Monday, December 22, 2014

Lying fallow

As Christmas gets closer, I feel the weight of the season on my spirit. "Happiest time of the year?" not in my universe. I have seen too much death in December, buried too many people in snowy cemeteries. I'll pass.

Except there's not really that option, is there? The family expects Christmas to arrive with all good cheer. My church expects the same. So I go along, even though I would rather be sitting on a sunny balcony in Mexico, looking out at a calm sea and reading a very long, fat, interesting book.

But I went to two services this weekend that helped me a bit, that lifted that December weight for awhile.

The first was a "Blue Christmas" service at a  nearby Episcopal Church. My own parish doesn't offer this, but I think it's a wonderful tradition to start. The few in attendance sat in the choir stalls, which were abundantly supplied with boxes of tissues. The readings were consolatory, referring to the brokenness of grief and disappointment we may feel at this time of year, while forcibly surrounded by Christmas music and good cheer. The Rector encouraged us to name those we mourned, and to light a candle for them in the nearby votive rack. There was also a bowl of salt water, representing God's tears, as a reminder to us that God weeps with us in our sorrow. The hymns were low-key: "Away in a Manger," "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," and "In the Bleak Midwinter."   The Music Director sang "The Wayfarer" at Communion. The service was moving and uplifting, and I was happy that I attended.

On Sunday, the day of the Winter Solstice, I played hooky and attended a Solstice service at a local Unitarian Universalist Church. The service was entitled, "Yuletide Blessings: A Winter Solstice Celebration," and included a beautiful reflection on the winter season as a time to lie fallow in the cold and dark, sink our roots deep, and reassess what we want to do in the springtime. The music was also lovely: a women's group sang a song called, "Light is Returning" as the prelude, and "Winter Solstice Round" as the postlude; the choir offered John Purifoy's "Sun and Earth" at the offertory. I felt afterwards that I had been reconnected to my roots on this planet, assured that spring would eventually come with the increasing of the light.

This is one thing we don't often get to do in the modern world -- lie fallow. Our ancestors knew that fields' lying fallow was an agricultural necessity, but we have now lost that  imperative to rest and regather our strength.

I hope to use the winter quiet -- which I hope to find after the holidays -- for some lying fallow myself.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Farewell to Old French (along with Russian, Italian, etc.)

Yesterday we finally finished eradicating the chaos in our house that came about through having painting done and all the floors refinished. The last task was moving the two huge bookshelves out of my study and back to their home in the upper hallway. With my study restored, I should be able to get some serious work done. I don't do well outside of calm, orderly environments, which is why this autumn was a real challenge for me.

In moving books back onto their shelves, I had to stop to reflect. As a medievalist, 35 years ago, I had to know a fair number of languages. Am I ever really going to open the Old French dictionary again? How about that fat Welsh dictionary -- am I going to read the Mabinogion again? And my short detour into Russian -- what was that about? Do svidaniya!

So I got out some reusable grocery bags and started filling them up. I kept all the gardening and craft books, figuring I would use them in retirement. But the dictionaries, language readers ... into the bags they went. Seriously, what am I going to do with 201 Italian Verbs? Into the bag!

Next step: off I went, with my six bags of books, to the Better World Books donation box I had seen in the shopping center. Surprise: it was gone! Perhaps they moved it -- I cruised around for a few minutes, before sensibly googling box locations on my phone.  Aha! Another one was two miles away.

So there I was, at dusk, inserting my books into the drop-slot. Farewell, Old French! It's time to put away childish things, I guess, and get on with life less encumbered.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

On keeping a low-key Advent

Advent has begun in a muted fashion for me this year.  As it's a a quasi-penitential season of waiting, this may actually be an appropriate response. Yet I'm used to a bit more in the way of anticipation.

At church, we lost the dear young man I spoke of in my last post, and his funeral was wrenching and painful.  In addition, our priest broke her ankle in the middle of a move to her new home, so we have had to deal with the question of whether we can stand to do only Morning and Evening Prayer in Advent, or whether we should seek the ever-more-elusive supply priest.

At home, we have had to deal with a bit of Family Drama, but it has been resolved for the present (we hope). We erected the Christmas tree in the living room, but it stands there naked, waiting for us to have time to trim it. Perhaps this weekend.  I finally remembered I had not ordered a wreath for the front door, so belatedly did that yesterday.

So Advent has begun with a series of half-gestures, offhandedly, as one of those tasks we have shoved to the bottom of the list. This is wrong, of course. But we lack energy to change it.

Of course, many people feel this way about Christmas, for one reason or another, it does not bring them happiness. For me, Christmas has not been the same since my parents died.  My mother died on December 15 of 1995, and J.'s mother on December 14 of 2011, so this month is  additionally freighted with bad memories. Our adult children are here for a day or two at the holiday, but it is mainly just the two of us and the dogs in the late-autumn gloom.

In this Advent darkness, as the days continue to shorten, we long for mild weather and happier times. As the Pagans celebrate the Winter Solstice by invoking the return of the sun, it makes sense that Christians celebrate the birth of the Son  at the darkest possible season.

This is all we have to hold onto in our dark places.