Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Blue Christmas

"Early Winter"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

This year I have noticed that many churches are offering what are often called A Blue Christmas Service. I even saw an ad for a Blue Hanukkah Service offered by a local temple. In addition to the joyful celebrations of candle-lighting and festive carols, people are invited 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 gloom and darkness.

I guess that it’s not so surprising that so many people might be feeling “blue” as the hours of daylight wane and the nighttime seems so long. I also know plenty of people who say that they “just can’t wait for 2016 to end.” A contentious presidential election and a nation divided by culture wars has left many folks in a foul state of mind.

The more I think about it, it’s probably a really good idea to offer some sort of Blue Service during this supposedly “festive” time of year because this is not only a season of heightened joy but it is also a season of pronounced 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, sharing gifts, eating a great feast and raising a glass of “good cheer.”  We turn on a radio or go into a church or a mall  and hear the music of the season, songs of comfort and joy, songs of a child sweetly sleeping in a “silent night” where all is calm and all is bright, and we may imagine that this is what Christmas is supposed to be.

This is supposed to be a time of love, peace, joy, tenderness and togetherness,  but plenty of people don’t feel this way, 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 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 a loved ones who may have died or live far away can be exceptionally painful. At his 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 experience love, we share joy and we have moments of peace and serenity. As human beings there are also times when we all feel disappointed or frustrated, sad and gloomy, 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.

I actually think the Buddhists get it right when they teach that the road to enlightenment is paved with suffering. Life is fragile and impermanent as we crave for the bigger and better, obsess about getting sick and old and chew over our faults and the faults of others.

Darkness and light always dance together as we make our way through the wilderness we call life.

As I see it, healing only happens we get to the point where we can admit or own “woundedness” and share our common weakness. Our wounds and our suffering 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.

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