I have what in the equestrian world is called the, “horse gene.” But unlike most horse crazy girls who grow out of it as they hit adolescence, the passion for me has remained. Even though most think of the birth of Jesus taking place in a barn as a humiliating mark of poverty, for me it never seemed like such a bad idea. I remember skipping lunch as a teenager so as to save nickels and dimes for my dream horse, a dream that took 20 years to be realized when I turned 34. That’s when Peter and I purchased a little liver red chestnut Morgan mare named Antonia. Even though my professional calling as a pastor has taken me to inner city settings like Philadelphia, the South Bronx and working with the homeless in New Haven, Connecticut, finding a few moments throughout the week to retreat to the barn has always been my solace. Some women choose to get their hair done or go shopping for their therapy, for me, there is no better tension buster than mucking out a dirty stall.
In her younger days, Antonia was quite ornery and full of life. It was more than a few times that I took a spill off her back. But now I’m 57 and Antonia will soon be 28. In many ways we are growing old together. My hair turning grey and her beautiful dappled liver red chestnut coat now turning into a red roan with all the white hairs mixed in. But with one people year equaling three horse years, I am painfully aware that my snorting, bucking little mare is now much older than me. Close to 90 years old. I wish I could slow the aging process down, but I just can’t. Though my visits to the barn used to be much more task oriented, focusing on tacking her up to ride, now I am content just to groom her and stands by her side, stroking her beautiful neck while I watch her graze. Many horse people will sell their horses when they get close to 20 so as to buy a younger model, but not me. Antonia and I are joined at the hip, literally. There is an incredible bond between a horse and their rider because of the way the two bodies become literally one when you ride together so as to move together.
Even though I read my share of theological books and periodicals, I do get a couple of horsey magazines each month. And in the midst of articles about hoof problems and the latest training techniques was this incredible article about Advent. An article about Advent in a horse and rider magazine? Yes! A talented writer shared in my latest magazine her love of this season of Advent that is upon us now. She also shared how her beloved, “Moose,” a Percheron/Thoroughbred gelding cross for whom she rescued from a trip to a meat market at age 2, had just recently died at the age of 27. She was lamenting in her article what a hard year it had been for her, emotionally, with the loss of her beloved, “Moose,” as well as financially with a number of big costing repairs around her barn. She was intentionally paring back on Christmas costs and decided to decorate her home naturally with pine boughs and holly branches from her surrounding fields.
As she was out in her pasture busy cutting branches from trees and bushes, the sun reflected in the shrubs on something shining and white. She reached in and to her amazement pulled out a beautiful little bird’s nest, and there perfectly woven into the twigs and branches was the distinguishing grey tail hairs of her beloved, “Moose”. As the author cradled what she called a gift from God in her hands, tears began spilling down her cheeks.
Yes, as this season of Advent begins, this new cycle of the church year, we are all reminded of the cycle of life. That in the midst of this relentless cycle of being young and ever so slowly day in, day out, growing old, we are invited to enter into our greatest gift during this season of Advent. The gift of a babe born in a manger bed that is constantly and miraculously being born into our hearts and lives though many surprises. Like the beauty of a bird’s nest or any of the amazing miracles of life that Christ sends our way each day. The key as we hear throughout this season of Advent, is to be awake and alive so as to experience the miracle of the birth of God’s love that is happening all around us.
Pastor Janell Wigen