the december i am drawn to, the one that most emphatically, insistently, invites me in, is the one that beckons in whisper.
the apex of my counterculturalism, perhaps, i take my month of longest night in slow sure sips. timpani belongs to someone else. my december—our december, perhaps, for there is evidence we’ve found each other, kindred spirits here—is one that calls for quiet.
long stretches of hours in which the simmering on the stove, the ticking of the clock, the occasional squawk of the jay at the feeder, those are the preludes, the quarter notes and half notes that i take in.
there will come, i’m certain—because year after year it comes—the one annual carol i play over and over, cranking the dial till the house shakes, and i worry the next-door neighbor might come running to see if all is well. (“mary, did you know?” a leading contender, third year running…)
and so i’ve spent the week preparing, whisking away autumnal vestige, ushering in soon-to-come winter. i’ve stockpiled seed in 20-pound sacks (several, so far), and vats of ice-melting pellets for the dawn when the ice comes. i’ve piled pumpkins and gourds in the old trough my squirrels and possums (and occasional uninvited skunk) depend on, the autumn’s feast now theirs for winter keeping. i’ve snipped boxwood and spruce, tucked branches of both into window boxes just below the ledges, where jack frost will soon anoint the panes. i’ve strung italian star-lights around and through the posts of my picket fence. when the sun drops down, i won’t be alone in the dark. there is twinkling at the edge of the yard, front and back. and a candle flickers atop the kitchen table.
it is all a part of the coiling in. the nautilus of deepening prayer.
the prayer that fills me most is the prayer that slowly and silently seeps to the tucked-away places, the ones that await the season of stillness, the places unlocked by the smells and the bells of december: pungent clove, star anise, hissing wick, crackling log, twilight’s first star and the night’s last ember at dawn.
it won’t be long till somehow i crank the oven, haul out the canisters, bang my grandma’s old maple rolling pin against the cutting board’s edge. my coterie of cookie cutters each play a role in their own sugarplum suite.
one day this week i hauled a turkey carcass from the fridge, and plunked it in my deepest pot, the vessel for soup-making for a dear dear friend whose newborn is just home from the ICU, and for whom i’ve cooked up all the sustenance i could imagine: brown rice, pulled-from-the-earth plump knotty carrots and fennel and garlic, savory stock, handful of parsley.
i’ll deliver my brew well before sundown, and in return i’ll drink in the newness, the perfection, of a babe just birthed, cradled more tightly and tenderly than ever imagined because ICUs do a mighty fine job of reminding how blessed it is to be finally sent home, untethered from the web of too many tubes and the fright that shakes a new mama and papa—and all those who love them—down to their rickety bones.
(there is, of course, no ailment the balm of day-long simmering kettle won’t cure; even a newborn mama’s terrible tremble is certain to be chased away at the very first shlurp of that omnipotent zoup.)
indeed, these are my december liturgies, day after day. intercessions of prayer, punctuated by plain old worldly deadlines. i attend to my errands and chores and assignments—laundry is folded and ferried, empty shelves of the fridge re-stocked, sentences are typed and essays submitted.
but the work that’s most heavenly, certainly, is the quiet work of the soul come december. the making way, making room at the inn, in the heart.
the grace of december, the gift of december, is in the quieting, the hush of the sacred whisper. the vespers that hallow—make holy—the heart. make room in the heart this quiet december.
i’ve been saving this poem, “winter grace,” for the whispered beginnings of the season of stillness….
By Patricia Fargnoli
If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.
“Winter Grace” by Patricia Fargnoli from Hallowed. © Tupelo Press, 2017.
how do you make room in your heart, in your unspooling of the day, for the whisper come december?
How do you manage to keep up with yourself yet find the stillness? I am here weekly (weakly?) to imbibe the lessons. There’s not much quiet on my walks to work, along a busy main street of rushing commuters and wailing ambulances, but the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other is still somehow soothing. I will try to keep learning from you…Blessed December, dear one xoxoxo
thank you, sweet love. first, the walk to work carries its own magic. footfall against sidewalk is a rhythm and poetry all its own. there is so much to see! my winter’s-coming round of errands have all been woven quietly into the days (the sunny warm days made every minute outside a joy — and a distraction from all that waited inside!). and, so funny, that my chore list sounds full, when by the measure i take, i mostly see what i haven’t yet gotten done!
most of all i think it’s my early rising that drenches my daybreak in stillness. going outside with my coffee can of birdseed is my moment to commune with heaven’s dome, and the stirrings in all the boughs….if only we all lived in a quiet village……all our cottages lining the lane…..
