night I showed off my memorizational prowess to Stone. I used my best dramatic skills when I said “Oh the noise! Oh the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!” And Stone asked me would I please stop making so much noise because he would like to go to sleep. He is rude sometimes. A bit of a Grunch about bedtime, if you ask me.
Since then I’ve watched the Grunch at least 150 more times. And as the Christmas season has ramped up I’ve been thinking a lot about noise. How is it–why is it–that the unlikely story of a teenage mother having a baby in a barn 2000 years ago inspired the loudest holiday on earth?
I don’t know the answer to this, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that many of us are uncomfortable with being quiet, being still. I’m trying to learn, but these skills don’t come naturally to me. The easier thing in our culture, it seems, is to keep busy enough, to create enough noise that we don’t have to think too much. Thinking is hard work. So is feeling anything deeply. Feeling deeply makes us vulnerable and sometimes being vulnerable leads to pain, which of course we want to avoid at all costs. But the cost of not being still is higher.
A few weeks ago I went into the woods with my son because I wanted to live deliberately with him. I wanted time with no agenda but to enjoy him–to immerse myself in his world. This required me to be up making a thermos of coffee at 5:00 AM. It required layers of clothes, a picnic, and a hike straight down the face of a mountain (which meant it would also require a hike back up). Most of all it required me to be quiet and still under an oak tree. For hours.
At first it seemed too daunting. My rear end fell asleep. I had restless legs. My hands froze in their wimpy gloves; my head smoldered in my son’s extra toboggan. My scarf choked me–I hate things around my neck. Everything was quiet; nothing stirred in the woods, but as usual my mind branched off in a thousand directions. I forced myself to focus on the reason I was there while said reason looked at me with amusement. He pointed up and we saw this:
On cue the animals began to forget about our intrusion–I guess–and a cacophony of sounds emerged from the silence. I could not believe how busy it was in the woods. As time went on I did what I do, which was to deconstruct what I was hearing. I focused in on one sound at a time, trying to locate the animal who was making it. Soon Harper and I were pointing out this bird here on that branch and that one there. A bald eagle flew over us and landed in the top of a high tree, making a sound I never heard before, or never knew was an eagle. Squirrels barreled through the dry leaves, as loud as a hurricane. Harper grinned when he saw me flinch–I was sure they were a deer or even a mountain lion, a bear. One came up close to us with its cheeks packed full of acorns. It scampered up a tree, then dove down the hollow middle. I watched, but never saw it come back out. I imagined it as a character in Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Timmy Tiptoes, laying up a store for winter and spring. And it wasn’t long before Chippy Hackee–who must be the cutest of all forest animals–came close enough I could have touched him. Twice. But the most magnificent thing was a group of does rushing down through the woods from above us with a buck in pursuit. They did a little dance on our oak flat before dashing on down to the river and out of sight. Harper raised his gun but didn’t shoot. It was impossible not to be awestruck by their strange choreography.
By the end of the day we had hiked to the river to eat our picnic, and hiked up the mountain back out of the deep woods. This feat made me feel old and young at the same time. In all we saw seven deer and shot none. My mission to spend quality one on one time with Harper was accomplished, and in the bargain I practiced what the hunters in my life have been doing forever–being still and knowing, just like in Psalm 42. No wonder they love deer season so much. It’s a time to stop the noise. It’s a gateway into deep stillness; it opens the path to peace.
My dad, who leads the singing at our little country church, likes to sing all of the verses of hymns. Buried in the traditional Christmas hymn It Came Upon the Midnight Clear I found these words, written by Edmund Sears, Unitarian minister:
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.
Historians say Sears wrote this during a time of personal melancholy. It was 1849 and his focus was the world he lived in–its issues of war and peace. I think it’s relevant today.
The easier thing is not to be still at Christmas. Almost everything in our culture mocks the quiet during this season, and yet it’s what we really need. To draw near to the manger and hush the noise. To be still and seek to know this God who came as a vulnerable baby into the messiness of life, to be with us. “Call His name Immanuel (which means God with us).” Matthew 1:23 ESV
Bart Ehrman writes: “The God of Christmas is not a God of wrath, judgment, sin, punishment, or vengeance. He is a God of love, who wants the best for people and gives of himself to bring peace, joy, and redemption…This is not a God who is waiting for you to die so he can send you into eternal torment. It is a God who is concerned for you and your world, who wants to solve your problems, heal your wounds, remove your pain, and bring you joy, peace, happiness, healing, and wholeness.
…Enough of war, starvation, epidemics, pain, misery, and abject loneliness! Enough of violence, hatred, narcissism, self-aggrandizement, and suffering of every kind! Give me the God of Christmas, the God of love, the God of an innocent child in a manger, who comes to bring salvation and wholeness to the world.”
To this I say Amen. And Merry Christmas!