When you wake to 6 inches of snow (and wind chill in the teens), other plans for the day are easily ignored.
I smile remembering my Father—in Michigan’s UP—who called 6 inches of snow a “dusting”.
When I was a much younger man and wired to get stuff one, in order to move on purposefully to the next project on the list… today (the day after Christmas), the tree would have been down, and ornaments boxed up for another year.
I smile remembering, sipping my coffee, sitting by the tree which isn’t going anywhere for some time.
Even as I’m thinking out loud (looking out at our winter wonder), I know that gratefully, I am sustained by, replenished and gladdened by rituals. Space for solace and sanctuary. Quite literally; space to breathe.
And here’s the deal: When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life. (Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen)
And this ritual, the 12 Days of Christmas, is one to relish. It’s a whopping permission-to-pause button. You know, the twelve days (the ones we sing about in that ubiquitous and I confess, vexing, carol) that begin the day after Christmas (Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day) and end on January 6 (The Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day).
Bottom line: This is not a time for tidying up. Or, for moving on quickly.
Speaking of rituals (and traditions). Did you know that years ago (actually decades ago), we would have celebrated Christmas Eve by bringing in a huge freshly cut log for the hearth. The family would have sprinkled the trunk with oil, salt, and mulled wine, and recited some prayers before lighting it (kindled from the remains of the previous year’s Yule fire, which we would have kept in the home throughout the entire year). We would have known–in our hearts–that the log would protect the house from lightening and the evil powers of the devil. We would believe that the Yule log symbolized the light returning to conquer the darkness. And according to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from our own land, or given as a gift. It must never have been purchased. The log would burn through the night–an evening, by the way, filled with dancing and reverie and merriment (that’s my favorite part)–then allowed to smolder for 12 days (The 12 Days of Christmas) before being ceremonially extinguished. (It even makes a better story when you know that in the 1600s, in England, strapping young men willing to haul heavy Yule logs were compensated with free beer. (They don’t teach that one in church anymore.)
Sadly, we don’t have great Yule logs anymore do we?
And it’s a pity, isn’t it?
Call it progress. We no longer need logs for heat. Great hearths were replaced by cast iron stoves, which gave way to central heat and suburban houses with fireplaces showcasing gas logs and instant ambiance. We do, however, still have a “YuleLog.” But now, it is a pastry, decorated with sugared holly leaves, roses and meringue mushrooms.
My own Christmas Eve and Day Tradition is a bit less pyrotechnic: I sit by the fireplace (now with propane, no longer real logs) and read a book. Well, books. This year I am reading Clint Smith’s How the Word is Passed, Mary Oliver’s Devotions, Greg Boyle’s The Whole Language. And I am re-reading Terry Theise’s Reading Between the Wines. (I have a proclivity–or delightful psychological tick–for reading 3 or 4 books at a time.)
I like Theise’s book because it is not an essay about wine. Nor is it an esoteric discourse about wine tasting.
While Terry has been in the wine business for decades, his book is a simple story, about the relationship between the land and the grape and the grower.
Because good wine, after all, finds its heart in a good story. And because of the import (and significance) of this relationship, Terry is “skeptical” of the wine-point-system, which we’ve all come to rely upon as the “arbitrary” measurement for “wine value.” In other words, to understand wine, forget the points; get to know the story and the essential link to place. The wine has to be from “somewhere.”
Yes indeed. Relative to our personal and spiritual journey, we have an expression for this: To be grounded. In other words, our identity is rooted to (and in) connection with what nourishes the soul.
Okay. Now we’re back to the Yule Logs…
This is not about the “traditions” per se.
It’s about a paradigm shift.
It’s about the way we choose to see life and the world in which we live.
And it’s about what it means to be grounded.
Not easy, to be sure, because I know what it’s like to feel dislocated. Translation –not grounded. And the past two years have exacerbated this dislocation for every single one of us. Begging the question: where do we park our wellbeing?
Here’s the curious part. For whatever reason, we assume that meaning (relevance, renewal) can to be found with a “new and better gas log.”
