Conversations with God, Christmas Eve
The house has fallen silent. The kind of silence that makes the crackings of the heating vents as noticable as the breath of exhale deflating the covers. It is cold here, and more grey than I remembered for the winter. But for the first time that I can remember, it is noiseless.
Silence is the only space in which I can enter without any justification or need to explain. The thoughts of Facebook messages, Target photos, and Christmas chocolates fade into the surrounding shadows. With the tattoo of emptiness seeping into my pourous thoughts, you ask for my presence.
The candle in the window has lasted at least a decade of Christmases. Each flicker hints to a trace of past memories, moments of surprise when opening unexpected gifts, stomach aches from too many sweets, rememberances of deaths in the family, and in some years, treasured silence on nights like this. Each family has its ghosts, and mine is no exception. The present carries with it the echoes and shadows of años y años – memory keeps alive the past complex web of emotions like ornaments hung on the branches of our legacies. Apart from the candle, all is darkness.
Sunday marked the day of darkness in the Northern hemisphere. I waded into and out of the darkest and longest hours of the year without noticing, my daily schedule uninterrupted. But nature did not forget her ways, as she graced us a thrust into blindness to remind us of what we do not control.
The silent and the darkness both haunt our society. We enjoy brightening the world without losing hours of productivity and knowledge of what surrounds us. When my mother dimmed the lights at dinner tonight, we spoke louder out of habit to reach out to one another. With darkness comes loneliness – the fear of not seeing, and not being seen.
Now I am alone, apart from you. In the darkness, my senses are naked, with only my words as comfort.
Christmas often comes wrapped in anxiety within me, God. I worry that I have spent too much money on gifts, I am unworthy to receive the generosity of others or I have failed to meet their expectations. Or that I will gain unwanted weight out of gluttony. The web of tension sits within us all, perhaps a bit more tense and a bit more tired after running around for a month in preparation. I have failed to seek the dark, quiet waiting of Advent that requires being still and silent.
The man at Quaker meeting this past Sunday spoke merciful words out of silence. He said instead of giving gifts, we could give forgiveness to ourselves and one another. Forgiveness, as I learned through the Twelve Steps tradition, is a holy act. It is seeing the dignity and humanity of the other as well as the fault and neediness in ourselves. It is a freedom from the past, a spiritual nakedness that admits we have all come to be in the wrong and need some assistance to let the ghosts out of the closet. Forgiveness means turning the power of judgment back to God, releasing us from the illusion that we have the knowledge to condemn ourselves or others. Forgiveness is the humility to admit there is none superior because thankfully, God made us all with scars, blemishes, and shadows.
At night, the shadows reminds us that our souls contain darkness. Inside of me lives a web that is a collection of false judgments, all desperate attempts to cling to something that is mine, something to make me superior. The shadow says that to be a good Christian is to pretend to be perfect or die trying. The shadow says that those needing a psychiatrist have something wrong with them. It says that Santa Claus puts us on the naughty list for not listening to our teachers and parents feed us lies (prime example – the existence of Santa Claus). I have been told that without dieting we might die of an obese existence. It says that poor people are lazy, immigrants will steal our money, and those other religions just are cults out to deceive humanity. It tells me that to be great, I must compete. The layers of lies come packaged and infinite, all out of a desire for some form of certainty.
It is often said that faith is the ability to believe in the unseen. The candle flickers, its light is vulnerable, casting shadows as it dances.
You entered the world during a troubled time, Jesus. I think we live in dark times, too, and while I do not know if we can call them apocalyptic, we certainly are in need of forgiveness, all of us, for not knowing how to love ourselves and others and live with uncertainty in this time-crunch-capitalista-every-woman-for-herself society. We do not know how to respect the Sabbath, how to close our eyes with the setting of the sun and wake with its rising. We do not know how to admit our shortcomings. We do not know how to see the man without a home and value him like the child of the aristocracy plastered on the magazines.
I wonder what you would look like on a tabloid cover. Unplanned teenage pregnancy draws crowd in manger. Later attracts attention of the emperor. You took the side of the raw before the sheltered, the rejected before the lawful, the chaotic and dysfunctional before the artifical. And you show nothing but tenderness. Child, straw, donkeys — your birth scene was hidden, and miraculous. Nothing of it was staged or made to gather attention, but rather created greatness from nothingness.
In Spanish, to give birth is dar a luz. To deliver light to the world, as if each child is a spark of divine magnificence. Mary is our example of channeling mercy – bringing light to the world by laying down in straw to deliver God to us. To give birth is to bring the new, the unexpected, and the free into the world of shadows.
Jesus, what is forgiveness? A birth of a new relationship, a new way of being that comes as a gift of your enlightenment. When you see our shadows, you see the edges of what is coming to be illuminated. You see opportunities for transformation, of old hurts and battle scars turned to rivers of mercy. You see infidelity turned to humility. You teach us to see the light that has been hidden in ourselves and others, and therefore to have faith in the invisible — to see glimpses of reconciliation descending from the heavens, that we might be bearers of peace upon earth, perhaps, if we dare, to forgive.
Tonight, we wait. We wait for your flesh to descend upon us and form us into your body. We wait for the sound of the infant cries, the light emerging from the silence. We wait to remember that you came to us in darkness, in the silence of the night, to speak words of peace. We wait because we have esperanza – hope, and expectation – in knowing that you have come, you are coming, and your light-filled Kingdom will come in the flesh of the present. We wait to listen to you because your cries sound remarkably like our own, only disguised within the burning of the candle and the falling of the rain and the eyes of the mother needing grace.
In darkness, like silence, there is no pretending. You ask us to confront our demons, to be honest and daring. To tell the ones whom we love that we have accepted them, and to tell ourselves that we are done with the mascarades. You desire that vulnerability for us, that we might be reconciled to one another and to you, our bare wounds exposed from their fragile wrappings. And in the shadows of night, you call for the offering of our presence, that we might sit and listen. Listen to one another, to your cries, and in the silence, that we might give birth to your tenderness. You ask us to esperar, to wait, and to be patient.
Divine child, forgiveness does not happen overnight. But with the remembrance of your birth, let us also remember the urgent cries for grace this day. Give us the strength to place our most fragile shadows in your infant hands. Give us the courage to show ourselves the mercy that you thirst for us to know, make us bear your convictions wordlessly, give us the faith to see that we are not alone. Make us hopeful and expectant like the Virgin before her birth that you might be aching to change us. Make us expect deliverance from pridefulness, bear the shadows without answers, and hear your cries through the wilderness – echoing the mercy that is holy, the divine gift that is ever-giving and infinite.
This day, and this night, we wait for the surprising and unexpected cries of the infant. May our lives be an echo of that tenderness, the candle that stays lit in the darkness, the one true birth that is forgiveness.