counting the days
already, the little one knows the routine. he wakes up early, just to run to the room where the numbers now hang. where the numbers, each one a pocket, come tucked with a wee chocolate bear, or a nibble of peppermint bark.
not finished, he runs, yet, one more place. to the corner where the old german calendar waits by the cookie jar. there, he scans the numbers, counts one more than yesterday, folds back a door. and, lo and behold, more chocolate.
for him, then, these are the days of the wake-me-up chocolates. two a day, every day, for 24 days.
december, he says, licking the little brown dab off his lips, is a month that’s mostly delicious.
for me, the mama who birthed him, these days are the birthing of something wholly as melt-in-your-mouth.
these are the days when, for the very first time in a very long time, maybe ever, i am practicing advent. really practicing. paying attention. giving in to the season in ways that wash over me, seep into me, bring me back home to a place i may never have been.
like a child this year, i have a just-opened sense of these days.
i am, for the very first time, not counting down. not ticking off days, and errands to run, like a clock wound, really, too tightly.
instead, i am counting in a whole other way. i am counting, yes, but the thing that i’m doing is making count each one of the days.
i am counting the days in a way that takes time. that takes it and holds it. savors it. sucks out the marrow of each blessed hour.
i am, because i’m on my way home here. i’ve not ever before seen december in quite this way. not known, quite this way, that it holds a deep and winding road into my soul.
i am this year embracing the darkness. i am kindling lights. i am practicing quiet. i am shutting out noise, and filling my house with the sounds of the season that call me.
i am practicing no. no is the word that i’m saying to much of the madness. no, i cannot go there. no, i cannot race from one end of town to the other. no, i will not.
i am practicing yes.
yes, i will wake up early. will tiptoe alone, and in quiet, to down in the kitchen, and on out to the place where the moon shines. where the early bird isn’t yet risen. but i am. i am alone with the dark and the calm, and i am standing there watching the shadows, the lace of the moon. i am listening for words that fill up my heart. it’s a prayer and it comes to me, fills my lungs, as i breathe in cold air, the air of december, december’s most blessed breath.
yes, i am re-dressing my house. i am tucking pine cones and berries of red, in places that not long ago were spilling with pumpkins, and walnuts, and acorns.
i am waking up to the notion that to usher the season into my house is to awaken the sacred. it is to shake off the dust of the days just before. to grope for the glimmer amid all the darkness.
december, more than most any month, can go one of two ways at the fork in the woods.
one trail is all tangled, all covered with bramble. you can get lost, what with all of the noise and all of the bright colored lights.
or maybe not. or maybe that’s not how you’ll go.
december, if you choose, if you allow it, can be the trail through the woods that leads to the light, far off in the distance.
the darkness itself offers the gift. each day, the darkness comes sooner, comes deeper, comes blacker than ink. it draws us in, into our homes, yes, but more so, into our souls.
it invites us: light a light. wrap a blanket. sit by the fire. stare into the flames, and onto the last dying embers.
consider the coming of Christmas.
i am, in this month of preparing, in this month of a story told time and again, listening anew to the words. i am considering the story of the travelers, the virgin with child, the donkey, the man with the tools, the unlikely trio, knocking and knocking at door after door.
i am remembering how, long long ago, i winced when i heard how no one had room. open the door, i would shout deep inside. make room. make a room.
i didn’t know then, that i could change it. i could take hold of the story, make it be just as it should be.
but i do now. i know now.
i am taking hold of that story, the way that it’s told this december. i am, in the dark and the quiet, making the room that i longed for. for the three in the story, yes, but even for me.
i am preparing a room at the inn. the inn, of course, is my heart.
i am for the first time in a very long time, paying attention. paying attention to the coming of Christmas. i am seeing the beauty of advent. the season of lighting a candle in the thick of the darkness.
i am noticing the whole of the woods. keeping my eye on the light in the window. but taking my time. filling my lungs with the sweet scent of the pine. hearing the crunch of the woods under my feet. wholly breathing an air that’s divine.
the walk to the light in the window is, for the very first time in a very long time, one that is sacred and hushed. i see the light, see it grow closer and closer.
it’s a glow that really is something, really is radiant. framed, as it is, in the dark of december.
oh my goodness, the forces today conspired against me. alarms didn’t ring. children missed buses. i had places to be, and the meander wasn’t yet wholly meandered. oh well. here it is, then, at the end of the morning. have you stopped to consider the power of a month that invites us to choose a path through the woods that’s not quite so trampled? how do you practice the coming of Christmas? or simply pulling in to the quiet that comes as the darkness grows longer and deeper?
my whole advent journey was sparked because i was asked by a church that i love to please pencil some thoughts on the subject. it was recorded and made into a CD. soon as i can i will share it with you on the lazy susan. keep watch and i’ll tell you as soon as i have maybe a minute to do some decembering over there on the page that i love, but can’t get to hardly often enough.