In other words…
I knew about wine, but I never actually tasted them…
I knew about Yule fires, but I never stopped and gave myself permission to savor the merriment…
Rituals and traditions are a wonderful thing. But it’s not just about repetitious behavior. There is something underneath, fundamental and palpable. They can remind us to pay attention: to be here now. Places where we are able receive. And places from which we give: wholeheartedness, joy, compassion, sorrow from grief, kindness, grace, forgiveness, gladness. And if I don’t see that truth (and take it to heart), I miss the sacrament of the present.
On my morning walk through the woodlands here in Port Ludlow, I see an occasional downed Fir tree. It lived upright for almost 100 years, and then one night, surrendered to a perfect storm. And I remember my home on Vashon, letting the tears fall whenever that happened, a good cleansing to feel more alive and alert, as if “the rust had been knocked off my nerves. The armor of self dissolves, ego relaxes its grip, and I am simply there, on the breeze of the moment.”
And then I smile big thinking… maybe that tree would make next year’s perfect Yule Log.
Yesterday, we lost a hero. Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize laureate and veteran of South Africa’s struggle against white minority rule) died peacefully at 90.
“In Desmond Tutu’s eyes, we saw Jesus’ love. In his voice, we heard Jesus’ compassion. In his laughter, we heard Jesus’ joy. It was beautiful and brave. His greatest love is now realised as he meets his Lord face to face.” (The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby)
Let us continue to spill the light you spilled, to call out the injustices we see before us and spread joy where and when we can.
For daily SM readers, I’ll see you tomorrow, and for Monday readers, in the New Year.
Quote for your week…
Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another, and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other. Desmund Tutu
Note: Regarding the 12 Days of Christmas, the best known English version was first printed in English in 1780 in a little book intended for children, Mirth without Mischief, as a Twelfth Night “memories-and-forfeits” game, in which a leader recited a verse, each of the players repeated the verse, the leader added another verse, and so on until one of the players made a mistake, with the player who erred having to pay a penalty, such as offering up a kiss or a sweet.
My deepest gratitude to you for making space for me and for Sabbath Moment. Let us continue to find places where our souls and spirits can be nourished and refueled… and balanced. Please pass the word about Monday Sabbath Moment. And, now join me for Daily Sabbath Moment (Tuesday – Friday). Your donations make a difference.
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: “Tramp Harbor sunset, Vashon Island, WA,” Helen Pendergast… Thank you Helen… Keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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–Dear Terry, I write to wish you a most wonderful Christmas week. May it be warm and merry and bright. Although I’ve written before to thank you for writing Sabbath Moment, I can’t help but tell you again how much your emails mean to me. How often you’ve put into words those feelings and thoughts that I had yet to articulate, plus introduced others that are new to me but resonate down to my toes. What a gift. The Gift of Enough. Letting our light shine. Being present to all the stuff in life, including the difficult and the rough, b/c that, too, is where life is found. Glorious and flawed and imperfect. All of it. Living with an open heart. In the moment. These thoughts, and more, I carry with me now. May I live into them more fully with practice! I hope the corner of your heart that carries the grief of your father’s death finds comfort. My eldest brother died of Covid last month. His kids wrote a poem that was read at the funeral reception. There was a line about how my brother would pick up those drowning earthworms that somehow crop up on the sidewalk when it rains and return them to some soil. I found myself rescuing three of them today from my driveway and placing them back in the garden. I can see myself doing that from now on, always thinking of him as I do so. Somehow strangely comforting! Wholeheartedly, Mary
–Dear Terry, I am still watching out for what makes me smile during this Advent season… yesterday our smiles were so big we could hardly contain ourselves. On the darkest day of this pretty dark year, we received a very bright light. Our newest grandson was born at 8:30 A.M. –healthy, handsome, and oh-so-loved. How could we not smile real big and be ever so grateful for such a blessing?! Just wanted to share that with you, because you too are a blessing to me. Have a Beautiful, Peaceful Christmas! Sheilah
POEMS AND PRAYERS
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive–of the rapture of being alive.
Come to our divided world;
come to our fragmented lives;
come to heal and save
in you our life is one again,
and all things come together:
each connected to the other,
each reflected in the other,
ourselves and all things living:
heaven and earth ,
time and space,
the whole created universe
Christ of the cosmos, living Word,
Come to heal and save.
Advent Readings from Iona
Brian Woodcock & Jan Sutch Pickard
To Look at Any Thing
To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these
Woods,” will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.