So here it is. The month to end the year. To this year, a part of me wants to shout: “Good bye and don’t let the door hit you on the way out”, and I suspect many would join me. And yet I remember The Rev. Meghan Mullarkey’s sermon during Advent a couple years ago. She saw this time, this month, Advent as a perfect time to rest, to reflect and to prepare. And her words still resonate with me, especially now.
I would have forgotten that not so long ago, at a time when people were more in tune with the agrarian calendar, this period, right after the harvest, was relatively quiet. There was not that much left to do and there was not that much light left to do it in. Hunkering down inside with closed doors, in the warmth of a bright fire, huddled together in a big ball of family, was possibly considered bliss. So back then it used to a perfect time to practice Meghan’s wise words. Nowadays, and certainly during my grown-up life, this period seems to be even more rushed than the rest of the year. Worrying about the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, fretting about which gifts to get for whom, racing the crowds in the stores and the streets to get that one perfect item. Trying to finish whatever needs finishing, like this article, so we can finally rest. Which we never really do. Because there is no time. And yet here we are. Hunkering down, alone or huddled together in our respective bubbles, looking for a warm light at the end of the tunnel. Brought on not by seasonal and occupational pragmatism, but by very valid health and safety considerations. Maybe we lack the necessary pragmatism to really come to rest when we all are so afraid. Maybe now more than ever we really have to try our hardest to find peace while we stare past our own brick fireplace, as our eyes unwittingly follow the little flames playfully jumping from log to log. And yet, maybe, there is nothing more peaceful and reassuring than a warm fire contained by stone this year, with us being close enough and sufficiently far away to be perfectly at ease. Ok, let the glow of this fire tick the first
box (to rest).
Still, it is a year to forget. And at the same time, it is a year worth reflecting upon. Without doubt it was an interesting one. Interesting like hitting a brick wall at high speed. It started out with the Church doors wide open and it seems it will end with them being closed shut. Almost immediately, we found new ways to open them. Admittedly, they require a phone, a tablet or a computer. And they can’t make up for the warm personal touch while we wish each other the peace. But they allow us to acknowledge our existence, visual proof that others are alive and well outside our sometimes scarily tiny cocoons, and the gift of a compassionate voice and familiar face in the rolling waves of loneliness which we all are engulfed in. A life buoy on dry land so to speak. Thinking about opening doors, I for one have found renewed appreciation for our beautiful coastline close to where we live. Walking down a sloping hill, seeing the warm sun reflected in the calm sea in spring and summer, or better yet, smelling the white foam on the playful waves whipped up by a strong breeze in fall and winter. They always leave me in awe. And yes, I am too much of a coward to go out and risk being blown over during a gale storm or hit by falling branches or whole trees. So, I cannot reflect on the wild sea during that type of weather, but I can imagine the sheer power of the elements as I lie in bed covered in warm blankets. Thanks to hitting that brick wall, I have also gotten in contact with old friends across this continent and across the globe, and I have checked up by phone on people close by. Thankfully they are OK, in a physical sense and, to a lesser extent, in a mental sense. I heard stories from France, from Germany and from here, in the Pacific Northwest. Some of them sharing stories of all of our failures to fight the inevitable exhaustion, both economically and mentally. Most of them with the hope of weathering this awful storm, both personally as well as globally. And all of them with the resilience to get up every morning despite being constantly battered by the bricks of Covid-19. We all keep going in the knowledge that there is a guiding light somewhere. For some, this is closer than for others. Upon reflection, as Christians, we might all be blessed in that way. Maybe second box (to reflect) is thus ticked.
During this Advent, it might be easy to forget that it also is supposed to be a time for joy and anticipation, preparing for the arrival of the baby Jesus, and in a more mundane, more secular sense preparing for the year to come. Not in a rushed way, but thoughtfully. Thinking about the plans we will all need in the future. Of course, last year around this time, such thoughts would become a perfect example of what happens to best laid plans. And yet it is always coldest just before dawn, especially going back into lockdown. I can’t help but look at my son going through the catalogue of a well-known producer of little plastic bricks. I see his mind dreaming of putting together the various creations, planning the different stages of a build, thinking what else he might make with all those beautiful bricks. Of course, he will never receive all those boxed sets, nor will he build everything in the catalogue with his remaining collection. But he surprises me with his ingenuity to create spectacular contraptions with somewhat limited means. Contemplating where to put that next hypothetical brick can be a joy in its own right, I suppose. And even if we can’t attach that particular, knobby piece of colored plastic in the desired spot right away, maybe we can place it there later.
Best laid plans are never wasted. They always help us grow. Ultimately, can we really heal without growing? Growing as individuals and healing as society? We will still have to deal with the disconnected anxiety that Covid bequeaths upon is. Maybe we will put those lost little bricks back in place to complete our build. We must learn to heal. And we will still have to deal with the newfound, albeit retrospectively unsurprising, knowledge that our almost perfectly controlled lives can be derailed so substantially by the tiniest of tiny pathogens. Maybe because of all of our joint experiences, we will see a new way—new little bricks waiting to be combined into a giant soothing wall. We must learn to grow. I suspect I will also have to shrink though. I may want to reduce the ever-expanding circumference of my already impressive waistline, which I am afraid will be growing even more over the Holidays. Do I anticipate life to return to how it was? No, I do not. Certainly not for my waist, let’s face it. But I fully expect our Sunday service to continue to be streamed, even after gathering in person again at some point. A small step to keep those doors open for more people. Maybe we don’t always need big ideas for the long road ahead. Perhaps it is enough to simply grow our own universe one brick at a time. There you have it. Box three (to prepare). Bricks to build opening doors.
Thank you Meghan. Merry Christmas.
From the December Tartan