Sometimes I think the “forces that conspire” are the ones that pull us up short (and to the table mind you) to stop, catch our breath, and just be. I am a dark of the morning person and so I loved your thoughts today. About a week ago, I had pulled out Madeline L’Engle’s Crosswick Journal – Book 3 “The Irrational Season”….the opening entry was written at 2 AM in late November and there is much of her poetry….and here is just one stanza of many moments in her journal as she reflected on Advent…”Let us view with joy and mirthAll the clocks upon the earth Holding time with busy tocking Ticking booming clanging clocking Anxiously unraveling TIme’s travelingThrough the stars and winds and tides.Who can tell where time abides.”Blessings on the season of waiting….
Oh so much beauty in this “irrational season”My love and I began dating two years ago. As we were both completing our final papers and exams in grad school, we had very little time for big amazing dates. So in those first weeks of our relationship, we lit an advent candle and read an advent devotion together. We are now celebrating our third advent together and tonight we got to sit down and light the candle together. What an absolute gift.I look forward to savoring these days. I feel blessed that I will be in one place for all of advent and won’t return home to my family until the 23rd. I then will be in full christmas mode, but only after befriending the dark in these early days of december.
My two favorite books at this time of year: one I just mentioned so sorry to be repeating myself, Gertrude Muller Nelson, To Dance with God; and The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas. Nelson provides the most powerful advent meditation I’ve ever read. The Frug takes each character at the nativity scene and tells a story about him, or her, or it, and provides a recipe in their honor. It is darling, it is preparatory.My daughter has gone bananas for advent this year. Of course the Greeks start it on November 15th, because they do everything bigger, longer, and more rigorously, but we didn’t really get our advent show on the road until yesterday. I tried to be clear, explaining the whole thing to my little girl (“and the purple candles are for judgment, because the coming of Jesus in the manger must always bring to mind the return of God in the fulfillment of time”; or, “the Orthodox teach us that we may, like Mary, give birth to the Word, but in our hearts”). She looked a little blank and asked me if I could braid her Barbie’s hair. She has instead latched on to the opening of the calendar windows, the hanging of ornaments on the felt calendar tree, the reading of tiny books in the long calendar narrative. She has latched on to placing a bit of hay in a manger for good, sweet, kind deeds each day (yesterday each child got to put a handful of colored-paper hay in the cardboard manger because they each sincerely apologized for hurling blocks at one another). I can see it in her eyes this year–she’s got the preparing part down, the counting part down. She’s thinking about getting ready, she’s thinking about opening, hanging, and flipping her way once a day all the way till Christmas. We will do our best not to jump the gun on Christmas this year. Every year it is a struggle. But if ever there was a season of waiting and watching this is it. And we have plenty of time for that, plenty of time, if we spend it right.
Dearest Bam,The darkness- again penetrated by your light. I find myself, these days of bittersweetness, searching for visions. Music holds a candle to where I cannot quite see all the hearts I wished I could see…”breath of heaven hold me together, be forever near me, breath of heaven…breath of heaven lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness…”A song. Breath of heaven, exhale inhale, breathe -hoping for the faith and navigation of a wiser one. Like your little guy who savors sweetness, chocolate, his present moment gladness teaches a joy lesson. Enjoy your days of stillness, holiness and peace. Take care-
ahhh, bless those who wait together….all of us. jcv, again you remind me to go read gertrud. i will i will. and the little bits of hay, now there is something i’ve not heard. and already i love. i don’t have the manger up anywhere yet. today begins hanukkah, and i do a fine-line wiggle sometimes. all these years later and still i grope–in the murkiness. i am sure i hold myself back more than i need to, but i don’t want to step on a toe. not that there are toes sticking out from the bedposts or anything, but you understand, i’m certain. that said, the kindness straw i do think sounds lovelier than lovely. and then comes the poetry of true. as i typed that i looked up and saw flakes falling from heaven. may they land on all of our hearts. may them warm us, and bring us the softness we long for. if only we could all come in a circle, light that fire, share that afghan. listen to the poets among us spin their most blessed poetry.
Just so you know, bam, our manger is a shipping box that’s big enough for the smallest of my daughter’s baby dolls. I didn’t even bother to make dear little cardboard legs like last year. The hay is as I said cut strips of colored paper, although handfuls from the shredder would do very nicely too. Last year for hay I cut all the straws out of a broom, and parsimoniously allowed each child one straw per deed. Can I say the baby Jesus did not find a very comfortable bed there on Christmas day? Hmmmmm.Anyway, I appreciate the tightrope walk of two holidays, loving two traditions and honoring two traditions. We faced a tiny minor version of this when my children attended Jewish preschool and kindergarten, and my son loved what he learned so much, and loved telling others about it, that he practically could have been hired as a teacher. He insisted on our observation of Hanukkah each year. That felt like a balancing act and that was nothing. In your house you must keep doing what you’ve always done, and that is follow your heart.
dear darling, in case you come back to take another peek, i am here to say that i love that your manger is a shipping box with baby dolls. and straw of shredded checks, perhaps. how perfect that it’s not some store-bought, pre-fab creche. not that those aren’t BEAUTIFUL, it’s just that well the humility of yours seems most fitting for the occasion. i do believe i might go rooting for a box just now, and teach my little chocolate grabber to add a kindness one by one. what better way to teach the universal truth of the season, in any language, shape or color…….in a hundred years when his children’s children carry on the tradition, someone will have to tell someone that their great great granny learned it on a blog. a what? they’ll ask, and roll their eyes……..