Dec 22nd to Dec 25th – Advent Week 4 & Christmas: Following Jesus

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We have come to the end of our Advent journey. Hopefully our time together will encourage us to continue following Jesus throughout the Christmas season and the coming year. I want to thank each of you for joining us. It has been a blessing to share this time with you and Henri.

In his conclusion, Henri writes, “May my words be little seeds planted in your hearts.” (p. 132) As we celebrate the Incarnation when Jesus enters into the world, Henri’s little seeds show us who we follow, how we follow, and why we follow him. Henri’s guidelines for following Jesus are my takeaway from this wonderful book.

  • Following Jesus is focusing on the One who calls and gradually trusting that we can let go of our familiar world and that something new will come. (p. 30)
  • Following Jesus is moving away from fear and toward love. Always toward the Lord. (p. 45)
  • Following Jesus is following the voice of the One who calls us away from useless wandering or from just sitting there. (p. 46)
  • Following Jesus means to let go of the “I” and move toward the “other.” Following Jesus means to dare to move out of ourselves and to slowly let go of building our “self” up. (p. 46)
  • Following Jesus means to live our life in his spirit, in his light, in his heart, but with our spirit, our lights, and with our heart. (p. 47)
  • Following Jesus requires a conversion. It requires a new heart and a new mind. (p. 48)
  • Following Jesus means to live a life in which we start loving one another with God’s original love and not with the needy and wounded love that harms others. (p. 59)
  • Following Jesus in a life of discipleship, the Christian life, is about discovering how God’s presence can be made visible here and now by our love for each other. (p. 63)
  • Following Jesus means moving in the right direction. Suddenly we know where we are going, and our lives take on a more regular pattern and we have focus. (p. 69)
  • (F)ollowing Jesus . . . is in fact a letting go of our worldly self to find our true self in Jesus. (p. 70)
  • Following Jesus means to live our life in companionship with the One who understands us fully. Following Jesus means a life in communion, with a guide. (p. 71)
  • Following Jesus makes life very different and very new. (p. 72)
  • Following Jesus cannot be a form of discipleship if it is out of fear. . . . Jesus does not want us to follow him out of fear. He wants us to follow him out of love. (p. 86)
  • Following the One with whom we are in love is the full meaning of following Jesus. We follow not out of fear but out of love. (p. 89)
  • Following Jesus means following the Risen Lord. Following Jesus means following the Lord who is the Lord of history, the Lord who is with us now and here, at this moment. (p. 109)
  • (F)ollowing Jesus is following the Lord who speaks to you day after day and calls you always to a deeper and deeper communion with God. Following Jesus is entering more and more into the intimate mystery of God. God became flesh so that we could be led through him, with him, and in him in the glory of God the Father in the communion with the Spirit. (p. 111)

Do any of these statements touch you in a special way? What does following Jesus mean to you? What is your takeaway from Following Jesus? Please share whatever is on you heart.

As we end our Advent discussion, please plan to join us for our Lenten book discussion of Henri’s most popular book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. We begin on Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020.

Once again, thank you for joining us. On behalf of myself and the Hienri Nouwen Society, may you and yours have a blessed and joyous Christmas season.

Peace and all good.
Ray Glennon

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18 Responses to Dec 22nd to Dec 25th – Advent Week 4 & Christmas: Following Jesus

  1. Jacky Lowe says:

    I am so grateful for this book discussion it has helped me so much, I want to meet you all. I wait patiently for the lent book discussion. I know Advent is over but I must post.
    The reward of following Jesus is Joy (pg91). It is part of being in love. We have to claim joy because it is the great gift Jesus came to bring us. Jesus loves us and finds joy in everything we do, we have to learn to find that Joy in the good and bad of life.
    Children find joy even when they live in extreme poverty, I see it here every day in Madagascar and am amazed at the children’s resilience. If we focus on love and being in the presence of Jesus , we can join those children in finding joy in difficult places.
    Nouwen states, (pg 95) the great a challenge is to claim the joy that Jesus offers us. We must claim that joy everyday. I have 2 grandchildren in the US and each weekend when I call them, they are so joyful and shout, Nana Its Nana and then tell me about their day . We need to remember the joy of childhood and claim it again as adults.
    The joy of Jesus is a joy that is born out of his ongoing intimacy with God. We can have that joy also we just need to be in right relationship with God. (pg 100)
    The joy of Jesus is never disconnected from sorrow (pg 101). Joy is a spiritual state of being, but it doesn’t mean that we will not suffer. There can be joy in the suffering. I am spending Christmas in Madagascar and its wonderful to be with the people and to see their joy even though they live in poverty. Last night at service and today Children are given candy and they are so happy, gift giving is not a part of the culture. Of course I miss my family, some live in England and some in the US but I am learning new traditions to celebrate Christ coming as a baby and finding joy.
    As I finish reading and writing its early evening and 92F and humid, though there is a slight breeze, I’m sat outside and the birds are joyfully singing as the day comes to a close and I discover joy in the moment of being in harmony with the birds.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thank you Jacky for this Christmas gift reminding us–through your grandchildren in the U.S. and the children you are spending Christmas with in Madagascar–that Jesus came at Christmas for us all and that we are all God’s children.

      May you and all those that joined us on our walk to Bethlehem be blessed during this Christmas season.

      Ray

    • Pat Martin says:

      Your sharing and reflection today is truly a Christmas gift to me, Jacky. It has helped me, in the midst of this day’s activities, to return my focus to the joy that Jesus brought to the world.

    • Liz says:

      You remind me how much I love bird song
      Thanks for your post.

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Jacky,
      I took a few days off for various Christmas events, but I am glad I came back on the last day to see your posting. Thank you so much for sharing these insights that you gathered from Henri and relating them to your own life.
      Merry Christmas!
      Barry

  2. Henri gave the six talks in “Following Jesus” at St Paul Church in Cambridge MA, in 1985. He died 11 years later in 1996. I am indebted to him for the body of this book. I am grateful to Gabrielle Earnshaw editing and to you Ray, for facilitating in Advent. I have never read a clearer more concrete summary of the Gospel lived out in real time. It has impacted my life, and I believe in remembering I will experience a ripple effect.

    I lived in Boston when these lectures were given. A friend of mine was there then at Harvard with Henri as his professor. It makes me wish I went to those lectures. But even if I had, I would not have had the ears to hear or the open heart to receive Henri’s words.

    What I hear now in “Following Jesus” are three movements of mystery:

    First, our loneliness can’t be filled with our relationships with people or success in jobs. We are wounded and our neediness drives us to find fullfillment in others rather than our First Love. Interlocking networks of wounds won’t fill up holes in the heart. Henri’s challenge is to find my at-homeness in God’s letting me love others from a Deep Well.

    Second, joy isn’t the absence of suffering, but it’s embrace. Joy doesn’t shun “painful moments, departures or even death” (108). I’m called to avoid fear that can trap me in excessive routine or whip me up into a whirlwind of rootlessness. Instead, realizing all belong (Rohr), the invitation is to bring everything to prayer and lift my suffering into Christ’s. Once I know that place, “I come in touch with that solid undercurrent that flows through all our ups and downs…a divine stream called joy” (105).

    Third, intimacy with God and service to the world isn’t just about presence. It’s about absence. In fact presence is “revealed through absence” (117). We grow closer by coming and leaving, like the tide that ebbs in and out. This sacred rhythm deepens insight beckoning us to remember Jesus words: “It’s good for you that I go away that the Holy Spirit can come” (Jn 16:7). The Spirit is the ‘ruach’ in the Hebrew writings and the ‘pneuma’ in the Greek. Both mean breath. Filled with God’s breath catalyzes an interior conversion from traveling ‘with’ Christ, to traveling ‘in’ Christ (121). Here, I see it is no longer “I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” for incarnational service into the world.

    Earnshaw concludes, “By articulating his vision for what it meant to be a follower of Jesus…Nouwen clarified his own vocational path” (135). Henri not only clarified his path. He has clarified mine.

