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The Season of Mystery & Light

street lampI’m early, I know.

Advent is not officially upon us, but the shitty greyness of November sure is.

We are smack in the middle of the time of year when everything is bare, grey, and tired.

Not quite officially Advent, the season of mystery, of waiting, of germinating in the darkness so that we may blossom in the light is definitely upon us.

What better way to embrace it all than to try some new stuff?

This year, it’s all new to me; my home, my relationship status, and most significantly, my role as a mother.  Whatever you call your celebration of light in the darkness that you celebrate, the reality is November is often a month of feeling less than sparkly.

As always, I’m embracing it. All of it.  Well, at least I’m trying to. Trying ‘new stuff’ may help ease the doldrums, but is it the solution? I’m not so sure about that.

Being able to be still in the darkness takes incredible strength of mind and spirit. Allowing yourself to feel it deeply without running from the discomfort may be the secret to rising into the light refreshed and enriched. It may also send you to the psych-ward for a few weeks. Chacun son gout.

I try to remember the significance of the tiny lights twinkling in the cold and the darkness. They are the symbols of hope when we are not sure of our place and where we belong, and sometimes that’s all we have.

 

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The Magic of Christmas Appeared in the Form of Ambrosia

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" ~Charlie Brown~
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
~Charlie Brown~

The magic finally happened for me this year.

I had just put the tacky Christmas goldfish ‘sunshine-Jello-salad’, into the fridge and was stirring together the tacky ambrosia, when I felt the first sparkly jolt.

Christmas?! Yes!

Perhaps it was going through the motions of tradition that brought it about for me this year. On the eve before Christmas Eve, I found some magic. It started with a kind message from one of my oldest friends who helped  me realize that I don’t have to constantly be strong for everyone else.

Just in time for Christmas Eve: my favourite part of Christmas.

To say that it’s been an anti-climactic lead-up to Christmas is an understatement. In fact it’s been a Christmas time to remember. Often these are the years that build character and help us empathize with others who struggle through the holidays.

One well-meaning soul typed a comment about having expectations too high at Christmas time.  This Christmas has not been Christmasy, and it’s not because of any expectation, it’s because of loss. Expectation is an interesting concept, and one worthy of discussion.

We live in a hurried world where sadness and empathy take time none of us want to take. I believe that encourages platitudes about ‘no expectation’ and ‘not being attached to outcome’. Hogwash and pith my darlings.

It’s right up there with; having a stiff upper lip, not crying in front of the children, and keeping yourself busy. I’m a ‘loss’ professional, and I firmly believe in having to fall apart sometimes in order to pull your refined-by-trial soul back together. Sometimes things suck, and it’s ok to say so.

If you think that having rainbows and lollipops poof out of your arse all day long is normal, please send your unicorn to fetch me for your next seminar.

Certain expectations are healthy; to be treated fairly, to be compensated fairly for work, to be able to live freely without discrimination and most importantly, to feel validated when you feel every emotion, including the ugly ones like fear, anger and sadness that make most folks uncomfortable. These are healthy, and necessary expectations.

For anyone who has experienced loss, Christmas can be a really tough slog, regardless of expectation.

As we near the midnight hour, and our corner of the world slows down, I think I will take some time to stop and consider what expectations are helping me move forward or holding me back. Discerning between the two is where the magic happens, because as much as our human brains would like the world to be black and white, it isn’t.

Christmas magic appeared unexpectedly as I went through the motions of making the traditional food that goes on our Christmas table, and I am grateful. Happy even. I’m looking forward to tonight and tomorrow, and am thankful for having people to share the day with.

Wishing you joy this Christmas. Wishing you a soft landing if  you are among those who have experienced loss at this time of year.  Wishing you the wisdom to discern between healthy expectation, and hokey platitudes. If you’re having none of that, I’ll send over a dish of ambrosia for your narwhal.

 

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Why It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas

 

"I close my eyes and drift away into the magic night I softly say a prayer like dreamers do. Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you." ~Roy Orbison~
“I close my eyes and drift away into the magic night I softly say a prayer like dreamers do. Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you.”
~Roy Orbison~

It has been decided and declared from our home to yours; it does not feel like Christmas this year. At all.

It’s been an odd festive season, and I had held out hope that as the day approached, I’d start feeling Christmasy. I kept hoping for that Christmas miracle I’ve been praying for would manifest in some way shape or form…until this evening as I assembled my ‘goodie’ platters for the office tomorrow.

I thought to myself, “I’ve done everything right. I’ve put up the outside lights. I’ve decorated the house. I’ve entertained and baked. The gifts are wrapped and under the tree, and I’ve stocked the pantry with treats and nibbles, so why on earth does it just suck this year?”

Decidedly it sucks because ‘we’, as in the royal, collective ‘we’ are caught in a vicious commercial and capitalist cycle of bullshit.

There is no break and no ‘taking it easy’ because it’s the holiday season. We work to the limit and squeak out a few days off to catch up with the people most dear to us.  Holiday house parties? Forget it. Who has time for that? Fun office parties? Nope, I’m afraid we’ve taken our professional selves to the edge of robotic functionality with no room for emotion, compassion or humour. Snarky sarcasm has replaced sincere humour as it’s older, wiser cousin. Dear god I miss laughing.

I want to believe in the magic of Christmas. I want to wake up one morning to whatever that Christmas miracle is that I’ve been hoping for, but I don’t have the energy this year to dig that deeply.

Perhaps I will find that magic in the candlelit sanctuary of church this Christmas Eve, after the Eucharist,  as we raise our voices to sing silent night and remember the true meaning of Christmas.

If ever we’ve needed your magic Santa Claus, this is the year.

 

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Do You?

