Leaning on the Holidays
When love is felt or fear is known, when holidays and holy days and such times come, when anniversaries arrive by calendars or consciousness, when seasons come as seasons do, old and known but somehow new...mark the time. Let nothing living slip between the fingers of the mind. --Max Coots
It is a beautiful fall day but I am at home. I took my usual walk--just to get my steps in--and have my coffee before me. When I sat down I thought I was going to write up another hike. However, right now I am looking toward what is to come. There will be time, I assume, to look back on some of my more recent climbs. My heart is not in those reflections, though. I return to work on Monday and thoughts of that eventuality have invaded my brain space.
When we planned out the sabbatical year we thought it would make sense to break it up into three parts. My project of experiencing the Divine through nature and creativity will benefit from a cycle through the seasons. The church, too, will benefit from have me in the saddle for the peak holiday times. Those holidays start at my church on my first Sunday back. October 30 is "Halloween Eve" and we will observe it with a concert and then our annual Jack-O-Lantern competition. There will be a service in the morning, too. I have no idea what I will talk about. I am looking past that moment for now. Instead I am musing on the many ways this rapidly approaching period of celebration aids us in our quest for spiritual connection.
There is plenty written about the domestication of Christmas, for example. It is a holiday steeped in its pagan roots that has consistently warred against its more "acceptable" Victorian trappings. Anyone who has had to plan carols for the traditional, hushed, Christmas Eve service with the candles knows this tension well. So many of the songs are meant to be sung loudly and drunkenly in streets, bars, and living rooms. A worship leader can lose the also-desired thread of that mute Holy Family with their cozy animals and non-smelly barn pretty easily.
Of course domestication--of holidays, of nature, and of other things--is frequently a goal of the powerful. Why won't everybody stay in their lane? The "Holiday Season" is made up of moments with an abundance of meaning well beyond the limits official arbiters place on them. Halloween is about fear, Thanksgiving is about gratitude. These are vast subjects we struggle to understand. Then the sprawling mass of winter festivals arrive making noise, breaking out in silence, and bringing light into the darkness. In each case there is a story or a set of rituals but...really...they take a back seat to more primal understandings. This season resists control because it touches the deep places of our hearts and souls. These are places many of us don't reach any other time of the year except...maybe...during the battery of spring holidays..
The meaning of specific holy days overlap as our "folk" elements outstrip the official ones. I know of many people who will have three Thanksgivings. There is the official one that happens on a Thursday. Then there is another one on the weekend for people who couldn't make the official one. Then there is "Friendsgiving" whenever it can be fit in. In my profession the parties really get going between Boxing Day (December 26) and Epiphany (January 6) when the secular world exhausts itself. Then, with our many gigs over, we can sing the loud carols to each other.
I am looking forward to this time; both the approach when I will be busy and the retreat when I will celebrate. There will be plenty of walks in there, too. Some will involve getting away on my sabbath to put on heavy gear and hike. That, however, won't be all. In fact for we humans have the tradition of taking walks together post-feast. This is usually a casual thing when we stroll around the neighborhood to get some air and a change of dynamic.
Occasionally, though, the walk is intentionally religious. For a few years church members would meet around midnight on the Winter Solstice to walk a labyrinth. That was deemed a bit hard core. Now we climb Pegan Hill and sing. It is good--in a time when the circle the sun makes is so noticeably different--to recognize the natural world. It is good to see each other in it.
Nature invades in other ways as well. Spooky gourds kick us off. Then there are the general fall decorations that stick around as Thanksgiving retains a touch of the harvest festival about it. Then we are bringing pine trees into the living room and putting wreaths on the door ensuring some life in the stark dead-time of early winter. We violate our own norms to do this. Even though it is now culturally acceptable, there is still some trapping of transgression in our act. It is as inconvenient as it is pretty to bring the forest indoors. After all, we think of the wild as being "out there" and compare it against our own--hopefully but not really fully--ordered existence in our human spaces.
Anyway, that is where my mind is today. I am heading back to work and the big question is how or when we can integrate this unruly nature spirit into our expectations for the next few months. The urge is to tamp it down, to follow the set passages--to stay in those lanes--to survive this time. So much is distressing and uncontrollable. Still, we can see the Holy in action, appearing under its own power and on its own time.
What can we do to celebrate it? What can we do to live into the Divine Chaos? I don't know the answers to these questions. I hope it will be fun to find them.
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I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.