The Sheep, On Christmas Eve

MANY OF YOU may have grown up with ‘story pictures’ in your mind about Jesus, imagining that he was born in a crude stable, like the cardboard ones you can buy as Christmas decorations at Walmart.

But what if I told you there’s more to the story, if you look a little deeper?  As a sheep, I would like you to understand my role at the nativity as more than a passive, fluffy bystander. For me it was a date with destiny.

Please don’t think I am going to give you a boring history lesson, I just want you to have a fuller understanding of what happened near Bethlehem that night, long ago. You’ve probably never heard of the Mishnah (which means repetition). It is the oral record of the laws of the Jewish people that forms the basic textbook of Jewish life and thought, and is considered to be part of the Torah, revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai.  It is in the Mishnah that the Midgal Edar is mentioned; the Tower of the Flock. (The Targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanak) which was written during Israel’s seventy year captivity in Babylon. It is written in the language that Jesus, and others at the time of his birth would have spoken.)

Just outside Bethlehem, Midgal Edar, the watch Tower of the Flock was known to Jews as a place where the prophecy of Micah, 800 years before, foretold the birth of the Messiah.

And you, O tower of the flock, The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, Even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.Micah 4:8

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. ~Micah 5:2

The bible tells us in Luke that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, of Judah in the city of David.

Just outside of Bethlehem city, but still within the region commonly known as Bethlehem, there was a place where Passover lambs were kept by specially trained and purified shepherds. The lambs that were born in this “tower of the flock” known as Migdal Edar, were under the watchful eye of the shepherds who would then inspect and either certify them for use as sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem or designate them to be released for common use. The new lambs would even be wrapped in special swaddling clothes once certified, and lay in mangers, or dips in a rock, to keep them safe.

This explains how, when the heavenly host of angels appeared to announce Christ’s birth, the shepherds knew where to go to find the newborn babe — and why the babe being wrapped in swaddling clothes was  a significant clue. It explains why those shepherds were notified as it was their holy calling to certify Passover lambs upon birth.

I hope you don’t think I lack humility, but I want you to know I am not from just any flock and herd. The shepherds who kept us were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. They were educated in what an animal, that was to be sacrificed for Passover, had to be, “firstborn male and without blemish,” and it was their job to make sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged, or blemished.

Under Rabbinical care, our shepherds strictly maintain a ceremonially clean stable for our birthing place. Our shepherds customarily keep the flock outdoors twenty-four hours a day every day of the year, but bring the ewes in to deliver their lambs where they can be carefully cared for. It was to this place that Joseph took Mary. It was in this special place at “Migdal Edar” that Christ was born near the famous Inn that had no room for them.

In the Christian bible (Luke 2:8-18) scripture tells that there were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. Who were these shepherds? I hope my story helps you to understand that they were special shepherds who were well aware that the Targum hinted, and many of the rabbis taught, that Messiah might well be announced from our “Migdal Edar” at Bethlehem.

The angels only told the shepherds that they would find the Babe wrapped in “swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” There was no need for the angels to give these shepherds directions to the birth place because they already knew. When the angelic announcement came, they knew exactly where to go.

Lucky me. My mother had just given birth to me and we were still in the special birthing space beneath the watch Tower of the Flock when Joseph and Mary arrived. Beside me, the baby Jesus, the long awaited Messiah was born. Just like me, he was wrapped in the softest, purest, snow-white swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, right beside mine, where my mother sat watching.

Like the rest of the world, it is a night we will never forget.

I hope you enjoy knowing a little bit more about the history of my role, as a humble sheep in the nativity. We each have our role to play. I hope you enjoy yours.  I wish blessed holy days, holidays to you all.


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Free Up Your Pen

If you live near Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada you might want to attend the first public Transformative Life Writing course offered in several years, at Mc Nally Robinson Booksellers, Community Classroom, starting Tuesday May 24 7-9:30 p.m. Details appear below.
If you’d prefer an e-course version, just let us know.

Free Up Your Pen!

Whether you have been writing for years or something is holding you back from where you’d like to go next, give your words new wings in safe, hands on, “no red pens” class.

Each week explore a separate creative channel to enrich your writing and your life by entering the realms of MOMENTS, IMAGINATION, MEMORY, and AND INSPIRATION.

