Christmas Eve 2020
Some fifteen or so years ago, I was fortunate to travel to the island of Lefkada, off the mainland of Greece, with a group of good friends. Lefkada, then, was still a mostly rural part of Greece where the village women wore black shawls and carried firewood on the backs of donkeys and the men sat in small cafes drinking strong black coffee or ouzo. The father of my friend who had arranged the trip had been a Political Science professor at a local university before his death, and one of the visitors to our villa had been a protégé of his. Miltose was a self-proclaimed communist and atheist who was intrigued by the first Americans he had met, surprised that none of us was fat.
As our time continued on the island, Miltose, in his late 30’s, became a daily visitor. He enjoyed taking the guys out to a small nearby café, introducing them to the locals, and buying rounds of ouzo while he discussed politics, democracies, socialism, and communism. He was the last to leave our gathering on our final night in the villa, and that was the last I saw of Miltose, but not the last I heard of him.
One day while he was visiting, our group was lounging by the pool, and Miltose noticed the silver cross I was wearing on a chain around my neck, a gift from a dear friend. He asked me if I was a Christian, and I replied yes. I also shared with him that not only was I a Christian, but I was also a female minister, and a Protestant. I do not believe I will ever forget the shock on Miltose’s sun-bronzed face. The combination was too much for him, the Greek Orthodox Church having been his only brush with religion.
But then, Miltose began to ask me questions, mainly about the God I worshipped and why I believed in such fairy tales. I cannot recall my exact answers, but I do know the Light gave me the words to talk about relationship: how the Creator desired to be in relationship, in covenant, with the Created so much so that the Creator deigned to be born among us in order to experience what we experience and to reveal the face of Love. Believing, I told Miltose, was not about swallowing doctrine meant to contain God in a box, but accepting the invitation to be a part of that relationship with God, the Light, the Creator, itself. I’m not sure how much Miltose understood or accepted what I was saying, but when he mentioned the cross around my neck again, I took it off and offered it to him. Simply a memento to remind him of a relationship he had discovered with a group of crazy Americans and a woman he couldn’t quite comprehend. At first he resisted, but then Miltose accepted the cross and he put it around his neck. He wore it throughout the rest of our visit.
A month or so after our trip, I received a package in the mail, a complete surprise from a Greek man, a communist and atheist, named Miltose. When I unwrapped it, I discovered an ornate, beautiful, and expensive icon of Mary and the infant Jesus. There was no note, other than, “from Miltose.” The label on the back reads: “Precise copy of old Byzantine icon, on canvas with authentic agiography colors, inalterable in time. Made of pure silver, worked by traditional artists.” I wrote him a thank you note but never heard from him again.
If the Incarnation of the Light, the arrival of God among us, means anything at all, it means relationship. It means to be in loving and compassionate relationship with ourselves and all those different parts of us. It means to be in loving and compassionate relationship with our neighbors, whoever they may be, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, Communists, rich, poor, black, white, believers or unbelievers. It means to be in loving and compassionate relationship with the Source of all Light, the Source of all Love, God, however we envision that God to be. Relationship is the invitation that the Light, “inalterable in time,” offers in the darkness of ourselves and our world. This season, this journey, means nothing if we “behave” for one day and then pack it all up to be pulled out next year. It means everything if we are open to accepting that relationship and joining our light with The Light.
Thank you for being in relationship with me on this journey toward the Light. My hope has been that whoever you are, wherever you find yourselves, you may know that the Light shines for you and within you. Blessings to each of you.