    Thank you all from the heart,
    Beverly

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thank you Beverly for this beautiful summary and personal testimony.

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Beverly,
      I greatly appreciate your comments in those “three movements of mystery.” I will re-read these. They provide us with a fine summation as you relate Henri’s thoughts to your path in life.
      Merry Christmas!
      Barry

  3. Pat Martin says:

    “Following Jesus is entering more and more into the intimate mystery of God. God became flesh so that we could be led through him, with him, and in him in the glory of God the Father in the communion with the Spirit. (p. 111)”

    Henri’s words on p. 121 lead me into the mystery of the hidden river of joy: “They could say, ‘I am the living Christ.’ ‘Not I live, but Christ lives in me.’” I am included in Jesus the Christ’s embrace of the suffering of all humanity; and as I embrace even the minor aches and inconveniences of my life I embrace Jesus suffering. In this mutual embrace the Spirit leads me into service and the embracing of Christ in others.

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Pat,
      You address a key point, I think, in our lives as followers of Christ: embracing the suffering of Jesus, service, and embracing the Christ in others. I am growing to understand more and more the key importance of this “relationship.”
      Thanks and Merry Christmas!
      Barry

  4. Andrew says:

    Merry Christmas everyone. Thanks for all the sharing.

    I was hoping to re-focus on Jesus this advent but found myself working, rushing, serving serving serving and not being “present” as much as I would like (ch. 6). I read the comments early in the morning and read the book late at night and sometimes fell asleep with the book in my hands. Coming up this week I have a bit more time ‘off’ so hopefully I can pay more attention to the themes. (This also happened last year with “Here and Now” but I was able to go through it more slowly during the year and it was very meaningful.)

  5. Liz Forest says:

    “Following Jesus means to live our life in companionship with the One who understands us fully. Following Jesus means a life in communion, with a guide. ”
    (p. 71)
    This aspect of following Jesus challenges me to unite with the One who knows me best and wishes the best for me. Years ago I completed my first week long silent Retreat and was given a blessing at the closing. The words of my Director impacted me then and still do. She prayed that I would continue on my life path, believing, experiencing Jesus as my companion, guiding me to fullness of life. Who better to be in communion with?
    Thanks to you, Ray, for leading us here as we reflected and shared. May the birthing of Christ be genuinely experienced as we live the Way Jesus lived.

  6. Patricia Hesse says:

    Thank you, Ray, for providing this blessed space to reflect and grow from the reflections of others. Henri’s writing in this beautiful book, as in all his books, speaks love. Following Jesus is a path of love –each step is directed by his hand holding ours. Henri ends his book with a prayer: “Speak gently in my silence. When the loud outer noises of my surroundings and the loud inner noises of my fears keep pulling me away from you, help me to trust that you are still there even when I am unable to hear you. Give me ears to listen to your small, soft voice saying: ‘Come to me, you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest… for I am gentle and humble of heart.’ Let that loving voice be my guide.”

    I love this Christmas story that was in an old book in our church library –it speaks of love in the most difficult of situations… situations where following Jesus is both a challenge and an unexpected gift, revealing the fragility we all share and the power of love. Forgive me for its length.

