Sunday, December 20, 2009

Under the sofa between the dust bunnies

I was determined to go to church on this Sunday, the Sunday before Christmas. I am an absolute sucker for ritual, and my sweetheart and I have been attending several worship houses intermittently. I have a MOUNTAIN of student work to sort through before turning in my grades, our apartment is a wreck, I just started Christmas shopping--that I can't afford-- and my partner, the guy who makes all this bearable, well he just got on a plane bound for his family. So I'm tackling all this by myself, on top of which missing him makes me achy.

But I love the Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday around that holiday. It always feels especially holy, as if it kind of twinkles with sacred mystery. It gives me goosebumps and makes it hard for me to breathe. The winter I find pretty bleak, but Christmastime is positively electric. The days are so short; the magic of darkness at four in the afternoon is wild to me. It's playing havoc with my body clock certainly: I've taken to falling asleep at nine, sometimes seven thirty, depending on when I've eaten dinner. It's not so good. But now that I have the time to begin to think about Christmastime, I'm stunned.

I don't mean to be cheesy. I am absolutely sincere when I say that the wonder, the mystery, the magic of Christmas blows my mind. It doesn't matter to me at all that we observe in December a birth that probably took place in April. It doesn't matter that Israel looks nothing like the Midwest, and all the other reasons people give to pale and temper this holiday. It's still pretty amazing. The birth of one man to a newlywed who'd as yet not lost her virginity in the middle of a pretty fierce tax audit, in the desert. A birth that brought shepherds out of the fields and three strangers from corners of the world to gaze on a whiny, wrinkled baby. The greatest revolutionary the world has ever known born more than two thousand years ago, and the world still celebrates his birth. That means something. The dark and the cold of the season, it makes me want to hole up in a candlelit stone chapel and bathe in the angelic voices echoing off the walls. On my knees, the wooden kneeler biting through the worn denim of my jeans, I can see my breath in cloudy devoted wisps around my head, reverently observing rituals that are meaningful to me, even though I'm not catholic.

So the church we've been worshipping at is nothing like this, nothing whatever, but nevertheless, I wanted to be there. It was the Sunday before Christmas. This desire for worship, combined with the absence of My Favorite, it makes me thirsty: a thirst I can feel under my right lung, insistent, muscular. I wanted to feed it.

But there was so much to do. Tires needed rotating, presents had to be bought and baked and constructed, not to mention an interesting book serving as a brilliant distraction. A cherished guest for dinner tonight that I had to prepare for: all these things stood between me and the front door of church, and ultimately they were effective. I didn't go. And yet I was still thirsty.

So what did I do? I put on a Nat King Cole Christmas album and cleaned my apartment, in preparation of guest and my forthcoming departure for family. Nat King Cole is the clearest and most resonant Christmas memory I have. His sacred music is full of that wonder and mystery that this time holds for me. O Holy Night makes me want to cry every single time I hear it.

Of course, the dangerous thing about putting Nat King Cole on, is that once the supernatural infatuation wears off, I'm left enjoying his voice and wanting to hear more of it. "Stardust" is a wonderful song, but lacks some of what I'm talking about.

At any rate, I'm learning this holiday season that God is hiding in a number of places, and not just the places where I always thought. In the faces of dead plants, and between the petals of orchids. Behind my toilet. I'm grateful for this, his ability to be both large and small enough to find me.