Christmas lights backgroundLate at night, long after I should have gone to bed and should have finished my to-do list for the day, I often turn off all of the lights but those on the Christmas tree,  and spend quiet time on my own.

These moments are too infrequent, and wrought with what if’s. However, if I’m still, and if I let go of everything that I’m clinging to; my fears, my worries, my lists of wants and needs, I can still touch that place I thought I left behind when I was a little girl.

Growing up in a small town, I did not know the indulgence of city parades and rows of shop windows. We had a small grocery store, with the original French doors and hard-wood floors. Produce and meat were weighed, measured and priced on the shelves, and were all passed along a simple groove-worn counter top without a conveyor. String hung above the cash register to wrap and tie parcels, and your bags were still packed in brown-paper bags and carried to your car for you.

I grew up in a land where time had, for a few years at least, been stopped.

Each Christmas the grocer’s wife would decorate the store window with the same dollhouse filled with miniature furniture and smiling dolls. It was the picture of a perfect family. Mom rolled out dough on the kitchen table while the kids and dog looked on. Each detail was perfect and so very tiny.

As a little girl, I stood, mesmerized by the scene before me, and the creation of my own imagination.  How wonderfully perfect it must have been to live in that house of smiling dolls, with the warm fireplace and kind faces.

Beyond the store window, I knew there would be paper-wrapped stands holding clear plastic bags of French creams, snow balls, ribbon candy, and my very favourite; chicken bones, the hard cinnamon candy with a chocolate centre.  Beyond that, during the holiday season only, there were bins of loose nuts and those wonderful tangerines!

While my mother and grandmother would shop, I spent a lot of time looking at the doll house in the window, imagining and dreaming, and hoping.

Those precious years of endless, hopeful dreaming  slip away without us realizing. As a teen, I worked in that store every summer, and eventually, one-by-one, the businesses closed, including the grocery store and the tradition of the doll house.

When I hear about ‘believing in the magic of Christmas’, I don’t so much relate to the little boy born in a manger. That may horrify some of you, but it’s true.

The magic of Christmas for me has always been the effort we make to stop time for just a few hours; to slow down our ever-busier lives that slip by faster and faster as we age. The magic of Christmas is now, more than ever, the miracle of making time for one another and really taking time to share, listen and care.

I do still believe in that.

Each Christmas my hope is that whether at my home, or when I’m visiting with friends,  that the joy, hope and magic I believed was happening in that miniature doll-house that decorated our old-fashioned grocery store window, does still exist among us today. Even if it’s only at Christmas time when we pause, reflect, and give thanks to the people who make our hearts feel as happy as I imagined those little dolls to be.

I still believe in the magic of Christmas. Do you?

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Ritual, Devotion, Faith & Fruitcakes

monkcakeI’m very fortunate to have the ear of clergy representing many faith groups at many levels. Recently, during a conversation we discussed the idea of ritual in opposition to devotion.

Raised Christian, with a background rooted in the rich and terrifying land of Religious Studies in combination with being a present-day-barely-practicing-Buddhist, I must admit that I  equally find comfort in the ritual of a Protestant service,  Catholic mass and chanting of the Sutras.

I’m one of those heathen hybrids that most faith leaders find irresistible when it comes to their calling to convert. That I can somewhat intelligently discuss a vast variety of religious dogma and texts makes me somewhat slippery when it comes to devotion, and a ritual junkie. My values of honouring the human spirit, practice of kindness and stripping interpretation of sacred text of its ancient and oppressive cultural superstition also makes me a bit of a pariah.

The idea that devotion and ritual can even be opposed left me gob-smacked.

 

devotion; noun (pr. dee-vo-shuh-n)
1. profound dedication; consecration.
2. earnest attachment to a cause, person, etc.
3. an assignment or appropriation to any purpose, cause, etc.:

the devotion of one’s wealth and time to scientific advancement.

4. Often, devotions. Ecclesiastical. religious observance or worship; a form of prayer or worship for special use.

Devotion embraces elements of ritual, often as prescribed by religious texts and demanded by rites of passage.

I do believe that perhaps the faith leader I was speaking with perhaps intended to say that people often go through rituals without understanding the intended meaning within the faith. Ritual is a step on the pathway of devotion.

Ritual often reveals itself in real-life-every-day habitual activities. Think about our rituals around food.

Today, for instance, I spent  some time preparing a fruitcake recipe that has been handed down for generations. ‘What does fruitcake have to do with ritual and devotion‘, you might be asking yourself right now. Everything.

The ritual reminds me of my grannies, and all of the lessons about life I  learned at their apron strings; patience, planning, generosity, the value of work, taking time to teach, listening, and even the value of humour.

You see, it’s not about the fruitcake. It’s about what you do with it. Your fruitcake might be wine, or cabbage rolls, easter ham, serving tea or technical skills. It’s about whatever it is that helps you create something to be shared with your community.

After all, isn’t a life of faith, devotion and practice about creating a more compassionate, loving world? Religious scripture, ritual, and organization are creations of our own, intended  to guide us on a path of living a life of purpose, meaning and compassion.

Whatever your creations (even if it’s a controversial culinary masterpiece like the oft-debated value of fruitcake), they are  your gift to share.

Small,  daily rituals such as opening a door for someone, shaking hands or  sharing food are all stepping-stones of devotion. That we don’t recognize them in such a busy world, where the human spirit often struggles to shine,  does not diminish their value .

Your small gestures  in this big machine of North-American life do matter.

Celebrate your mundane creations, and the people who share them with you. Faith has such vast connotations, but why don’t you try to think of faith as  the ability of the human spirit to shine through our every-day-existence.

Whatever your particular faith, ritual or devotion, please share your own fruitcake with the world.