During a recent walk, my friend and I were admiring the evening sky. The chaos of the city left behind, all we could see before us was the great expanse of the night. Traffic was absent, the air stood still, the stars were set in their places above. Now, I literally have no depth perception - monocular vision allows you a learned sense of perceiving the world around you. So, gazing up at the beautiful night sky, my friend inquired (in truly the most innocent of ways) "What do YOU see when you look at the sky?" Little did my dear friend know how this seemingly simple question would tumble around in my head and heart over the next few days...
I see the chance to restart and make right.
I know myself well enough by now to know that even I need a little time to sit back and reflect once in a while. The weeks leading up to and the actual arrival of Christmas was a most amazing time. Thankfully, Advent is a season of light as well as waiting! I'm blessed to be a part of so many wonderful activities and events that bring light to my life, that sometimes I need a bit of quiet time to process it all. Not for the sake of getting it OUT, but more for the sake of letting it IN. Letting it really soak in. Remembering why it was I connected to something on such deep, visceral levels.
As a performer, I learned long ago of the great sadness that can accompany the conclusion of an event. You work diligently for weeks - months - to prepare, to memorize, to have every detail in place, only for it all to happen in a whirlwind....and then it's done. Poof. You're left looking around wondering, is it really over? Can I recall the faces of the people in the third row? Do I even know what words I sang? Did they mean anything to me? Did they mean anything to others? !
The sadness was too great; I had to make a mental shift. I had to start making an ever-conscious choice that reminded me to constantly BE. BE in the room. BE with the people. BE a part of the message you're trying to convey. It's not easy to stay focused - there are so many distractions that can take you away from what you're trying to absorb: people talking, your mind drifts, you realize you're hungry, etc. It's a challenge, but it's beyond rewarding. I think that's one of the main reasons I can be a congregant now INSTEAD of a performer when I enter the Sanctuary. Gone are the days of auto-pilot or mental task-completion. I can gather with people to worship. I can gather and serve. I can gather and BE.
I see a twinkle of hope in the night.
What does one learn from an Outdoor Nativity service? Well, in a pinch, a short-legged horse will be a lovely substitute for a donkey. Children will play with any doll they can find, even if that means accidentally walking off with the Baby Jesus. Three-year olds will not sit for very long on metal risers, but they sure will sing their hearts out on "Go, Tell it on the Mountain". Only in Colorado can you simultaneously get a sunburn while wearing gloves. And, you never know the reach of personally inviting someone to worship, even if their favorite part was the baa-ing sheep.
faithful souls: those in their last season here with us on earth, those who married and started a family just this past year, those who had said goodbye to a spouse, those joining together once again. • I found myself singing harmony with a row of visiting ladies at one service, and sitting criss-cross on a countertop during another. • I sang all eleven hymns and carols with great gusto throughout the entire night, and snuck in a hum or two during Communion. • I dined with the police officer on duty once again, hoping someone at sometime had done the same for my own dad.
I helped read the story of night and day, of sun and moon from Genesis on the evening we celebrated the true beginning. I received the light of a candle from both members I knew well and complete strangers who were visiting for the first time. • I listened as my pastors inspired and comforted as they shared the hope and love of the baby in the manger.
As I looked out on the candle-lit columbarium, my thoughts drifted to a dark morning, many months before, when we began our Easter in the shadows. I remembered carrying in the Christ candle for the baby we now welcomed. And, even though this season had officially ushered in the light of the world, I spent the earliest moments of Christmas Day with a small child of God, blowing out the candles of the Sanctuary with the joy that only this two-year old could convey.
Holy Communion. Probably the one thing on earth that brings me the most joy. Yes, even more than small children. Even more than music. I am the most open, most comfortable, the most real when partaking and sharing in Communion.
I served Holy Communion at each service on Christmas Eve, Day, and the first Sunday of Christmas. Someone asked me if I've 'had my fill now' for a while, to which I shared this story:
We were about to sing a song in my classroom, and a child complained that we had just sung that song earlier in the week. I asked them what was sung to them on their last birthday, and they said "Happy Birthday".
Me: Didn't they sing that to you when you were born?
Kiddo: Of course they did, Ms. G.
Me: And then they sang it again to you when you were 1 and 2 and all the way until now, when you turned 6? Why would they sing the same song again and again?
Kiddo: Because it means something special to me each and every time, Ms. G!
And therein lies my point: Holy Communion means something special to me each and every time.
From gathering underneath the suspended metal cross, to hearing those words of institution, I cannot be more connected to Jesus and my faith in God than in those moments leading up to hearing the words "The body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you." If you could only see what I see in the reflection of the cup: the words are shared, the elements are blessed, the wafer is cracked, and the people are welcomed. It is incredible each . and . every . time.
And then to go out into the congregation...oh, the emotion of that part often stops me in my tracks. I have to tell my feet to walk to where I am to stand. GO! Share the meal! One by one, the people come forward. You cannot find a moment that is filled with more humility and grace. I will never get my fill of being a part of that!
YES! and the more complicated response of STILL ENJOYING! Having my family gathered together would have made things even more meaningful. But the joy of Christmas is far from over.
What do I see when I look at the sky? I see an event that propels us through the year, fuels our faith each day, and lives with us in each treasured moment. Merry Christmas!