“It was a winter evening of transparent clearness, with an innocent young moon above the housetops...”* Isn’t that a great way to begin a story that could go anywhere? It is also a good description of a fine night in mid-December. Early winter evenings can, if we stop to absorb them, fill us with an awareness of how special life is, evening, morning or mid-day. Right now, outside my window a downy woodpecker is enjoying a cake of suet, and just a few yards away, the turkeys are cleaning up the sunflower seeds carelessly shoved off the feeders by blue jays. The chickadees are, as usual, adding movement to the whole picture as they flit from feeder to branch where they crack open a seed. Someone in an inner-city apartment might give much to be seeing these simple country interactions among the creatures.
The hanging of the greens (Christmas decorating) has been done at church and here at home too. Traditions are reassuring parts of life. The “children’s tree” at church is its usual flamboyant olio of tinsel ropes and various Sunday school-made ornaments. The rest of the decorating in the sanctuary is less free-spirited and more dignified with evergreen swags and red and white poinsettias. At home, we have managed to have a Christmas tree even though our space for that item is more limited this year. It squeezes in between a desk and a chair, letting a few twigs venture over the chair arm. I find that fewer house decorations please me this year; simplicity is restful somehow. I do miss using all of our ornaments, most of which have stories, but less glitz seems OK. We have a variety of greenery growing on our land, so we are able to bring the aroma and textures of outside, into the house, and that is satisfying.
Watching the birds and animals outside reminds me of the stable scenes that many of us cherish. There is one on our church lawn that was built and the figures created by artists in our congregation. Its presence there is a village tradition. The smaller creche we have on our own kitchen buffet was created by Kerm, and is a tradition with us. A few new animals appear each year ---- as is customary in many European creches. In Provence the figures are called santons and are often sculpted by family members. Ours has, in addition to the usual camels, donkeys and cows, two llamas, an elephant (one of the Magi could have ridden an elephant!), a sleeping kitten, a fawn, a goat, a big-horn sheep and a small skunk ---- none sculpted by us. It may be fantasy, but it is good fantasy to imagine the creatures as well as the shepherds and angels gathering at the manger.
Christmas has become a widely jovial, spread-the-cheer season, but while many of us are reveling in Christmas joys, it is a kind and caring thing to remember others who find the holiday frenzy an added burden to their already difficult lives. And this should probably include those who are currently trying to exist/survive amid disasters, war and revolution. We need to be aware of those who find the “Ho-Ho-Ho” and canned music grating on their ears as they deal with sadness, depression or are hurting in some way. Instead of urging “C’mon, be merry!” we might just take the time for more kindness and caring; time to simply be a friend who listens and accepts. There is a Japanese proverb that speaks to this: “Be an open bowl and opportunity may drop in.” One never knows what opportunities we might find for healing--- both ourselves and others --- if we are open and alert.
Amid the ringing bells and rushing around, the natural world often restores my balance and perspective. In less than a week ---- the Solstice will be upon us -----thankfully! Our shortest hours of daylight will be December 21st and then the light comes dancing back little by little bit. Early civilizations celebrated this event with more awareness and enthusiasm than we do. Perhaps our electric lights have made us feel casual about daylight and dark. With no incandescent or florescent lamps, earlier people felt more of a kinship with the world around them and its rhythms, and were, perhaps, more wary of increasing darkness. Archeological digs have found sophisticated structures designed to mark the solstices and the equinoxes. Either those civilizations were going to take no chances on the capricious gods who might hold them longer in fearful darkness and so celebrated to propitiate them, or they felt a deep gratitude for the returning light and a responsibility to express their thanks. A bit more gratitude and celebration of our blessings, including returning daylight, might not be amiss.
Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yuletide and/or Kwanzaa, they all emphasize spreading Light. This is a reminder that we have access to spiritual resources which, if we choose to believe, reassure us that eventually, “all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well,”** Many, many times, in Scripture, we are told to not be afraid; to fear not! And the Gospel of Luke goes so far as to say: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with …. the worries of the world.” Fear is a crippling emotion that leads to unwise behavior including hatred, racism, blind ignorance and a limiting life for those who fear. Fear is so pervasive that it takes an inner spiritual strength to erase it from our lives. Science is a good resource, but if one chooses to operate only on what can be proven scientifically, this reassurance may be null and void. For those individuals, I would ask that they consider this: “We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea ---- and you don’t believe in miracles?” ***
Somehow, in spite of ourselves and often amid discouraging circumstances, this multi-cultural, celebratory season of light and good cheer brings the possibility that we can be better people; that we can live with open hearts eager to understand instead of shutting out our fellow humans. We can face the world, out-stretched arms ready to lift up and encourage, and caring hearts filled with a peace that is beyond all understanding. “For though my faith may not be yours and your faith may not be mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks****
As we move toward December 24th, I recall previous Christmas Eves all of which seemed to hold a bit of magic for me. As a child, I accompanied my parents to 11 PM services. Being allowed to stay up that late plus the candles and music transported me to what felt like a wonderland --- even as I struggled to keep my eyes open for the carols and readings. Sometimes in later years, we joined my brother’s family in a house service ---- much earlier in the evening. My brother was a dairy farmer and could never stay awake for too late hours. (Actually, whenever he sat down his eyes closed.) Also, as a child, snow for Christmas seemed absolutely necessary, but now hearing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” or "Silent Night" is enough to bring back the magic felt as children, snow or no snow.
The world is really full of wondrous things. It is true that there are wars, rumors of wars, and enough hair-raising disasters to keep our anxiety levels high. There is worrisome illness and the loss of people we love. There is stupidity, intentional ignorance, meanness and vice. But there is also the daily rising of the sun, the sparkle of frost on each needle of the fir trees, the song of a cardinal. There are joyously-playing puppies and kittens that turn into comforting pets. There are the immense and wondrous elephants, giraffes and then the tiny shrews and amazing honey-bees. There are hollyhocks, roses, peonies and all the vegetables that keep us fed. And there are “helpers”; thousands of people who go out of their way to encourage, assist, make life better for those in their paths, and also inspire each of us to observe the need in our own paths, and to take action to improve life where we are.
My wish for you this season is that no matter what issues may be giving you sadness or discouragement, that you find an inner joy and unquenchable hope for the world in this December of stars, snowflakes and space. And may your Light shine out into a world that needs your gifts and your being your own unique self! And remember (Though this is a bit daunting!) --- “every time any one of us opens our mouth to speak, we are saying ‘Let there be light, or we are adding to the darkness.”******
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*Edith Wharton---American novelist, writer of short stories and designer. 1862-1937.
**Julian of Norwich ---- English anchoress of the Middle Ages whose visions and writings have become well-known in our own times. 1342-1416.
***Wisdom for Life & Living Well ---- Ginger Harrington--- writer on Christian spirituality.
****Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks---British Orthodox Rabbi, author, poet, theologian and Peer. 1948-2020.
*****Glennon Doyle via a Max Lucado book via Dreisbach UCC newsletter --- Glennon Doyle is an American writer and activist. She is founder and president of “Together Rising” an all-woman organization that supports women and children in crisis. Max Lucado is an American writer and pastor. Dreisbach UCC is located in between Lewisburg, PA and Mifflinburg, PA.