i feel it, coming in like the draft through the cracks in my old wobbly windows. i feel it, as if a soft finger tapping me on the shoulder. i feel it beginning to swirl here in the kitchen, where cupboards are stacked with tins. i feel it when i plug in the lights on the tree. i feel it when i step out the back door, step under the great dome of dawn, shlep through the snow with my banged-up tin spilling with seed for my birds.
i feel it settling down in my heart and my soul. i feel the pure exchange of breath as i exhale the tired old air of these weeks of discombobulation and worry and fear, and breathe in the newborn air that will always be Christmas for me.
it is the holiest pause of the year for me, the birth of new light, just after the longest, darkest night. the quiet that comes, i imagine, just as it came in the manger, long long ago. i imagine the mother with child. i imagine her belly, hard, ready to birth. i imagine the cows lowing, and the sheep, the soft sounds of a barn, mixed with the muffled wail of pain from a mother in labor. then stillness. holy stillness. silent night. and then, at last, that cry from the deep, from the newborn lungs of the babe, the sound of God shattering the night. the first sound, a cry.
it’s a story that draws me deep into the folds of its threads. it’s a story that startles me, tenders me, year after year. it’s a story i need in double doses this year. and so i will tell myself the story over and over. i will stand at the edge of my creche and marvel at the newborn tenderness. i will marvel at the courage and strength of the mother who birthed her firstborn, her one and only, in the dim chill of a barn, surrounded by the murmurations of those beasts of burden. i will imagine the night sky, jet black, stitched with shimmering knots of pure light.
i will take hold of that tenderness, that courage and strength, and make it mine. or try, anyway. i will scoop up the seed that is Christmas, and tuck it deep in my heart. i will breathe into it, allow it to grow, to blossom, to spill beyond these few short days when the pause, holy pause, is upon us.
the holy pause is the most blessed gift of Christmas.
these are the days when the quiet comes, when we’ve ticked to the bottom of all the to-do lists, when we can shut the door on the cold winds outside. when we huddle with only the ones we love the most dearly. the ones our life depends upon.
at our house, the logs are piled high, ready to submit to the flame. thank you, old birch trees, old pine trees. the cupboards are full. the blankets are stacked in the old wicker basket. my firstborn, the one whose first cry long ago broke the silence, he’ll be home tonight. and the anticipation of his arrival is stoking the Christmas in my heart. it’s been a long autumn. and, in good measure, that’s what makes the Christmas miracle all the more blessed. especially this year.
and so, as is my way of keeping Christmas, i will bow my head at the dawn, and i will whisper my litany of prayerfulness. it’s the essence of Christmas to me: to weave the strands of petition into a whole and mighty salutation to the God who looks to us to uphold tenderness, mercy, and most of all justice. the God who begs us to keep peace here on this most blessed globe, the one of mountains and majesty, fragile bog and feathered flock. the God who gave us this gift with the undying hope that we’d hold it close to our hearts, and never let it shatter.
here is my prayer, or at least the first draft of it:
a christmas morning prayer…..
(the more insistent the prayer, the earlier i seem to rise. and so this morning, the heavens are star-stitched still, the edge of the dome is soaked still in inky black. the cardinals haven’t yet stirred from wherever it is they sleep.
and yet, my heart is bubbling. my prayers rise up from deep inside. they can’t wait to take flight, to be put to the airborne parabola, the one that puts wings to their breath.)
i pray for the mothers who have buried a child, the mothers for whom christmas will never be whole, will ever be hollow. i pray and pray for peace, just a thread of it, to come to them, to wrap for a moment around their aching heart. i pray for one moment’s relief from the stinging emptiness that will not be staunched.
i pray for the children who’ve lost their mother, two in particular i know and love, and countless others i’ve read about, countless others who cling to the margins of all the merriment, knowing it’s a country to which they no longer belong. for children without a mother on christmas, there is no peace, no everlasting peace.
i pray for Aleppo. i pray for the children hovering in the cold. i pray for the bodies of the babies unentombed from the rubble, the dust of hatred dropped from the skies. i pray for the mothers and fathers, i pray for the men and the women — cold, hopeless, hungry. i pray for the masses left to die, awaiting the words — any words — that tell them the world is listening, has heard their cries, awaiting the word that the world is coming, hope is coming to save them.
i pray for world leaders courageous enough to have opened their borders, to let in the rivers of refugees, disgorged from their homes, from their histories, from any shred of a sense that they’re safe.
i pray for the weary souls i see lying under puffy-layered sleeping bags, on cold hard sidewalks, under viaducts, against the grates at the base of shimmering downtown towers.
i pray for my children. i pray that in their hours of darkness, the light comes. that they see how brilliantly they shimmer in the landscape of my heart and my soul. i pray that someday they understand just how wholly they filled me, how they put purpose to my being alive. that each and every day we try and try again to teach each other: this is how you love.
i pray for all of us who, more often than not of late, feel hollowed. feel jarred and broken by the hatred spewing all around. i pray for our tender hearts and fragile spirits. i pray that we don’t topple. and if we do, i pray for someone strong to come along, to reach out a hand, to whisper hope, and pull us to our feet.
i pray for those who haven’t a clue how deeply they teach me each and every day — be it a story on the news, or one passing by in the social media whirl. or someone i bump into at the grocery store, or riding on the el, or shivering in the cold as i shuffle down the sidewalk.
i pray for the ones i love who come to this table. who leave behind a trace, or not even a whisper. i pray for the ones i love who never come here, who share in the depths of my life but never stop by here, never hear the deepest voice i know, the one i found here, buoyed by courage and love.
i pray for the ones we’ve lost this year, the ones whose words rumble through my head, through my heart, each and every day. i pray especially for my friend who wrote these words: “wake up every morning acknowledging just how much beauty is in your world. pay attention to it, honor it and keep your heart and your eyes wide open. you won’t regret it,” she promised.
i pray for the poets and wordsmiths and makers of art in every form — in clay, in thread, in wood, in every hue under the sun and the moon. i pray for those words that catch against my heart, and work their way into prayer. those words that leap from my soul into the heavens.
i pray for the God who catches them, who catches the words of the prayer, who catches us all.
more mightily than any prayer i pray of late, i beg Holy God to not abandon us now. to not leave us to our sins and our shattered promises. i promise to love a little bit harder, to live a little bit better, more true to the blessing i was made to be.
and this is the prayer i pray most mightily: i promise to love, God, and i beg You to show us — show me, show every single lost and hungry one of us — the way. the holy, certain way…
may your pause for the blessings of Christmas — and Hanukkah, the great festival of light that begins tomorrow — be gentle, and tender, and stitched with wonder and breathtaking marvel.
for what do you pray in this pause filled with holiness?
my littlest manger