[Here in the Blue Ridge, I am thinking of the Maine coast this morning, where our family lived for 27 years. I'm thinking of Maine because, here, it is cold this morning--about 18 degrees--and it is going to snow in the next day or so. I'm thinking of Maine because when it snowed in Maine, our children and I skied regularly, and also because our son Sam and I have just returned this week from a Special Olympics ski meet in the North Carolina mountains, near Blowing Rock.


[This was Sam's and my third year at this invitational meet, along with four other Virginia skiers, a smaller Virginia contingent than usual. I was pleased for Sam that he duplicated his success from last year--he took a silver medal in slalom, which was particularly impressive because the snow was difficult to ski, being wet, and warm and slushy.


[I'm also thinking of Maine because Channa and I have been married a good long time, and I mostly lived on the Maine coast when I was courting her. Takes me back....


[Here's a piece I originally posted in 2014 and updated once later.]




Mainer Potatoes, Fire Baked


Recipe by Dikkon Eberhart



Ingredients:


1 13’ Whitehall Pulling Boat, with anchor

2 oars

some tinfoil

1 match – just 1

coupla potatoes and a chunk of butter; salt

good heavy knife


Mise en scene:


  1. Go down to my shore and shove off in the boat. Row to the island. Anchor the boat so she stays afloat. (Tide falling; half.) Oh, yeah, bring along a heavy coat because it’s December, three o’clock, and clear. Gonna be cold. There’s wind from the northwest. Also a blanket, a hat.

  2. Below tide line, dig a shallow depression among sand and rock, and ring it with stones. Find some down wood and sit by the pit stripping the wood with your knife until you have a few feathery pieces and some other small stuff. Watch the sun set. Don’t think about it; just watch.

  3. Construct a fire, a careful cone of dry twigs with the feathery bits inside. Lie down real close to the sand and the shale, so you can smell it, even in the cold, and, while protecting the wood with your body, light your match. This is a test. You’re twenty-nine and mythic. Intentionally, you’ve brought only one match.

  4. If you fail, go home and try this test on another night.

  5. But this night turns out to be the right night. Some things, at least, you can do well.


Method:


  1. Keep feeding your fire with small stuff and then bigger stuff. Notice that it’s dark now except for a sheen on the sea—we have a quick twilight in winter. Wind’s from the northwest and steadier than you thought it would be. Low waning moon chasing the sun. Faint, lambent shoreline: one gull patrols then settles for the night.

  2. Listen to the cold sea water gurgling in over rocks and snails, gurgling out over rocks and sails, gurgling in, gurgling out.

  3. The fire tends itself now, and the sky darkens. The moon is yellow: then gone. Overhead is an appearing of stars. The meander of the Milky Way is a pathway between here and the other place. Mostly by feel, cut your potatoes in half, smash some butter between the parts, salt them heavily, close them, wrap them in foil, and push them into the coals with your stick. Clean your hands on your pants, wrap the blanket around your legs, tug down your cap, lie still. Alone; no muddle.

  4. In, you breathe, and out again. In, and out again. Feel your chest as it fills with air and empties. In, you breathe, and out again. In, and out again.

  5. There’s a woman you want to marry, but you’re scared. No real snow yet. The last marriage hurt.

  6. Alarmed at your fire, a squirrel chitters from the wood behind.

  7. Allow your imagination to enter into the earth. Feel the to-ing and fro-ing of all her parts. The tug of tree roots in soil as their limbs swing back and forth in the wind. The tide’s pull on rockweed as it swishes on stone. The flicker of barnacle webs sweeping plankton in.

  8. Allow your imagination to rise. The cold steam of your breath, invisible now, streams eastward on the air, over meadow, over shore, over sea. It takes you to an island that is further out than ours.

  9. Out and out, allow yourself to spiral through tree and stone, through squirrel and gull, through earth and sea—from star to star—until you find the entire awesome ponderousness that is God. Devil and angel, you find, devil and angel there.


Chef’s note:


Don’t burn your fingers when you grub the potatoes from the ash, open them, and, while they drip with butter, you eat them in the dark.


