An Unforeseen Wonderland

Published: December 24, 2014

Downtime is a necessity. Making time to disconnect from what is routine and connecting with the unknown, foreign. Perhaps reconnecting with a hobby or craft.  Whatever it may be, downtime allows you to be fully present with yourself. Leave everything behind: the smartphone (unless you need to take pictures, of course), the to-do list, the frustrations, the hindrances to you just being you.

Just before Christmas my wife and I took a mini holiday excursion. Amanda is an adjunct instructor at a local university and had just turned in grades for over 150 students, so this excursion was well-anticipated. We left behind our daughter (not alone, of course), dog, laptops, and list of Christmas to-dos, and hopped on a plane to Nashville, Tennessee —  home to good friends, country music, refined eateries (hot chicken and beef cheeks), a full-scale Parthenon, and historic sites. It was actually the first time we have travelled together, just the two of us, since our daughter was born in 2011.

While in Nashville, we took in some sights, ate some delicious entrées in 12South, Midtown, and Hillsdale Village, spent a day with friends, and basically reconnected with the needed elementariness of life – breathing, experiencing, seeing. The evening before our departure, we went to see, for their last time in Nashville, the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at the Grand Ole Opry.

329nativitysAfter stories of Christmas magic presented by Santa Claus and the Rockette’s dancing flair, the auditorium went dark. A narrator came over the sound system and said, “Please allow us to present our interpretation of the greatest story ever told as we remember the hope and goodwill that comes with this season.” As the curtains opened and the prophecy of Isaiah was read, lines of wanderers and animals – donkeys, camels, and sheep – crossed the stage beneath a lone glowing star. Then, as the Lucan birth narrative was read, the manger scene emerged with Mary and Joseph kneeling beside their newborn son. The three wise men arrived, adorned in colorful robes, presenting their gifts as Handel’s “Hallelujah” from the Messiah was sung.

As the “Hallelujahs” rang out from the choir and show goers around me, the audience began to rise to their feet. As they stood, the stage darkened and a small scroll appeared that projected a message about Christ Jesus’ unique personhood, power, and majesty – a reading from “One Solitary Life.”

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the natives that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this one, solitary life.

I, too, slowly rose to my feet, first thinking, “Am I missing something?,” which gave way to a wondrous sense of awe. The theatre had become a storehouse of vulnerability. All around I heard quiet sobbing. I saw amazement in children’s eyes. Families hugged and snuggled closer together. We were all either hearing for the first time or reconnecting with the Christmas story in a new and powerful way.

Colliding, on the Opry stage, was what I had come to Nashville to escape and what I had come to find. Underneath the Bethlehem star, all were joyful about the powerful prophecy coming to life. In front of the Opry stage, all were reminded of the hope that still exists in our communities and world. Amidst the chaos of life, the reality of our communities ravaged by issues of justice and equality, homes torn by abusive relationships, and systems of power left to defend so many without consistent support, there is still a flickering light shining as bright as it was that night centuries ago. Calling us and guiding us as we wander, even if aimlessly at times. Promising us “Emmanuel” – God with us.

May the beauty of that night in Bethlehem continue to break through the darkness of our lives. And when we think something is missing, let us not be afraid to take downtime. You never know what you will find when you go seeking unforeseen wonderlands.

BattenFamily-0084 copyMark Batten
Assistant Director of Admissions Operations and Communications