It’s Christmas time. The end of the year: We huddle together for warmth and wait for the return of the light. It’s a time of darkness and cold, but also a time of feasting and gift giving. We look forward to longer, warmer days and shorter nights.
It seems all of the world’s religious holidays and rituals are driven by the seasons as they unfold. And at Christmas we’re just starting a new year–another cycle in the eternal round. The days grow longer. The Japanese plum trees on 21st Avenue, always confused about what date it is, are already blooming. Pretty soon, at least here in Portland, we can expect to see those first crocuses and daffodils.
But, for just a minute, let’s stay with Christmas and forget the coming of Spring–it’ll be here soon enough. In spite of the fact that Winter is cold, wet and dark, there’s a deep joy about this time.
Winter is a thin, angular season. It doesn’t have the voluptuous beauty of Spring, the heedless pleasure of Summer or the reflective joys of Fall. We’re not distracted by the beauties that grace the other seasons. The equation is a simple one: it’s cold and wet. We want shelter and warmth.
The sharp sparseness of Winter clears our vision. It’s easier to be thankful for the things that, in other times of the year, we take for granted or don’t even notice. In the spare days of Winter, with fewer distractions, we’re called to see more clearly the arc of our existence and the blessings contained in that arc. It’s easier to notice the plight of those who don’t have the blessings that comfort us and to be grateful for what we do have.
Winter is like the two sides of a coin. Plants have stopped growing. The harvest is over for another year, but we have enough to last us until the next harvest. And we can imagine the emptiness of those who can’t count on being fed every day.
We enjoy food and good times with our families and friends. Gifts are exchanged, meals are shared, and we take joy in being with the people we love. But we can imagine the loneliness of those who have no family or friends to warm them.
Not to be a sour kill-joy, you understand. Acknowledging the difficulties in the lives of others doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take joy in the blessings we have. We don’t need to apologize for our blessings. But it doesn’t hurt to remember that all of this–everything about our lives–is contingent. We don’t own our happiness and comfort. Nothing is guaranteed. We don’t have a right to our good fortune, even if we’ve worked hard; it isn’t our right–in large part, it’s our luck.
Just so we don’t end on too serious a note, here’s a gift to you for the Season. I can’t send you money, but I’ll give you a great ten dollar word to chew on while you’re driving around the mall parking lot, trying, for 5th time to find a parking place: DISAMBIGUATION……literally, if you break it down into its Latin parts, the state of moving away from ambiguity or darkness and into clarity and the light.
It’s a pretentious word to use in a conversation. But it’s a great image to meditate on as we emerge from the darkness of the Winter Solstice and begin our trek into Summer.