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between-our-steps-12-06-17-double"Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down" was the prayer of an ancient Hebrew poet and wise man known as Isaiah. His prayer reminds us that there are times we feel powerless to bring change, times when we feel God has to tear open the barrier for us to cross, for God's power to make a difference. This got me thinking about the walls that close us in.

Long distance athletes--runners, bikers, swimmers--speak of "hitting the wall," that moment when they have no energy to burn but are still a long way from the finish line. They have to dredge up something to keep going. Working on a project or building a dream, we can "hit the wall." We run out of energy, new ideas, hope when the goal is so far away.

For many in our world today, it feels as if there is an insurmountable wall between them and what they hope for. As I think about Puerto Rico and how much of the electrical grid was destroyed, I wonder if people are hopeful. The list of tasks is so long that it is like a thick high wall between now and a time when light switches and stoves will work again across the island.

I think of places where violence and conflict is endemic. >From Somalia to South Sudan, from Syria to Yemen, the conflicts seem deeply imbedded and impossible to resolve. A wall seems to separate the place people are today from a place of security.

People in countries like that can also feel as if there are walls on all sides of them. The place they are feels like a tiny room without windows or doors, a place where walls trap them, leaving no way out.

Folks in our community feel like that too. Especially in this season when we are supposed to be celebrating, when we are supposed to be buying gifts and lots of holiday food, people who just scrape by can feel trapped. They can't move. They can't join in. It can feel as if the walls are closing in, choking out any hope.

For people who are coping with illness, the wall is sometimes the limit of energy their body can generate. The illness is a barrier they can't get passed. The physical problems can be the walls that shut them away from others, that shut them away from what they long to do, need to do.

For many around us and in our world, the cry that somebody needs to tear down the wall is real. Whether the demand is shouted at God or family, the anguished cry that somebody tear down the wall is real.

The trouble is, the walls are real too. And as much as family want to change things for us, some things are hard to fix. And God doesn't appear with a magic wrecking ball to knock the barriers down.

The Christian Christmas story is about change and hope, about breaking barriers and building new paths, but the story does not offer a dramatic solution. It is a story of "God with us" but there is not a ripping open of the barrier between divine power and human need. Instead, a baby is born in a barn.

The presence of God is found in an unwed mother's child. A refugee family, forced to travel from home, finds no refuge when the mother goes into labour so the child is born in a shelter with the animals. Then, they must flee to a foreign land.

Yet, the story says this is "God with us." This is the way that light and hope and power break into the world. What the story tells us is that the power of change is not the fist but a gentle finger like the one a baby grasps.

As much as we cry out for a dramatic ripping down of the walls, what we are offered, and I think, what we need is the strength that grows on the margins, the power that seeps in through the cracks, the hope of a child who grows to change what they touch.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.


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