"But after the tempest. . . .There came a day as still as heaven" --Alfred Lord Tennyson
Have you found your “December quiet” yet?
From the 25th on it is amazing just how much of our world and the folks therein completely shut down during the days in between the 25th and the 1st. It is so quiet, so still, so slow. Stores are finally closed, or at least back to sane hours. No more sales. No more stuff. The roads are empty. God willing we’ve all gotten to where we need to be. Most of us have precious time off from work and school. If we are wise the cell phone is set aside, silenced. Maybe even the computer screen is blank, reminding us of life outside of the cyber world. Normal day to day schedules are suspended. This week is for family visits and faith and present giving and holiday celebrating, sleeping in, eating a lot, chilling out. The quality and the nature of this time are different, even sacred.
Can you “hear” it, just for a little while, even one day? The hush of a house of worship after the final hymn has been sung and all is illuminated in candlelight. The world after a snowfall, with the muffled crunch of footfalls on the snow, the muted cracks of branches bowing down under the weight of all that white stuff. The snap and pop of a log in the fire. The sound of a page being turned in that new book you received as a gift. The silence of children finally falling asleep after a crazy day of holiday over stimulation.
We always need this glimpse of heaven on earth, no matter what the time of year, or what has come before, what lies ahead. Our annual societal pause could not come at a better time. So many of us rush through the 12th month of the year, from stores to parties to work to celebrations to concerts to games and then finally, blessedly, to the end of another 365 days. I know I need a rest. To just stop moving. To sit. Think. Laugh. Breathe. Visit. Love. Pause.
The earth knows this. On the 21st in our northern hemisphere the light waned to its dimmest of the year. It is dark and cold. Makes me just want to shut it all off for a time, to turn it down, to tone it down, to just be quiet and still. At its best this what faith in God offers. Holy days, Sabbath, set aside time to just be, to open our hearts to the safe place and sanctuary that the gentle creator of the universe offers. Our ancient ancestors certainly understood this truth. In his book, “To Dance with God”, Gertrud Mueller Nelson writes of these final days of the year: “….[ancient] peoples who lived far north and who suffered the archetypal loss of life and light with the disappearance of the sun had a way of wooing back life and hope….as the days grew shorter and colder and the sun threatened to abandon the earth….Their solution was to bring all ordinary action and daily routine to a halt. They gave in to the nature of winter, came away from their fields and put away their tools. They removed the wheels from their carts and wagons, festooned them with greens and lights and brought them indoors to hang in their halls…. a sign of a different time, a time to stop and turn inward.”
Can we learn from our ancestral example? Put our work away. Switch off our brains. Leave the briefcase in the car. Stash the schoolbooks in the backpack. Tear up the "to-do" lists. Forget housework and homework. Nature has stopped. We should too.
These final days of 2014 are ours’ for the taking if and when we realize that this week is the time to be still and to be silent. For much too soon we will crank it all up again. But for now, may God grant all of us a little space to just be at peace. As the poet Max Erhman wrote in his poem “Desiderata”, "Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence....And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul."
That’s my prayer for all of us as this year finally draws to a close.