out of darkness, the first radiant light
imagine, long before telescopes and science tomes, what must have rumbled through the minds of those keeping watch on the heavens. how a time came when each day was darker and darker. when the hours of midnight-blue-toward-black blanketed farther and wider across the landscape. imagine the terror it might have stirred. are we edging toward endless seamless darkness?
and then, one day, at the darkest hour, a stirring happened, a stillness barely noticed. the waxing darkness ceased, the light broke through, and day by day, minute by minute, there was more of it. ebb and flow. wax and wane. addition and subtraction. the arithmetic of heaven, earth, and all creation.
and into that cosmos of push and pull, the ones who felt the spirit, the ones who believed the heavens were stirred by the hand of the Creator, they infused the darkness with the Christmas story. they made this the time of year when the Great Scripture opened in Nativity. a babe was born. in quietest, cast-aside manger. it’s a narrative whose shining light begins on the margins, celebrates the marginal. it is in every way the antithesis of splendor. it’s a straw bed where the moans and cries of labor are punctuated with the mews and bellows of the barnyard flock. where sheep and ox kept time.
it is a story that turns everything — darkness, splendor — on its head. the holiest one is born in a barn. there’s no room at the inn, not even for the one who brings the light. it’s a tale whose tropes never ever fade. year after year, they permeate hope. year after year, the dark hours before the solstice serve to quiet us. draw us in. invite us to explore the unlocked chambers of our hearts, the ones we sometimes never notice.
i’ve come to wrap myself in the little-noticed threads of Christmas, the quiet threads. the ones lost in the folderol and rump-a-pum-pum. the Christmas i love is all but invisible. you can’t unwrap it. it unfolds all on its own, deep in the stillest places in my heart. i do everything i can to amplify the quiet. i tiptoe down the stairs earlier and earlier. i make a point of opening the back door and stepping into the dawn. i shlep my tin can of birdseed across the frozen grass, under star-stitched dome, and thrill to the spilling song of all that sunflower and safflower funneling into the feeder. i simmer orange peel and cinnamon stick, clove and bay leaf, star anise too; my kitchen’s incense, calling me to quiet prayer.
on mornings like this one, i listen for the muffled thud of three distinct footfalls. it’s a sound that now comes but once a year. it’s a sound that means three beds — not two — are filled in this old house. i want nothing more than the sound of those footsteps, and the long day’s cacophony that follows. i want the whispered conversations at the kitchen table. and the hilarious ones that might punctuate hours round the Christmas tree. i want the sleepy-eyed listening in on the words weaving back and forth between two boys who call themselves brothers, and live and breathe that alliance as if it’s forged in titanium. i want to feed them, and make them laugh. i want to reach across wherever it is we are sitting and squeeze the flesh of their now-grown hands. i want to catch the glimmer in their eye when we pull to a stoplight in the night, and the street lamps catch the animation i can’t see across the long-distance-telephone miles.
if Christmas is the time when radiant light breaks through winter’s darkest night, i want to wrap myself in all its threads. if Christmas is love born anew, if it’s quiet — as quiet as the first one truly was — then all i want for Christmas is what burns bright and still inside me. and my prayer then would be to hold that light, to carry it long beyond the Christmastide. to animate my every day, to hold the stillness, the quiet, the kindled inextinguishable flame, and let its lumens fall across my winding path, illuminating my every hour.
for that, i beg the heavens. amen.
may your Christmas be blessed, and as quiet or as rambunctious as you wish. may your solstice hour carry you across the threshold from dark to first inkling of light.
how do you make Christmas in the quiet of your blessed heart?
A) so glad to start the astrological new year by having my coffee at the “table”! Thanks dear Chair Lady. Happy new year to all table mates.
B) Solstice is about the sun seeming to stand still for a moment before it begins tilting back, or as it is in our hemisphere, forward, at 4:23 PM today. I like the thought of a moment of stillness and then slowly leaning into whatever life will bring in the next six months or so. Enjoy the stillness of the day wrapped in quiet hearts and conversation.
i love this longest night blessing, sent by beautiful lamcal. and i love your focus on the stillness. i will bow low to the stillness as the hour comes…….thank you for sending this beautiful prayer-poem….
Blessing for the Longest Night
All throughout these months
as the shadows
this blessing has been
It has practiced
walking in the dark,
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.
So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.
You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
in the company
of a friend.
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
from The Cure for Sorrow
Barbara, thank YOU for being LIGHT in our world, always!
bless you for carrying it on and on and on…….xoxox
I’m late getting here today, and it is the solstice hour. I’m surrounded by darkness, quiet, candlelight, and the glow of the Christmas tree. This won’t last long, though, as my family will celebrate the birth of the Light of the world in 3 more nights. To me, this is Christmas, this is winter, the quiet and dark anticipation of what’s to come. May whatever comes to your heart be what you truly need as we start the new year!
beautifully, beautifully said. i love the moment, the angle, you’ve captured here — isn’t that it, the bottled-up anticipation, the animated hopes and wishes and dreams, all awaiting the arrival, the glow. “the quiet and dark anticipation of what’s to come……” beautiful. merry blessed everything, dear Jack. xoxox
Pastor Emily is using that Jan Richardson poem tonight at the “Longest Night” service, for those struggling with the holidays. My favorite way to keep Christmas is to look up at the sky after evening service on Christmas Eve … it’s often crisp, cold, and clear, and the sky is wonder-filled. Venus is particularly shiny/sparkly these days, and it reminds me of the fabled star the wise men followed. Always think of you, a’course, when I sky-gaze. Thank you for this wonderful meditation. xoxoxoxo and love. Merry, merry to all here at the table.
oh, would i love to be there, perhaps in a darkened, candle-lit church, when pastor emily reads that tonight. i love your Christmas Eve star-gazing. and, yes, oh yes, we are tied by stars, under which ever heaven we find ourselves (i remember standing on our back porch in cambridge, and looking up at star or moon and being connected with you all those miles away. stars are our heart glue, you and me…..) xoxox merry merry, honey.
Lovely, lovely way for me to spend a few minutes…reading your beautiful thoughts and images in prayer, with hope!! I love looking at 2 red mugs!!! I pray for all those suffering at this time of year!! Reading your words at the table is a kind of prayer time for me!! Thank you and Merry, merry Christmas!!
bless you, and merry merry back to you. i love that the way Christmas falls this year, we seem to be wrapped in a four-day blanket of quiet and calm…….
Merry Christmas bam!
Thanks for all the love you spread and engender in everyday life and of course your weekly missives.
bless YOU, dear laura. and merry merry days of Christmastide. may the quiet linger for a few more days…..xox
May our hearts be open to the hope and blessings of the day and may we redeem the trust our Creator has placed in us to make all of them meaningful and significant, while abiding in peace and love.
Goodness. So sorry that I’m a week late to the table. On that winter solstice afternoon, I was sitting at my desk in the school library after all the kids had raced out the doors for winter break (and most of the teachers too!) and I was enjoying the stillness and as lamcal beautifully said getting ready to lean into whatever life brings. xoxoxo, hh
the table always stays set for whomever shows up whenever……that’s the beauty of unlocked and always opened doors.