I've been thinking a lot about things and people that I miss (especially around the holidays), things that have changed, things I'm unhappy about (yes, there are some even though I don't blog about them), the fact that the living room won't stay cleaned (it's a living room), and the general imperfection that always seems to interfere and mess up the perfect life I always thought I was somehow entitled to.
Shepherds Abiding is full of imagery of things imperfect, broken, less than ideal. One-winged angels, families with missing siblings, lost letters, and, central to it all, an antique Nativity set that Father Tim is restoring as a Christmas present for his wife.
In a nice touch of irony, as Father Tim is consulting Botticelli paintings to choose the perfect colours for angels' robes, the ailing and rather simple-minded old man down the street is also making a present for his own wife: a wooden tray for her jewelery, with handles swiped from the kitchen cabinets. Both gifts are welcomed and loved.
The book is about restoring, repairing, finding what has been lost, and reconciling the past and the present. And even about extending grace from unexpected quarters: another couple sit "in their twin recliners" in front of a fake fireplace that "featured a forty-watt bulb that flowed through a revolving sheet of red cellophane." The wife opens a gift from a neighbour and recognizes something that she herself donated to a rummage sale "a hundred years ago."
"And to think I gave her a two-layer marmalade [cake]" [she said.]It's about finding peace, mystery and wonder at Christmas in whatever place in the story you happen to be...understanding that God is allowing you to be a part of it all...whether your life is about Renaissance angels, or recliners, or somewhere in between.
"Th' poor woman has a gimp leg, Esther, which don't leave much room for shoppin'. Besides, why did you put it in th' Bane an' Blessin'? It looks perfectly good to me."
"Well, yes," said Esther, examining it more carefully. "After I put it in, I wished I hadn't."
"See?" said her husband, hammering down on a couple of cashews. "What goes around comes around."
It's about allowing some living room.