St. Francis invented Live Nativity Scenes


I love Living Nativity Scenes. This Advent, my goal is to try see 4 or 5 of them, inviting friends and family along with me. One of the most extraordinary descriptions in the first biography of St. Francis (written just a few years after his death) is about the Living Nativity which he pulled together. More precisely, he delegated it, like a smart leader, and had a lay man, John, pull together the townspeople of Greccio, plus an ox plus an ass. I try to imagine how spectacular this scene was for folks who loved a good tableau and the occasional entertainers who came to town. I wonder what it was like for John to talk people into letting him borrow their ox for the night. “No, really, we just want to put it on display next to the so-and-so family who has already agreed to depict Jesus, Mary and Joseph for the evening.”

I love when churches put a lot of effort in to these Living Nativity Scenes, sometimes called Live Nativities or other words. Some churches put on a drive-through experience or a walk-through experience. Yes, I will concede that in most cases, a medieval historian was not consulted to get the costumes just right and, in many cases, peoples’ own bathrobes account for most of the costumes, but the sentiment is right and before I criticize other people, I have to remember that THEY are the ones doing it while I did not lift a finger to help.

I hope that you will take some time to find a living nativity in your town. A lot of northerners have told me they’ve never heard of such a thing-poor lambs. I know that in the south here, we have plenty to choose from . Many of them are just a few nights and most of them close shop way before Christmas, so start looking now. Francis and John put together the first Living Nativity Scene because they wanted the scene to come to life for people and for the reality of the incarnation to be more tangible for people who got to go there, huddling against the cold, singing and enjoying the candlelit scene. I hope you jump in the car with some in-laws to check one out near you. It is what St. Francis would do.








After the Gas and Dust Settle

Cone Nebula: Star-forming pillar of gas and dust

This is a photo of a “cone nebula: star-forming pillar of gas and dust” found on the official Hubble website.  As I sat and talked with a friend today, I was overcome with sadness as she told me a story of betrayal and hurt. As we spoke, I needed something to focus on so that I could remain “the strong one”. This something was a series of beautiful photos of space taken by the Hubble space telescope. The photos calmed me and I was able to be strong for her.  From where she is, it seems her world has been reduced to gas and dust. It will be up to her to rebuild it into something even more beautiful.

On the news this morning, I learned of a high school principal who killed himself today. He had organized a trip for his high school students on a ferry which capsized. As I write this, there may yet be survivors. He was overcome with guilt and despair over their deaths and took his own life.  I feel sorry for this guy who must have been tortured for those few hours between being rescued and taking his own life. I also feel sorry for the many who loved him who will now have to grieve him as well as their drowned friends. It must have seemed to him that his world had been reduced to gas and dust.

To relate these to the life of St. Francis (the focal point of this blog), I have to call to mind that Francis had his own moments of feeling his world had been reduced to ashes-to gas and dust.  He disowned his father in front of everybody in town, he spent three years rebuilding crumbling buildings, thinking that was his life’s calling, he lived a vacuous life of drinking and using people before his conversion, he had visions and heard God’ s voice and saw doors open and shut for him where he least expected them. I can’t say something cute like that we will all rise like the phoenix, but I can recommend a book I just read called The Other Side of Chaos by Margaret Silf. In it, she helps the reader remember that there is, on the other side of this gas and dust, something to look forward to. There is life after the chaos.  I never had an astronomy or cosmology class (although I did get my hair cut this week at a cosmetology school), but I like to look at the photos of stuff way out there in space. I guess this photo is what a star looks like before it becomes a star. I guess that, as Silf mentions in her book, even the very act of creation is described in our Christian sacred texts as order coming from chaos, gas and dust becoming elements and grains of sand and dinosaur cornea (I wonder if any of them were nearsighted as I am and what that meant for their survival rates).  I don’t have anything cutesy to say here, except to echo Margaret Slif and the image in this photo: after the gas and dust settle or dissipate, we can expect to find some order, although things will never look the way they once looked.