And so, December comes! Our Christian neighbors and friends have begun their celebration of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, a season of waiting for the arrival of baby Jesus, born again in old stories and anew in hearts and minds. Meanwhile, as the darkness of winter deepens, we all wait for the return of the sun’s light.
Everything about the natural world at this time of year in the northern hemisphere seems to say to us, “Slow down!” The dark, the cold, the snow, the ice, all conspire against speed and haste. On the one hand, this is a time for descending into the darkness of the cosmic womb and waiting expectantly for that – in us and around us – which is preparing to be born or reborn. It is a time of quiet, silence, and patient hopefulness.
On the other hand, our capitalist, consumerist culture screams at us to get busy tackling our to-do lists, frenetically preparing for holiday celebrations with families and friends. And thus, this time of year can be a very stress-filled season for many of us.
I once heard someone say that stress arises from the holding of unrealistic expectations. So many of us try to make this holiday season perfect. There are so many demands upon our time. So many people and organizations with needs that they hope we can help fulfill. So many things we feel like we should be doing. We want our families to be happy. We want everyone to be happy. And some of us are always trying to recreate that perfect holiday from years gone by, but we seldom seem able to do it.
One of my favorite poems for this time of year, an antidote to this pre-holiday stress, is Mary Oliver’s “Making the House Ready for the Lord,” in which she writes:
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.
To me, the poem speaks of the peace and joy that come with acceptance, with the realization that there will always be things that are out of our control. It speaks of love and hope, too, as the poet comes to see that acceptance can lead to an appreciation of beauty. She is able to see the beauty of the falling snow and the fox in the yard. She is able to see that the Lord has not come in the way she imagined, but still, the Lord has come. For the poet has come to understand that whenever she invites in the lost dog, the shivering sea goose, and the rest of the forlorn creatures, she is really practicing the art of holy hospitality.
May your holiday season be filled with abundant love, joy, peace and hope (which is our theme for December!)