Clean-up note:


Pour water on the coals until they are really out. Toss everything into the boat. Drag the boat down the beach to the sea. Wade out beside her and pull her farther until she’s afloat. Stare off for a time at the black horizon.


Await revelation.


What if I ask her?


Maybe I’ll dare.

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Dikkon Eberhart


I have a question for you. Remember Christmas? This post’s question for you is prompted by a discussion that came up at our house just before Christmas and that is based on two considerations.


One consideration is related to the way that early Christians experienced the anniversary of Jesus’ birth during their own time. The second consideration is not about what you might suppose. It is NOT about how differently we today encounter the anniversary of Jesus’ birth.


Of course there’s a difference between then and now. After two millennia, how could there not be a difference? But my question today is not to explore that difference.




In order to tell you what the second consideration is, I need to describe how this discussion arose in the first place.


My wife Channa and I host a weekly dinner and Bible study at our house on Thursday evenings, dinner being provided on a rotational basis among our group. We are eleven Christian men and women of approximately the same age and family status.


Our evening’s discussion usually begins by reviewing the sermon of the previous Sunday. However, on the Thursday before Christmas we suggested each person—who cared to do so—might bring along a Christmas-related essay or poem or song, and we would focus our discussion around those.


Searching for my own contribution, I found a short passage from a book of Advent readings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer entitled God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. I’ll provide the gist of Bonhoeffer’s passage below and then articulate the second consideration that powered my question for the group and engendered our discussion.



Here’s Bonhoeffer’s quote--


When the old Christendom spoke of the coming again of the Lord Jesus, it always thought first of all of a great day of judgment. And as un-Christmas-like as this idea may appear to us, it comes from early Christianity and must be taken with utter seriousness. …. The coming of God is truly not only a joyous message, but is, first, frightful news for anyone with a conscience. …. God comes in the midst of evil, in the midst of death, and judges the evil within us and in the world. And in judging it, he loves us, he purifies us, he sanctifies us, he comes to us with his grace and love. He makes us happy as only children can be happy. (Emphasis mine.)



So here’s what I asked our group, related to the two considerations.


The first. Bonhoeffer articulates what I believe are correct cultural and theological conditions concerning believers and their encounter with the birth anniversary of Jesus during the early church—their encounter is one of fright and judgment. Not—in the modern sense—very Christmas-like.


The second. Note that Bonhoeffer is speaking to us, to his contemporary audience. He reminds us—again correctly—that God’s love for us purifies and sanctifies us despite the evil of the world. But my question arises from what Bonhoeffer says next, which is bolded above.


Is it possible that God’s sanctifying grace and love makes us happy…as only children can be happy?





I acknowledge that children have the capacity in their innocence to experience total and unalloyed happiness. However, I do not believe that we adults have such a capacity, due to our mature acquaintance with doubt, misery, and sin.


Further, I believe that our limitation may remain with us even after God’s loving gift to us of purification and sanctification.


Yes, we are saved—thank the Lord!—but we are still aware that once we were not saved, that we are guilty of past failings (though God has mercifully un-remembered them), and that we retain our inherent evil inclination.




Does God’s sanctifying grace make us happy? Yes. But at a level at which anyone who has children and grandchildren has seen them attain, and which Bonhoeffer states is only available to them?


I don’t think so.


On the whole, the rest of the group did think so. I’m glad that I was in the minority—that fact testifies happily for the happiness of the others!




What do you think?


Let me know, if you care to….

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Dikkon Eberhart


[This post was originally published several years ago, one year after the event it recounts occurred. Since then, I have posted it annually as close to Christmas Eve as my posting schedule allowed. This year, Salem Media desired it as part of a Crosswalk.com article I did called "The Meaning of Hallelujah," which you can find under the Publications tab at the top of my website.]




Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah


Don’t skim your eye down the words. Go back and say the words. Say them with measured solemnity, four syllables to each word. Sixteen syllables all together.


You are praising the Lord. This is the Gloria in excelsis Deo that you are pronouncing.




It was late morning on the eve of Christmas Eve. I called my wife at the church. Since she and I came to Christ six years before, she had been our pastor’s secretary. I was checking in, concerned about errands I needed to finish while I was out on the road. We spoke briefly about the errands.


