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Today, on the day before we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it seems the right moment to remember Mary, this young peasant girl who said yes to an angel and suffered the whispers and shame of conceiving a child before marriage, who gave birth in a strange village far from her home, who held the son of God in her arms moments after she pushed him our of her body. Sometimes, being the favoured one of God, takes us down a road of challenges and heartache before we see the glory of God.
The Lord is With Thee
-from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1
They hail me Mary, full of grace.
They bless me: brave, obedient—holy.
What would you have said to the twelve-foot,
light-soaked man, a gold flecked tower
whose honey lips spoke your name? I said Yes.
Then ran, traveled days, silent, hungry,
purging in the grass, to my cousin’s.
I knew nowhere else to go.
I found Elizabeth, impossibly, full
with child. She, fifty and bare, as pregnant
as I, thirteen, unknown. We, an absurd pair.
Did I hope she would recognize my angel tale,
believe for me what I hardly could?
The Lord is with thee, she said.
Her baby soared inside.
Her face was vague to my memory.
What I recalled was her voice: in candlelight,
she once tucked me under wool with my sisters,
sang us to sleep with poems of Yahweh.
How easily she spoke of God,
as if he were a neighbor, a fish vendor on the street.
Blessed art thou among women. Blessed is the fruit
of thy womb. For three months she hid me
from rumors, from my angry betrothed.
I took walks. I threw up. I ate.
Robes can only hide so much.
Then I stood beside the midwife, water basin
in hand while my cousin squatted and screamed.
I knew what my Yes meant this body must do
and wept for myself, for this child of God
given to my clumsy care.
Who am I? I once said to Elizabeth
after dinner, beside our fire. I am small
and weak in faith. She placed her palm
on my cheek, whispered, You’re God’s.
“This creating out of passion and love, the carrying, the seemingly-never-ending-waiting, the knitting-together-of-wonder-in-secret-places, the pain, the labour, the blurred line between joy and “someone please make it stop,” the “I can’t do it” even while you’re in the doing of it, the delivery of new life in blood and hope and humanity?
This is the stuff of God…”
“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” – Isaiah 64:4
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
- Psalm 27:13-14
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
- Joseph Campbell
“One of the themes of Advent is the expectation that God will bring new life to birth within us; that God will be born in us today as surely as Jesus was born back then. And in addition, that a greater, unimaginable birth of the reign of God will somehow break in upon the world at some future time, when the world will, at last, be bathed in God’s love and peace and justice.
Waiting for God to break in on our lives is not all joyful anticipation. Like awaiting a real birth, we long for it desperately, and fear it at the same time. Will it hurt? Will I be the same person afterwards? Will it change me? Can I bear it? What if something goes wrong?
Like awaiting a real birth, there are moments when you can’t believe it will really happen at all – it seems too different, too impossible to be real.
Like awaiting a real birth, the realisation that it will surely happen only comes gradually: from the first wondering moments, to the certainty of the condition, then waiting through the fragile weeks when you hardly dare hope because you know it might all come to nothing. And then, at the end, when it all seems too much to bear, the certainty that there’s no going back.
Like awaiting a real birth, whether you believe it or not, it will happen anyway.”
Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. From this point forward, the sun rises for longer every day – definitely something worth celebrating! It’s traditional to celebrate with a meal of seasonal food, decorating the house with evergreen plants to remind you that the world outside is not dead, just sleeping and awaiting the sun again. The darkness only lasts for a season…
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
light! sunbursts of light!
-Isaiah 9:2-3, The Bible
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
- John 1:5, The Bible
“In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer”
- Albert Camus
Sweet Darkness by David Whyte
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
- Isaiah 61:1-3, The Bible
Are you dreading this week? Wondering how to get through this Christmas feeling stressed, poor, depressed, grieving, doubting, angry? Not everyone feels like celebrating. And that’s OK.
“Sometimes your family is overseas,
or your grandfather just died,
or your child is in the hospital,
or you’ve been horribly sick and you just aren’t up for celebrating.
Sometimes it’s a blue, blue Christmas.”
Read more here.
Tomorrow morning we pack up the car and drive the 550 miles to my parents’ home in England for Christmas. I’m so excited to see them and my sister and a lot of wonderful old friends. So I’m signing off from blogging until we get back to Luxembourg next week, so that I can focus on enjoying all the time with our loved ones and really being present in the celebrations.
