Coming into Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in they dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
~ Phillip Brooks (probably written 1868 after visit from Philadelphia to Bethlehem)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
Christ is born! Alleluia! The angels are singing, bells are ringing. Today is the day when we are reminded of love that comes in the most unexpected ways and stays. Entering into Bethlehem we are reminded of God's YES, that is always with us, even we aren't sure. Even when we are too tired to believe it. Even when we doubt that we will be able to catch our next breath. God's promise of Emmanuel, I will always be with you - is born in Bethlehem this day.
Hopes and fears. Side-by-side. Two sisters who have journeyed with us each step of the way to Bethlehem. It’s hard to imagine one without the other. Grief enters in and moves through. What is true for me and maybe also for you is that I would have described “hope” and “fear” differently when this journey began. Now I have come to understand ways that they companion one another most all of the way, weaving in and through one another.
Hopes and fears come together well in a birth story. Together they encircle every new birth. When Linda was pregnant with Brogan, soon I knew that life was about to change. "How?" I didn't have a clue. But I knew that what had been regular and routine and "normal," would forever be defined in a new way. There were possibilities of delight and deep joy, truly the hope of more light coming. And so many things fearful were right beside. All of the "what if's..." of her pregnancy and then of who this child would be in my life, in the world. Not able to be explained. Fears difficult to find language for naming. Hopes and fears joined. The sweet boy turned 21 in September and I will be the first to say, every day I am so grateful that he is in the world. AND his brother.
Our Advent encouragement bumper stickers: "Pay attention." "Stay awake!" "Not yet" are life gifts from this journey. We need to continue to carry them with us past Bethlehem. Because the truth is, as important as it was for us to make this pilgrimage, this is not where our ending place. Soon, and you will know when it's time, soon it will be time to set your course and set off in a new direction. Left foot, right foot.
All along the way grief has been our irritating, aggravating, informing, nudging, heart-breaking companion. Grief is scary and messy and numbing and cruel. And love is bigger. Grief is disheartening and disarming and demoralizing. And love is bigger. Grief most of the time feels like it’s all that there is, and it turns out that it is not. Always, always walking beside is love.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 5)
Blessed Christmas to you this day. I am so very grateful that you have shared this journey, shared these December days. I am grateful for your companioning with me on this uphill climb that was first endured and somehow shifted, for me, along the way. May you be surprised by joy and held in love. May you know that peace that enters in unexpected and passes all possibilities and understandings. May you take comfort and strength in coming to understand perhaps for the first time Emmanuel, God-with-us. May God bless you on this Christmas Day.
Following a Star
Darkness holds us in our season of grief. This dark time of the soul often finds us stumbling through the long nights into the weary morning hours. Left foot, right foot. Weeks ago, when I began this journey to Bethlehem, I wasn't sure I'd make it. What I was sure about, though was that I couldn't stay where I was. My grief navigated the hours of my days, and my spirit knew that this wasn't, this couldn't be all there was. I needed to seek out something else to guide and direct me.
"For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides," the Little Prince reminds us. Walking with a candle or a flashlight keeps us looking down, making sure that we don't stumble. Following a star, keeps our heads up. When we are following a star we recognize that something has shifted. Something is not the same. Instead of being afraid of falling, we find ourselves looking out and beyond what what we see now. Following a star takes us toward what is on up ahead.
Many of us have grown up hearing the story of the Christmas star from the gospel of Mathew. This ageless story of the three wise souls who traveled from afar seeking what was not yet here. We grew up hearing that they left what was familiar and set out not knowing what or how, only knowing that they needed to make the journey. Left foot, right foot. Stories are particular and universal, both. Stories live in the past and sometimes help us name and frame what is our story now. We are told that they had no map, instead they set out following a star, up and out in the distance. Seeking to pay homage to the newborn who would bring peace, they were led.
