“Do you ever feel like a stuffed sheep?” Saint John of the mall said.
It was the strangest question for the week before Christmas. Actually, it’s a strange question for any time. But I struggled to make sense of what he was asking.
My head was full of thoughts about the gift list (Is there enough? Is it the right stuff? Is it thoughtful enough?) and the gatherings (What are we supposed to remember? How can we be fully present?) and the projects (Can I work fast enough to make up for a couple days off? What am I going to be doing after this job is done in a month?)
“I do feel stuffed,” I said. “My head and heart are racing like they always do this time of year. Christmas isn’t something I look forward to; it’s something I look forward to being over.”
John looked at me closely. “You don’t like Christmas? Not at all? Not ever? Nothing about it?”
I sighed. “I could start into one of my little joking rants about the pressure, but for once, I’ll answer that question. There is a moment during the Christmas Eve service each year when I realize that the church work of Christmas is done. I don’t have to worry about measuring up for work. And we don’t have to be around other people. And I have a brief moment where the achingly beautiful idea of God loving people and plunging into the mundanity of daily life just hits me.”
I waited for John to say something. But he just kept looking at me.
“In that moment, I want to give gifts. I want to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ I want to tell people that I love them. I want to cry. Because there is, in that moment, a glimpse that life could be filled with an abundance of, something. Something other than my self-absorbed struggles with measuring up.”
I stopped. I suddenly realized that I was sitting, crying, in the play area of a mall with Nancy and some old guy who looked like he’d been living in exile.
It was good that there weren’t any kids. And that mall-walkers are good at keeping to themselves.
Except the guy who looks like Santa.
“Sorry.” I said. But I knew that Nancy knows. I tried to change the subject “So why the thing about stuffed sheep?”
John pointed across the hallway at the Build-A-Bear shop. “That’s a store that’s all about stuffing empty puppets with fluff to make them look fun for kids who want something inanimate to fill a space in their hearts. And it reminded me of a time that Jesus was talking about sheep and their relationship to their shepherd. He takes care of them. He knows them and they know him. They know his voice.”
He shook his head. “The religious leaders completely missed the metaphor. Jesus was talking about his own sheep. And then he said, ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’ So it made me wonder whether you ever felt like a sheep filled with abundant life.”
He smiled. “It sounds to me,” he said, “That sometimes you actually get that glimpse. Have you ever thought about stopping stuffing yourself with fluff and actually living?”
From Saint John of the Mall.