Reading poetry is one of the ways some of us nourish our faith, a way we set or reset our inner compass and stay focused on the big picture, on the spiritual journey. I know that is true for me. In this monthly column, ‘Setting the Inner Compass,’ I share poems I find nourishing to the soul.

Before I sat down to write this month’s column I went to the bookshelves in our basement and brought up a well-worn paperback copy of the book, The Best Christmas Pageant Eve by Barbara Robinson. The cover is faded, the pages marked with paper clips, sentences are highlighted and sticky notes with arrows are under some paragraphs. On many, many Christmas Eve “Family” services I read from this beat up little paperback that has the price of $2.25 on the cover. Published in 1972, the story of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever reflects a suburban 1950’s America, which means there are gender stereotypes and lack of diversity. The story could/should be re-written to reflect our world in 2021 but the heart of Robinson’s story is good and true. It’s about how ‘outsiders’ the Herdmans, help make Christmas real, more than a “Hallmark holiday”.

The book begins, “The Herdman’s were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.” and ends, “Hey! Unto You a Child is born!” It is a story about how a group of outsiders, the Herdmans, crashed a churches Christmas pageant. In one part of the story, at a rehearsal for the pageant, Imogene Herdman playing the role of Mary has the Jesus baby slung over her shoulder. She thumps it twice on the back before putting it in the manger. This prompts the very proper Alice to say, “I don’t think it’s very nice to burp the baby Jesus as if he had colic.” Alice continues, “Do you suppose he could have had colic?” The child, who is the book’s narrator, responds with one of my favorite passages in the book, “I don’t know why not,” and I didn’t. He could have had colic, or been fussy, or hungry like any other baby. After all, that was the whole point of Jesus-that he didn’t come down on a cloud like something out of “Amazing Comics” but that he was born and lived…a real person. Pretty good theology from a 1972 children’s book!

The heart of Christmas is incarnation, word made flesh. God with us in our sometimes wise and sometimes clueless humanity. I am drawn to people who tell that story using very human/earthy images to talk about Mary and Jesus. Kathleen Norris does this in her poem, “Mysteries of the Incarnation.” She begins the poem with a section called “She Said Yeah”:

“She said yeah,” the Rolling Stones sing from a car on the interstate. “She said yeah.” And the bells pick it up now, saying it to Mechtild the barn cat, pregnant again; to Ephrem’s bluebirds down the draw; to the grazing cattle and the monks (virgins some of them) eating silently before the sexy tongue of a hibiscus blossom at their refractory window. “She said yeah.” And then the angel left her.

She said yeah, what are we being called to say “yeah” to as 2021 shifts to 2022. Mary pregnant with Jesus invites us to ponder what is waiting to be born in our lives.The poem this month is another poem that invites us to imagine Mary, the birth, and the child in a very human way.

Christmas is upon us. I am wondering what is trying to be born in my life and in the life of the community we call church.

Merry Christmas

“When Mary Wept” by Danusha Laméris

She would sink down
into the dirt
behind the house
wetness streaking
her face.
No other child like hers.

He ran wild
always opening his mouth
before strangers.

Sometimes at the well
filling earthen jugs
with water
she thought of the night
she birthed him

the dark smell of hay
filling her lungs
the swirl of stars.

How she had died, then,
disappeared into blackness,
and was born with him,

his crown breaching
the tight seal of her flesh.

What light!
For a moment, she was sunrise
breaking over the horizon.

She was mountains, rivers
a quiet swath of forest
the quick movement of birds.

But now, there was only the crack
of Josephs hammer
hitting dull nails
into a plank of wood

crows circling the carcass of an ewe,
dead that morning
the air hot and still
as held breathe—
the child, where was he?

The Moons of August poems by Danusha Laméris (Autumn house Press, Pittsburgh © 2014). Published here with the authors permission.

Rev. Dave Brown is a writer, creator/host of Blues Vespers, one of the PNW Interfaith Amigos and with Imam Jamal Rahman does programs on authentic Interfaith friendship. Dave is the former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA. He serves on the PCUSA Education Roundtable. (

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