Likewise, we, too have set out seeking something new to be born in our hearts. Hope. Mercy. Forgiveness. Restoration. Love. All along the way our patterns, our inclinations, our stepping-outs and stepping right-back-ins - - all of these responses have mattered. Times when we were intentional to take one step and the next. Times when we got lost or maybe just felt caught up in something else and meandered for a time. This Advent journey, this tender time we've spent traveling has quite literally gotten us from there to here. What might be helpful sometime is to name or savor or paint or sing where "there" was and where "here" is now. This season has reminded us that it matters to pay attention and to mark our journeys from darkness to light.
It matters that we didn't stop. It matters that we didn't give up or give in. It matters that somehow even when, especially when we felt overwhelmed and disheartened, we continued to follow what was just on up ahead. Left foot, right foot. It matters that we continued to look up and have the courage to continue to take the next step. It matters.
Tonight there will be gatherings small and great to listen again to the story of a baby being born in a stable. Tonight, there will be carols sung and candles will be lit. Tonight is the night to come in from the cold. This night is for each weary pilgrim who somehow found the strength and courage to keep following Bethlehem's star. Whether or not you saw the star out your door out on the horizon or knew of its presence in your heart, the star has been your place of holding on to hope. Looking up beyond what has been so desperately painful, and believing that a star will guide us on and through into what will be next.
"It's not what I would wish for you"
It takes a great deal of strength to refuse to answer anything of importance too quickly.
It is often better to let a newly emerging question answer itself over time
than to insist on dealing with it from perspectives too old to be useful to the present situation.
~ Joan Chittister from The Sacred In-Between
It was Thanksgiving break of my second year at seminary when I came out to Mom. We were down in Florida, visiting grandparents and we were driving along, just the two of us. For over a year I'd been waiting for this conversation and we needed to talk. I made sure I was driving, so that she could react however she needed to. I remember turning to her and saying, "Mom I've got some news." "What is it, honey?" "I've fallen in love with my best friend." She was quiet for a few miles and then she asked, "Linda?" And I nodded. And after several long minutes of silence, she asked, "What do you think God thinks about it?" We talked about that for a bit, with more silence following. After more miles down the road she quietly said, "It's not what I would wish for you."
Back on December 3rd when I began this tender Advent journey, my heart was heavy and I was so, so tired. I felt done-in, weary and worn. I was so deep in grief, I had no idea if I had the strength to begin, let alone complete this month-long journey. What I knew - deep in my bones - was that I was seeking "more light to come." What I hoped was that I could prayerfully and faithfully follow a star that would guide me to a place of love being born again, a place for healing. My grief was palpable. Despair as close to me as my next breath. Mom's words have been echoing inside me all these years later, "It's not what I would wish for you." Sometimes I could almost feel her comforting hugs.
For what seemed like forever, but had only been months, I'd been dealing with grief. I'd tried everything I knew to fix what was broken. I'd stumbled and bumbled my way along. Grief can be so disorienting. It exhausts and confuses and turns everything upside down. And with one turn of the page of my calendar, it was the beginning of Advent. "O Come Thou Wisdom from on high and order all things far and nigh."
Grief is not something welcomed or wished for. Our deepest grief follows our deepest losses. Some of us travel tenderly on this Advent pilgrimage companioned by a loss we saw coming from a ways off. Even knowing it would come, we grieve our loss from the inside out and back again. Some of us have experienced an un-expected grief, feeling blind-sided and unable to find our bearings...unable to find our North Star to lead us home. Left foot, right foot.
"It's not what I would wish for you." I remember taking a big breath as we drove along, my Mom and me. After more miles down the road I asked her, "What would you wish for me?" "I want you to be happy," she said. And now years later, I want the same. What these years have brought me and taught me is that happiness / contentment / knowing your soul's joy is an expression that comes from and with deep roots. Floods come and the roots hold. Draughts come as well, and somehow the roots are strong enough to find living water. Mom's wish for me was not words that would blow away with the next breeze, her wish was for that deeply rooted soul's fulfillment.
