Sunday, December 15, 2019

This Little Light Of Mine

This morning, for the first Sunday in something like nine months, I made it to Grand River Unitarian.

The service this week was called "This Little Light Of Mine", which happens to be the song we all sing every week as the congregation's children head off to the Unitarian Universalist version of Sunday school. It's also, of course, a reference to the various festivals of light that take place around this time of year. If you're of a Christian bent, feel free to capitalize the L in "light" and think of Christmas.

It wasn't actually a Christmas service (though they do have one), but it did feature some carols, among them one new to me and positively gorgeous. It's called "Jul, Jul, StrĂ¥lande Jul" (Christmas, Christmas, Shining Christmas" in Swedish). There was also one of the best renditions of "Winter Wonderland" I have ever heard, sung by the Essence of Life quartet, and whoever arranged that song for four voices did an incredible job. Oh, and "It Came Upon The Midnight Clear", which was written by a Unitarian minister in 1849.

But the highlight, no pun intended, was Rev. Jess's reflections on light, enlightenment, and the meaning of life. She recounted a story I was quite familiar with, from Robert Fulghum's It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It.
Robert Fulghum was one of Uncle Rog's favourite sources, and Uncle Rog--the Rev. Roger McCombe--was a shaping force in my life. I've thus read much of Robert Fulghum's output, without ever realizing that Fulghum was a Unitarian minister himself.
At any rate, here's the story. (It's short; go read it.)

Fulghum says "I am not the light or the source of the light. But light -- be it truth or understanding or knowledge -- is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it".

Truth, understanding, knowledge...or love, of course.


Lately I've been hearing more than a few people say "I hate Christmas". I get the sentiment, really, I do. We've all lamented the crass commercialism, the stress involved in executing family gatherings (especially when there's someone in your family you'd rather execute yourself), the endless obligation. The house needs to sparkle, you need to be on your best behaviour, happy happy JOY JOY YOU VILL CELEBRATE AND YOU VILL LIIIIIKE IT!

That's not us.

Christmas here isn't the same as it is in most homes, from what I understand. Many years, aside from those stockings in the morning and a nice dinner of the Sunday sort, it's pretty much any other day. I have worked more than my share of Christmas Days and Boxing Days. I'm working Boxing Day this year, and I'm only off Christmas because my place of employment is closed. (That never stopped me from working at Walmart, but thankfully, I'm not in that kind of retail any more.) What hasn't chnged is the imperative of double time and a half. We have had tighter years, but this one is far from loose.

The kind of family shindigs and wingdings the rest of you have? They've been alien to me since I was growing up. I'd go to my stepdad's family Christmas and be banished to the kitchen with children half my age and younger--his parents never missed an opportunity to mark the distinction. We're family; you're not. My mom was estranged from her entire clan long before she passed four years ago. I am known as "the invisible son-in-law" to Eva's mom, because I get up there so rarely: I'm always working when they have their Christmas.  My dad has had a new family for twenty years now; I'm grateful to be included to the extent I am, but again...a stranger in a strange land the few times I've been with them around this time of year. It hurts, I don't deny it. I try not to dwell on it. But this time of year can be lonely. Everybody else is so busy...I can't help but think sometimes they should perhaps be a little more grateful for so being, considering the alternative.

It's easy to be cynical at Christmas. The holiday itself is a lie--Christ was not born on December 25th, or indeed at any time in the winter months. Shepherds didn't watch their flocks by night in winter in the Middle East, and the Chinese -- meticulous astronomers -- have no record of that fabled Star. Moreover, as I'm sure everyone knows, the festival co-opted Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra -- which was in fact December 25. Pagan traditions -- the tree, the holly, the mistletoe -- abound. And of course to many it's more properly called Salesmas or perhaps Consumemas.

But underneath that cynicism, there is the knowledge that virtually every other faith tradition has its own rituals at this time of year, and at their core they are strikingly similar. Put secularly, they are joyful rebellions against the bleak midwinter. They involve love, music, making merry...and light. Always light.

That light is a metaphor, a powerful one, especially in this dark benighted world. We talk about settling down for a long winter's nap, but Sleepers, Awake! See the light. Free the light in others. Be the light. In that way, you can be "en-light-ened".

As I was, both lightened and enlightened, going to GRU this morning. I won't get there every Sunday (how I wish Woodstock was big enough to support a UU congregation!). But I will get there a lot more often than I have. My soul needs it.

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