- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.
Friday, November 30, 2007
On Rushing the Season
For the last few years, since my oldest son first went off to college, we've formed the habit of putting up the Christmas tree on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Part of the impetus is that my church (the Church of Our Saviour, Hillandale) sells Christmas trees as an annual fundraiser and that weekend is when the tree lot goes up outside the church. But mainly, now, it's a practical matter. Putting up the ornaments (some of them several generations old) has been a family affair since the kids were little, and it seems important to do this when we're all together. Having the tree up after our children have returned to college and grad school gives me and my husband a wonderful reminder that they'll be home again soon.
I'm also a great lover of the Advent season. I know it is not about preparing for Christmas, but about "keeping awake" because we do not know when the mystery of acopalypse and the inbreaking of Reality into our lives will come. I am a proponent of finding quiet amid the busy-ness of the holiday season, and remembering that there is a deeper expectation in the Church's celebrations than in the commercialism that surrounds us. So it seems in some ways contradictory to have that tree up already -- even before the Advent wreath comes out, this year! But that decorated tree, standing in the corner of our living room on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, carries a lot of spiritual meaning for me. It isn't about commercialism or Christmas shopping or Macy's or anything like that. I just want to reflect on what it IS about, and what it has to do with Advent.
Partly, it's about celebrating abundance and blessing. Years ago, when my children were 2 and 5, I was just coming off of surgery for breast cancer when we put up the tree. Ever since then, when that tree goes up again, I've felt a deeper joy at the miracle of being alive and healthy, and watching these children grow. Now that they are young adults, coming and going, it is a rich wonder to me when we can be together. It may eventuallly be a rare occurence, but this year they will be back again in three weeks. The trimming of the tree is a ritual that, for me, celebrates that wonder. I don't say that's what it is for them -- but that's what it is for me. As we engage in our yearly silliness, making fun of some of the ornaments, remembering what they evoke, I also feel and celebrate a strong sense of our dependence on the grace that has brought us safe this far, and the abundance of our life together thus far. We put up the ornaments that generations of my family have hung (some of them were on my mother's tree when she was a child; some were handmade by my children - many have histories from family vacations and Christmases past). There is something here that mirrors my experience of the faithfulness of God -- and the stories I love of Israel's experience of the faithfulness of God, even through times of loss and struggle and suffering -- and the constancy of God's promise. Here we are again, another year. "It might have been otherwise," as Jane Kenyon says in her wonderful poem. We know it can be. But this year, again, we find ourselves in a place of promises fulfilled.
I also just really like a nicely decorated Christmas tree, and that Fraser fir from the treelot of Our Saviour, with the twinkling lights my husband insists on, is just lovely to look at, and good to have standing there, in the corner of our living room, for a month of the year. It reminds me that "Christmas comes." Even before I do anything much about it (though it also helps, putting up the tree early, to motivate me to get a lot of my Christmas shopping done even before Advent begins, so that my inward observance of that season of expectation is less distracted) It doesn't really depend on whatever preparations or purchases I make; no matter what I do or don't do - and despite all the cultural messages to parents and consumers -- Christmas comes. The mystery of the Incarnation happened. It changed everything, and our celebration returns. It comes with the turning of the year, the lengthening of the days, the light that shines in darkness. All that solstice-symbolism works for me as another poetic image for the ineffable, mysterious, real promise that God desires to be with us, that one of the places we meet that desire is in human relationships at their best and fullest.
In a way, then, the Christmas tree ecomes part of my Advent celebration; not so much as a reminder that Christmas is coming, but as a quiet, glowing symbol of the promise of abundance to come, even in the midst of darkness, confusion, busy-ness -- an "already and not yet" that is at the heart of the Advent season and of the Christian life.