Joan Chittister has written, "To hurry through life, running frantically from one thing to another, is to leave the soul behind." If there's one gift this Advent journey has given me it has been to be aware of the time it takes to let my soul catch up. Grief can't be hurried or scurried. Its healing can't be purchased at any cost. No store, no on-line service would have a clue how to find it on their shelves.It's not there. Grief's healing comes from stopping and sitting. It comes from listening to your heart's beating and from paying graceful attention. Healing comes from the lovingkindness of family - given and chosen. Healing comes from hope not forgotten. Healing comes from holding on and letting go.
O Come, oh Come Emmanuel. God-with-us.
Two Wise Women
Strange how one word
will so hollow you out.
But this word
has been in the wilderness
This word is what remained
after everything else
was worn away
by sand and stone.
It is what withstood
the glaring of sun by day,
the weeping loneliness of
the moon at night.
Now it comes to you
racing out of the wild
and waving its arms,
its voice ragged with desert
but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself
again and again.
It may feel like
the word is leveling you
as it asks you
to give up
what you have known.
It is impolite
and hardly tame
but when it falls
upon your lips
you will wonder
at the sweetness
that finds its way
into the hunger
you had not known
~ Jan L. Richardson from earlier Advent writings
Words from Two Women
What would change if "Prepare." "Stay Awake!" "Not yet" became living words inside of us? Would it be odd? Impossible? Wonderful?
Coming in midwinter, these words find us in our going inward season. And it is in this season that we travel to Bethlehem. By definition our journey is meant to take us from one place to another. And so, as we've been moving in and through these growing darker days, we can take heart because beginning today more light is coming. This time of Advent invites us to keep moving, keep looking for what is yet to come. And today with journey with more light leading the way.
Much of grief's work happens internally. This work that feels too tender, too confusing, too messy to share. There are times when minutes and even hours pass, and I can't seem to account for any of them. There are times when words coming slowly or they don't come at all. There are times when I think I won't quit crying. Left foot, right foot. Prepare has companioned us these past Sundays into Mondays for weeks now. Stay Awake! has walked side-by-side with nudgings and encouragements of `look over there," or "did you see that?" Not yet has reminded us minute-by-minute that what feels so empty now may not always feel this way. Left foot, right foot.
Jan's beautiful words find us this day. Here she reminds us:
It may feel like
the word is leveling you
as it asks you
to give up
what you have known."
"Prepare" asks us to do something we may not feel we have the strength to do. Jan asks us to claim that strength anyway. Her words ask a great deal, but also invite us into hope and maybe then find a new place of healing.
We have just a few days remaining in this Advent time, just hours really. What is yet to come for you and me? What have we allowed into our hearts as we've been making our way to Bethlehem? What songs - old and new - have we sung? What has shifted? Is there anything that needs to be released? Is there anything that has taken root?
The other day I read a mind-bending article, "Very Like a Frog Hopping," by Gertrude Stein. [Editor's note: her words and punctuation.] She begins her piece, "Then also there is the important question of repetition and is there any such thing. Is there repetition or is there insistence...It is very like a frog hopping he cannot ever hop exactly the same distance or the same way of hopping at every hop. A bird's singing is perhaps the nearest thing to repetition but if you listen, they too vary their insistence." Her words speak about each life encounter being new. Even if we live day-to-day with deep grief, our grief is not the same day-to-day. Changes come organically and come with intention. There is always transformation. Cellularly we know this to be true. The rhythm of our heartbeats teach us. And yet, hearing Gertrude's words, perhaps we insist on believing that we are always predictably, repetedly in the same place as before.