Dear BAM, I am so grateful to know that even though we don’t see one another often, we are kindred spirits, that delight in this season of juxtaposition of stillness and activity and darkness and light. I love Advent, but need regular reminders to enter into this season with courage and abandon. And so, while my outlook calendar declares fullness, I turn to the advent wreath and candles in my dining room, living room and family room for deep invitation and reminder to sit, stay and wait for the light.
My go to devotional companion in this season is Jan Richardson’s book, “night visions.” A book I highly recommend for its beauty and wisdom.
And for the little one who was cared for with mighty compassion and strength in the icu now return home knowing the deep and everlasting love and embrace of family and friends.
Blessings to all who enter into December and light a candle and learn to live in the shadows of December
ohhh, dear slj, my heart always melts when you leave trace of having wandered by. and yes, indeed, this is jan richardson season. i carried three of her books to a circle of women i met this morning. and the beautiful candle wreath, gift from your wedding, will be on the table any hour now……
i love life’s juxtapositions, and love that you illuminate that very point, as the contrast itself sharpens the edge and the detail of the duality. one without the other loses its depth, its texture, its relief.
i am in fact just home from cradling the little angel. and oh what an angel. newborn baby squeaks are heaven’s song. and she sang them. and the crook of my arm already misses her soft sweet head pressed against it….
stepping into Shabbat, with more candles to be lit.
sending love across this deep darkness of night…..
Thank you for creating this space where we can pull up a chair, ease into stillness and quiet, and still be part of a community with others who embrace this time of waiting. This year I’ve been finding even more moments of quiet and stillness, lighting extra candles, and simmering extra pots of soup. And this morning I read about Painted Turtles, digging into the mud… trusting in radical simplicity. Thanks so much for mentioning the Advent book 🙂
thank you for making a place here. we love your gentle presence. and i love that painted turtles have made their way into your advent. there is so much more to come in that beautiful breathtaking book…..
I live in a century-old three-story building surrounded and overshadowed by high-rises, and so, while some people have postage-stamp gardens, I have a postage-stamp sky in the backyard, further diminished by ever-brighter light pollution. The Great Bear, the only constellation ever visible back there, is now camouflaged. Such is life on the lakefront. But when I leave work every night, I have a heavenly panorama east over the lake, south toward the Dunes and west. And overhead! I often stop and stand in the middle of the parking lot for minutes, head tilted back. (I am unself-conscious and happy to share my rapture with the quizzical.) December is my favorite month for after-work sky watching (although summer’s cloud formations are sumptuous). The hush of winter, Advent, Solstice and Christmas are evoked by sunset’s afterglow being rapidly absorbed into the midnight blue. The quality of light is so pure in the thin cold air, and it whispers a song composed 199 years ago in the crystalline winter air of the Austrian Alps. It all provides a bit of quietude before I join the conga line of cars headed north on Lake Shore Drive. But it’s enough.
oh, dear karen, your prose melts me! i love you for pointing us toward the sky, and for being our star guide. i will be out there soon, and will pause to “do a karen!” i laughed out loud at your conga line of cars on LSD! you are such a poet. our urban naturalist. so blessed we are to have you and your wisdoms among us….xoxox
December is my favorite month. I think both the darkness of those early mornings and late afternoons bring the necessary quiet many of us need during these hectic times. It’s just one more way that Mother Earth works for us, giving us extra hours for thinking and dreaming. Many blessings and wishes for that little baby! Stories of the NICU still haunt me. Miracles happen there, but the fight to get to those miracles is often a tough one.
ah, yes, the wisdoms of mama earth, she who blankets us in extra layers of quiet, darkness under her covers. and rather than pushing against it, i open wide to let it come rushing in……..
miracle of this day was cradling that precious angel, breathing in her wholeness, absorbing the peace of her mama and papa, so grateful to have her home…….
bless you, dear J. xoxo
“the grace of december, the gift of december, is in the quieting, the hush of the sacred whisper. the vespers that hallow—make holy—the heart. make room in the heart this quiet december.”
You words fill me with heavenly peace…
x o x o x o
as you fill me…….
with heavenly peace….
and so i traipse into this night. blessings to you, sweet heart…..xoxo