Tonight, marks the Winter Solstice, our longest night of the year. In the Native American tradition, this night annually began a season of gathering together with family and friends. It was a time of leaning in and telling stories. No longer planting or hunting, this time of midwinter reminded many that it was also important to sit and listen. Time to share stories that their grandparents had passed down, and stories that were theirs alone. These stories that needed time to be told from the inside out.
In grief our little things and big things somehow weigh the same. Somehow grief can both dull and heighten our senses. In the same moment I believed I could hear three conversations around me at once, I had no idea how I felt about anything. Every year there is one day when chronos time (time on calendars and wristwatches) and kairos time (being held in mystery, being held in God’s time) meet. It is on this longest night of the Winter Solstice. On this one day, the universe and each grieving heart are woven together.
Holidays have traditions. Some are named and claimed, “passed down for generations.” Some traditions are unnamed, yet still claimed. Named and unnamed rituals make their way into holiday gatherings. Most of the traditions in my family are deeply rooted, anticipated, celebrated, treasured. Well, almost all of them. Some aren’t as welcome as others - like Thanksgiving’s tradition when my sisters and I were growing up, and we had to listen to 90-year-old Uncle Frank recite “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” before we could eat the pumpkin pie. My heart treasures and has come to rest in these family practices making up the threads of this fabric of this season.
When we are gathering together and sharing stories, we know that this year there will be an empty chair at the table. Kairos and chronos time meeting. This holiday table represents re-collections and re-connections through laughter and tears. Even more than the Christmas tree and stockings, this table has always been my most treasured symbol of Christmas. Our time when food and memories are passed, one to the other. This table is where we sit just a little longer than on other days. Our sitting longer is a powerful way of recognizing past gatherings and also taking in all has been lived in and through. And together we sit. Named and unnamed. Good and bad. Celebrations and losses. Holding on to this deep, life-bringing tradition of listening to and for one another. Sitting a little bit longer honoring and marking this time lest it slip away. This year is different. This year there will be an empty seat at the Christmas table and tonight knows the tenderness of this time and our grieving hearts.
Tonight is a time of lighting candles. I love this ritual. Lighting a candle brings to mind the intention of welcoming light. In the same moment, it also acknowledges the shadows that hold us. Well-intended folks have been encouraging me and saying, “this is a good time to start your new traditions.” Well, here’s my truth: I cherish the old ones. I will light candles this night marking what my heart grieves this year.
Here is another truth that is even more important to me than the one above: tomorrow’s sunrise marks a new day when more light is coming. Knowing in my heart of hearts that both are true. Side-by-side. Just like kairos and chronos. Dusk will follow tonight's sunset and tomorrow morning will bring the sunrise. This I believe.