“And the angel said unto them: Fear not, for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you.” Linus
I am as enchanted as I am distressed about the encroaching darkness, our search for new life at the end of a heralded gestation, waiting in joyful hope for a glimpse of God wrapped in swaddling cloths, ushering in salvific annuities for all. It’s an explicit narrative, a radical call to love in the most difficult of circumstances, while embracing uncertainty with unwavering faith. This is a stretch for us humans.
As the Winter Solstice approaches we notice how the lumbering nights encroach on the light of day, there is this acute drop in temperature, the trees strip down to bare branches, and we scramble to make final preparations for the highly anticipated mystical nativity that is about to unfold. As a woman I have a love hate relationship with this pivotal celebration because I spend much of my time endlessly wrapping the wrong gifts.
So I’ve been thinking about the slim possibility of transforming all this divine darkness into a more fertile and transformative experience? As Bob Goff notes God gave the wise men a direction, not a list of detailed instructions, with links to the perfect gifts.
For goodness’ sake, it’s as if I have borderline personality disorder, and I’m stuck in the manic phase, as in decorating the entire house including the bathrooms, purchasing a trinity of gifts for each kid, with coordinating wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows, finding the perfect family picture for the greeting card, hunting down Christmas red nail polish, not to mention all the festive celebrations that require extraordinary culinary skills, Marta Steward table settings, and glamorous attire! This is insane, I’m purging through money, time, and my blessed energy as if there were no end in sight. Resistance is futile, and like it or not I’m stuck in this endless cycle, addicted to the sound of good tidings, the expectation of joyful hope, totally in the red, knowing the aftermath will leave me depleted and spent instead of hallowed and holy.
Maybe I need to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas again, resurrect my latent yuletide priorities, instead of bastardizing the season with all these meaningless tasks? Who’s with me?
Truth be told I am able to avoid some of the chaos with a highly customized self care regime (which I’m happy to share), one that involves on-line shopping in my pajamas, coffee a short walk to the kitchen, roaring fire for ambiance, with It’s a Wonderful Life playing on the television. In this scenario I’m not dealing with the pouring rain, parking garages, crowds of shoppers, coats, scarfs, packages, or the long lines at the cash register.
In fact, Amazon not only takes my money instantly, this year they also shared my card with others (how generous), and then shoved it under the sofa as if a two year old hiding a broken ornament. This is the downfall of shopping on-line but my sister came up with a brilliant solution. Use gift cards for all your on-line purchases and no one can steal your credit card information! Now I get calls from Larry complaining about how much I’m spending at Safeway! Where’s the love?
There are other more serious seasonal concerns, ones we don’t like to talk about, because honestly Christmas is not all laughter and good cheer for everyone. In fact suicide rates soar in the winter, all this blessed darkness can instigate a general malaise, triggering severe depression for some. We miss our loved ones who have passed away, forcing many to contend with surges of powerful grief, as we are haunted by the memories of Christmas past. Financial concerns, separations, disappointments, and loneliness are common contentions.
I ache for my Mom and Dad especially at Christmas, and this year we are painfully aware my brother-in-law David is no longer with us, along with my son Tony who won’t be home for Christmas. I find myself humming along with the throaty voice of Judy Garland, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light, next year all our troubles will be out of sight. Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Make the Yuletide gay from now on our troubles will be miles away…’
It doesn’t matter where you live the winter solstice happens for everyone at exactly the same time as opposed to Christmas that rolls across the planet like a glittering tsunami. Early societies would celebrate this time of year as the end of darkness, the end of limited meals, and frigid temperatures. No wonder the church intentionally moved the incarnation from the spring to winter as a way of competing with all these glorious celebrations of light. I mean it doesn’t make sense to celebrate both the birth and death of the long awaited messiah at the same time?
Or does it? I’m just wondering if I can return to the deeper meaning of solstice, salvation, and a savvy savior in the wake of all these self-imposed expectations?
John Matthews says the Solstice is a time of quietude, of firelight, and dreaming, when seeds germinate in the cold earth, and the cold notes of church bells mingle with the chimes of icicles. Rivers are stilled and the land lies waiting beneath a coverlet of snow. We watch the cold sunlight and the bright stars, maybe go for walks in the quiet land. . . . All around us the season seems to reach a standstill — a point of repose. And that is exactly why Larry and I decided on our own kind of blessed pause.
Solstice roughly translates to “sun stands still,” sol derives from the Latin which means sun, and the past participle stem of sistere, meaning “to make stand.” I say if the sun appears to pause in the sky then maybe it’s a worthy practice for all of us to employ. We’ll call it a Christmas pause, because Jesus said himself advised, “Come aside and rest for awhile.” 6:31
Larry and I headed north, all alone, arriving at our magical manger in Lake County, to participate in our first annual Christmas pause. Waking early I slip quietly out of bed as to not wake my slumbering mate, I’m now capable of simultaneously feeding the dog and brewing coffee so neither of us is forced to participate in loud and obnoxious barking, it’s sort of miraculous, but these are teachable skills. This is when I notice the fog caressing Mt. Knocti with this magnificent ethereal hand. I pause to observe the intimacy of this gesture, it feels a little voyeuristic, but I’m unable to look away.
Just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world, I beg of you, do not walk by without pausing, to attend to this rather ridiculous performance. Mary Oliver
I’m still standing there gawking at the hand of fog (get it?) when Larry walks into the dining room and exclaims, “will you look at the pod of pelicans lounging on our beach.” I’m stunned, totally missed that, they’re like a fluffy white blanket someone casually laid out on the sand. Hundreds of large beaked birds flutter into the water as Larry and I try to Instagram the scene, Shaggy is not helpful, as he prances about defining his territory. One stubborn female spreads her mighty wings claiming her space. You go girl.
Remember back in 2012 when a number of enlightened people thought the world would end? Well that didn’t happen even though December 21, 2012 corresponded to the date 126.96.36.199.0 in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar used by the ancient Maya, marking the end of a 5126 year cycle. Advent is not an end, it’s the beginning of the liturgical year, when we consider the implications of incarnation, and wait in joyful hope for God’s eventual return.
As the winter solstice fast approaches, along with the accouchement of God, I’m trying to untangle myself from the all the tinsel, tidings, and traditional expectations that threaten to strangle the meaning out of Christmas. It’s not like I’ve become the Scrooge, I’m a lover of thoughtful gifting, but I truly believe we can herald the birth of Jesus as a new era of transformation if we don’t cave to all the extraneous details. God knows I need time to work on my holy habits and I am grateful for this annual summons so to speak, but this year I declare the labor is done, the real work of loving others can only continues in and through us, but how we manifest this pure and essential call to love makes all the difference.
“May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter, so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within. Br. David Steindl-Rast
I say we take a respite from all the clamor, be perfectly still, because God isn’t going to shout over all the clatter in our lives. As long as the sun continues to shine, the darkness will wax and wane, and our trust in God’s ability to gift us with salvation becomes the culmination of all of our beliefs. We are a people bound together by love, not twinkle lights, praise be to God. How do we make this glittering tsunami more fertile and transformative? Let’a take a collective and abiding pause…
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll discuss our next journey around the sun.
Winter’s Cloak by Joyce Rupp
This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
Let the dawns
let the sunsets
let the evenings
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.
Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
steals the source
Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.
- The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth on December 21, 1620, to found a society that would allow them to worship freely?
- On the same day in 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium, ushering in an atomic age.
- December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft launched, becoming the first manned moon mission.
- During the winter solstice of 1988 Kelley Ann came whirling into the world and she certainly ushered in a unique source of light.