These two writers are nudging us to step back and revisit our grief in this tender time. Both Jan and Gertrude are inviting you and me to feel what we feel in this moment. It's sometimes so easy for me to get into the pattern of predicting how something will feel in the future. This coming Wednesday there will be an empty chair (chairs) at the table and I have been tear-full about that for a while. Precious energy and time given for something that has been weeks and now hours off. For Jan prepare "empties us." Empty, open, unguarded we experience what is present with us. In this way, we might best take-in and hold-on-to what is here now, here in this moment. Gertrude cautions us to not get caught on the merry-go-round of repetition. Because grief is all-consuming, I find that sometimes grief becomes my fallback place. My sadness these days is as familiar as the jacket I put on for these chilly December mornings. Maybe Gertrude is holding a mirror in front of me and asking me to look: "Stay awake!" she whispers. How much of my grief is so familiar that I begin with it? Have I taken a look to see if it's time to unpack a journeying bag and see if there's something that's no longer needed for this journey?
Frogs and Preparing and Emptying and Hopping. Surely more than enough to pray over from these two wise women. Blessings and grace to you and me in these more-light-is-surely-coming days.
Singing: The Third "S"
As we’ve been making our way toward Bethlehem on this Advent journey, hopefully there has been time to pause and reflect. You have found time along the way to remember, to restore and even to release. Hopefully there has been time to reconnect with what matters most to your heart, and that you have come to understand what now feels like too much to carry. Hopefully there has been time to stand still for a moment or two and look up at the moon and catch your breath. Perhaps along the way there has been turning toward or turning from in us, in you and me. Maybe small, maybe great. A shift that maybe we haven't realized yet.
This tender Advent journeying reminds us that grief is a living thing. It stretches to the point that it takes up too much room. Grief has the capacity to shut off light and balance and even hope. Left foot, right foot. What was is no longer what is. Left foot, right foot. This time, this path has been a spiritual practice. It has become a way of welcoming the Holy. This journeying through December has been a faithful practice of participation – intentionally shifting-things-around just a bit. Paying attention. Staying connected. Left foot, right foot.
It has been good to spend these Advent Fridays with the three “S’s.” A little bit ago, my sweet cousin, Lisa was telling me about a workshop she loved. Because I know well to listen to my sweet cousin, when Lisa told me what she had learned, I soaked up what she had to say. At this workshop Lisa learned about journaling and was introduced to the idea of the three “S’s:” Seeing. Savoring. Speaking. Alone and then together, Lisa told me that these three can become places of focus to perhaps be differently in the world.
For this Advent I am changing my third "S" from speaking to singing. They are sister "S's." Speaking and singing are both born on the breath. Giving energy and voice to what you have seen and savored, singing invites us to enter into what has blessed you, touched you, healed you. As we make our way closer and closer to Bethlehem, we are invited to pay attention to what we have been singing along the way. Carols? If so, which ones? Did you notice? Do you remember?
Singing has been my life's treasured companion. Always I have been strengthened by singing words that remind and teach me. Ancient songs, newer songs are friends that walk with me in my darkest times and on my best days. They nudge, comfort, re-member re-set me just enough to take the next steps.
Grief can be lonely. There are times of numbness, times of disorientation, times of our deepest despair. Music enters into these places. Music can hold these places. Music can shift what feels so wrong toward something that maybe doesn’t as much anymore. There is singing in the shower and humming in dark. There’s singing on the mountain-top and singing softly while down on your knees. There’s singing in the dark and singing at the break of dawn. Singing as a spiritual practice embodies reconnecting with our breath. In and out. In this place. In this moment. God with us. In times when we are driving down the road with the sunroof open and the wind blowing in and through, and in those times when we are jammed up in traffic – all of these moments have songs that travel with us.
Seeing what surrounds us, and what is right before our eyes. Savoring the best of being alive, when before there seemed to be no life left in us at all. Savoring the possibility of YES’ returning. And then...finally singing full-throated. Singing not because the sound is magnificent (although, trust me, it is). Singing because there is breath in you, and there are songs that need to be sung, and (trust me) songs that still need to be heard.
(thanks to Amy and Ed in Charlottesville for this picture from their back porch)
An Empty Chair at the Table
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.
