Christmas Eve Reflections

It’s been a long time since I wrote—almost a month. And like every month in this busy life, a lot has happened since I wrote. The retreat with my students went wonderfully. The semester ended well. I got to spend a day coloring and talking with students and I was reminded yet again how blessed I am to have my job, my students, my mentor, my friends.

Now it is December 24 and as I write this, I am watching the clock slink closer and closer to midnight. It has been a tradition for me as long as I can remember to stay up on Christmas Eve, writing or reading, reflecting. Of course, it is different now. I no longer wait eagerly for the mountain of presents or listen for the bells of Santa’s sleigh. And now, my room (which I had finally gotten organized when I started college) is filled with boxes of random things from my house in Dallas and I’m never really sure where things are or what they are, and I suspect the boxes are mating and multiplying (this pains the neat freak in me, who far prefers organization to chaos).

As I reflect I begin to realize that this Advent was not what I wanted it to be—that my preparation for Christ was not what he deserved. Certainly it involved some failure on my part, some sin or missing the mark, but mostly it involved my inability to slow down, to focus, to concentrate, to reflect. Winter is a time for reflection, as Mother Earth takes her long, deep rest and Persephone spends her months in the underworld with her ghastly groom, I always feel the need to look back, to ponder, and to think about the future. This year, I feel like I failed (as perhaps I have failed every year) to adequately reflect, to adequately prepare. I have long ago shed the childish notion of Christmas as a birthday party for Jesus and embraced it as an opportunity to prepare, as we should all year round, for the second coming and to reflect on the mystery of what happened that night, long ago in a stable in Bethlehem.

At the beginning of Advent this year, as I crept slowly into the cave of my heart, ready to embrace the hibernation that the world around me was entering (something I have not witnessed these last four years, as winter is a stranger most of the time in Dallas… or, perhaps not a stranger, but that annoying friend who comes in the night at some unexpected moment with no warning, and then leaves almost as quickly). I began reading a book by Jan Richardson (In Wisdom’s Path), recommended by S. Donna, SP. I fell in love not only with her writing (particularly her beautiful poetry), but also the image she presented. She presents an idea that she got from a sister from the CSAs, namely that Christ was born in a cave and that Advent is a time to enter the cave of our hearts, the space within us where Christ longs to be born. As I read about Jan’s experience of a slow Advent, I started to feel overwhelmed by my own. I feel guilty commenting on mine, when I know that my housemates were certainly busier than I. Sadly, I think that the majority of my Advent was not passed busily at work like my community’s (although things were more active than Fr. Jeff predicted), but rather that my Advent was spent aimlessly watching television with my housemates (even though I hate tv), passing time on facebook (I didn’t even have the energy for pinterest, which I enjoy much more… a sad statement on my life), and just sleeping. I suppose the sleep is in keeping with the theme of hibernation, but it was a far cry from the reflection that I was hoping to attain (my goal of reading the bible every night fell apart a week before Thanksgiving and I haven’t quite gotten back to it yet, even though I’m at the beginning of Luke, a favorite since I translated it myself).  

