This time of year is full of gifts and opportunities. Some of these are purely joyful, others arrive through struggle.And then there are the struggles and pains that can’t be called gifts, even with reflection and work to find meaning in them. There is a lot going on among us and around us and within us. I’m writing to let you know that I am witnessing the complexity of our lives together, and to tell you that your experience is valid, and to remind you that you are held in love.
Time can be conceived of as a spiral, with each season bringing us back to places and perspectives that are similar, but just a bit different, from the same season in past years. With this turn around the spiral through the Winter Solstice, you may be observing annual traditions with deeper meaning, or you may be reminded afresh of the grief over someone who will not be at the holiday table, or you may be celebrating the addition of a new member of the family, or you may be feeling a sense of loss over expectations about how the holiday might have been. For many people, two or more of those things are true at once. Despite how common it is to be feeling intense and conflicted emotions, some people feel pressured to put on a steady and shallow display of merriment. If you are finding it difficult to hold all of this joy and sorrow, you are not alone.
Add to this the frustration and helplessness that many of us are feeling as we learn about world events. We wonder how our nation could perpetuate such cruelty against immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers,during a time of year when so many recount the story of Jesus and his parents fleeing from a murderous tyrant. We wonder how to care for one another and for our most vulnerable neighbors, as every major religious tradition commands us to do, when removing access to healthcare seems to be a major goal of certain politicians. We wonder what it means to declare peace on earth and goodwill to all, when our societal approach to systemic racism, the war economy, poverty,and environmental devastation demonstrates a lack of goodwill toward a sizable percentage of people in the world. We repeat these seasonal stories of hope and liberation, knowing their truth has not yet come to full fruition.
This, too, is an experience of the winter holidays. Great mythic stories remind us that transforming society is not the work of a few days or months or even a single lifetime. We plant the seeds of justice, we keep the star of hope shining, we re-dedicate ourselves to the sacred paths of right relationship. The first stirrings of a time of peace may already be happening, not yet evident to us. We keep moving forward, and we carry each other forward when necessary. Our job is to love, to leverage the power of Love in the world, and to stay connected to the Source of Love. The sacred stories of the season help us to do that.
I spoke recently about respecting the darkness and its gifts. Darkness can be lovely and life-giving. Longer nights may be just the right time for reflection, for dreaming, for imagining new worlds.Mystery abides. I hope that these aspects of the winter are bringing you some beauty. At the same time, it is the case for some people that longer nights are correlated with increased feelings of sadness. If that’s true for you, hang in there; the longer days are coming.
Do be gentle with yourselves, and as gentle as you can be with the people around you. Do not let the perfectionism that pervades this season prevent you from honoring your humanity, or that of others. Let’s admit to our closest loved ones when we feel irritable or sad or tired, and let’s do our best to make relationship repairs when the opportunity arises.
To me, one of the essential truths that comes from winter holiday stories is that the sacred dwells in this realm of physical truth. From the Winter Solstice, we learn that the actual, real axial tilt of the earth in relation to the sun changes us and our world. From Hanukkah, we learn that our communities can survive through unlikely conditions, drawing on a power we can’t fully explain. From Kwanzaa, we learn that values like unity,collective work and responsibility, and creativity can lift our community into the future. From Christmas, we learn that divinity arrives in a form that requires our nurture and care. Each night a child is born is a holy night. All of these lessons from winter holidays are rooted in the sacred spark within the human experience. Complex, messy humanity is beautiful: yours, mine, and ours.
Whatever mix of joy, grief, gratitude,frustration, and hope is part of your human experience, please know that you are a precious creature of worth. You are held in love. Happy holidays.
-Rev. Lyn Cox, Interim Minister