Finding Christmas: Stories of Startling Joy and Perfect Peace
What a Christmas delight!
This thin volume (maybe a stocking stuffer?) starts right off with a preface that itself is a first-person story about a professor riding a university shuttle bus on a brrrrr cold day. Author James Calvin Schaap is a professor in Iowa, so the book’s setting seems to be his own. The tale prominently features the conversation (or is it a monologue?) of the vehicle’s brash driver. The passenger notes:
“I take a seat up front, one of the only ones left. I’ve been in her presence for all of ten seconds, but I’ve no trouble knowing why that’s the only seat left: everyone else has taken cover.”
By the end of the story, the bus driver has provided the narrator with a parable illustrating the miracle of the Incarnation. The preface has won me over. I’m ready to turn the page and read the seven fictional stories, most of which are told in the third person.
The lineup starts with the obligatory Christmas pageant story “Forgetting Jesus.” The twist this time is that no one remembers to bring a baby doll for Mary to cradle. It’s good, but keep reading. The second story, “Facts of Life,” is more satisfyingly complex. The plot focuses on two school cafeteria workers, each a grandmother to a student who comes through the cafeteria line. But the child thinks she has only one grandmother; she doesn’t know anything about her generational relationship with Mrs. Worth. The third story is also a little messy in terms of family dynamics. Julia’s 15-year-old daughter is pregnant. Now what?
Parents and grandparents play central roles in Schaap’s Christmas stories. I particularly liked “Finding Something” about a widowed mother’s Christmas visit to the home of her uncomfortably well-to-do daughter and family. Over the years, the mother has repeatedly asked the question “Have you found a suitable church?” The daughter’s answer is always, “We’ve not found anything, Mom.” This year she takes it a step further: “Have you been looking?” In desperation, Mother prays, “Make it so that everywhere they look they see Jesus.” A story titled “Fist Cry in a Stable” gives the impression that it’s about another Christmas pageant, but it’s really about a girl and the animals in her barn.
James Calvin Schaap is a fantastic storyteller (his historical novel TOUCHES THE SKY is a superb read as well). These stories are reminiscent of Katherine Paterson’s short story collection, ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS (although Schaap makes no claim to be including any angelic characters in his cast). If you need something special to do on the downtime of Christmas evening, do yourself a favor and read FINDING CHRISTMAS.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011