    JOURNEY TO CHRISTMAS by B. J. Chute

    The world had never been so deep in snow.
    Rom swore at the little donkey when it stumbled into a drift of the wicked whiteness, and it shook its head and looked back at him sorrowfully as if its master ought to know it was doing its best.
    “Get up, you beast,” said Rom between his teeth. They were making such a slow way that it would be evening before they reached the great town, and, by that time, someone else might have laid claim to the miserly bit of a job that Rom was after.
    “Get up, you beast,” he said again and glared about him fiercely, hating the fields that lay so still and bound, the fields that had panted and scorched all summer long under the cruelest sun he had ever known in his eighteen years.
    There had been bad times before, when the flour bin was scraped to its bottom and potatoes and old cabbages did for a daily diet, but there had never been bad times like this in the memory of the oldest. Now it was every man for himself in a world that had once seemed loving, and if he could only reach the great town in time, he would slit the throat of any man who came to take the bare promise of work away from him.
    He looked at the donkey’s sides, caved in like a broken barrel, and all he could think of was how slow its little hard hooves plodded. Months since the animal had known the treat of a carrot or even good hay under its nose, and there would be none tomorrow, the next day nor the long day after.
    Only, tomorrow was Christmas Day.
    “God’s curse on it,” said Tom, and the sound of the words was quick and dreadful in his ears but he could not take them back. His eyes stung with the tears whipped up by the icy wind, and he shook the stinging away and looked up the long road ahead.
    Someone was walking the middle of it, someone shapeless as a huge bundle of blown rags and plodding even slower than the donkey. The thin jingle of harness must have reached the walker and the haystacky figure turned heavily and watched the cart come.
    It was the peddler woman that he remembered from childhood, thinner by pounds that when he had seen her last but still as broad as an oak beam. She threw up one hand out of her tatters, the other clutching a worn brown sack, and cried a treeting as if she was met up with a saint.
    He pulled the donkey up alongside her, grudging even the moment of delay. She grabbed at the bridle rein, and the donkey puts its nose on her shoulder, nuzzling hopefully.
    “God be praised,” said the peddler woman. “All the other carts are traveling east. You’ll take me where I’m going.” She trundled around to the side of the cart and leaned on the high wheel. “Give me a hand up, lad. I’m that bent with crippling.”
    He had an impulse to push her away, but it would take as long to argue as it would to let her clamber on. “I’m following the road straight to the great town,” he said sharply. “I’ll not turn an instant off it, not for the Devil himself. Lay that to your mind.”
    She gave a short laugh and heaved her bulk up the step which creaked its protest. “The Devil’d not be walking in this weather,” she said. “I’m going to the Kestery house.”
    “Not by me you’re not going,” he told her. “I’ll take you to the crossroads because it’s on my journey, but you’ll walk the rest of the distance in your own two shoes.” He slapped the reins across the donkey’s back, and the cart lurched ahead.
    The peddler woman gave him no heed, grumbling and settling herself about. “Been going there for a month’s time,” she said, a little pleasanter now she was in the cart. “Each day I’ve put it off, telling myself there’d be tomorrow and I’d not walk so lame and the snow and cold would go. I might have known for myself that nothing good like that would happen this year.”
    “I’ll take you to the crossroads,” said Rom again.
    “We’ll talk about that between us when I get my breath back.” She went right on. “There’s a doll in my sack for the little Kestery girl, she said, “the first doll she’ll ever be having. They’d promised it to her from the day she was born, I think. Not born natural, she wasn’t, you know. Her arm withered, poor mite, like a bird with one wing, though she’s quicker than most, even so. Word came to me through the preacher that the Kesterys had the money all laid by, and I’ve had the doll for them since autumn. Would you like to see the doll, lad?”
    She fumbled at the sack’s drawstrings, mumbling to the knots.
    “No,” said Rom. “I would not.” Money for dolls, some had money to throw away even in the bad times with not two coins to rub together for most. With the doll money in her pocket, the peddler woman would be able to see a little ahead, if only around the next corner.
    “I can draw a breath easier for a bit,” she said, reading his thoughts. “Wood on the fire, at least, and a bit of food without fighting for it, and maybe an extra or two.”
    “You’re fat enough,” said Rom.
    She did not take it in bad part. “I’m not so bad off as your donkey,” she admitted. “Poor beast. It’ll lie down where it walks one day, by the looks of it.”
    “It’s not laid down yet,” said Rom grimly.
    The peddler woman shrugged and looked at the sky, half closing her eyes. “There’s another storm up in there. It’ll be bad Christmas Day if the clouds mean anything.”
    “There’ll be no Christmas this year,” said Rom.
    “God’s truth,” said the woman heavily. “Do you mind how it was other years, the lights in the windows and the little trees inside with their glitters on them? People buying my trinkets wherever I went, and the churches with their warm stoves and the pine boughs and the singing. They were fine, the churches were, before the bad times. The floors are so cold for kneeling now, it reaches up through your bones and into your heart.”
    “The Lord’s not so long remembering as He was once,” Rom said bitterly.
    “That’s blasphemy for a lad to thin,” said the peddler woman.
    “I’ll think it and I’ll say it,” said Rom. “There’s precious little good left in the world.”
    The woman sighed heavily and fell silent. The cart jogged and lurched on its journey, turning wheels muffled by thick snow. The little sharp donkey hooves slushed through it, and the road unwound, white and with no seeming end.
    When they came at last to the crossroads, Rom pulled the donkey up. It stopped and stood with its legs spread and its head drooping, as it had stood in the oven of summer, under a day like metal. Rom spoke over his shoulder. “This is your turning place,” he said. “I’m going on.”
    There was no answer, and he glanced back. The old fat bundle of rags had fallen into sleep on the floor of the cart, hand still clutching the sack. He leaned from his seat and shook her by the shoulder. “Get up and get out,” he said. “This is as far as you go.”
    She woke with a cry, and it took her a moment to find where she was. Then she looked about and up the road she would have to travel alone, the snow not even broken along it. She gave a whimper. “It’s a long ways yet,” she said, “and I’m that crippled -”
    “Your feet carried you to where I found you,” said Rom coldly. “They can carry you again Get out, and don’t be keeping me. There’s work waiting for me in the great town, and I’ll not be kept from it.”
    “I’ll fall,” she said, sitting up and swaying back and forth. “I’ll fall, and the snow will cover my bones.”
    “You’ll not fall, a great lump like you. Get out.”
    “No,” said the peddler woman, making a rock of herself.
    Anger swelled up inside Rom. He could taste it bitter on his tongue, and he almost liked the taste of it. “Get out!” he said.
    She held herself tight in her own arms, against the cold and his voice. “With the cart it’s only a bit of a way to the Kestery house. I’ll stumble forever and never get there.”
    “It’s time out of my road coming and going,” said Rom fiercely, “and I could lose what I must be having if I’m late to the town. The way’s been slow enough. Get out of my cart!” He raised his hand, almost as if he would strike her.
    She scrambled to her feet and climbed over the cart side and down into the snow. She stood so, for a long moment, staring at him, and then she drew in a long sigh and turned away.
    He watched her. She was getting along all right, and she did not look back, thanks be for that. He muttered a curse and turned back to the donkey. It was still standing, patient as the eternal, its head down but one long ear pointed back to listen for the voice that would tell it to go on.
    “Poor beast,” said Rom suddenly and shook the reins. The little donkey must be aching for rest, but it moved forward without question. Rom had a quick memory of it, all through the hot summer and the dry autumn and the icy days. Its belly had not been filled in a long time and its fur was patchy with bad feeding and the rub of the harness, but it never even asked to rest a moment longer. It was old, too, old donkey, and tire half to death. Like the peddler woman.
    Rom hunched himself up and pushed away the thought. The peddler woman would reach the Kestery house and there was money waiting for her there, money saved up and put aside for the child’s doll. She had more ahead of her, she and the child both, than he could even hope for. The road was not so long but the old woman would reach the money.
    “Who ever eased MY way?” said Rom aloud, angry, and then he look… at the donkey.
    He told himself not to be a fool. Just because a poor bag of donkey bones served him so willingly, that was no reason to risk his hope in the great won ahead. Others could look after themselves, others could —
    “Ah, the Devil take it! Rom cried out suddenly, and he pulled hard on the reins, turning the donkey about in its tracks. The donkey ears waved as if the creature was surprised, but the cart circled.
    “It’s God’s own fool I am,” said Rom despairingly, and he slapped the reins across the donkey’s back so that it broke into a shambling trot.
    The peddler woman was plodding along up ahead, bent over against the pain in her back and the bite of the wind, but she heard them coming and faced about. From the look on her face, the donkey cart might have been a gold chariot and six white horses. “Get in,” said Rom. “Get in, and be still. I’m a fool.”
    She looked at him queerly and got in, and there was not a word out of her until they came in sight of the Kestery chimney. Then Rom stopped the cart once more and she climbed heavily over the side. She started to speak but Rom would not listen, so she only gave him a look before she turned away.
    But …it was such a look that it stayed with him as the cart rolled him back down the road, and it seemed as if the wind was a little less cold after all.
    Mrs. Kestery had seen the cart and came running out of the small house. The cart was gone before she reached it, and there was only the peddler woman, standing still.
    She was a little body, Mrs. Kestery, young and once pretty, but the bad times had put the scar of lines on her face and her eyes were too big. She said, “Come inside, come out of the cold,” and led the way back into the small house, with the peddler woman lumbering behind.
    “It’s a wonder I’m here at all,” said the peddler woman spreading her bulk on a chair and puffing with relief. “But today it had to be, or never, with Christmas Day almost upon us. I got your message from the preacher in the autumn, and I’d have come sooner, only–”
    Mrs. Kestery put the back of her hand to her forehead as if she had lost something in her mind. “The preacher?”
    “Surely, the preacher.” The peddler woman looked suddenly canny and glanced around her. “The little one’s about?”
    “In her bed,” said Mrs. Kestery, and her own glance darted like a bird toward the closed door. “She’s warmer so.”
    “Ah, then, we’ll do our business at once and I’ll be off, and the little one will never know how it came.” She undid the string of the sack lying on her lap and put her hand inside. “The doll,” she said proudly and pulled it out.
    Mrs. Kestery gave a small cry and held out her hands like a child herself, wanting to touch and stroke the pretty thing.
    “I found you the best,” said the peddler woman proudly. “See the dress and the little shoes.” She held the doll in the air, twirling it around gently, and then suddenly she looked at Mrs. Kestery. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
    Mrs. Kestery stood there, twisting her hands inside her apron and looking everywhere in the room except at the peddler woman. “I can’t –” she said. “We can’t –” She looked at the doll with terrible longing and said, fast and quick. “We can’t buy the doll. I’m sorry you’ve had the journey.”
    The peddler woman sat the doll up on her lap and blew out her breath in a great puff. “What’s this nonsense?” she said. “The preacher himself gave me your message, and I went to get the doll at once. It was not my fault I was so late coming, and even so I’m not too late. The child will have her doll on Christmas Day, that’s what you wanted.” She looked sharply at the mother. “You’ve not been and bought another doll?”
    “No, no, it’s not that.” Her apron was all screwed tight in her hands.
    “Well, then.” The peddler woman sighed her relief and dance the doll on her knee. “The preacher said you’d laid the money by before you sent your message, and –”
    “The money’s gone,” said Mrs. Kestery, very low.
    The peddler woman gaped at her. “Gone?”
    Mrs. Kestery’s hands dropped the tormented apron, and she lifted them to hide her face. “I thought from day to day things would be better,” she said, very close to the edge of tears, “and then, when it got so near to Christmas and you not come, I made certain you knew –”
    “But the money! The preacher said you had the money.”
    “Oh, we had it all right. We put it away in the brown teapot for the child’s Christmas, and we’d take it out at times and smile at it, my husband and me, thinking how the little one would care for the doll. She’s been planning a home for it all year –Oh, dearie, dearie,” she said and sobbed outright, letting all the held-back tears spill over the drought of her grief.
    “You had the money,” said the peddler woman dully, “you must have it still. The preacher said it was all laid by and would not be touched.” She got to her feet, suddenly outraged. “You wasted it. You wasted the money for the child’s doll that I came all this way through the snow to bring her! And all the weary way back to go and –.” She stopped. And nothing at the end of it for herself, except the fireplace without enough wood and the cupboard without enough food and the bad times grinning at her from every shelf and cranny. “Oh!” she said. “You could not have wasted the money so!”
    Mrs. Kestery raised her head, and suddenly she began to dart about the kitchen like a little mad creature. For a moment the peddler woman thought her brain was turned, but all Mrs. Kestery was doing was to thrown open bins and cupboard doors and even the door of the oven itself.
    “Look,” Mrs. Kestery said. “Look there, and there. Not enough to get us through the cold days, not enough of anything. See, there’s so little flour left in the bin, it’s no more than a scraping. I made the last loaves yesterday and how will they last all the while we need them? Cabbages and potatoes, half of them gone bad, and never a bit of meat anywhere. You don’t know what it’s been.”
    The peddler woman shook her head, not able to believe. “But you had the money,” she said again and again. “The preacher said you had the money. Your man was working and doing well. I know it’s bad times for most, but you were able to set money by for such a thing as a doll without fretting. The preacher said you had done it.”
    “My man’s got no work,” said Mrs. Kestery, her hands fallen loose to her sides. “The fever came on him, and the blood in him went bad. That was how the money went, the money we’d saved for the doll, and all the money we scraped up later. The medicine and the doctor and all the things. We prayed the bad times would end –”
    “No money,” said the peddler woman, seeing on the reflection of her own money lost to her. You couldn’t use a doll for food or heat.
    “He’s out gathering wood now, my husband is.” said Mrs. Kestery, suddenly timid, looking at her pitifully. “When he comes back, he’ll tell you how it was. We should have got a message to you, but I put it off and kept hoping. She wants the doll so, she’s talked of nothing else, and this year we were so sure –Oh, I’m sorry you’ve had the long journey.” She made the gesture. “If there’s anything I could offer –”
    The peddler woman got to her feet, her mouth set tight. The long journey, indeed! And all the way back. And none of the little extra things to look forward to, to be bought with the money that would have carried her ahead for a little while. She looked down at the doll in her hand, and a counting look came into her eyes. If she went to the great town now, surely there would be someone wanting a doll. And there would be carts coming back from the town to bring her home. It would not be like hoping for someone to take her up the road to the kestery house. Perhaps she could get more, even, for the doll in the great town.
    “Well,” she said at last, “it’s not so bad but it might be worse. I’ll find someone to take the doll and make my money from them. But another time you might take more thought to others,” she added sourly.
    “I’m sorry you had the journey,” Mrs. Kestery whispered, her eyes on the doll. Suddenly she stretched out her hand. “May I hold it for a moment?” she said and without waiting for an answer, she took the doll into her hands.
    The peddler woman reached to snatch it back and then paused, struck by something odd in the way the doll was held. Crooked in one arm, instead of cradled in two. She frowned for a moment, and then it came to her. The mother held the doll as the child would have held it, one arm withered. Poor wounded wing.
    “Give it me,” said the peddler woman sharply and reached out her hand.
    For just a moment Mrs. Kestery laid her cheek against the doll’s cheek. “It’s so sweet,” she said. “Such a little love it would have been for our baby to hold. I wish I’d never told her it was going to be Christmas Day tomorrow.”
    “There’s no Christmas this year,” said the peddler woman grimly and took the doll, gave it a quick shake to straighten its dress and thrust it into the sack. “There’s no Christmas for anyone, and I’ve miles to go. I hope to God there’s a traveler on the road who’ll go my way.” She turned, stumping toward the door. “I’ll be off before the child wakes.”
    “Yes,” said Mrs. Kestery.
    The peddler woman pulled her cloak tight about her shoulders and, without looking back again, she went out. She hoped she would not meet up with Kestery himself coming back from the search for firewood. She hoped she would not meet up with anyone else unless it was another cart going her way which led toward the great town. She would do better selling the doll there, no doubt of that.
    It would be a sore Christmas for the Kestery child, but there was Christmas for none this year and no helping it. Time taught you not to expect good things. Who ever did a kindness for an old peddler woman?
    Then she remembered the lad in the donkey cart, it coming into her mind without her asking it. Well, she admitted, that had been a kindness. He’d chanced his job for her, and now it was all for nothing, since the doll was still to be sold.
    She braced herself stolidly. Sold it would be, then, and some other young one would be well-pleased with the world at sun-up. Not a young one with a wounded wing, but someone.
    “He turned off his way for me,” said the peddler woman aloud.
    “It was not so much to do,” she said. “Only a mile or so.”
    She walked ten paces very briskly. She walked another ten.
    But he had risked his job, had he not?
    She stopped. She opened her sack and took out the doll and stood looking at it very fiercely. She shook it a little as if it had done something wrong to her, but it only looked back calmly out of blue china eyes.
    “I’m a fool,” said the peddler woman, and she turned about in her steps and marched back to the house, opening the door without a knock or a by-you-leave. Mrs. Kestery was sitting at the table, just sitting, her hands idle.
    “Here,” said the peddler woman and thrust the doll into her hands. “Give it to the child in the morning. You can pay me when there’s money again and Christmas again, and the bad times over. If that day ever comes.”
    She turned and was gone, off again down the road she had come by. She snow was not quite so deep perhaps as she had remembered it.

