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    Relationships * Mindfulness * Spiritual Counseling * Dream Work

Away in Your Manger, A Holiday Meditation for 2013

Away in Your Manger…

“… and Mary took him, wrapped him in long pieces of cloth  

and laid him in a manger.”

 by D. Royce Fitts, D. Min.

copyright 2008

Well, we were probably 9 or 8 or 11 years old or so, my cousins and I. We would try to leap over the hay trough in the barn, jump from the middle hallway and vault over the trough into the animal pen. If we could do it without falling or having to actually demean ourselves by just climbing over the trough, we would be “cool” or strong or whatever it was that farm cousins strive to be in front of each other. I’m not sure I ever made the leap successfully. I also know I would never admit it, anyway.

The hay trough was also a place for hidden treasures. More than once we would notice the disappearance of one of our momma cats. We would secretly and quietly tiptoe down the barn’s hallway, listening for the tell-tale tiny cries of newborn kittens. The momma cat, almost always gentle and friendly, would consent to our purring over her babies as she nursed them. It would also not be unusual to discover the next day that the momma cat had moved her babies to another secret location, probably trying to follow her instincts and keep these strange human children from bothering her little ones. Her work was always in vain, of course.

I don’t know how, but I remember one day it dawned on me that the hay trough could also be called a manger. “Wow!” I thought. “Could it be?! Jesus was born in a place like this?” I looked at the trough…called it a manger…and studied it. Did the original one look exactly like this? I’ve been jumping over the holy manger? I should be careful! I might die!

The trough looked so awkward, so hard to get into. It was kind of deep and only a momma cat could curl up comfortably in there. Only a cow with its long neck could easily reach in for food without tumbling into the trough. I was genuinely puzzled. How in the world could a baby, a human baby, live in there? Or at least sleep in there? I figured Mary was kind of short — how could she reach in there and care for her baby? Even for Joseph it would be hard. And most of all, why would they put their baby in there anyway??

I kept studying the …mangerIt was dirty! Dirt, dust, mice and spiders were probably everywhere! Yuck! I couldn’t believe it. Not here! A baby in a place like this? Besides, look at the animal pen! I mean, let’s be real. This is a barn. Pigs live in the pen sometimes. Cows with baby calves would live in here in the winter. Sick cows and sick calves would be treated for their diseases in here. And, of course, they would (and there is no nice way to say this … ) poop in here. This was gross!

I was really puzzled — no, I mean stunned! A baby in a manger? I even contemplated scrubbing and cleaning it, now that I knew what it was. You know, treat it with reverence. I envisioned trying to dust, wash and clean up the whole trough and pen — impossible, even I knew that! I even felt guilty for not trying.

Well, decades have come and gone since that day. Over the years I became much more refined and sophisticated, or so I thought. I became a liberal theologian, social activist, and counselor. I even got a couple of degrees in theology and psychotherapy. Maybe I was smart! Yet, somehow, that day in the barn, perched on the edge of the manger, has never left me.

I’ve met a lot of people since then. Some have asked me to join them on a sacred journey into faraway lands, searching for lost treasures. Inevitably, it seems we would walk to their manger. They would tell me secret stories of cries in the night, of shattered dreams, nightmares and demons all too real. Tears from years of pain would flow.

And now I know why: We all have a barn. We all have a hay trough. We all have dirty animal pens. Maybe, just maybe, as we tiptoe quietly down our sacred hallway, we will hear the faint tiny cries of a baby being nursed by its mommy, touched by its daddy.

In this place in our souls where it is dank and dark, frightening and painful, is also where the gentle whisper of wings is heard and stars sing. This is our hay trough … away in our manger….

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