Thursday, December 21, 2006

To drive the dark winter away.

Greetings from the bottom of the year. The longest night. It's a shame we Mormons don't believe that Christ was born this time of year, because it's lovely symbolism – coming to a shrouded Earth, slowly pulling the light down with him.

I should start being hopeful right about now. Start ordering my tomato seeds and all that. I am trying, and it is getting better. But it's hard to face the cold three-month trudge to the spring Equinox, especially when you have to put Christmas away at the darkest moment and endure the chill without eggnog or sparklies. I've always been one of those stubborn people who leaves the Christmas lights up until the third week of January – I think as long as we're celebrating Jesus's Unbirthday, we should move it to late February so we can have the pretty little lights to help us through more of the long, cold winter nights. Not as meaningful as having Christmas at the Solstice, perhaps, but way more humane, and Jesus was nothing if not humane, so I figure that he would approve. Maybe I'll start a petition to have it moved – I'm sure the retailers would get behind me: think what they could do with a Halloween-to-Presidents' Day Christmas season! I know the cat would like to keep her beloved Christmas tree hideout for a few more weeks. She's been lurking under there trying to unwrap the presents, the brimstone beast.

I am grateful for the seasons, however. I don't know if I'll feel that way when I'm 80 and the cold makes my knees ache and no Boy Scouts magically appear to shovel my walk, but at this point I can honestly say I'm glad I've always lived in a place with dramatic seasons. I might grumble about it during July's cruel cookers and while scraping my car windows in the piercing chill of late January, but in my core I am glad for it. I sometimes wonder why God created the Earth in such a way that there are large segments of the world that see very little seasonal change – the seasons are such a physical way of preparing for death and building faith in the resurrection, it seems that our mango-munching brethren have been robbed in that department. I'm hard pressed to not cry each year when I find my first crocus in the snow. There's always a little part of my winter self that fears the miracle won't happen this year, and then it does. And when it comes it hollers in purples and reds and hot pinks. Blissful, singing spring. Each winter I'm getting a little better at remembering that that riotous April morning couldn't exist without this dark, cold Solstice night, and somewhere in me I'm grateful for it. Sometimes only a tiny bit grateful, but it's progress.

Everyone loves the image of a baby who is the embodiment of love, believers and nonbelievers alike. We love that we get to sing of and think of this helpless, lovable little creature at the time of year when we are most in need of cheer and warmth. He demands nothing of us but that we love babies. Then Christmas is over and before we know it, we've arrived at Easter. Christ has made good on his promise – everything is coming back to life – and yet we don't celebrate the same way that we do at Christmas. Most of us don't love Easter like we do Christmas. I sure don't. This is a Christ who has raised the stakes. He offers more than the baby did -- he offers Everything. But in return, he asks for more from me -- he asks for everything. Easter is a bigger miracle and requires greater faith -- and faith, for me, anyway, is work. Like I said before, there's believing and then there's Believing, and when you're wrapped in the snuggly blanket of youth and health and have had less time to stockpile regrets, it's easy to let Easter slip by with nothing more than a respectful nod. That brings me to a quote that hovers over my head every Christmas season, from A Prayer for Owen Meany. I hope it doesn't come across as Scroogeish, but it pops into my mind many times each Christmas season, in moments when I have let Jesus's story get too front-heavy in my imagination:

Anyone can be sentimental about the Nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don’t believe in the Resurrection – if you don’t believe in Easter – don’t kid yourself. Don’t call yourself a Christian.

So I will shiver here on the longest night of the year and remind myself that Christ is not a bandaid on death – he did not come to help me cope with the winter. He is not sparkly lights on the snow. He is the sun that melts the snow. He is winter's cure. I believe that, and as more and more years cycle, I expect that I will Believe it more and more.

And tonight I will dream of yodeling yellow tulips!


Belladonna said...

Prayer for Owen Meanie was one of my favorite books - Along with Cider House Rules. Thanks for reminding me of it.

Rachel said...

Beautiful writing!