Saturday, December 19, 2009

The O.C.D. Inn Keeper and His Special Guests

Hey, take a break from the cookies, from the wrapping, from the shopping.  Go get yourself a  spicy cup of Holiday tea, some hot  coffee, whatever warms you. Sit back and enjoy a little  story I wrote for fun and an answer to my own writing challenge (for my writing group).  We all know the Christmas story and the "stars of the show."  But what about those "extras?"  We see how Christ' birth excited the world,  in both a glorious way;  unto the shepherds and the wise men and also in a threatening way as to Herod's bloody rampage.  I didn't name my character here; let's call him "Pragmatus"... (root word meaning skilled, busy, businessman)... How did the birth of a baby play into this Innkeepers  busy life?  

Business had been so slow yet still tedious, like trying to count the stars on a hot summer night.  My uncle kept watch over the books, and he was to inform me that my humble establishment, my Inn, was just breaking even.  He suggested that I cut back on the fine meals I try to serve my traveling guests, but that is actually the part I enjoy the best; that will not be happening.  I am located on the outskirts of Bethlehem, a little far from the market place and even farther still from the synagogue.  My Inn has been in the family since Grandfather inherited it from a debtor many years ago, but I have been the sole proprietor now for the last thirty years or so.  Grandfather still resides in the front room where he sits and spies on visitors, commenting to himself about Samaritans and idol worshippers.  I have tried to convince the old man that to be successful sometimes meant allowing all travelers to have safe haven for a night or two.  It didn't mean we would be taken in by their godlessness; but that we would profit from their silver just as well.  Grandfather remained the skeptic.   

My wife had died in childbirth, the baby as well.  I was thankful to have my grandfather to still look after and this little place, for if that were not the case, I am sure I would have been swept away by some caravan coming through town.  My own father had abandoned me many years ago seeking his own fortune.  So I kept myself very busy, not thinking of the love I had been denied most my whole life.  I did not have friends, rarely went to temple, and any time I spent away from the Inn was when I was at the marketplace.  Here, I was the cook, greeter, housekeeper and nurse to my grandfather.  He was way into his nineties now and I knew from his feebleness that soon I would have to say my goodbyes---but that was not today.  Today, Grandfather would be reacquainting with old friends and telling exaggerated stories. Many people would be arriving in town to register for the census, to return to their town of birth.  It was just one more way Caesar would pillage more of our hard earned money from us. Many places in town raised their price to take advantage of the many returning families, but my wife always had such a rare honesty about her, especially when it came to people.  She would have not approved and I respected her for that.  I liked to have a reputation for my fine meals, and there is where the real money was to be made.  Out back I had a few animals in my two barns and a small grazing field.  Here, you would get fresh vegetables from my own garden and the kebabs of lamb were sweet and delicate.  No one could resist once the smell of my suppers wafted into the afternoon breezes.

It was mid morning and I was in the smaller of my two stables checking on the hay supply and the donkeys belonging to some of my borders. I even tried to make the animals as comfortable as possible for some of them had made long journeys as well.  As I was busying myself with the tasks, something very powerful came over me. This presence or feeling was in my feet and my fingertips, yet it seemed to be centered in my my soul...I was not fearful yet I knew I was not alone.  I knew this was something good.  Often when I wasn't keeping myself busy enough, I thought about my wife and son and an achy loneliness would come upon me, a feeling that would sometimes leave me prostrate, devastated to the core until my knees buckled.  Time had eased those moments, or had I just replaced them with my obsessive and sometimes compulsive ways of running this Inn?  Well, only God that was another mystery.  A loving God did not exactly exist in my world.  God was a taker.  What was I feeling, what is happening?  Why all of a sudden were my thoughts on God, an entity I really did not understand and chose to turn from. God was for the old Jewish men, forever stuck in their “customs and traditions.” 