In the meantime, I’ve set up a few posts to come while I’m gone, pointing you towards some of my favourite Christmas-themed posts from around the web that I have really enjoyed reading the last couple of weeks. I hope you’ll enjoy them.
I wish you a really wonderful and blessed Christmas, wherever and however you spend it. Thank you for being around this last year, reading my wee stories, commenting, telling me you like coming here… I love this little space I have here to share my world, so I’m glad you’re here.
We went to church in the falling snow, ate leftovers from our julefrokost meal for lunch, put our warmest clothes on and headed out into the countryside
discovering a huge nature reserve forest just 2km from our city apartment, greeting the horses standing in frozen fields, waving to cars on the bridge over the motorway, looking at the view across the city
came home to hot coffee, Parisian macaroons and advent gifts in the candlelight and whiled away a peaceful evening in silent contented company…
life is good.
I really love tradition. The idea of doing something that people have been doing for years, for generations, for decades is incredibly inspiring to me. I feel that way about the ritual and tradition of the church I grew up in. As a child I didn’t get it really, thought it was dull, repititous in the worst way, empty of meaning.
But as I grew up a bit I started to understand and appreciate the incredible significance of praying the same prayers that thousands around the world, and tens of thousands before you have spoken that same Sunday. There’s a sense of truth and value being passed on from generation to generation. Not that tradition is static, each generation takes what has been passed down to them and shapes it, makes it work for them. Only that way can ritual and practices maintain their meaning, their importance.
One of the wonderful things about marrying someone from a different culture than your own, is that you get introduced to a whole set of new traditions, new practices that have been handed down from mother to daughter, father to son. I loved last year, at my first Christmas spent in Denmark, learning all the things that Rasmus’ family do together to celebrate that time: the food they eat, the way they decorate, the excursions they make, and the why behind it all.
I think when you’re exposed to someone else’s traditions and practices, it often opens your eyes to see your own in a new way. You remember and appreciate the reason why you do them. Sometimes you may even realise that something you’ve been doing for years has lost it’s significance, and needs some tweaking, or maybe even discarding. Sometimes it can be hard to really articulate why exactly it is so important that we decorate the tree just like this, or light the candles at that specific moment, but so much of it is just the important way that these shared rituals create family, create community. We do it this way because it’s we; we do it together.
All of this was just to share that I have started a new tradition for myself. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about how we mark the changing seasons and why it is important. Here in Luxembourg it is cold and dark and wet. I pretty much find any excuse not to go outside, although the wind creates some impressive cloud formations from the window. On days like this, I need reminding, and no doubt you do too, that this is just a season. It is normal, it is right, for the world around us to go through this assigned season so that new growth can come in the spring. It’s hard to be grateful for that when you’re waiting for the bus in the cold, your umbrella has just been blown inside out for the third time and the water is starting to seep into your shoes…
Which is why some of the winter traditions of northern cultures can be such an important reminder that the darkness is just for a season. The light will return, the sun will again warm the earth and rid your bones of that aching cold. Sometimes we also need these physical traditions to remind us too that this difficult time, this period of trials or pain – it too will pass and the light will come into your life again.
And now, when we’re in advent, waiting for the moment when we celebrate the Son being born, it’s even more significant to me to take a moment to remember in the dark months, that the true light that gives light to everyone is coming into the world.
Yesterday I made Luciabrød, the recipe from a Danish magazine my mother-in-law sent me as an advent gift. St Lucia’s (St Lucy) day was on 13th, so I was a day late, but I really wanted to mark this moment. It’s a saint day that tends to be celebrated mostly in Scandinavia. Girls and young women wear white and carry candles, behind St Lucia, who wears a wreath of candles on her head. As with many saints days, the meaning and myth have mixed up over the years, but at it’s core it’s a reminder, in the depths of winter, that the light will come again.
The Luciabrød have this lovely yellow colour from the egg and the saffron you put in them (no saffron in mine, I didn’t have any sadly) which reminds me of the sun, the warmth of spring and summer days. And they also taste lovely too, which is always important. The making of them itself was a wonderfully comforting moment, because it wasn’t just another evening making the same cupcakes or cookies. As I made these in the kitchen, lights low and the rain pouring outside, Rasmus working in the next room, I had time to think about what I was doing, why I was making them.
In this quiet half an hour, I slowed down, shaped the dough, and remembered that the darkness is only for a season.