advent journal: night vision


    If someone were driving by our church tonight, they might have mistaken us for Baptists: the parking lot was full on a Wednesday night. The choir was rehearsing, with orchestra, for their Vivaldi offering on Sunday, the bilingual English class was having their Christmas party in the Fellowship Hall, and a group of us were gathered in the Dowdy Room (not a descriptive adjective, but the name of someone) for our annual Blue Christmas service, designed to allow those who are grieving or struggling to have permission to feel something other than full of holiday cheer. It’s one of my favorite services of the year and, in every church where we have had the service, it’s always a small crowd.

    I know there are more than ten people in our church who are struggling through the season. I also realize there are any number of reasons they might not have been there; I’m not making a judgment here. I just wish for more because of what the service means to those who do participate. There is wonder-working power in shared grief and pain. We hold each other up and we learn from each other. I see my pain differently when I am sharing the load with those around me.

    Chet Raymo
    sends my looking skyward, once more:

    If we want to understand the Milky Way, it is usually best to look to other galaxies. The Milky Way is the one galaxy we cannot see in its entirety because we are inside it. (114)

    We certainly feel our pain up close, yet when it comes to making meaning out of our existence we must look out, look toward one another in order to gain some perspective. I learned about my depression by reading what others lived through and by talking to almost anyone willing to share their experience. Had I been left solely to stare out into my own darkness, I couldn’t have found my way through deepest midnight of those days. Still, it seems we have to train ourselves to need one another, even when we know we don’t want to be alone. Living intentionally means choosing to live in community until it becomes second nature.

    One of my favorite parts of the service tonight was the closing reading, which accompanied the lighting of four candles. I offer it as a view into our little constellation of compassion.

    One: The first candle we light to remember those whom we have loved and lost. We pause to remember their names, their faces, their voices, the memory that binds them to us in this season. (Light first candle.)
    All: May God’s eternal love surround us as we hold them near.

    One: This second candle we light is to redeem the path of loss: the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health, the loss of dreams. (Light second candle.) We pause to gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God, asking that from God’s hands we receive the gift of peace.
    All: Refresh, restore, renew us, O God, and lead us into your future.

    One: This third candle we light is to remember ourselves this Christmas time. We pause and remember the disbelief, the anger, the down times, the poignancy of reminiscing, the hugs and handshakes of family and friends, and all those who stood with us. (Light third candle.)
    All: Let us remember that dawn defeats darkness.

    One: This fourth candle is to remember our faith and the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us. (Light fourth candle.) We remember that God who shares our live promises us a place and a time of no more pain and suffering.
    All: Let us remember the One who shows the way, who brings the truth, and bears the light.

    And then we sang:

    O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
    Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by;
    Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light!
    The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

    As we sat silently, the Spanish folks snacked down the hall and, in the sanctuary, the singers and strings practiced for their concert; then we all went out into the night, as the galaxies gazed and glistened.



    1. You’ve been such an inspiration to us.

      We held our first Blue Christmas service tonight. We didn’t really know what to do, only that it needed to be done.

      I saw people from the community whom I’d never seen at our church. I saw people from our church who had been masking whatever sadness they brought with them tonight.

      A harpist played. We sang; “O Little Town” and “In The Bleak Midwinter” and “The Silence of God” and “Welcome to Our World”. We offered words of hope.

      At the end, we all walked outside and lit candles. In the dark, under the cool shadow of an old oak tree, we sang “Silent Night”. Then we left our candles, lit, in sand-filled boxes in the front yard of the (borrowed) church building. As we drove away, the candles continued to flicker.

      You helped make this happen, through the ministry you do with Ginger.

      Thank you for the inspiration.

    2. Once again, Milton, you have reduced me to tears. I feel like if I read yer blog posts every day, people would think i was grieving over something. . .

      but — these are the good tears, the ones that remind us that we are human, that god lives in us, that there is pain & suffering mixed in & amongst the joy & pleasures. . . i have taken recently in my journal to referring to this type of crying as “joy-tears.” it seems as if the holi-daze brings them out — looking at decorated houses in the snow last friday brought them out; watching “Babe” on Sunday brought them out (“that’ll do, pig. . . that’ll do”); and now yer words bring them out again.

      just writin’ to say Merry Christmas, and thanks for everything. . . hope to see you soon.

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