Now, here I am, exhausted from the preparations for the commercial celebration of Christmas (I can’t even pretend that wrapping gifts is preparing for the Christ child). Yet, I am also filled with joy after the celebration with my family tonight. I don’t know what it is, but even when I’m not participating in the conversation, just sitting and listening to Travis, Jodie, Kenna, Chris, Madison, Sara and all my other family talk about people I don’t even know or things that happened, I just feel filled with joy. Being with my family, particularly my cousins and their beautiful kids, brings new life and new joy into my heart. The babies (Trustin, Colton, JW, Westin, Bailey, and Tanner), especially, are a blessing. I love them each for their own special gifts. They are all so sweet (though they’re all capable of being what my aunt lovingly terms as “stinkers”). Then, to be with my Aunt Carol and my Aunt Marie, two women whom I have looked up to since I was a little girl, is also a blessing. To have my cousin, Christina, around as well is just wonderful. Perhaps I am channeling Richardson or have spent too much time with the SPs, but I appreciate their feminine energy. I am amazed at their ability to whip up several dishes, decorate, and watch their grandkids all at once. I long to be like that someday, even though my cooking isn’t ideal and my baking has come to almost a standstill since I got serious about the gluten free thing. I know that none of them are perfect at what they do, but I still dream of being able to do it as well as they (because I have no desire to be perfect). I am reminded of Richardson’s cave and wonder if this leaving behind of our normal lives in order to prepare a meal, in the same way my grandmother did before them, and the same way that women have for hundreds of years, is not another way of withdrawing into a cave. Perhaps the images on the wall of woman’s cave really do involve recipes for grandma’s light opera creams or the famous mac n’ cheese that Chris makes in Grandma’s honor at every holiday. It irks the feminist inside of me to admit that I want to have those on the walls of my cave, too; that I, too, long to nourish my family with the work of my hands. Of course, I have never liked Grandma’s light opera creams (sorry, Grandma, but you knew that before and now that you’re in heaven, I’m sure you don’t really care) and any pasta for me has to be gluten free, but surely there’s a way to bring it together, to participate in the feminine heritage that has been passed on from generation to generation. I am reminded of Richardson’s poem, “Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.” The poem comes with a reflection on the Jesse tree’s relationship to the male ancestors of Christ, and she thinks of another tree, forgotten, which contains the names of the female ancestors. I hope that if I ever have children that I will teach them this part of their heritage, their legacy. I love this part of Christmas and I must admit, I miss washing dishes with my aunts, a practice now obsolete since there is a dishwasher.

This has been my celebration so far, and as I write this I notice that there are five minutes left of Christmas Eve. Ready or not, he’s coming.
(Picture: The Family by John Dickson Batten, my favorite picture of the Holy Family) 

Earlier today, I can’t remember what it was that had happened, but I was reflecting on what sort of world it is that Christ is now (and perpetually) being born into. In a world where there is such a disconnect between everything—between humanity and the earth, other animals, each other, between families and friends and husband and wife, a disconnect between Christian and Christ, between the church and the believer… how do we make a connection with this god-man, this child wrapped in swaddling clothes, a God who needs his diapers changed, who dies a gory, bloody death on the cross only to have us turn his incarnation into a commercial event? How do we make sense of it? How do we welcome him in? I am nervous to welcome him in, ashamed. Couldn’t it have been made better for him by Christmas? I find myself thinking of the various stories we hear of war, when there is a cease fire at Christmas and opposing armies would gather together and sing songs before going back to killing one another the next day. I ask myself, what sense does this make? If we could stop killing for one night, why can’t we stop killing for good? What was the meaning of singing songs together, recognizing our common belief in Christ, our common dignity as humans, if we were only going to turn around and kill each other?  Sure, I know the morality behind just war, but just war be damned if we’re going to sing songs together one minute and shoot each other the next. There’s no logic that will make me understand.

And what kind of world is the Christ child being born into when we waste so much? Whenever I’m with my family I try to shut my mouth and ignore the ache that starts in my stomach when I see the piles of disposable plates, the food left on them, unwanted. At least we try to save the scraps for the dogs or the chickens, but even so, the wastefulness of plastic drains me. Yet, I cannot criticize, knowing that my Aunts, already tired, have no desire to rinse tons of dishes and then run the dishwasher the three times it would take if our dishes were real. We trade one evil for another and then invite the Christ child to enter, unsure of which was worse.

Perhaps I am rambling on. The time is late. I am now five minutes into the feast and my body is telling me it’s time to sleep. Ignoring the seasons and the sun’s path have ruined my internal clock, as it does everyone’s. I will go now, wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a year filled with many blessings. If you are interested in Richardson, let me share with you one of her poems which has intrigued me today. I am trying to do a writing retreat with her next semester, if I can get it arranged.

A Woman in Winter
(from In Wisdom’s Path by Jan Richardson, page 18)

A woman in winter
is winter:
turning inward,
elemental force,
time’s reconing;
sudden frost
and fire’s warming,
depth of loss
and edge of storming.
She is avalanche,
quiet hungering,
utter stillness,
snowfall brewing;
hollowed, hallowed,
shadows casting,
field in fallow,
wisdom gathering.
Waiting, watching,
darkness craving,
reaching, laboring;
burning, carrying fire
within her,
a woman turning,
becoming winter.