NIGHT PRAYER: Sunday 12/20

Today's NIGHT PRAYER begins with a bedtime story - with a happy ending.  I've posted this just before Christmas for a number of years. It's the story of the best Christmas gift I ever gave - which became the best Christmas gift I ever received. You'll find today's NIGHT PRAYER just after the story.

The Best Christmas Gift

Michael would stop by about once a month just to talk, delighting me with his keen and critical eye on matters religious and political, all filtered through his Irish-born sense of humor. Our conversations were equal parts political debate, spiritual direction, and brotherly banter.

By nature he was, and by nurture he became, a self-sufficient man: longing, aching to know that he was loved by God - with whom he had a life-long sparring match. Unfortunately, his early church experience had done little to convince him of God’s love - and much to make him deeply doubt it.

Over a few years’ time Michael shared with me his personal oral history, recorded in my heart if not on tape. Especially sharp with detail were stories of his youth, his love affair with horses and the adventures of making his way in and around the world. I don’t know which I enjoyed more: his stories or the look in his eyes as he told them. His words told the tale while his eyes invited me into his soul which I found to be a sacred place to visit.

One late October morning, complaining about the commercialism of Christmas items for sale alongside bags of Halloween candy, he segued to a remembrance of an early Christmas when his heart had been set on only one gift: a copy of Boy’s Cinema Annual - and he’d made sure his parents knew what he wished for.  Still, under the tree on Christmas morning, though there were several gifts tagged with his name, he didn't find the one he so dearly wanted. He was old enough to understand that even if Santa Claus hadn't known his desire his parents surely did and the gift he'd asked for was one they could have easily afforded. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time a cherished hope of his had gone unfulfilled.

It’s painfully early in life that a child can learn to expect to be disappointed. Some of our earliest disappointments are ones that shape our souls and how we see everything – even how we see God. My friend’s story touched my own soul-shaping memories in that place where the heart’s hopes and hurts are collected and guarded. 

Perhaps you know that very place in your own heart...

Well, it took me only a few hours online to locate (at a used-book shop in Australia) an issue of Boy’s Cinema Annual dated close to my friend’s youth. I ordered it and was pleased with the condition in which it arrived. I remember wrapping it in red tissue paper and attaching a store-bought bow to top it off.

Michael stopped by in early December and we talked for about an hour. When he was ready to take his leave I produced the gift from my desk drawer. He was embarrassed not to have a present for me and I assured him that his wit and wisdom were more than generous gifts all year 'round. He opened the package and for several long minutes simply looked at the magazine until his tears began to fall upon it. Then he looked up and, as so many times before, his gaze invited me into his soul. He asked me if I knew how much this meant to him. Through my tears I told him yes, I thought I did.

I believe a wounded corner of Michael’s soul was healed in opening that gift and I know a broken place in my heart was restored in giving it. If only for a moment we both knew for sure that love finds a home between our hopes and hurts - in that very place where God longs and aches to be with us, to heal us and to love us..

An old, used issue of Boy’s Cinema Annual turned out to be the best Christmas I ever gave. And you know, it was best Christmas gift I ever received.

Let us pray...


teach me to recognize the true gifts,
the real gifts, the authentic gifts
that are mine to share with others...

Preserve my heart, my soul and my imagination

from wanting what I don't need,
from desiring what I ought not have,
from seeking what's passing and unimportant...

Teach me, Lord,

to long for and to share with others
those inner gifts of love and patience,
kindness and generosity,
selflessness and mercy:
gifts that are always mine to give
and always needed in others' hearts, 
both near and far...

Teach me to receive as well as to give, Lord: 
give me an open soul,
never too proud to accept the gifts
that others offer my heart,
generously shared from theirs...
May the gifts I offer others, Lord,
bring healing and wholeness 
in wounded hearts 
where others have trod roughly,
without care, in tender places...

And always, Lord, keep my heart open
to the gifts you offer, the gifts I truly need,
the gifts that bring your peace
and give me joy...

Protect me, Lord, while I'm awake
and watch over me when I sleep
that awake, I might keep watch with you
and asleep, rest in your peace...


The Gift of Love arranged by Hal Hopson


Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain,
As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.

Though I may give all I possess,
And striving so my love profess,
But not be given by love within,
The profit soon turns strangely thin.

Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship, and are freed.


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