Friday, December 18, 2015

A Season of Sadness

"Darkness and Light"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

In addition to their regular Christmas events, I have noticed this year that many churches are offering what are often called A Blue Christmas Service. In addition to the joyful celebrations of candles and carols, it is now also possible for people to gather with other folks who may be feeling sad or lonely and depressed at this time of year, to share their common experiences and pray for healing and light in the midst of the feelings of darkness.

Personally I think every church should offer some sort of Blue Christmas Service because this is not only a season of heightened joy but for many people this is also a season of sadness.

At this time of year we watch tender movies about people who find new love as the snow falls and the lights on a tree twinkle. We also see pictures of families gathered for festive days, sharing gifts, eating a great feast and raising a glass of “good cheer.”  We turn on a radio or go into a church and hear the music of the season, songs of comfort and joy, songs of a child sweetly sleeping on a “silent night” where all is calm and all is bright.   

We may imagine that this is what Christmas is supposed to be - this is supposed to be a time of love, peace, joy, tenderness, family, goodwill to all; but plenty of people don’t feel like that and so it leaves them wondering why they aren’t experiencing the holidays as they are supposed to be.

The truth is that lots of folks do not have big families with whom they will gather on a Christmas Eve, and even if they do, their time together won’t necessarily be all that joyful or convivial. This holiday season is also a time when the sting of a lost relationship or memories of loved ones who may have died or live far away can be exceptionally painful. At this time of year the days are short and the nights are long and lots of people feel that way.

As I see it, no matter what this holiday season is supposed to be, it is never a time of total joy, perfectly wonderful, tender love, and ever-calm peace; but then again, this isn’t what life has to offer for any of us  - life is a beautiful struggle. As human beings we know tenderness and compassion, we share joy and we all have our moments of peace and serenity. As human beings there are also times when we all feel disappointed or frustrated, lost, lonely and confused.

I am very fond of the homespun wisdom of Anne Lamott who once made this wonderful observation about our common humanity:

Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared,
even people who seem to have it more or less together -
they are much more like you than you would believe.
So try not to compare your insides to their outsides.

The psychologist, Carl Rogers, said something very similar:

That which is most personal is most general.

This is why I think every church should offer a Blue Christmas Service in addition to their regular seasonal events - it would acknowledge the truth that, to some extent, all of us are sad and blue, and maybe even more so at this time of year. But perhaps more importantly, gathering for a Blue Christmas may also highlight the importance of vulnerability as we make our way through life in this beautiful struggle.

Healing only happens when we get to the point where we can admit our own “woundedness” and share our common weakness. Our wounds are opportunities for us to be vulnerable enough to let down the protective walls of our ego and reach out to one another - and when that happens love is finally possible.

The author, Paul Coelho made this very wise observation:

The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility.

Lots of songs say that Christmas is the happiest time of the year-maybe so, but it is also the saddest time and perhaps the most fragile time. And in this fragile time the strongest love is able to be born anew in the mangers of our own hearts.

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