The church my family attended while I was in elementary school was at the corner of several county roads, surrounded by barns and cornfields and little else.
What the area lacked in any kind of established neighborhood or easily-accessible commerce, it made up for in space for a school-aged boy and his brother to play and indulge the imagination. We lived in the parsonage a few hundred yards up a hill that was perfect for sledding and a wide open yard for all kinds of games.
This space always seemed to invite reflection for me in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The stories of shepherds in the fields took on a special meaning for me as I'd stand atop our hill, the snow falling around me, and I'd survey the fields surrounding us thinking of what it could have been like for them. Middle Eastern fields probably aren't much for corn, but the openness and silence told me something of what they could have known on a typical night before receiving their message from On High.
In the evening as the lights on distant phone towers began their slow blinking, I'd think of the star eventually making itself known to Magi, however many of them there actually were. These certainly weren't actual celestial bodies, but my younger self could pretend they were in order to make something of their journey come to life.
My first pastorate was a setting similar to these childhood years. We didn't have a good sledding hill, but we had a church and a parsonage on county roads surrounded by fields. We even had cellphone towers, one almost literally in our backyard, blinking away the night hours. It was a place that easily called back those earlier imaginings about shepherds and Magi trying to find their way, seeking signs of where they were meant to be going.
I always found a private joy in these imagined incarnations of the story. Those fields helped make it real to me. There was a certain loneliness that I felt in those years, where I was content to explore the tamed wilderness around my house. I knew something of passing the time in fields, and could relate to that part of the story. There was something of finding my way in open spaces that made sense to me.
My last two houses have been set in the midst of neighborhoods. You have to take a drive to find fields like what I used to know. But I still carry those fields within me, attempting to know where I am and where I'm going, especially when there's no easy indicator of what direction I'm meant to face.
The towers, however, are easier to come by; we have one that is visible from our house. It's a small, silly thing, but I can watch that faithful red light wink in the night, and still know that Someone beyond myself is leading the way.