I love Christmastide - the 12 days of Christmas, when things calm down a bit around the house, the season of preparation is over, presents have been opened, returned, re-gifted, enjoyed -- some who have come for the holidays have gone home, others are still here. But for the Mom of the house, much as I love -- and I do love it-- the season of preparation and the celebrations of Christmas, there is a quiet, deepening restfulness about this time of year. I usually make a point of spending time on the couch by the Christmas tree with a good, light-read book. And sometimes I also find it's a time when I can sink in a little more fully to the mystery of this season -- the claim that it's about God becoming human, out of love. This year I've had time and space to let that sink in and I have to say it's not totally what's you might call a "Christmasy" experience -- but I think it speaks to the depths of what we celebrate in this season, and "ponder in our hearts."
An idosyncracy in my Christmas-decorating practice takes on more meaning for me when I have this Christmastide-time to ponder it. Years ago, when I needed some "straw" for the manger scene, I decided that the closest thing at hand for making it was a dried out palm frond from the previous year's Palm Sunday. So in the creche on our mantlepiece, the straw around the manger is made of palms from Passiontide. I like this symbolic connection. It points to the part of this whole mystery of Incarnation that is beyond words: the manger and the Cross as parts of the same story, and it reminds me, as I take my sabbath time in the living room, surrounded by decorations, of the invitation to ponder what difference it makes to me, to us, to the world, our claim that God became human, became poor, eventually suffered and died, all out of a deep and mysterious love that is at the heart of everything. There is beauty there and harshness. And it's all in the same story. You can't have one without the other.
This year I've also been paying attention to liturgical observances for each of the 12 days of Christmas, and it's interesting to me that they're pretty grim. The day after Christmas honors St. Stephen, deacon and martyr. The 28th of December is the feast of the Holy Innocents, a recollection of Herod's slaughter of Hebrew children, in his pursuit of the baby Jesus -- a story that is all too close to home in these times of genocide, famine and refugees. And today, the feast of Thomas a Becket, commemorates a politically motivated murder in Canterbury Cathedral. In honor of today, I made some of my on-the-couch reading a little heavier and rereadT.S. Eliot's verse drama"Murder in the Cathedral." A passage from that play is sticking with me, because oddly, though it's not what you might call "Christmasy", it gets to the heart of Christmastide, and this whole mystery of Incarnation that we celebrate. I'm putting it out there because it "speaks" in its own way in a way I can't paraphrase. The chorus speaks at the beginning of Act II, looking ahead to the coming martyrdom of Thomas, in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170
What, at the time of the birth of Our Lord, at Christmastide,
Is there not peace upon earth, goodwill among men?
The peace of this world is always uncertain, unless men keep the peace of God
And war among men defiles this world, but death in the Lord renews it,
And the world must be cleaned in the winter, or we shall have only
A sour spring, a parched summer, an empty harvest.
Between Christmas and Easter what work shall be done?
Back to Lessons and Carols in church tomorrow, and that's good too -- but I'm glad of today's reminder of the depth of what we are proclaiming as we sing "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. O come, let us adore him." Much to ponder here.
- 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.