    It was past dark when the knock came at the Kestery door. Husband and wife, sitting together by a faint glimmer of light so as not to waste the lamp, looked up startled, each from private thoughts. The little one was sleeping, her last awake words of the doll she would have in the morning. Kestery had been greeted with the news of the doll the instant he came back from the woods, and the slow smile that had not shown for months broke across his face.
    The doll lay on the table between them now, and the joy of it had lasted through twilight. But they had spent the time since in trying to see ahead, and there was little to see that was not darker than the night itself. With carefulness, their food would last a few weeks, not more. The bread baked with the last of the flour would be gone in a week’s time.
    “If the spring would come early,” said Kestery heavily, “and I would be stronger.”
    “You’re mending,” his wife said as she had said it so often, but she felt a pain in her heart, knowing so well what he meant. The rising sap, and the summer birds coming back, and the sky blue again, they would be healing. He could look for work. But if the winter held, how long would it be before their little girl would shrink and pinch and pale beyond saving?
    “The times have never been so bad,” Kestery said hopelessly, and then there was a knock at the door.
    Mrs. Kestery went to open it, and the small skinny creature that stood there grinned ingratiatingly, mouth stretched over skeleton jaw. She knew him at once –Barren, the Mean Man, come to beg. There was nothing for him in this house, and she all but got the door shut in his face before he slipped inside.
    “There’s nothing for you here,” she said.
    He stood, still grinning, so thin his clothes hardly touched him at all, looking like a shivering dog. “I’m hungry.”
    Kestery rose to his feet. “Get out. There’s nothing to share.”
    “I’m starving,” said Barren, whining but telling little less than the truth.
    “The world’s starving with you,” said Kestery.
    “You’ve food.”
    “None to spare.”
    “A rind –a scrap of bread –all the doors have been closed in my face. Tomorrow is Christmas. In the sweet name of Jesus –”
    They knew Barren from years back, he had never said thanks to anyone and he had never reached out a hand to a person in the world. If he died, no one would be poorer, and if he lived, no one would be richer. The name of Jesus had never lain in a mouth that treasured it less.
    “Get out!” said Kestery again and raise his hand.
    Barren shrank back. “Only a little crust, only a moment’s help –”
    “There’s none has helped us,” said Kestery
    Barren’s eyes ran to the doll on the table. Mrs. Kestery reached out and tried to cover it away from his look and make it safe. “It took money to buy that,” said Barren.
    “It was left us in kindness,” said Mrs. Kestery quickly, and then she put her hand to her breast and looked sideways at her husband. The, “It’s God’s truth, there was one who helped us, there was the peddler woman,” she murmured. “I could give him a crust.”
    “Not while I stand here,” said her husband, but he looked at the doll too.
    “If I’d strength to get to the great town,” Barren whined, “I’d go there and beg. But without food, I’ll fall in the snow.”
    “Fall then,” said Kestery. “There’s none will miss you.” But he could not take his eyes from the doll or his mind from the thought of the peddler woman’s kindness. She had been going to sell the doll in the great town, that was what his wife had told him, but she had left it behind. And the man Barren was skin and bones.
    He jerked his shoulder as if something lay on them heavy, and he made a gesture with his hand. “Give it him then,” he said. “Give him the crust.”
    Barren said, “Aaaaah,” hungrily.
    Mrs. Kestery went to the place where the bread lay hidden away and took out a round loaf and the knife to cut it. She lay the bread on the table and she measured her knife’s edge just again the heel of the loaf. Then she looked up at her husband. “Like this?” she said.
    He nodded, and she was about to draw the knife across when suddenly he came over and took it out of her hand. Barren sucked in his breath with sudden fear that he was to go empty-handed after all.
    But Kestery had set the knife to the very center of the loaf and cut it into two equal parts. He lifted the one half in his big hand and held it out to the beggar.
    “Here,” he said. “Take it and be on your way.” He hardly dared to look at his wife for shame of the fool’s thing he had done, but when he did look he found he need not have been anxious. Her eyes were full of love.