Then I asked her when she planned to come home from the church. Uncharacteristically, she did not know. Usually, she knows. Usually, she knows because she knows what tasks she must finish. Usually, she responds with a time—an hour, two hours.


But this time, she was vague. It was odd of her—my wife is not a vague person, about time or about anything else. “I don’t know,” is what she said, and she said it with a puzzled intonation, as though she wondered why she did not know and yet she said it anyway. I was puzzled, too, when I hung up.


I thought perhaps I should call her back, to ask if she were all right. I thought perhaps I should question her tone of puzzlement, which suggested she did not feel in charge of her time that afternoon. But I did not call her back. I had errands to do.


Here’s what I learned later. After I hung up, an hour or two passed at the church. My wife was alone. She finished tasks. There is always a task to finish on a secretary’s desk. But, puzzlingly, she did not formulate a plan for the finishing of her tasks and for her getting home. Then the church’s door opened and a man entered whom my wife had never seen. The man introduced himself and asked if the pastor were in. The pastor was not in.


The man seemed puzzled by the circumstance that the pastor was not in at the church. “But God told me I must come to see him now.”


“Well, would you like me to make an appointment for you, for later?”


“But God told me I must come to see him now.”


After all—this is how my wife reported the conversation to me—after all, the man was puzzled himself. He had done what God had told him to do. Now, it was the pastor’s turn.


The pastor had left the church not long before, with several plans in his mind. He had not been certain which of the plans he would undertake. He would let my wife know which plan he would undertake, he said, when he knew himself.


My wife dialed the phone. The pastor answered.


“There’s a man here,” she said, and she gave his name. “He says he needs to see you.”


“Oh.”


“I wasn’t certain about your plan.”


“Well, I haven’t selected the plan yet. I don’t know why. Right now, I’m eating lunch.” The pastor thought for a moment. “Can he wait ten minutes?”


My wife looked at the man. “Can you wait ten minutes?”


“Yes.”


She turned back to the phone. “He can wait.”


“See you in ten.”


In ten minutes, the pastor arrived at the church. He and the man went into the pastor’s office. Two hours later, the man accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord, and his name was written in Glory.



Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah



Late that same night, on the eve of Christmas Eve, my wife and I relaxed on our couch. Our house was aromatic with baking gift breads. Our Christmas tree was lit with white bulbs, wax candles burned among our mantel display of spruce boughs and red balls, and twinkling candles were alight in our windows so that, as my mother told me when I was a child, if the Christ Child should need a place to lie down, He would know by our candles that He would be welcome here.


My wife had explained to me the odd events of that afternoon—the man puzzled why the pastor should not be at his office when God had indicated that he would be, my wife puzzled about her inability to manage a time to return to our house so that she was available just at the right moment to make that telephone call to our pastor, our pastor puzzled that he had not selected among his plans for the afternoon so that he was, at the necessary time for the man, just eating lunch.


My wife lay back on the couch and put her feet in my lap. In silence, I stroked her feet. The wine was red in my glass, and white in my wife’s. We listened to Susan Boyle sing Hallelujah. The words of poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen filled the room.


We are busy people, she and I, with several jobs between us—retirees who still work hard, and I had a new book coming out, a memoir recounting my life as the son of a poet father—a father whose poetry molded my relationship with our Father.


Relaxing on our couch, weary after days and days of heavy work for both of us, nearing the completion of our Advent anticipation of a miracle—humbly trying to experience our anticipation with patience—the beauty of the season and of the Christ lights overthrew me.


I wept.


My wife looked her question, but gently: this was her emotional husband.


“It’s beautiful,” I said.


I wept for Cohen’s spare, elegiac poetry. I wept for Boyle’s easy voice. I wept for the still, calm beauty of our decorated home. I wept for giving gift bread to our friends, bread which my wife had created. But mostly I wept that, on the eve of Christmas Eve, the Lord Himself had used my wife and our pastor for His own purpose, which was to bring another soul to salvation—that godly using, which had puzzled each of them, as their planning of their day was set aside.



Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah.




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