“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
Dear friends and family,
It seems odd that I share a quote about preparing for the long sleep of winter on the day of solstice. Though today is the longest day, from this day onward, the earth begins to move again towards the sun. Yet, the days are still cold. Added to that coldness is the fact that even though marketers would have us believe these are the happiest of times, death still happens. And even if death skips over our particular family or friends’ homes, grief is a winter companion for sure. After my dad’s death and then later, the loss of my marriage, nights were the hardest. Then, the holidays.
Now that years have passed and grief has let its stranglehold ease up from the 24/7 choke, I found myself weeping at the loss this morning. After the illness of my dear mother-in-law, I’ve needed to weep because I love her and also because it reminded of how afraid we all were when my dad had caught pneumonia. My dad at 78 didn’t make it. My former mother-in-law, at 98, will get to come home. For her family, I am glad she did not leave us at Christmas. For, like my dad, Christmas was one of her favorite times of year.
The tears came from relief that she gets to go home, but also, years later, at Christmas, I miss my dad. Growing up, we always laughed that at Christmas we often had to fight dad for the new toys we got. His love of play was always one of my favorite things about him.
The thing I’ve always loved most about the Christmas season, however, were the stories and singing around the piano with my family and cousins. I also love the choral music available. When I think of Christmas, I think most of all about music. I am at an age where I truly need nothing. Often, when family or friends ask me for a gift suggestion, I ask for them to sing with me. Let’s sing Christmas carols.
At our last prayer group meeting of the year, we sang Silent Night. Such a simple song, yet still powerful. Maybe even more powerful in a world where silence is not only golden, but also rare. We live in a world where silences are filled with gadgets, automobiles, planes, and anything to distract us from being still and silent. After we sang the carol, we all talked about when we used to go caroling when we were younger.
In the small community where I grew up, my family attended Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. Every year at Christmas, the adult choir would go Christmas caroling to the shut-ins (those who were sick at home or who lived alone). The choir members took their children. Then later, the youth choir rode on the bus with the adults. We laughed and sang on the bus. Then we sang at the doorsteps of people that we youth often didn’t know. The smiles on their faces that we stopped by mattered and made a difference to me as a kid. As I became a youth group director and youth choir director, I took my youth groups caroling. It was awkward for some at first. Then, they too began to love it as I did as a kid. It was wonderful seeing those young lives making a huge difference in the lives of those who couldn’t get out too. There was a light that came into the eyes of the elderly. With the youth, it was watching seeds of love begin to blossom. I still treasure all the times I’ve caroled with others. It’s my favorite part of Christmas still.
“The foundation of greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment, instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.” ~Eckhart Tolle
We live in a world that seeks innovation and newness. Oftentimes the business worlds in which adults work and make a living are rewarded only if or when they are great. Yet, sometimes life is about loving the ordinary beauty of each other and not trying something newer, or bigger or better than before. Some folks always want things to stay the same and others always want new experiences. Don’t get me wrong, ruts are boring, and we can all get stuck in mindsets or ruts that are not good for us. In those times, we need a light to show us a new way. In those soul-deadening times, we need new birth to move us out of our comfort zone.
But it’s also important to remember those precious moments of great love shared in simple silent nights. Where generations of singers or family stand in the cold, dark night, singing carols to someone sad or alone. Rejoicing in the group hug of family and friends huddled around a porch or piano and singing simply for the joy of singing together and hoping to bring joy to another. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that bring the greatest gifts of love.
“Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” ~L.R. Knost