Based on the book Tools of Transformation – Write your way to new worlds of possibility in just 5 minutes.  This special offering is limited to 10 people

Instructor Joanne Klassen is founder of Heartspace Writing School, home of Transformative Life Writing™ with centres in North America and Europe. Her stories appear in the 101 Best Chicken Soup for the Soul Stories; her books have been translated into Greek and Russian.  Joanne’s joy is igniting passion and fresh pathways for life writing.

Dates: Tuesdays May 24, 31, June 7, 14     Time:    7:00 – 9:30 p.m.        Cost:  $225

Place: Mc Nally Robinson, Community Classroom, Grant Park Shopping Centre

Register in advance: or by phone at 204-475-0483 or in person at McNally Robinson Booksellers 1120 Grant Avenue in the Grant Park Shopping Centre. All classes take place in the Community Classroom inside McNally Robinson.

Contact: Barb King, Manager of Community Programs, McNally Robinson Booksellers            204-453-0424 ext. 250 

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Be Aware, and take care out there

Careful, Corduroy

© Joanne Klassen

Quote of the Week

Awareness is Power; the power to choose, the power to change, the power to create, and the power to appreciate. –Heartspace Writing School Motto


What does awareness mean to you?  What words might you use to describe awareness? What do you think makes awareness a powerful force?


When my grandson Ben was a toddler, his mom, my daughter Tiffany, would read to him each day.  A favorite character in his library was a little bear named Corduroy who was very curious.  Corduroy had lots of adventures and found himself in scrapes such as getting lost in a department store; losing a button on his overalls.  The narrator of the book would say, “Careful, Corduroy.”

When Ben was learning to climb down stairs, Tiffany cautioned him, “Careful, Corduroy.” He heard her, paused and proceeded with caution.  I watched and decided that this was “news I could use.”  I began to slow myself down to be more aware with the worlds, “Careful, Corduroy,” as if giving a reminder to my own curious, and often unaware, inner child.

Recently I was rushing to a meeting and feeling tense.  As I tried to fit my car into a small parking space on a busy street, I told myself, “Careful, Corduroy.”  This moment of awareness allowed me to smile, relax and glide into the parking space.


I see awareness as a doorway that opens up new possibilities for me.  With this gentle little phrase I become aware, am able to choose to proceed with caution, change my frame of mind and appreciate the moment.


  • Writing Exercise
    In what area of your life could you use a “Careful, Corduroy,” reminder today?
  • Write Freestyle for J5M (Just 5 Minutes). Notice what you become aware of.
  • Is there something you can choose to change to create a different approach, one you can appreciate even more?

Good wishes as you write-away,

Joanne Klassen, November 15, 2011

Winnipeg, MB

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Springboards to Insight

Springboards to Insight

© Joanne Klassen

Quote of the Week

Write your pain–it will subside.

Write your pleasure–it will grow.

Write your name on every page

Write when it is the last thing you should be doing.

  ~David Elias, Writer, Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada


  • What is the best thing that writing does for you?
  • What propells you to the page to write?
  • What keeps you from taking time to write?
  • How can you trim time from routine tasks to free up time to devote to writing?


Once upon a winter time, a few years ago, I had grown positively cranky about how little time I was finding to write–which is one of my favorite activities. There were Christmas cards to buy, write, and mail on top of all the family preparations for the holidays.  Then I saw a sign I had made peeking out of a stack of papers waiting to be organized.  It said:

Who says I have to do this? These words were a springboard to greater insight about the things I do without examining their relative importance in my current situation.  My mother had sent Christmas cards to over a hundred people each year. Did I need to follow in her footsteps?  My husband read the daily newspaper each morning, but did I need to continue the habit in my own routine? The answer to both these questions was NO.

When I gave myself permission to stop buying, writing and sending Christmas cards, my husband Ted and I co-wrote a holiday letter which we each emailed to the people we wanted to stay in touch with at the end of the year.  We have continued this and my stress level around the month of December is much less.  I also stopped reading the daily newspaper and devote that extra 30minutes to writing most days. I am more cheerful and productive with something I value. There really has been no downside. In fact, we stopped getting the newspaper delivered and Ted reads it on the computer, so the trip to the recycling box is another task that doesn’t need attention.

