Last week was a rough one. Across the globe, images of the destruction of Aleppo broke our hearts, painfully reminding us of all the places in our world torn apart by hatred and violence. At home, on the national level, the president-elect named to his cabinet more billionaires, handing positions of responsibility to men who advocate for increased military firepower, refuse Palestine’s right to exist, and deny climate change. In my state, in a blatant power grab, Republican legislators called a surprise special session, passing bills stripping authority from our Democratic governor-elect and the state board of education. And, locally, the release of the investigative report on last summer’s killing of a young black man by a white police officer left members of the victim’s family angry and distraught.

I was relieved when Friday evening rolled around and the week was behind us. I was headed to participate in a tradition launched more than seventy years ago and now, since 2002, an annual event in our little rural town (except the two years when snowstorms made travel impossible). At the mountaintop home of my neighbors Janet and Sam, a rainbow of humanity gathered in candlelight, the warm room humming with conversation over sips of spiced tea. christmas

Sam, dressed in a colorful green jacket from 1960s Bavaria—a gift he later described as “what a Bavarian farmer wore to the pub on Sunday while his wife attended Mass”—blew a few discordant notes on a long, slender brass horn to get our attention. He read an original poem, exhorting us to “sing to keep God’s world intact…sing hope that kindles courage in our hearts, sing discord into harmony of many parts.” Then, accompanied by piano, guitar, and lute, we sang Christmas carols from music booklets mimeographed in 1941, just before the U.S. entered the Second World War. People shouted out the numbers of their favorites, and we filled the room with joyful noise. Continue reading

Reflection on an Advent Morning

I know the contours of this land as intimately as I know the arc of Advent: the slope of the pasture and height of the ridge, the thick canopy of the pine forest and black deep of the pond. I walk every morning on an unchanging trail, secure in the embrace of these steadfast mountains believed to be the oldest in the world.mountain-valley

But, behold, today, a flock of wild turkeys strutting up the grassy hill. Yesterday, a sparkling mist draped the dark trunks of the oaks, and the day before the heavens opened wide to pour out a cleansing rain. Unexpected gifts. A swirl of red and gold leaves surrendering to an autumn wind. A spider web dripping with dew. Spiny horse chestnuts and mottled black walnuts fallen on the path. A riot of pink ladyslippers poking their heads through the damp spring earth, and a huddle of delicate Queen Anne’s lace nodding in a summer dawn. The insistent call of a red-tailed hawk answered with the operatic song of a wood thrush, echoed in the eerily plaintive cry of a screech owl. A shimmering rainbow spanning the cove, and a pink cloud hovering below blue peaks against a sunset-scarlet sky. Enough to take one’s breath away.

This land is always the same. And always changing. Like Advent.

As we walk once more the well-worn path from Hope, through Peace and Joy, to Love, let us take comfort in the familiarity of the way. Let us light each candle with intention, a signpost to guide us through the gathering darkness. We have been here before. It is all the same. And surprises beyond our imagining await us.