Daily Riches: A Blue Christmas: Grief, Pain, Fear and Struggle (Peter Smith)

“Congregants heard no triumphant organ fanfares, no joyous Christmas carols, only quiet readings and prayers in a sanctuary lit with votives amid the dusk of late afternoon. The music was a soft guitar strumming, accompanying a humming solo of the hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter. The event was a Longest Night service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church [in Louisville, Kentucky] — one of a growing number of congregations across the country trying to reach those who feel little comfort and joy amid the celebratory season. ‘It’s a chance to say, “My life is not totally fabulous,” and to hear God is there,’ said the Rev. Martha Holland, children’s minister at St. Andrew. Some congregations call it a Blue Christmas service, reflecting the sadness of the song popularized by Elvis Presley. Others call it the Longest Night because it occurs on or near the winter solstice, with the year’s least amount of daylight. …Some people may be grieving for a loved one with whom they shared Christmases past, Holland said. For others, who may have experienced divorce, abuse or other family trauma, the last thing they want to hear about is coming home for the holidays. Still others simply may be stressed because of holiday expectations. …Blue Christmas services have become more and more common in the past two decades with denominations and other groups even adapting traditional December liturgies for the purpose. At St. Andrew on Wednesday, participants lit four candles on the Advent wreath in honor of grief, pain, fear and struggle, a contrast to their usual representation of love, joy, peace and hope. Such services help revive the historic meanings of the season of Advent, said the Rev. Chip Hardwick…. Throughout history, the season, consisting of the four Sundays before Christmas, was a stark, penitential period focused on a longing for the coming of the kingdom of God — something inaugurated by Jesus’ birth but that awaits a future fulfillment, Hardwick said. But a cultural message that ‘everything is shiny and happy for Christmas’ has overwhelmed the season’s original meaning, he said. … ‘Advent is the time when we wait for the world to be what we want it to be.’ …Some may need the service in a given year while others come annually with some ‘ongoing pain,’ Holland said. The church began the service after a hit-and-run driver in 2008 killed two children who regularly attended. ‘It’s a comfort to a lot of people. A very upbeat, celebratory Christmas is like salt in the wounds.’  …The Rev. Ben Maas, pastor of St. Andrew, said the goal of the service there was not to provide neat answers for why suffering occurs but to assure parishioners of what is ultimately the message of Christmas: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, no matter how much it seems like the darkness is winning,’ he said.” Peter Smith

“The light shines in the darkness”
John 1:5

Moving From Head to Heart

  • If your Christmas is “shiny and happy” are you making room for those for whom it is otherwise?
  • Is your congregation joining with the church around the world in waiting “for the world to be what we want it to be?”
  • Can you practice waiting in hope, including when there are no “neat answers?”

God of compassion, sit with us in our pain.

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Thanks for reading and sharing this blog! – Bill

 

Daily Riches: Trust the Fruitive Darkness (Leonard Sweet and John Donne)

“Churches are best for Prayer, that have least light:
To see God only, I goe out of sight:
And to scape stormy dayes,
I chuse An everlasting night.”
John Donne
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“The first step to seeing is knowing that you’re in the dark. If you don’t know you’re in the dark, then you need to turn on the dark. To turn on the dark is a metaphor for keeping an open mind, for resisting easy assumptions and automatic defaults in judgment, all of which I call light pollution. Less is more. Sensory deprivation is a blessing to those who need less distraction. Light can pollute dark, just as the dark can pollute the light. …In order to see the stars, it must be dark enough to see them. … [but] The brightest stars in the sky no longer come from the Milky Way Galaxy, but the night glow from our biggest cities. It’s called ‘sky glow’—light reflected off moisture and dust in the air. …In some Eastern cities like Seoul, South Korea, at night all the buildings ‘go dark.’ No matter how high the apartment complex or skyscraper, it is dark, enabling anyone awake to see the stars. But for most of the world, sky glow now outshines the moon for nearly half of each month. The biological effects of night pollution are only now being appreciated. Ninety miles from Las Vegas, the neon lights are lighting up Death Valley National Park. Many of the night creatures are dying because of light pollution. Certain nocturnal species and ecosystems require a nightly dose of darkness—for reproduction (snakes), for predation (bats), for food intake (zooplankton feed on algae in the dark), for growth and survival. Without dark they face extinction. …Darkness is the womb in which everything exists. To trust the dark is to trust those deep, underground forces—forces of the earth, the ocean, the genes—that would bring to life the seed that is your soul. God planted deep into the ground of your being the seeds of a one-of-a-kind soul. To grow our souls into the unique creation God intends us to be, we must trust the birthing that is going on inside and around us. We must trust the ‘fruitive darkness.’” Leonard Sweet

“And I will give thee
the treasures of darkness”
Isaiah 45:3

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Do you know you’re in the dark?
  • Are you able to trust the “fruitive darkness” at work in our world and your life?
  • How specifically would you do that?

Abba, help me discover the treasures of darkness.

For More: Nudge by Leonard Sweet

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. Thank you for reading and sharing my blog!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)