As I looked around the stable, there was this calm.  Even the animals seemed mesmerized by this same awareness I was feeling.  Then I watched as one by one each of the donkeys lowered himself to the ground.  The newborn lamb carefully buckled her already wobbly little legs and lay still, close to her mother who was not making any “bleating” sound whatsoever. The cow stood still as if at attention, not even a swish of her tail.  I was still not afraid but filled with an awe I could not understand, like I was seeing something beautiful for the very first time and understanding what true beauty was. Maybe I have died,  yes, that must be it…the heart just gave out here in the barn and…no not right now, I can’t leave the Inn right now… and besides, this feels good. I am sure God would want to deal with my attitude towards Him first…  Peace…that is what I felt…real peace for the first time in my life.

That feeling that something was moving all around me continued.  I felt something gently brush my face, and I felt as if I was being held close, like a blanket of love.  Suddenly, a pure white dove flew down from the rafters above, swooping down and landing on a manger I had just filled with fresh hay. That was it, the dove.  It must have spooked the animals a bit, that’s why they were acting so strange.  I continued cleaning and raking the hay evenly throughout the little stable but with a new refreshment, anticipating tonight’s supper and chores.

That evening as I checked in on all of my borders, satisfied that the Inn was full and contemplating my busy morning preparing their meals, I heard a commotion downstairs.  “What was Grandfather doing up so late into the evening?” Rounding the corner, I saw them; a young man with a woman, she looking somewhat in distress.  As I approached the couple I could see that she was with child, and most possible at her given time.  This couple needed a room and they needed one tonight.  Had they traveled from far to come here to Bethlehem? They told me of their search in town, how there were no rooms, how they were sadly turned away.  Could I please help them out? The door to my Inn was left ajar and I felt the evening winds push it open more. The dove from this morning came flying through the opening, landing in the niche behind me. 

“I only can provide you with my barn, but the hay is clean.  I can bring you many blankets and provide fresh water from my well.”

“Thank you, kind sir.  I am Joseph.  We will settle here, in your barn, for Mary, my wife…her time will soon be here.”

I normally would have had mixed feelings, sad memories, but again, I was feeling love, feeling purpose, feeling peace. I knew this couple was special somehow and they would remember my hospitality.   I have got to get that dirty bird out of here before it makes a mess on things…

I led the couple to my barn, supplied them with fresh blankets and warmed water from my fire stove and also some broth I had left over from supper time. Then I left them to their privacy.  As I lay down myself that night, for the first time since my childhood, I asked God to be with this young couple, and I felt that same peace. 

A beautiful baby boy was born that starry night in my barn.  Somehow, I knew the experience I had had earlier in the morning was connected and that God had heard my prayer.  That peace was still there, holding its ground on the slippery slope that once was my heart.  My Grandfather’s last breaths would come that early spring.  I thought that would have been my reason to be free, but I had already gained freedom the night that baby was born in my stable. I learned about myself that night.  It wasn’t my circumstances that were keeping me obsessive and controlling.  It wasn’t that God had left me and gone somewhere else. The wall of bitterness was built brick by brick by me, measured out in a perfect little circle around my heart.  I now know that when I stepped into the stable that day, God met me there. He loosened up the mortar, but I was the one who began to break apart the bricks.  That baby changed my purpose. I continued to be the best Inn proprietor I could be, staying instead of fleeing as I had planned when Grandfather died.  I was able to say prayers with him and share a few temple gatherings which allowed him to let go, have peace himself.  He could see that I had made peace with my real Father as well. 

So here I am, an old man myself now, still welcoming strangers who need rest, nourishing hungry travelers and helping guide many along to their next journey. So come, come feel the love born here.  It is for the entire world to share, and there will always be room for you here, at the "Holiday Inn".

P.S.  In further research, maybe our Inn Keeper's name was Thaddeus.  Let's say   " Pragmatus" was  his middle name.  



  1. Love this story.
    Blessings to you and yours....Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with many blessings.
    Grammy Girlfriend