    Barren the Mean Man never stayed to say his thanks. He scuttled to the door and was out faster than a thieving rat, and he ran into the snow and away from the house before they could change their minds, the half-loaf held to his chest like a dear thing.
    Not until he was safe in the woods did he stop running, and then he sat down on a log, his breath coming fast and the loaf clutched tight. “Slowly,” he said, “slowly,” and broke off a corner and stuff it into his mouth and tasted the sweet taste of grain.
    The wind had died down, and the woods were quiet. The storm clouds had gone over, and the moon was up. There were stars in the sky, one of them so bright in the darkness that its rays were like torchlight. A great fir tree stood in the center of the space where Barren had come, its boughs friendly and wide and sweeping down to the ground. One year such a tree had stood in the square at Christmas time, with tinsel and glitter and a huge star at the top made of something silvery. There had been singing of carols, and even Barren the Mean Man had not been turned away. That was back in the time when Christmas was real.
    Now all that was real was the half-loaf of bread, and Barren tore off another chunk and chewed it slowly, savoring the smallest crumb. Bit by bit, the hunger dying in him a little.
    It was then that the birds came.
    Perhaps they had been already there, and he had not noticed them in his hunger, but likely not. Birds coming out at night made a strange sight, and Barren looked twice, before he made sure his eyes were not tricking him. Small handfuls of feather and beak, scrawny as plucked chickens, all of them. What seeds or scraps lay about for birds in bad times?
    Barren looked at them very cunningly and held the loaf tighter. “There’ll be no crumbs,” he said maliciously and laughed to himself because all the crumbs were his. The birds came a bit closer. He had never seen birds by moonlight before, birds were daywalkers, except the owls and such.
    They pecked at the snow and gave little cries and fluttered their wings, hopping toward him and then away. He waved his hand and shouted angrily, and some flew off, but even those came back to the near branches of the fir tree and watched him.
    “Get out, get away,” said Barren furiously, wishing the moon would find a cloud to hide behind so he could not see his strange audience.
    They would not go, and the moon would not either. And the star had grown so terribly bright that he almost covered his eyes against it. “There’s scarce enough for one,” said Barren to the birds, “let alone all you things. Get away!”
    Still they would not go, though he half-rose, threatening and then he pulled off another chunk of bread to thrust it in his mouth and show them he would have it all.
    They watched him with their bright eyes, and they pecked at the empty snow. “The Devil take you!” Barren shouted. He made a sudden move and hid the bread away from them, under his coat where they could not see it, though he wanted to hold it in his hands and eat and eat.
    One little sparrow came closer. It was so thin a man could take it up and crush it like a handful of tiny twigs. Barren huddled himself around his half-loaf of bread, as if a little bird would tear it away from him, and anger shook him like wind.
    Why should the little birds come begging to Barren? Barren the Mean Man –he knew very well how they named him. Begging to him, the birds were, as if he ought to do for birds what no man had ever done for him, share of his very life.
    And then the memory of Kestery came to him clear with the knife in his hand, and he remembered how the promised crust had grown under that knife and become half a loaf of bread. There had been precious little to share in the Kestery house, a beggar’s eye had told Barren that.
    The sparrow pecked snow, and it might better have pecked the air for all the food it got.
    Slowly, Barren drew the loaf out from under his rags. He nipped a tiny crumb off between thumb and finger and flicked it toward the sparrow. The bird moved so quickly it scarcely seemed to move at all, but it was on the crumb in an instant and the crumb was gone. A flutter ran through all the birds, and a little talking asking noise like a cry.
    He pulled off another crumb and then another, and then, before he could stop his hand from what it was doing, he had torn off a great hunk of his bread and was crumbling it up in his fingers and scattering the bits all over the snow.
    “I’m a fool,” said Barren, half sobbing it. “God’s truth, I’m a fool if there ever was one.”
    It seemed as if he could not stop himself. The fir tree was all at once alive with more birds and such a singing of carols that it was like the old days in the square.
    Barren looked up, his eyes going from wide branch to wide branch, until they came to the top branch of all. Caught there at the very tip, blazing against the sky, the great star shone with its rays streaming down to the earth.
    He could not know it, having no way to tell the hour, but midnight had just gone by and it was the morning of Christmas. He stood still, holding what was left of his half-loaf of bread, and something stirred inside him as if a hand had been laid on his heart.

