Oh, the beauty of this valley in December! Cold nights (but not freezing!) chilly mornings, mild afternoons, 50’s and 60’s, sunny with a crayon blue sky. Hard to convince yourself its Christmas time, but we’ll live with it.
Tourists love Arizona this time of year, and its the easiest time of year to tell the locals from the visitors. The visitors are wearing shorts and t-shirts, often even flip flops that they dug out of storage just for their trip to the desert. Residents have also been digging in storage; for the wool coat, the turtleneck, the beloved Cardinals sweatshirt that perhaps they will get to wear this month and this month only. There’s a weird cross-climate vibe happening all over, and people shopping in the same store look like they’ve emerged from closets on seperate sides of the equator.
Its understandable that locals want to bundle up while they can, and its certainly understandable that guests want to soak up as much sunlight as possible. But what’s crazy is that I went into Starbucks the other day when it was legitimately chilly–about 43 degrees, comfortable with a jacket with the car heater running–and they had on, I’m not even joking, the AIR CONDITIONER!!
Now, to me, the only way to justify the $300 utility bill in July is to know that i can live several months of the year with neither heating nor cooling device (or with very little help from either). For about four months of the year, life is pretty much perfect around here with no climate control, with doors and windows open for sunshine and fresh air.
Why then, on a day when one could live without it, could maybe even turn up the heat (as we did at my house that morning) would someone run the air to make it cooler?
We could lament the tragedy of American excess, but there’s more at work here. I’ve always had a theory about perpetual misery, and the good folks at Starbucks have confirmed it for me. When you spend an extended period of time in a bad place, you can forget about happiness. You can forget about contentment, joy, peace. You don’t just forget how to experience them; you can possibly forget they exist–or at least, that they can exist for you. Even when happier times descend, we often cling to the misery like a favorite sweater, because we’ve become so accustomed to it. And if your long, hard months were spent in the heat of the desert, you simply forget that the earth can cool you of its own accord. You forget that comfort, even perfection, can come to you naturally, without you having to strive for it, or force it from limited resources. You forget how to turn off the air.
I wonder how many of our neighbors have lived long months in the wilderness of debt; unemployment; lonliness; addiction; loss; disappointment; and now cling to the barren ground as long as it will hold them back?
That’s where faith takes us this advent season; not just on our own journey through the wilderness and to the stable where new life is found. But out into our neighborhoods, seeking those who hang onto sorrow, and reminding them of another kind of embrace. We are called to retrace our steps through the desert, and gather the straglers into a life of community, purpose and–dare we hope it?–even joy. We will find some who never knew that life, and others who knew it once but forgot. Among them, many will be reluctant to turn off the toxic air they’ve been circulating these long, lonely months.
For all that we have filled it with false comforts, this is a rare season when the desert can provide what we need. In this precious space of a few weeks, we can dial back the auto-mated, pre-programmed and store-bought sources of air and light. We can remember what it looks like in its natural form and, the stable ever closer, rejoice with the windows open.