On This Christmas Season

A few weeks ago I sat with my spiritual director in a small, familiar room at Richmond Hill. A tall window spilled late afternoon light into the space between our two narrow IMG_2066chairs. The tiny flame of a scentless candle flickered; tires dragged rain across pavement, the muffled chatter of people rose upward as they navigated the uneven brick pavement. From my second-story vantage point things appeared dreary and dismal; cold, but without the glory of snow, a day cut short by the falling winter darkness.

We start our time with a prayer, and then silence; sometimes a long silence. Sometimes I glory in the slight sound of my breath, in and out, rhythmically. I breathe more deeply. I sense her presence, this spiritual companion. I am aware of my body. Once, in an earlier meeting, the silence brought forth a great revelation: I felt like crap. Truly, I didn’t realize I was sick until I stopped long enough to become aware of my own physical self.

That was an aha moment. Pay attention to your life.

On this particular bleak midwinter day, I spoke out of the silence with a calm that surprised myself.

“It’s a busy time of year; always, it’s “the MOST wonderful tiiiime of the yeeaaarrrr…” Church is busy. Presents to buy, kids coming home, lots of transitions at work. But it’s somehow different, this year. For the first time in a long time, I’m….not freaking out. Not stressed. Not anxious. I’m actually calm. At peace.

“It is highly unusual for me. And I like it.”

We unpacked some of the many things that have transpired over the course of the year that led to this particular yuletide positioning. It’s been a year of adjustment, certainly; the fifth of five has left home for college. One dear family member chose to exit via a heart-breaking divorce; another family member put some sizable distance between us. Of those three departures, one brought tears and grief, but the good kind – a kid graduating and taking the first steps on a career journey is a pain that easily mends with witness to their growth and joy. The other two separations are still raw and painful, losses that pinball around a lonely canyon of grief. That emptiness is much more difficult.

But grace and peace enter into all dark places, eventually. Often slowly. I trust the process, and I’ve seen evidence of this transformation in each of these spaces – even, and especially, the darkest ones.

And that seems to be the key to my current situation, a happy accident of peace and gentle movement. Grace and peace are filling up more and more of the empty spaces, pushing out some of the nonsensical things I’ve packed into my soul to insist that my needs be met. All of my demands:

That I am seen.

That I am validated.

That I am affirmed. 

That I am loved. 

All these things I desperately need…that I work so hard to hold onto.

I’ve adapted to a consistent routine of invitation and intention; found new ways to sit with ancient truth and respectfully revisited some old ways, too. I’ve played music and paid more attention to my internal audience and the rhythm of my soul.

Grappling for words and images to communicate to my spiritual director, I began. IMG_4053

“You know how a music score has all the parts…all the notes, different instrumentation for the entire orchestra? If you’re the conductor, you have to synthesize all of what is on the page and then point and shoot. The conductor is in charge, directing it all, pulling the musicians together to individually perform to create something greater than themselves. 

“I think that most of my life, I have gripped the baton and waved it wildly at all the facets of my life…from my kids, to my husband, to my family members. In my job. I’m supposed to be a leader – whether for my family or my work. Or simply as a citizen; I have leadership skills, and I’ve taken that to mean that the baton was my responsibility. I’m supposed to lead. I’ve waved it all my life, in whatever setting I found. Sometimes it was blatant; sometimes subtle, even sneaky. But I’ve always been running the show, waving the baton. 

“And now something has shifted; somehow, I’ve truly come to believe that there is a much better, more proficient Conductor. I’ve known that – intellectually – but to submit to the knowledge, to be authentic…to release the baton and take my seat and just play my part; that is a new thing.”

I like this analogy, and I’ve come back to it time and time again.

Life, as a beautiful sonic creation.

Me, with a part to play in making it beautiful by bringing my best.

Somebody Else in charge.

I’m sure it falls apart eventually, but in this season of life, the source of the grace and peace that has buoyed me through this beautiful Christmas celebration, the metaphor stands.

And that is why this Christmas was awesome.



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