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bleak midwinter

Funny, I looked through all my photos, thousands of them, to find a picture that I had taken of this time of year, the short day and long night time of year, and I don’t have one. This shouldn’t surprise me, as I inevitably find myself overcome with a kind of quiet grief as the year winds down and the days telescope into a few brief hours. The sun just went down behind my beautiful Rockies at 4:15. We still have two weeks to go until the shortest day of the year.

I know that a large part of what I feel is the strange interworking of hormones in my brain-my body is reacting to the lack of daylight, just as animals react by growing thick winter coats and plants react by going into dormancy. Maybe they feel depressed too. It is so paradoxical that at this time, when Americans seem to desperately ramp up for “the holiday season”, all of nature is withdrawn, quiescent, dark and cold.

I am so weary of it all, really, the whole “Christmas” thing. My family gets tired of hearing me whine about it, I’m sure. When I became “The Mom” I assumed an unbearable load of making Christmas as magical and excessive as all the movies would have you believe it should be. Not such a task when your kids are small and their toys are inexpensive! But my own act has become the one I cannot follow, and I have come to approach this season with dread. My children are so kind, looking me deeply in the eye and telling me I am off the hook. They really mean it. But what I remember is the disappointment I often felt at Christmas, how it never measured up to my dreams and desires, and this is what drives me to try so hard, and as the years have gone on, to feel so painfully stressed.

Can’t we stop? I mean, really, who can afford this dream? And the dream lies, because no child of any age can be satisfied by stuff. It just can’t do it. And yet at this time of year, the lie is that it can. So the afternoon of December 25th, no matter how wretched your excess, is a time of secret disappointment, because all the windup is over, the tree looks like a carcass, and tomorrow will be just another day. Another day of woeful news stories, killings and war, terror in every heart, the utter pathos of this broken ravaged world. Oh, and credit card bills that are so much bigger than you planned.

It doesn’t seem like a mistake to me that the tradition developed that Jesus was born at the very darkest time of the year. I don’t know when he was really born and I don’t suppose anyone really does, but here we are, and the child in the rough and dirty stable didn’t do it for us, so we made this, this THING out of it, and now, of course, we have grown out of calling it Christmas and it has officially nothing more to do with the Christ. All the real meaning has been squeezed out of it in favor of Zales diamonds and toys and Santa Claus.

But still, in the stillness, in the poverty and brokenness of a raging war-torn world, the Christ comes. In the darkness, like a secret, He comes. He isn’t flashy or famous or rich, he doesn’t grab the microphone, he doesn’t demand his fifteen minutes. Many many people don’t even notice him at all. And of course, in our country, all the crazies get the press so He is now associated with people that are so self-righteous, so judgmental, so unpleasant, that…oh, wait a minute, the religious people of his day were exactly the same. He didn’t like them much either.

I want to sink into this dark time of the year and embrace its truth: nothing that this world has to offer can satisfy this raging need in my soul. I try again and again, and it never works. You know, I hate those lights that look like they are frantically running along a maze like rats looking for a reward. I hate the laser lights that change every five seconds like TV commercials. God help us, we have infused this time, when we could be still and peaceful and receptive, and pregnant, for crying out loud, with noise and movement and meaningless “celebration” that celebrates nothing. It just gives us something we have to recover from in January, when winter REALLY comes.

So I will feel this grief. I will mourn over the world, so filled with darkness and hatred and alienation. I will stop trying to fill the void in my children that nothing material can fill. I will watch the sun set earlier and earlier and I will light a still quiet candle and think about hope. I read a blog today by my friend Tim, who is a doctor in Angola, and is faced daily with a population who has no hope for enough food and water, much less medicine, education, and anything like material prosperity. They have no trouble focusing on the hope of Christ, of a world to come. There is no hope for them here and they know it. Would that I would know it too. In the dark days of December, when the world seems to be shutting down for business, (in spite of all our denial), I can hope. And it will fill me.