Monday, December 25, 2006

Best Christmas Wishes

My brother-in-law and his traveling companions arrived in Denver on Friday night, having driven from Chicago in a rental car all day. I went over on Saturday and drove him back that evening. At least he is here for Christmas, but alas he flies out of Denver back east on Thursday morning. We will leave Wednesday to head over there and stay the night before getting together with the mother and son who will take him back to Providence, and from there to Cape Cod. There is more weather on the horizon for mid-week, so the earlier we start over there the better chance we have to traverse the passes without difficulty.

myself taking my regular Monday morning walk to Enstrom's for a hot chocolate, not realizing they were closed until it was too late to turn around, so I just got the paper and headed back to the car. That's one of the dangers of working shifts, and in public safety; holidays just become any other work day from a practical standpoint. It may seem quieter, but in some circles it really isn't.

There will inevitably be a call from an overly wrought parent whose ex-spouse with custody of the kids won't let the ex come visit or have regular visitation, and who expects the police to force the other party to relent, or comply with the court agreement. There will be the usual large family gathering, with tongues and emotions lubricated by miscellaneous hard feelings and alcohol in excess, that devolves into a drunken shouting match. There will be a few different calls, like the young lady who couldn't contact her probation officer and needed to because she was on electronic monitoring (the "ankle bracelet") and had been evicted by her landlord on Christmas Eve, and needed to let Probation know.

There are also numerous examples of quiet grace and civility that highlight the day and the season. Such an attitude, while prevalent, seems fewer and far between in the atmosphere of polarization and consumerism that we seem to be living in. There is a ray of hope, however, as evidenced by yesterday's installment of Meet The Press, in which Pastor Rick Warren and Jon Meacham of Newsweek spoke about the status of religion in America and the changing face of evangelicals.

Pastor Warren's "Global Goliaths" - spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease, and illiteracy/poor education, were summarized by him in a comprehensive and concise manner, enough to keep an audience's attention without throwing too much at them. One could tell that he's an accomplished and persuasive speaker. The entire transcript is available here. I was quite taken by the honesty and candor of the participants, and encouraged greatly by what they had to say.

I'll leave you and me to celebrating Christmas with those you love and hopefully can be close to today. If you get a minute, read on below. This is an excerpt from The Seven Dangers of Christmas, an essay by Garrison Keillor, and while it captures the way I feel about this day from a more secular standpoint, it is the unwritten joy that goes into what we celebrate that makes all of the small traditions and rituals worth the time taken to make them happen.

Have a wonderful day.

Christmas is a work of art, and art is filled with danger, art is made by people who know about suffering. Van Gogh was tormented by hallucinations when he painted those fields of flowers. Beethoven was going deaf when he wrote the Ninth Symphony. Emily Dickinson wrote "Success is counted sweetest/By those who ne'er succeed/To comprehend a Nectar/Requires sorest need" as a woman so withdrawn from normal social contact that, when her family entertained visitors, she preferred to listen from behind a screen in the hallway.

The beautiful Christmases that I remember from childhood were created by women who had gone through the Depression, the Dirty Thirties, the dust storms, and after you have tasted dust, then you may be ready to create some elegance and music and wrap the presents so beautifully that even a small child will know to unwrap them slowly and deliberately, not rushing. Thus, the artfulness of the paper and ribbons serve to prolong that delicious moment of suspense and make the gift a wonderful surprise.

The greatest danger of Christmas is that we may be too dull, too dopey, too stuffed, to get joy out of it, and Christmas will be wasted on us.

It is a magical day, though, and among the old customs, the foods, the music, is something that has the power to open our hearts. Some simple thing that can surprise us.

How beautiful and dazzling bright,
One candle on a winter's night.

How beautiful these harmonies
That echo through the centuries.

And in this singing we shall find
The blessing given to mankind.

A blessing without price or end,
A blessing on your house, my friend.

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