Before and After
The dust settles after a hit and run
Bewildered by the damage done
I don't know why we chose the roads we travel
Or how a life could get so unraveled
We live our lives from then until now
By the mercy received and the marks on our brow
To my heart I'll collect what the four winds will scatter
And frame my life into before and after
~ Carrie Newcomer's "Before and After"
For years I've been loving the words and music that have come as life-gifts from Carrie Newcomer. A Quaker, Hoosier, songwriter, poet Carrie weaves words of life and faith into the most beautiful songs. I can recommend her music for everyone. Words and melodies offered as a solid, life companion. Her music meets you where you are, in all of life’s circumstances abiding with you.
Before and after. Life has moments when the world shifts on its axis and eventually the dust settles. Events happen. Later when you slowly begin to get your bearings, it feels as though you’ve landed on another planet. You know when before and after moments happen because everything stops. Everything. Then you believe that you have stopped as well. But somehow, someway, for some unknown reason, you don't stop. You continue. Before and After. Your life is altered, shifted, moved from where it has always been to some new place. And what was is no more.
Living in times of unknowing is nothing you can prepare for. Or maybe you can. Living in times of not what I wished for is nothing you can comprehend or accept. Or maybe you can. Perhaps. Perhaps. [Editor’s note: This is not in any way meant to sugar-coat this time. I do not in any way pretend to be Mary Poppins with a carpetbag that holds the answer to everything. I am speaking from my experience, for my experience. I hope that these words also resonate with your story and experience] Perhaps your life has taught you, or is now teaching you that you can do hard things. Granted, there may not have ever been anything in your life as impossibly hard as this moment - losing your beloved, losing your home, losing your vocation, losing your dream. And even in the midst of this – all that you have grieved before has taught you well about holding on and letting go. Perhaps there is an echo that resonates from times before in your life. Whatever has happened isn’t what you wished for, but when the dust settles, perhaps you can see that other parts of your life continue. Without your understanding, parts continue.
There have been many who have lived in and through Before and After events. T. S. Eliot wrote, "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” I know that for me, these words took many months to come into my heart. My head understood what he had written, but my spirit was so guarded that these words took much longer to enter in. A couple months after my Mom's death, I heard her voice as clear as when she was alive say, "time is different here." My head knew that of course, everything, including time) was different for me after her death. But still years later, my heart is leaning into the wisdom of her message.
Carrie's words speak to a story that is held within a greater story, to the notion of time that holds all of our moments as a whole. "Before" and "after" moments are marked in something more than this particular time, this particular event. There is a deep comfort in connecting with God's presence that has been, is now and will be. There is a life-bringing strength in seeing beyond this time. Kairos time, planting-a-seed-in-the-dark-earth time. There is a rootedness that comes with the hope of naming "this is not all that will be for my life." It will not always be like this. Shifts will come. Something will come next. This is not the end of my story.
Listening for Singing Angels
And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!
For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.
"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"is a hymn and Christmas carol written by Edmund Sears,
pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts (verses 3 & 4)
A friend encouraged me to journey with this hymn for Advent. She too had experienced a similar loss, and someone had once offered her these verses. She told me that these words brought her comfort and strength along the way. She was right. The words from the third and fourth verses have been gentle-strong, reassuring sisters.
My hunch is that each of us can find words or phrases from these verses that speak to our souls. My heart has tended to rest in the lines: “O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!” How I am wishing for singing angels. Even humming angels would do my heart good. Maybe I’m so focused on getting to Bethlehem that I am making way too much commotion to hear the angels’ song. Wouldn’t that be too bad?
Written back in 1849, these ageless words serve as a warm blanket on a cold and blustery night. The images he calls forth in this song feel so close to what I am experiencing that I believe Mr. Sears also knew about tender traveling. He too had companioned grief. Left foot, right foot. Listening. Watching. Waiting. Humming along.
As heartening as these words have been and continue to be for me, I am even more grateful for my friend’s gift for these days. There is both a tender and strong consolation that comes when one person acknowledges the grief of another. There is a heart-mending moment that can often happen when someone says, “I don’t know exactly how you feel but I’ve also spent a tender Advent. I am walking beside you.” Grief is ageless. It comes from loving. Angels too are ageless. They come to remind us to always listen for the song that is promised to come.
