While listening to sports radio yesterday (it was a big day for fans of the New York Mets, see here if you care), a local commercial concluded by saying, “Tis is the season to be stressed.”
A play on the familiar seasonal line, “Tis the season to be jolly,” it is no secret that that these weeks, instead of being a prayerful time of preparation in anticipation of how we can reflect God’s love, can overwhelm us in the never ending to-do list and pressures of the unique demands that accompany the picturesque snow and freshly hung Christmas lights.
At the heart of this stress, I find often, are wounds. Formed by loss and sadness, the holiday season woefully picks at the scars of healing and healed wounds, serving as a cruel reminder of lost loved ones and broken relationships.
The missing seat at the table is felt in a deeper way these days. While beautiful memories flow with each aging ornament, so does a despair that accompanies the reminiscence of past events and relationships.
In addition to ornaments, the collection of decorations, songs, meals, recipes, and traditions can invite distant loved ones, either by their transition to a reunion with God or into a different place in life, back into our memory and our hearts.
We miss them, we attempt to deal with regrets and despair, all while still appreciating the gift they were, forever how long they were in our midst.
The spiritual invitation is, despite the hurt of our wounds, to be present to the presents of the season.
But how do we do this?
Allow me to offer a few brief reflections that attempt to answer this question.
- This morning, I sipped my coffee from a new, yet old, coffee mug that belonged to my great grandmother- recently given to me to my mom. As I drank my cup of Joe, I thought of my great grandmother and all who surely sat around her Christmas table.
- I then reflected on those who will not gather around our Christmas Eve table, and I felt sorrow at first, but this moved to a place of gratitude. I am blessed to possess these memories, some even captured on film, of those who made me who I am.
- Sharing life with a toddler pulls you from the past into the present quite quickly. I catch glimpses of her wonder and awe with the daily lighting of our tree, hearing stories of Frosty, Rudolph and Jesus, and her imagination around Santa and his elves. Seek those less experienced for great lessons on appreciating the moment.
I am reminded of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I attempt to “spiritually empathize” with her fear as she tried to comprehend the child growing within her when she was likely only 13 years of age. Just imagine how she must have felt?
Even though Gabriel told her not to fear, I imagine fear led the way as she was bringing God into the world. I wonder how her wounds of lost loved ones impacted her as she journeyed for safety and when she stared into the eyes of God in the form of the baby in her humbled arms.
Mary teaches us an important lesson here. Many of us sing these days, “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” seeking God in the form of the baby Jesus. Emmanuel translating as “God with us,” reminds us that in the midst of the stress and the sadness, God is there.
Just imagine how Mary felt when she held that baby. That question, “how could this be,” that she asked nine months earlier no longer required an explanation.
For us, surely God is with us in the memories, including their accompanying tears and smiles. Mary teaches us that God is also very much with us in those we accompany (and who accompany us) on this journey, and in our own beating hearts. Like Mary, God is stirring within you to transform the world.
Finally, many spiritual traditions also honor the mystical presence of loved ones that transitioned home to God. This perspective offers an alternative example to see the present, not just as those in our physical midst, but also those present in a different form.
Sometimes we call it a coincidence, but when you hear that song, see that number, or pick up that coin, perhaps those believed to be no longer here are closer than we think. We recall those words attributed to Mother Teresa, that either we believe everything is a coincidence or that everything is a miracle.
So as this season may bring with it sadness and stress, seek Emmanuel, God with us- in the present moments, and miracles, of our lives. Embrace all of the emotions, but challenge yourself to move to gratitude to appreciate the gifts that you can see and can hold, all while also keeping an eye open for those loved ones who we hold in our memory and in our heart.