A Note from Dr. Melissa Pearce, Director of Alumni and Partner Relations:
Hello Alumni! Saint Paul wants to hear from more of you, so we are now adding an alumni-authored Devotional to the newsletter each month. Please let me know if you are interested in being a guest writer by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As an alumna myself, I decided to take the plunge and write the inaugural piece.
My role at Saint Paul is all about relationships. It is centered around connection – meeting alumni, hearing their stories, telling their stories and finding ways to help resource the ministries of our graduates. As I explored the idea of Advent and the awaiting heart, I decided to center it on the idea of relationship. What does a babe in a manger have to do with connection?
Several summers ago, my husband, my son, and I were hankering for Baskin Robbins. We were standing in line waiting to place our order when I noticed a man in his late twenties, sporting a baseball cap and missing his left arm, marked his place in the queue behind us.
I quickly turned my attention back to the ice cream, and as I debated over mint chocolate chip or butter pecan, I heard my five-year-old son’s voice, “Hey, can I ask you a question?” I thought he was about to request a two-dipped cone and I was perched to respond with the usual “one will do just fine.” However, this is what I heard: “Did you lose your arm in a lightsaber fight?” What? It took me a moment to register what just happened – my son had just asked a stranger if his missing arm was the mark of a Star Wars battle gone wrong.
I had no immediate response to this other than embarrassment. How did my son not know that you do not just point out someone’s disability? I cringed inside and braced myself for any number of negative reactions. I was prepared at best for this guy to ignore my son and at worst for him to give a reply laced with malice.
How wrong I was. While I stood there berating myself for not teaching my child about social taboos, I experienced a sweet human exchange. This man did not hold contempt for my curious child. He bent down and looked my son in the eye and replied, “Nope, that would have been cool, right? No fight, just born this way.” My son scrunched up his nose and exclaimed, “bummer.” I could hear it in his voice that he really meant this. There was my son looking back into this man’s eyes, offering a sincere, empathetic understanding that this guy somehow had been shortchanged. I could also see how this empathy was received and appreciated by the man. My parental shame was quickly replaced by awe and recognition of the blessing of connection that had just taken place.
My son then asked the man to sit with us at our table and proceeded to ask multi-layered questions about life with only one arm. Some of the inquiries were quite personal and made me a bit uncomfortable, but they did not phase our new friend. He answered with candor and tenderness. Between bites of his cone, he displayed deep vulnerability and authentically shared with us what it was like to be him.
I think about this meeting often as it was such a precious glimpse as to how fully the reign of God on earth can be experienced when we disregard worldly convention and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another. It has impressed upon me the importance of vulnerability and its role in knowing God and each other with more depth.
And what better example of vulnerability is there than a newborn in a manger? That’s correct, we have a God who knows what it takes to be vulnerable – a God that chose to break into this world as a babe fully dependent on others for nourishment and protection. A God that continued to impart lessons of vulnerability through the cities, the countryside, the mountains and finally on the hill of death. We have a vulnerable God.
Do not make the mistake of interchanging weak or powerless with vulnerable. We do not have an impotent God. We have a God that is Almighty, yet also a God of grace and openness. A God of revelation and relationship that opens Divine arms to us and yearns for us to nestle into them to be cherished and cradled.
As we anticipate the birth of Jesus, let us think about what it means to be vulnerable. What does it mean to be dependent and reliant on God for nourishment and protection? What does it look like to be vulnerable with one another? Can we experience the reign of God more fully if we let go of our walls, insecurities, and coping mechanisms and learn to be authentically present with our neighbor?
Ever-open, ever-powerful God, we pray for the courage to follow your lessons of vulnerability. Teach us to be a babe in a manger, trusting that you will provide for us. Guide us to be as open to others as you are with us. Amen.