Off in the Distance
When you've been traveling for a time in the dark, any light on up ahead is a welcome sight. Seeing a light, maybe a porch light off-a-ways can be a gift for body and soul. Growing up in rural Illinois, especially on long, winter nights you could see for miles. Driving on lonely, blacktop or gravel roads I remember the feeling of relief when I could make out a light off in the distance. Someone was sending a beacon. Maybe someone was home.
Driving along, watching the light slowly growing brighter, I remember imagining what the kitchens must have been like in some of those farmhouses. I imagined a warm rooms with maybe wood burning stoves. Sometimes when my imagination would drift, I could almost taste the hot chocolate offered in a steaming mug. All I'd seen was the light from their porch, but their welcome filled my heart.
There are signs and memory-markers along the way as we travel this Advent path. Signs of warning and trouble. Some signs appear to tell us of a detour ahead, sometimes sending us off in a whole other direction. There are signs of welcome and encouragement. Some signs can come at just the right moment, offering just the encouragement we need. A porch light on a cold and growing-darker night is one such sign.
Remember that old motel commercial, "we'll leave the light on for you"? For one who feels weary from being too long on the road, kinder words are hard to find. These words embody a human understanding and a symbol of hospitality. They can be a sign of someone watching out for us and making a space for renewed hope along the way.
Don't Miss the Kindnesses
"We must be willing
to get rid of the life we've planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
The old skin has to be shed
before the new one can come."
~ Joseph Campbell
The days are growing shorter, the nights longer. Can you feel it? The second-hand continues to pace itself toward what is coming next. Gotta say, I am one worn-out traveler. Journeying with grief this holiday season is a weary-making time. As the light grows shorter and I feel darkness lengthening, I try to remind myself of a bigger story. I want to not lose sight of a greater love holding me, guiding me on to what is surely coming.
It’s been a full weekend with lots of music and gatherings. Our church choir gave our annual Christmas Concert with the Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra. We rehearsed a couple times last week, again on Saturday and performed yesterday afternoon. Fullness. Beauty. Light. Harmonies. Kids' voices. Grace heard round and back again. The orchestra was incredible. And (with a some very fine ringers) the choir did just fine. Gatherings with friends around the holidays happened this weekend as well. Included in that was a house blessing for two dear souls who have been displaced this past year. It was such a joy to bless their place with great food, prayers and laughter. There is so very much to be thankful for.
Perhaps this weekend’s biggest gift was feeling my soul’s deep appreciation for the kindnesses that continue in the midst and mess of grief. As deep and present as my pain is, so is the love of family – given and chosen. Pastor David spoke this morning about the Incarnational Love that comes in this season. Human touch – hugs, hands holding on, arms locking. Human sounds – laughter and words of affirmation; oboes and tympani drums, altos and basses – surrounding and lifting up. Human grace – looking into the eyes of another who is listening with her heart, a dear one picking up the check after sharing a meal, words of wisdom and sometimes no words at all.
It’s important not to miss the kindness and love that journeys with us. Weary, worn, unsteady on where to head next – all those are still true. And yet, and yet there is more to me and this time than just that. Grace finds me / finds us.
Joseph Campbell’s words surely ring true. Life shifts and buckles and gets undone. When setting out for Bethlehem a couple weeks ago, I knew to be mindful of those who would be sharing the journey, mindful of those loving me from afar. In many ways, my grief is my own. Yours as well. And yet this weekend I was reminded that my grief is not all of my life. Campbell says there is life “waiting for us.” I sure hope so. If I stay in this one spot and only notice my weariness and my pain, I will miss out on the love that is right here with me as well. It truly is about shredding what waswith a hope and a prayer for the new skin that just might fit me better.
"Writing more often than not helps me find my way home." Lesley is an ordained minister in the UCC and co-parents two remarkable young men, John Brogan and Sam.