    JOURNEY TO CHRISTMAS by B. J. Chute

    The world had never been so deep in snow.
    Rom swore at the little donkey when it stumbled into a drift of the wicked whiteness, and it shook its head and looked back at him sorrowfully as if its master ought to know it was doing its best.
    “Get up, you beast,” said Rom between his teeth. They were making such a slow way that it would be evening before they reached the great town, and, by that time, someone else might have laid claim to the miserly bit of a job that Rom was after.
    “Get up, you beast,” he said again and glared about him fiercely, hating the fields that lay so still and bound, the fields that had panted and scorched all summer long under the cruelest sun he had ever known in his eighteen years.
    There had been bad times before, when the flour bin was scraped to its bottom and potatoes and old cabbages did for a daily diet, but there had never been bad times like this in the memory of the oldest. Now it was every man for himself in a world that had once seemed loving, and if he could only reach the great town in time, he would slit the throat of any man who came to take the bare promise of work away from him.
    He looked at the donkey’s sides, caved in like a broken barrel, and all he could think of was how slow its little hard hooves plodded. Months since the animal had known the treat of a carrot or even good hay under its nose, and there would be none tomorrow, the next day nor the long day after.
    Only, tomorrow was Christmas Day.
    “God’s curse on it,” said Tom, and the sound of the words was quick and dreadful in his ears but he could not take them back. His eyes stung with the tears whipped up by the icy wind, and he shook the stinging away and looked up the long road ahead.
    Someone was walking the middle of it, someone shapeless as a huge bundle of blown rags and plodding even slower than the donkey. The thin jingle of harness must have reached the walker and the haystacky figure turned heavily and watched the cart come.
    It was the peddler woman that he remembered from childhood, thinner by pounds that when he had seen her last but still as broad as an oak beam. She threw up one hand out of her tatters, the other clutching a worn brown sack, and cried a treeting as if she was met up with a saint.
    He pulled the donkey up alongside her, grudging even the moment of delay. She grabbed at the bridle rein, and the donkey puts its nose on her shoulder, nuzzling hopefully.
    “God be praised,” said the peddler woman. “All the other carts are traveling east. You’ll take me where I’m going.” She trundled around to the side of the cart and leaned on the high wheel. “Give me a hand up, lad. I’m that bent with crippling.”
    He had an impulse to push her away, but it would take as long to argue as it would to let her clamber on. “I’m following the road straight to the great town,” he said sharply. “I’ll not turn an instant off it, not for the Devil himself. Lay that to your mind.”
    She gave a short laugh and heaved her bulk up the step which creaked its protest. “The Devil’d not be walking in this weather,” she said. “I’m going to the Kestery house.”
    “Not by me you’re not going,” he told her. “I’ll take you to the crossroads because it’s on my journey, but you’ll walk the rest of the distance in your own two shoes.” He slapped the reins across the donkey’s back, and the cart lurched ahead.
    The peddler woman gave him no heed, grumbling and settling herself about. “Been going there for a month’s time,” she said, a little pleasanter now she was in the cart. “Each day I’ve put it off, telling myself there’d be tomorrow and I’d not walk so lame and the snow and cold would go. I might have known for myself that nothing good like that would happen this year.”
    “I’ll take you to the crossroads,” said Rom again.
    “We’ll talk about that between us when I get my breath back.” She went right on. “There’s a doll in my sack for the little Kestery girl, she said, “the first doll she’ll ever be having. They’d promised it to her from the day she was born, I think. Not born natural, she wasn’t, you know. Her arm withered, poor mite, like a bird with one wing, though she’s quicker than most, even so. Word came to me through the preacher that the Kesterys had the money all laid by, and I’ve had the doll for them since autumn. Would you like to see the doll, lad?”
    She fumbled at the sack’s drawstrings, mumbling to the knots.
    “No,” said Rom. “I would not.” Money for dolls, some had money to throw away even in the bad times with not two coins to rub together for most. With the doll money in her pocket, the peddler woman would be able to see a little ahead, if only around the next corner.
    “I can draw a breath easier for a bit,” she said, reading his thoughts. “Wood on the fire, at least, and a bit of food without fighting for it, and maybe an extra or two.”
    “You’re fat enough,” said Rom.
    She did not take it in bad part. “I’m not so bad off as your donkey,” she admitted. “Poor beast. It’ll lie down where it walks one day, by the looks of it.”
    “It’s not laid down yet,” said Rom grimly.
    The peddler woman shrugged and looked at the sky, half closing her eyes. “There’s another storm up in there. It’ll be bad Christmas Day if the clouds mean anything.”
    “There’ll be no Christmas this year,” said Rom.
    “God’s truth,” said the woman heavily. “Do you mind how it was other years, the lights in the windows and the little trees inside with their glitters on them? People buying my trinkets wherever I went, and the churches with their warm stoves and the pine boughs and the singing. They were fine, the churches were, before the bad times. The floors are so cold for kneeling now, it reaches up through your bones and into your heart.”
    “The Lord’s not so long remembering as He was once,” Rom said bitterly.
    “That’s blasphemy for a lad to thin,” said the peddler woman.
    “I’ll think it and I’ll say it,” said Rom. “There’s precious little good left in the world.”
    The woman sighed heavily and fell silent. The cart jogged and lurched on its journey, turning wheels muffled by thick snow. The little sharp donkey hooves slushed through it, and the road unwound, white and with no seeming end.
    When they came at last to the crossroads, Rom pulled the donkey up. It stopped and stood with its legs spread and its head drooping, as it had stood in the oven of summer, under a day like metal. Rom spoke over his shoulder. “This is your turning place,” he said. “I’m going on.”
    There was no answer, and he glanced back. The old fat bundle of rags had fallen into sleep on the floor of the cart, hand still clutching the sack. He leaned from his seat and shook her by the shoulder. “Get up and get out,” he said. “This is as far as you go.”
    She woke with a cry, and it took her a moment to find where she was. Then she looked about and up the road she would have to travel alone, the snow not even broken along it. She gave a whimper. “It’s a long ways yet,” she said, “and I’m that crippled -”
    “Your feet carried you to where I found you,” said Rom coldly. “They can carry you again Get out, and don’t be keeping me. There’s work waiting for me in the great town, and I’ll not be kept from it.”
    “I’ll fall,” she said, sitting up and swaying back and forth. “I’ll fall, and the snow will cover my bones.”
    “You’ll not fall, a great lump like you. Get out.”
    “No,” said the peddler woman, making a rock of herself.
    Anger swelled up inside Rom. He could taste it bitter on his tongue, and he almost liked the taste of it. “Get out!” he said.
    She held herself tight in her own arms, against the cold and his voice. “With the cart it’s only a bit of a way to the Kestery house. I’ll stumble forever and never get there.”
    “It’s time out of my road coming and going,” said Rom fiercely, “and I could lose what I must be having if I’m late to the town. The way’s been slow enough. Get out of my cart!” He raised his hand, almost as if he would strike her.
    She scrambled to her feet and climbed over the cart side and down into the snow. She stood so, for a long moment, staring at him, and then she drew in a long sigh and turned away.
    He watched her. She was getting along all right, and she did not look back, thanks be for that. He muttered a curse and turned back to the donkey. It was still standing, patient as the eternal, its head down but one long ear pointed back to listen for the voice that would tell it to go on.
    “Poor beast,” said Rom suddenly and shook the reins. The little donkey must be aching for rest, but it moved forward without question. Rom had a quick memory of it, all through the hot summer and the dry autumn and the icy days. Its belly had not been filled in a long time and its fur was patchy with bad feeding and the rub of the harness, but it never even asked to rest a moment longer. It was old, too, old donkey, and tire half to death. Like the peddler woman.
    Rom hunched himself up and pushed away the thought. The peddler woman would reach the Kestery house and there was money waiting for her there, money saved up and put aside for the child’s doll. She had more ahead of her, she and the child both, than he could even hope for. The road was not so long but the old woman would reach the money.
    “Who ever eased MY way?” said Rom aloud, angry, and then he look… at the donkey.
    He told himself not to be a fool. Just because a poor bag of donkey bones served him so willingly, that was no reason to risk his hope in the great won ahead. Others could look after themselves, others could —
    “Ah, the Devil take it! Rom cried out suddenly, and he pulled hard on the reins, turning the donkey about in its tracks. The donkey ears waved as if the creature was surprised, but the cart circled.
    “It’s God’s own fool I am,” said Rom despairingly, and he slapped the reins across the donkey’s back so that it broke into a shambling trot.
    The peddler woman was plodding along up ahead, bent over against the pain in her back and the bite of the wind, but she heard them coming and faced about. From the look on her face, the donkey cart might have been a gold chariot and six white horses. “Get in,” said Rom. “Get in, and be still. I’m a fool.”
    She looked at him queerly and got in, and there was not a word out of her until they came in sight of the Kestery chimney. Then Rom stopped the cart once more and she climbed heavily over the side. She started to speak but Rom would not listen, so she only gave him a look before she turned away.
    But …it was such a look that it stayed with him as the cart rolled him back down the road, and it seemed as if the wind was a little less cold after all.
    Mrs. Kestery had seen the cart and came running out of the small house. The cart was gone before she reached it, and there was only the peddler woman, standing still.
    She was a little body, Mrs. Kestery, young and once pretty, but the bad times had put the scar of lines on her face and her eyes were too big. She said, “Come inside, come out of the cold,” and led the way back into the small house, with the peddler woman lumbering behind.
    “It’s a wonder I’m here at all,” said the peddler woman spreading her bulk on a chair and puffing with relief. “But today it had to be, or never, with Christmas Day almost upon us. I got your message from the preacher in the autumn, and I’d have come sooner, only–”
    Mrs. Kestery put the back of her hand to her forehead as if she had lost something in her mind. “The preacher?”
    “Surely, the preacher.” The peddler woman looked suddenly canny and glanced around her. “The little one’s about?”
    “In her bed,” said Mrs. Kestery, and her own glance darted like a bird toward the closed door. “She’s warmer so.”
    “Ah, then, we’ll do our business at once and I’ll be off, and the little one will never know how it came.” She undid the string of the sack lying on her lap and put her hand inside. “The doll,” she said proudly and pulled it out.
    Mrs. Kestery gave a small cry and held out her hands like a child herself, wanting to touch and stroke the pretty thing.
    “I found you the best,” said the peddler woman proudly. “See the dress and the little shoes.” She held the doll in the air, twirling it around gently, and then suddenly she looked at Mrs. Kestery. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
    Mrs. Kestery stood there, twisting her hands inside her apron and looking everywhere in the room except at the peddler woman. “I can’t –” she said. “We can’t –” She looked at the doll with terrible longing and said, fast and quick. “We can’t buy the doll. I’m sorry you’ve had the journey.”
    The peddler woman sat the doll up on her lap and blew out her breath in a great puff. “What’s this nonsense?” she said. “The preacher himself gave me your message, and I went to get the doll at once. It was not my fault I was so late coming, and even so I’m not too late. The child will have her doll on Christmas Day, that’s what you wanted.” She looked sharply at the mother. “You’ve not been and bought another doll?”
    “No, no, it’s not that.” Her apron was all screwed tight in her hands.
    “Well, then.” The peddler woman sighed her relief and dance the doll on her knee. “The preacher said you’d laid the money by before you sent your message, and –”
    “The money’s gone,” said Mrs. Kestery, very low.
    The peddler woman gaped at her. “Gone?”
    Mrs. Kestery’s hands dropped the tormented apron, and she lifted them to hide her face. “I thought from day to day things would be better,” she said, very close to the edge of tears, “and then, when it got so near to Christmas and you not come, I made certain you knew –”
    “But the money! The preacher said you had the money.”
    “Oh, we had it all right. We put it away in the brown teapot for the child’s Christmas, and we’d take it out at times and smile at it, my husband and me, thinking how the little one would care for the doll. She’s been planning a home for it all year –Oh, dearie, dearie,” she said and sobbed outright, letting all the held-back tears spill over the drought of her grief.
    “You had the money,” said the peddler woman dully, “you must have it still. The preacher said it was all laid by and would not be touched.” She got to her feet, suddenly outraged. “You wasted it. You wasted the money for the child’s doll that I came all this way through the snow to bring her! And all the weary way back to go and –.” She stopped. And nothing at the end of it for herself, except the fireplace without enough wood and the cupboard without enough food and the bad times grinning at her from every shelf and cranny. “Oh!” she said. “You could not have wasted the money so!”
    Mrs. Kestery raised her head, and suddenly she began to dart about the kitchen like a little mad creature. For a moment the peddler woman thought her brain was turned, but all Mrs. Kestery was doing was to thrown open bins and cupboard doors and even the door of the oven itself.
    “Look,” Mrs. Kestery said. “Look there, and there. Not enough to get us through the cold days, not enough of anything. See, there’s so little flour left in the bin, it’s no more than a scraping. I made the last loaves yesterday and how will they last all the while we need them? Cabbages and potatoes, half of them gone bad, and never a bit of meat anywhere. You don’t know what it’s been.”
    The peddler woman shook her head, not able to believe. “But you had the money,” she said again and again. “The preacher said you had the money. Your man was working and doing well. I know it’s bad times for most, but you were able to set money by for such a thing as a doll without fretting. The preacher said you had done it.”
    “My man’s got no work,” said Mrs. Kestery, her hands fallen loose to her sides. “The fever came on him, and the blood in him went bad. That was how the money went, the money we’d saved for the doll, and all the money we scraped up later. The medicine and the doctor and all the things. We prayed the bad times would end –”
    “No money,” said the peddler woman, seeing on the reflection of her own money lost to her. You couldn’t use a doll for food or heat.
    “He’s out gathering wood now, my husband is.” said Mrs. Kestery, suddenly timid, looking at her pitifully. “When he comes back, he’ll tell you how it was. We should have got a message to you, but I put it off and kept hoping. She wants the doll so, she’s talked of nothing else, and this year we were so sure –Oh, I’m sorry you’ve had the long journey.” She made the gesture. “If there’s anything I could offer –”
    The peddler woman got to her feet, her mouth set tight. The long journey, indeed! And all the way back. And none of the little extra things to look forward to, to be bought with the money that would have carried her ahead for a little while. She looked down at the doll in her hand, and a counting look came into her eyes. If she went to the great town now, surely there would be someone wanting a doll. And there would be carts coming back from the town to bring her home. It would not be like hoping for someone to take her up the road to the kestery house. Perhaps she could get more, even, for the doll in the great town.
    “Well,” she said at last, “it’s not so bad but it might be worse. I’ll find someone to take the doll and make my money from them. But another time you might take more thought to others,” she added sourly.
    “I’m sorry you had the journey,” Mrs. Kestery whispered, her eyes on the doll. Suddenly she stretched out her hand. “May I hold it for a moment?” she said and without waiting for an answer, she took the doll into her hands.
    The peddler woman reached to snatch it back and then paused, struck by something odd in the way the doll was held. Crooked in one arm, instead of cradled in two. She frowned for a moment, and then it came to her. The mother held the doll as the child would have held it, one arm withered. Poor wounded wing.
    “Give it me,” said the peddler woman sharply and reached out her hand.
    For just a moment Mrs. Kestery laid her cheek against the doll’s cheek. “It’s so sweet,” she said. “Such a little love it would have been for our baby to hold. I wish I’d never told her it was going to be Christmas Day tomorrow.”
    “There’s no Christmas this year,” said the peddler woman grimly and took the doll, gave it a quick shake to straighten its dress and thrust it into the sack. “There’s no Christmas for anyone, and I’ve miles to go. I hope to God there’s a traveler on the road who’ll go my way.” She turned, stumping toward the door. “I’ll be off before the child wakes.”
    “Yes,” said Mrs. Kestery.
    The peddler woman pulled her cloak tight about her shoulders and, without looking back again, she went out. She hoped she would not meet up with Kestery himself coming back from the search for firewood. She hoped she would not meet up with anyone else unless it was another cart going her way which led toward the great town. She would do better selling the doll there, no doubt of that.
    It would be a sore Christmas for the Kestery child, but there was Christmas for none this year and no helping it. Time taught you not to expect good things. Who ever did a kindness for an old peddler woman?
    Then she remembered the lad in the donkey cart, it coming into her mind without her asking it. Well, she admitted, that had been a kindness. He’d chanced his job for her, and now it was all for nothing, since the doll was still to be sold.
    She braced herself stolidly. Sold it would be, then, and some other young one would be well-pleased with the world at sun-up. Not a young one with a wounded wing, but someone.
    “He turned off his way for me,” said the peddler woman aloud.
    “It was not so much to do,” she said. “Only a mile or so.”
    She walked ten paces very briskly. She walked another ten.
    But he had risked his job, had he not?
    She stopped. She opened her sack and took out the doll and stood looking at it very fiercely. She shook it a little as if it had done something wrong to her, but it only looked back calmly out of blue china eyes.
    “I’m a fool,” said the peddler woman, and she turned about in her steps and marched back to the house, opening the door without a knock or a by-you-leave. Mrs. Kestery was sitting at the table, just sitting, her hands idle.
    “Here,” said the peddler woman and thrust the doll into her hands. “Give it to the child in the morning. You can pay me when there’s money again and Christmas again, and the bad times over. If that day ever comes.”
    She turned and was gone, off again down the road she had come by. She snow was not quite so deep perhaps as she had remembered it.

