What if?

Morris Ertman
December 7, 2011

Monday night we partnered with Heritage Park in a Christmas celebration fundraiser called Christmas in Alberta through the generosity of Dick and Lois Haskayne. I've been encouraged to share what I shared that evening by way of story/conversation. The event took place in Gasoline Alley, a beautiful facility with a glorious collection of restored antique cars, trucks, gas pumps and signage.

Let me mention

one or two things about Christmas.

Of course you've all heard

that the animals talk

at midnight: a particular elk, for instance,

kneeling at night to drink, leaning tall to pull leaves

with his soft lips, says, alleluia.

That the soil and freshwater lakes

also rejoice,

as do products

such as sweaters

(nor are plastics excluded from grace),

is less well known.

Further: the reason for some silly looking fishes,

for the bizarre mating

of certain adult insects,

or the sprouting, say

in a snow tire

of a Rocky Mountain grass,

is that the universal

loves the particular,

that freedom loves to live

and live fleshed full,


and in detail.

from Feast Days, by Annie Dillard

We’re standing in a building full of old wonders that have been restored to their new and shiny glory. Some of these old trucks and cars were just rusty heaps used to ferry crops, kids, husbands and wives through the day-to-day of their lives. There was probably a moment of wonder when Dad and Mom drove the new car or truck into the yard. Everyone went for a ride. And then gradually over the years, the extraordinary became ordinary, denting and scratching and wearing itself out in the everyday of a family’s life. There’s a row of tractors across the street from the Opera House in Rosebud. Every showtime intermission people gather round them, remembering hard times and good times - all contained in the machined and painted bodies of those old farm implements. It’s as if the past meets the present like presents from the past breaking through time, making them all young again. What if camels from 2000 years ago really did appear on the off-ramp to Chinook Mall? What if there really are angels on the hills surrounding Rosebud? What if all these restored cars and trucks that drove people to Christmas Eve church services and turkey dinners could speak the conversations that happened between people on those magical nights? What if there really was a child born of a Virgin? What if it could happen again? What if every child born is part of that same mystery, born to walk into some kind of wonderful divine destiny that nobody knows, except maybe the Creator of Life. What if every mother and father’s hopes and dreams are met in their children on the day of their birth, on Christmas day and all the other days that they wait at the bus stop for the return of their children from school, sitting at High School and College graduations, walking down the aisle on wedding days, picking up after brand new grandchildren, and more. What if it’s all some kind of mysterious life dance where the Creator of the Universe gives a cycle of days and nights, years and lives lived in houses and neighborhoods with pots and pans, cars and trucks, camels and mangers and shepherd staffs. What if all of it lives on in some kind of glorious aurora borealis of light that comes and goes at will - breathtaking reminders of mysteries we don’t understand, not even scientists who go home to their houses full of pots and pans and dishwashers full of after Christmas dinner celebration that work because someone figured out the magic of electricity and motors and those plastic arms that swish water around so that everything comes out clean. What if everything we see everyday is a miracle?

We Rosebud folk believe in such stuff. We’ve met people who have actually seen angels. We tell stories about people whose lives have been changed from the inside out. We make food in a kitchen filled with pots and pans and gadgets that hold mysterious combinations of spices and flavor that mingle with the bounty that comes from farmer’s fields where giant machines gobble up stalks of grain and spit out the seeds into big bins leaving the straw behind to rot into the food for next year’s crop. At night, in the fall, you can see mysterious slow moving lights all across the prairie. They move in concentric circles, two at a time, always in concert. And when you’re in the Rosebud valley looking up at the hills above, those lights move with purpose against a starlit sky. It makes it easy for a person to believe in Wise Men and camels and a heavenly light that moved over the earth - and maybe even angels appearing in the night sky, bearing the good news about a child who will change the world for the sake of love.

Annie Dillard’s Feast Days ends with ...

God empties himself

into the earth like a cloud.

God takes the substance, contours

of a man, and keeps them,

dying, rising, walking,

and still walking wherever there is motion.

What if?

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Morris Ertman