No Gold, Frankincense or Myrrh, Just a Dance

Seaman's chestJanuary 6, 2018, is a cold, really cold day, and at four-thirty in the afternoon the screen on the weather station to my left indicates an outdoor temperature of – 4° and an indoor one of 63°. It’s dusk, I’m doing my dance for fun and warmth while facing west into the forest. This view, regardless of the season, always intrigues and never disappoints me.

This late afternoon, early evening I am not alone; memories and the living surround me as I dance. In front of me, wedged up against the windowsill, is my great grandfather’s seaman’s chest, the one he packed for the Atlantic crossings from Larvik, Norway to Brooklyn, New York, working journeys while he followed his “star” to a better life in America. It’s an empty but beautiful chest, a relic now filled with memories and mythical stories—reminders of my ancestry.

Beyond the window of my second story office, cautious, faintly perceptible four-legged creatures embracing the anonymity of semi-darkness forage for food while following their own star.  In the clearing, tree trunks, like slim elegant architect’s writing tools, rise above the cover of newly fallen snow amidst thick pines, solid children’s “My First Ticonderoga #2” pencils.

There’s a shape, a familiar yet foreign silhouette in the woods. God, maybe? An incarnate presence or a lone white-tailed deer? It is Epiphany, Advent’s over and the Magi, three kings or wise men, have been led to the baby Jesus. People around the world are celebrating with parades of decorative floats, jugglers juggling, and an exchange of gifts; mountains and waters are blessed, worshipping fools and revelers strip and plunge into icy rivers and lakes, tasty breads and sweets are baked then shared, wines savored, toasts made, and whether in Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Mexico, Australia or the United States the star that brought the three mysterious men to that particular manger on that specific night—the entire holy, mysterious, if not wonderfully crazy event—is celebrated.

My incongruous dance, suitable only to me, has no star to follow (or so I tell myself), no purpose other than to express my soul’s yearnings, find joy and bring contentment to my soul.

That’s all I ask on this 12th Day of Christmas.

Tolstoy wrote: Everyone can feel God, but no one can truly understand God. Thus, do not attempt to understand God, but try instead to feel God’s presence within you. If you are unable to find God there, then you will never find Him. When you look inside yourself, you see what is called “your own self” or your soul. You cannot touch it or see it or understand it, but you know it is there.  And this part of yourself—that which you cannot understand—is what is called God. God is both around us and inside of us—in our souls.

The dance continues, arms, legs, and body more synchronized and centered. The shapes and shadows beyond the window pane are less distant than before, almost within reach. The incarnate one or the lone deer hasn’t strayed, remaining erect and still, but now as my body persists in uninterrupted and unscripted movement, it has turned its head as if expecting another. And then there are two, now three, then four, and finally five apparitions emerging from the forest. I extend my left arm toward the window, wanting to touch and hug them, caress their heads, imagine holding out my blueberry and apple slice palm-filled hand to their mouths.  Can they see my darkened form silhouetted against the hall light, my shadow stretched across the ceiling? Do they mind or care?

Pope Francis, in a celebratory Epiphany mass, urged: “…the faithful to be like the Magi, who, he said, continued to look at the sky, took risks and set out bearing gifts for Christ. If we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a child. Those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.”

The reluctant disciple’s dance, mine, is less frenetic than before, perhaps choreographed by the unknown and unknowing, but as I watch the parade of recognizable shapes, one following the other, walking slowly, light of foot, by the trees and into open space my dance is fearless, risky and assured.

Be still my restless soul and dance.

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12 Comments

  1. Thomas Nola

    I wish I had something of my great grandfather’s possessions. It would be such a fond journey.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Tom,
      You may not have the tangible piece that I have, but you have the palpable one in your soul, feel, cherish, and enjoy that.

      Reply
  2. ned towle

    Lovely, poetic piece. liked a lot the Tolstoy quote: “Everyone can feel God, but no one can truly understand God. Thus, do not attempt to understand God, but try instead to feel God’s presence within you.”

    Of course, his faith and insight and openness to God, did not spare him his human lot – the all-too-human parting from his wife, pneumonia and death in a strange place.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Ned,
      Revered and perhaps unceremoniously dying in a train station or nearby home, separated from loved ones and alone with his faith. I often wonder about the disconnect that occurs for many spiritual people when the spiritual and secular collide demanding troublesome decisions–stay or leave, embrace one and separate from the other, or wrestle mightily to hold both together. I’m glad we share Tolstoy’s sense of God. Thank you for reading and commenting.
      Roger

      Reply
  3. Colette

    How fortunate to have your great grandfather’s chest to remind you of his journey and your heritage. The view outside your window opens you to the magic and mystery of the woods and the creatures. The apparitions appearing, so that you can feel the presence of God within you and around you, as Tolstoy tells. Your writing invites us to see you dancing your dance, dreaming your dreams, reveling in your risks, and living your life with the gift of the Magi. Dance and write on, mon ami.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Colette,
      I will, and thank you for reading and commenting.
      Roger

      Reply
  4. Bud

    Roger, how fortunate you are to have your great grandfather’s chest as memory of what it must have met to him to leave one home and come to settle in a new one. My grandfather, grandmother and family all migrated from Germany in 1883 with only what they could carry. And, I do have a few mementos of them. It is amazing how many people are afraid to take that step or as you call it, a risk. They need to try it. They might like it.
    Bud

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Bud,
      Thank you for reading and sharing your own memory. Being safe may be overrated, and taking risks undervalued. I’m glad, that for our respective families, there were risk takers!
      Roger

      Reply
  5. JoAnne Kurman

    You recreated a beautiful moment in time. As I read this piece I felt as if I was eavesdropping, so delicate and holy. Your great grandfather’s seaman chest is absolutely stunning. I would love to sit in your room with you and listen to him tell his life stories. But then he’d probably speak in Norwegian but
    somehow I think we’d understand just the same.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Jo Anne,
      I hope you were eavesdropping, all the merrier, and that’s what the holy is about. Yes, there are means to communicate beyond our words. I have a photograph of four generations of Marum men from Hans Martin at 98 to Roger Alfred at two months–and the twinkle in the former’s eyes is evident in the picture.
      Roger

      Reply
  6. Carmen Apodaca

    Dear Roger, Thank you for this beautiful piece of your life. Last week-end I traveled to our home in Catheys Valley. It was fogged in when I arrived and beautiful at that. The next day I was treated to a spectacular sunset, pink mountains with one snow capped in the center. To the west the sky was a blazing red. God in nature gave me a beautiful gift.
    On my drive I listened to Les Miserable and was reminded that “To love another person is to
    see the face of God. There is where God gifts me again.
    I Love (1 John4:16 I believe) words”He who abides in love, abides in God and God in him. This is worth dancing for.
    Recently I have taken to Tai Chi and my favorite part is called gathering the stars. It’s my dance and I love it. Thank you for raising my awareness.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Carmen,
      What a combination–Tai Chi one moment to tap inner wonderment, and the grandeur of nature during another–God in both. Thank you for taking the time to read and share this with us.
      Roger

      Reply

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