Consider several versions of the sentence that I used as a springboard to insight:

  • WHO says I have to do this?
  • Who says I have to do this?
  • Who says I have to do this?
  • Who says I have to do this?
  • Who says I have to do this?
  • Who says I have to do this?

This sentence triggers insight that me to see patterns in my behaviour and routines with a more expansive eye to possibilities for change.

The motto for Heartspace Writing School, home of Transformative Writing, is AWARENESS IS POWER: The power to choose; the power to change; the power to create; and the power to appreciate. Springboards are like the diving board at the deep end of the pool, they can propell our thinking away from the safety of remaining on the board, into the water where where we enter the swim of things that are much more rewarding than hanging out in the safe zone.

Writing Exercise
In what area of your life could you use a  reminder to re-evaluate the importance of time consuming, “not terribly rewarding,”  safe or routine activities or tasks?

  • Write Freestyle for J5M (Just 5 Minutes). Notice what you become aware of.
  • Is there something you can choose to change to create a different approach, one that will give you more time for important things–like writing?
  • My best wishes as you write-away,

Joanne Klassen, January 13, 2012Winnipeg, MB Canada See Tools of Transformation, by Joanne Klassen at

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Where do you find inspiration?

Lake SuperiorI’m not sure why, but my clearest thoughts, broadest visions and greatest flashes of inspiration come when I’m near large bodies of water.

Do you have a particular natural setting that opens these channels for you? 

For just five minutes (J5M) write about a natural place of nurture or sanctuary you have known, a place where you have found inspiration. Begin with a single object or sensory detail.

What?  So what?  Now what? – Full Circle Writing

I believe that each session of Transformative Writing  can offer us a gift, or the potential of “news we can use.”  The first five minutes probably covered the first of the three questions Full CircleWriting, the question of What. 

To extend the personal value of the writing you just did, write about the second phase, So what?  Here you explore the significance of the image or memory you wrote about to your life today. What might this be a reminder of or a link for deeper insight or understanding to something happening in your life now?  

Now what? This is the last phase of Full Circle Writing in which we examine the gift in what we’ve written and how we will use this gift to enrich this moment, this day, this particular time of life.

A Personal Example

WHAT? – There is a rose quartz boulder on the shore of Lake Winnipeg near Belair, Manitoba, Canada that is my naural sanctuary.  Larger than my old orange VW camper van, this rock was my place to stretch out and lie spread-eagle, completely surrounded by water with the upside down blue bowl of sky overhead, pine trees fringing the lake shore and waves lapping from my fingertips all the way to the horizon,  miles away.  I call my rock The Grandmother.  Here I was cradled, as if in my grandma’s arms.  Held tight, rocked, accepted, comforted.  Here I could cry, howl, laugh, ask questions and in the stillness, always the world began to make sense again, often with far-reaching visions of new possibilities. I could return to the shore buzzing with optimism, resolve, re-newed energy, or whatever I needed most.

One of the most potent, recurrent messages I received on a visit to The Grandmother were these words, “Now is the time for remembering. Now is the time for the exchange of gifts.”

The work I am strongly called to is building pathways to greater understanding, acceptance and peace; within, among, between and beyond people, especially in cross-cultural relationships.  This message brought several aboriginal elders into my life in ways that allowed for strong bridges to be crossed for many people, including me.

SO WHAT? – Today I am entering an new phase of my life.  I wonder what gifts I have to exchange with others?  What do I need to remember–or is it re-member?  I want to continue to add my energies to those of others who are creating a world in which it is safe to love and accept ourselves exactly as we are today, and in which it is safe for us to also love and accept others who are different from us in some perceived way.

NOW WHAT? – The moon outside my window is full tonight and so is my life.  My life overflows with opportunities to find sanctuary in moments of natual solitude–in every season.  This new season in my life cycle matches fall, a time of harvest, of bountiful memories and people who offer gifts that dazzle my senses. I embrace the gift of remembering and of exchanging my  gifts with those I encounter, however briefly, and I give thanks.

Joanne Klassen, Winnipeg, MB November 10,2011 8:58 p.m.

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Guest House


The Guest House

 by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.



(The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)

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