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Light waits for Light...
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a time space I have always loved. I know that isn’t the case for everyone, it can be stressful-a let down-a struggle, but I anticipate it almost as much as Christmas itself.
Christmas feels like a culmination of the entire year, whether it’s been a good one or a bad one, a visceral reminder of light that shimmers just out of sight. In our house, we put lights on everything-our Christmas tree, a cupboard, on railings, in baskets, I even have a demijohn that is filled with lights to brighten a corner that seldom gets any attention. I’m not a purist either-white lights or colorful-it doesn’t matter as long as the predawn and evening darkness comes alive, just a little, with these sparkling reminders of a different kind of light. For my heart, lights are a hospitality-a way of saying, with all the hopefulness of a six year old on Christmas eve, there is a way made here, there is room here…You, Jesus, will not be turned away.
Raised, what I fondly call, a lapsed Catholic, I was baptized-this much I know from photos showing me as a pixie haired toddler in an organza dress, sandwiched between my parents, being smiled over by the presiding priest. There was the occasional midnight mass-when more devout relatives happened to be visiting, an Easter service -complete with miniature white patent pocketbook, a stiff lace mantilla, scratchy ‘hose’, which ran before I left the house, and Latin-lot’s of Latin. There were random other experiences but these are the ones that rise to the surface more quickly. The funny thing is that these moments never really captured an unrelenting sense that there was something more. I am wondering if my ‘thing’ about lights comes from sleeping at my grandmother's house. It was a tiny bungalow on a sandy patch of ground in St. Augustine, Florida. When I lived with an Aunt for a year, I spent a lot of time at that bungalow and have deeply ingrained memories that are, perhaps, more formative than I realized.
A devout Catholic, she kept an altar on a heavy, curved edge dresser in her bedroom. Her room was small with dark wood walls that gave it a shaded, insulated feel. We shared her creaky, iron bed with a springy mattress that swayed whenever she climbed in. If I close my eyes, the room comes back to me without effort. Especially the glowing altar votive illuminating Jesus of the Sacred Heart-a terrifying and captivating image to an imaginative child. I can hear her hushed explanations about the image, along with her nightly prayers. Not the words necessarily, but the comforting nature of what was being taught when she tucked me in for the night-light waits for Light.
In recent years, church of any sort has become problematic for me, but my deep faith has become increasingly expansive and more hope filled the more trips around the sun I make. I married into a Reformed faith family, which brought different practices with it. We also moved a lot and tried many different churches, so I have run the gamut on different liturgical practices throughout the years. There’s been a tremendous amount of learning, and unlearning along the way. Interestingly enough, it is the quiet murmurings, words however unrecognizable, dense with palpable, inescapable meaning and feelings that stays with me. Light waits for Light.
Celebrating the twelve days of Christmas has never been a part of our tradition, mostly because it was never the habit either growing up or while married. In recent years I have attempted to celebrate this way, but never quite got the hang of it. It is a challenge for me to keep the Christmas tree up until New Year’s and usually by the 27th it has been stripped and put on the porch. Clean and minimal becomes the norm with hints of glass and gold, and light(and more lights) everywhere. Advent has become more a part of my practice in recent years-the meditative nature of study appeals to me, and I try to find new books each year to enhance the experience. I’ve noticed though, that I am less able to stir up the somber reflection necessary for proper observance. Excitement is more the feeling that washes over my reading, and re-reading, of certain dogeared devotions. Perhaps this is irreverent? Maybe there is some deeper disorder that has rendered me incapable of the necessary sacred sobriety, maybe it’s just age and time. Whatever it is, the Christmas season has become an acknowledgement of His coming into this grubby, greedy world to make a way, to become Light. I know Easter is just around the corner and there will be the time for sobriety, for the weight of what we required to be reconciled, but today, this week, maybe every day I will light the lights and wait…
I never attended the parochial school I so desperately longed to, or made confirmation, or learned a formal catechism. I am no theologian, and find it difficult to write, or speak with spiritual eloquence or authority; I only know what I know- that light waits for Light—whether a flickering candle, the first sliver of morning light, or a simple string of twinkle lights. It takes faith, mixed with a fair amount of hope most days to pull back the curtain and let light in, to ignite that candle with a whispered prayer, or to plug in those lights to push back the dark-to make a way, and a welcome, for Light. As we move into 2023, may the shadows of 2022 be diminished and the coming light of a new year bring with it hope, beauty, and peace…
Poetry as memory is something I’ve toyed with on and off for years. I seldom share it but I thought this post warranted one of the pieces inspired by the same grandmother from this reflection.
Old Hands This mantilla, a shroud— Slowly draping, smoothing over me a strange settling from head to foot. Its weight gentle A mortality Coming to visit. With its scented shadows And nonchalance— Not unwelcome As I work to carefully iron Each handkerchief— Twenty-seven in all— Thinking I have carried these delicate burdens some more than fifty years. Gifts for a long-ago child tucked into tiny, patent pocketbooks, Stared at, fingered to pass time Trapped, tracked in the smell Of lilies, Latin mass. Desires to be good tangled With intricate designs Crafting disappointment in all I would never become Unfolded through years Whose memories wait in incense Still rising from lacy hems. The press of blessings remembered From the only veil I would ever wear— Shifting across my bared shoulders The sound of Summer Heat beaten away With paper fans— a thousand fluttering wings Spreading the perfume of ancient Leather, mingled with spearmint, Escaping with the quiet thok Of a concealed clasp, undone By the mystery of incense and old hands passing the peace
See you in 2023!