This week between Christmas and New Year has felt extraordinarily gloomy to me….like John Henry Newman’s “circling gloom.” Was it the five straight days of rain that came down in Southern California where it “never” rains? or the pain of the people I know who are suffering so severely with disease, surgery and loss during this “most wonderful time of the year”? Maybe it’s the memories of the way Christmas used to be, when I was a child, when I had children at home, or in my imagination. I know that the pronouncements of political and religious pundits of culture have done nothing to improves the darkness; almost everything I read or look at seems at best incomplete, and at worst shallow or trivial. I also confess that I am beleaguered by the mass and pitch of the end-of-the year requests for donations; all of them have a degree of worthiness, all of them are critical to those who make them, all of them can make a difference. I don’t know how to choose, and the guilt just mounts up.
So as I take the turn into a new calendar year, how do I navigate the gloom?
I have remembered this week that the hymn writer helped me: Newman in his poem tells God that he is not asking to to see the “distant scene” ahead, but one step at a time was enough for him. The big picture often increases the gloom. The year end “10 Most” lists somehow add to my despair. But one step, one gift, one word, one thing necessary can begin to turn my mourning in to dancing, as it piles up on top of the another. And so I as I ready to turn the page on the calendar, I remember where I have found daily or hourly the steps that are enough to lead to joy.
- a grateful heart, one that openly notices and savors the gifts that come– the blooming of flowers in December, the homemade ornament for the Christmas tree, the unsolicited word of affirmation and appreciation, the sweet exchange of affection between family members and friends, the healing that takes place in body and relationship. Gratefulness is a light out of the gloom.
- beauty–of artists and musicians sent out into the world, often without thought of payment or applause, for all to receive; of the natural worlds, from hummingbirds around the backyard to snow-covered mountains against a cerulean sky; dancing eyes in a mischievous face, whether is 2 or 82. Beauty buoys me up.
- curiosity–wonder at the facts and fantasy of how things work, where things go, why things are the ways they are, what a piece of work a human being is; imagination of other ways of looking, alternative voices of speaking, new modes of discovery
- ancient texts and promises– Hebrew Scripture and words of Jesus of promise and reassurance; poems of wise and thoughtful ones, who knew the gloom and refused to let it be the last word; the heart of the matter of God’s Presence in the world on which I have staked my life.
I want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as the new year arrives, but that feels too big for me this year. What I can do it look for the Light illuminating one step of Grace, Beauty, Wonderfulness, Promise in each moment, and take that step for myself and for those I have been given to love. It will be enough!
Happy New Year!