When I was young, I was steeped in the traditional religious imagery that light represents good, and dark represents evil. There’s precedent for this, after all. The healing power of sunlight is well-documented, and certainly I don’t have a great history of functioning well when deprived of it. Contributing much to my image as…different…in my religious circles when I was young, though, was the fact that, as much I love the sunshine, I’ve always found something pure, something very holy, about night. There’s something about the darkness, the quiet, the peace of standing outside after most people are retiring for the night, that somehow puts life into perspective.
It’s easier to pray when you can quiet the noise in your head, and that’s always been when I can do it best.
Christmas last year was…anticlimactic. When we lived in Virginia, there was at least some semblance of winter to mark the season, and at the time I thought that it was just enough. While I loved living in New England, shoveling out from under feet of snow was not my most favorite way to ring in the holidays, but it did harken back to my childhood. Last year was my first Christmas in North Carolina, and it was marked by high temperatures and torrential rains of Biblical proportions. Not really my idea of a good time.
The thing about winter weather is, it doesn’t seem so terrible after you’ve experienced a winter without it. Winter in North Carolina is marked by brown lawns and bare trees. While I’ve still been in a t-shirt and shorts lately, for the last month we’ve been surrounded by something that a good snowfall normally conceals: the fact that everything looks dead. Either it looks dead in plentiful sunlight, or it looks dead while awash in days of unending rain. Either way, one struggles to see life in this.
When we moved to North Carolina, I was torn between emotional extremes. I was sad to leave New England, and I continue to miss it terribly to this day. Still, we have good friends here, and I was looking forward to seeing them again, and to be able to say that I had lived somewhere else new. Living in different places, after all, is such an important life experience. I worked really hard to push my homesickness aside and allow myself to experience this (very) different culture.
If I can blame last Christmas’ anticlimax on homesickness, then this year’s scapegoat is overwork. The absence of regular posts here is certainly indicative of how hectic life has been with both the blessing of a great deal of work, and the preparations that come with expecting the addition of a second baby girl in just a few weeks. Life has been busy.
Earlier this week, I was outside taking care of around-the-house chores around 8:00 p.m., well after dark in December. It was warm…mind-bogglingly warm after living in New England…and I paused to take in our neighborhood. It was quiet. A breeze blew through bare branches, and rustled the wrapping paper decorations on our neighbor’s front door. Two homes in our cul-de-sac have somewhat elaborate outdoor Christmas light shows. The culture of an area becomes a more ethereal experience in those moments, something that you can absorb more than you can define. I thought of how raking and bagging leaves is the activity that takes place two weeks before Christmas here, not operating a snow-blower. I thought about our friends here, old and new, several of whom have either grown up in, or at least lived in this area for many years, and that this is the Advent season that they know. The extreme difference between this and what I know as the holiday season makes this no less sacred, no less meaningful.
In that moment, standing in the darkness and feeling a warm breeze in December, I found myself much more motivated to dig deeply to find the positive in the experience of another Southern Christmas. There’s much to be said for the spiritual state of contentment, and it’s something at which I’ve never been particularly good.
This year, I believe I’ll try harder.
Blessed Advent to you.