    It was past dark when the knock came at the Kestery door. Husband and wife, sitting together by a faint glimmer of light so as not to waste the lamp, looked up startled, each from private thoughts. The little one was sleeping, her last awake words of the doll she would have in the morning. Kestery had been greeted with the news of the doll the instant he came back from the woods, and the slow smile that had not shown for months broke across his face.
    The doll lay on the table between them now, and the joy of it had lasted through twilight. But they had spent the time since in trying to see ahead, and there was little to see that was not darker than the night itself. With carefulness, their food would last a few weeks, not more. The bread baked with the last of the flour would be gone in a week’s time.
    “If the spring would come early,” said Kestery heavily, “and I would be stronger.”
    “You’re mending,” his wife said as she had said it so often, but she felt a pain in her heart, knowing so well what he meant. The rising sap, and the summer birds coming back, and the sky blue again, they would be healing. He could look for work. But if the winter held, how long would it be before their little girl would shrink and pinch and pale beyond saving?
    “The times have never been so bad,” Kestery said hopelessly, and then there was a knock at the door.
    Mrs. Kestery went to open it, and the small skinny creature that stood there grinned ingratiatingly, mouth stretched over skeleton jaw. She knew him at once –Barren, the Mean Man, come to beg. There was nothing for him in this house, and she all but got the door shut in his face before he slipped inside.
    “There’s nothing for you here,” she said.
    He stood, still grinning, so thin his clothes hardly touched him at all, looking like a shivering dog. “I’m hungry.”
    Kestery rose to his feet. “Get out. There’s nothing to share.”
    “I’m starving,” said Barren, whining but telling little less than the truth.
    “The world’s starving with you,” said Kestery.
    “You’ve food.”
    “None to spare.”
    “A rind –a scrap of bread –all the doors have been closed in my face. Tomorrow is Christmas. In the sweet name of Jesus –”
    They knew Barren from years back, he had never said thanks to anyone and he had never reached out a hand to a person in the world. If he died, no one would be poorer, and if he lived, no one would be richer. The name of Jesus had never lain in a mouth that treasured it less.
    “Get out!” said Kestery again and raise his hand.
    Barren shrank back. “Only a little crust, only a moment’s help –”
    “There’s none has helped us,” said Kestery
    Barren’s eyes ran to the doll on the table. Mrs. Kestery reached out and tried to cover it away from his look and make it safe. “It took money to buy that,” said Barren.
    “It was left us in kindness,” said Mrs. Kestery quickly, and then she put her hand to her breast and looked sideways at her husband. The, “It’s God’s truth, there was one who helped us, there was the peddler woman,” she murmured. “I could give him a crust.”
    “Not while I stand here,” said her husband, but he looked at the doll too.
    “If I’d strength to get to the great town,” Barren whined, “I’d go there and beg. But without food, I’ll fall in the snow.”
    “Fall then,” said Kestery. “There’s none will miss you.” But he could not take his eyes from the doll or his mind from the thought of the peddler woman’s kindness. She had been going to sell the doll in the great town, that was what his wife had told him, but she had left it behind. And the man Barren was skin and bones.
    He jerked his shoulder as if something lay on them heavy, and he made a gesture with his hand. “Give it him then,” he said. “Give him the crust.”
    Barren said, “Aaaaah,” hungrily.
    Mrs. Kestery went to the place where the bread lay hidden away and took out a round loaf and the knife to cut it. She lay the bread on the table and she measured her knife’s edge just again the heel of the loaf. Then she looked up at her husband. “Like this?” she said.
    He nodded, and she was about to draw the knife across when suddenly he came over and took it out of her hand. Barren sucked in his breath with sudden fear that he was to go empty-handed after all.
    But Kestery had set the knife to the very center of the loaf and cut it into two equal parts. He lifted the one half in his big hand and held it out to the beggar.
    “Here,” he said. “Take it and be on your way.” He hardly dared to look at his wife for shame of the fool’s thing he had done, but when he did look he found he need not have been anxious. Her eyes were full of love.

    Barren the Mean Man never stayed to say his thanks. He scuttled to the door and was out faster than a thieving rat, and he ran into the snow and away from the house before they could change their minds, the half-loaf held to his chest like a dear thing.
    Not until he was safe in the woods did he stop running, and then he sat down on a log, his breath coming fast and the loaf clutched tight. “Slowly,” he said, “slowly,” and broke off a corner and stuff it into his mouth and tasted the sweet taste of grain.
    The wind had died down, and the woods were quiet. The storm clouds had gone over, and the moon was up. There were stars in the sky, one of them so bright in the darkness that its rays were like torchlight. A great fir tree stood in the center of the space where Barren had come, its boughs friendly and wide and sweeping down to the ground. One year such a tree had stood in the square at Christmas time, with tinsel and glitter and a huge star at the top made of something silvery. There had been singing of carols, and even Barren the Mean Man had not been turned away. That was back in the time when Christmas was real.
    Now all that was real was the half-loaf of bread, and Barren tore off another chunk and chewed it slowly, savoring the smallest crumb. Bit by bit, the hunger dying in him a little.
    It was then that the birds came.
    Perhaps they had been already there, and he had not noticed them in his hunger, but likely not. Birds coming out at night made a strange sight, and Barren looked twice, before he made sure his eyes were not tricking him. Small handfuls of feather and beak, scrawny as plucked chickens, all of them. What seeds or scraps lay about for birds in bad times?
    Barren looked at them very cunningly and held the loaf tighter. “There’ll be no crumbs,” he said maliciously and laughed to himself because all the crumbs were his. The birds came a bit closer. He had never seen birds by moonlight before, birds were daywalkers, except the owls and such.
    They pecked at the snow and gave little cries and fluttered their wings, hopping toward him and then away. He waved his hand and shouted angrily, and some flew off, but even those came back to the near branches of the fir tree and watched him.
    “Get out, get away,” said Barren furiously, wishing the moon would find a cloud to hide behind so he could not see his strange audience.
    They would not go, and the moon would not either. And the star had grown so terribly bright that he almost covered his eyes against it. “There’s scarce enough for one,” said Barren to the birds, “let alone all you things. Get away!”
    Still they would not go, though he half-rose, threatening and then he pulled off another chunk of bread to thrust it in his mouth and show them he would have it all.
    They watched him with their bright eyes, and they pecked at the empty snow. “The Devil take you!” Barren shouted. He made a sudden move and hid the bread away from them, under his coat where they could not see it, though he wanted to hold it in his hands and eat and eat.
    One little sparrow came closer. It was so thin a man could take it up and crush it like a handful of tiny twigs. Barren huddled himself around his half-loaf of bread, as if a little bird would tear it away from him, and anger shook him like wind.
    Why should the little birds come begging to Barren? Barren the Mean Man –he knew very well how they named him. Begging to him, the birds were, as if he ought to do for birds what no man had ever done for him, share of his very life.
    And then the memory of Kestery came to him clear with the knife in his hand, and he remembered how the promised crust had grown under that knife and become half a loaf of bread. There had been precious little to share in the Kestery house, a beggar’s eye had told Barren that.
    The sparrow pecked snow, and it might better have pecked the air for all the food it got.
    Slowly, Barren drew the loaf out from under his rags. He nipped a tiny crumb off between thumb and finger and flicked it toward the sparrow. The bird moved so quickly it scarcely seemed to move at all, but it was on the crumb in an instant and the crumb was gone. A flutter ran through all the birds, and a little talking asking noise like a cry.
    He pulled off another crumb and then another, and then, before he could stop his hand from what it was doing, he had torn off a great hunk of his bread and was crumbling it up in his fingers and scattering the bits all over the snow.
    “I’m a fool,” said Barren, half sobbing it. “God’s truth, I’m a fool if there ever was one.”
    It seemed as if he could not stop himself. The fir tree was all at once alive with more birds and such a singing of carols that it was like the old days in the square.
    Barren looked up, his eyes going from wide branch to wide branch, until they came to the top branch of all. Caught there at the very tip, blazing against the sky, the great star shone with its rays streaming down to the earth.
    He could not know it, having no way to tell the hour, but midnight had just gone by and it was the morning of Christmas. He stood still, holding what was left of his half-loaf of bread, and something stirred inside him as if a hand had been laid on his heart.

  7. Christine Smith says:

    ” Following Jesus requires a conversion. It requires a new heart and a new mind. ” This is my takeaway from Henri’s book and from this discussion. At Christmas my focus is brought back to Jesus, but is easy to lose my focus on his offer of a new way of being as the lights of Christmas fade. My prayer and intention is that I accept and embrace the conversion Jesus offers.

    I began this book thinking only of reading and reflecting silently, but I have come away with gratitude for the give and take within this group.
    I found here an example of Henri’s ” community of people who through different ways reflect the great love of Jesus. ”

    May you all enjoy the blessings of Christmas

  8. Ray Glennon says:

    Friends,
    There were several comments on the Advent Week 3 post that were added late Saturday and early Sunday that you might be interested in. You can navigate to that post using the link at the bottom of the post this week or the links in the column at the upper right.
    Ray

  9. Elaine M says:

    Ray, thanks once again for leading us through an inspiring and fruitful discussion. And thanks to all of you who have provided prayers and wonderful insights for our discernment. I am so grateful for Henri’s gentle, positive messages for an age of anxiety, especially resonating with me in a very anxious time of my personal life. I am using the prayer that provides Henri’s final word at the end of the book as a kind of wintertime mantra. I do need daily reminders to check anxieties caused by “the loud outer noises of my surroundings and the loud inner noises of my fears.” I need to listen to that “small soft voice saying, ‘Come to me, you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest.'”

    God’s blessed peace to all of you.

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