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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector's Note: Holding Two Holiday Truths at the Same Time-12.14.23

It’s been a heavy time for our St. Peter’s community as we mourn the recent passing of long-time members Tony Zampirri and Art Lorentz-Burnett.  Sunday, I delivered difficult news about former rector Rev. Emily Richards’ walk with cancer.  Many have lost friends and family members in recent weeks, or are facing tough anniversaries. I’m in there among them.

The Advent/Christmas season is a rough time to go through such losses, especially when our emotional state does not want bright lights, sleighbells and top 40 holiday tunes. At the same time, Advent and Christmas have moments of quiet, mystery and hope that can be a balm amid the discomfort.  Candles in darkened rooms, ancient songs, the quiet of a night walk on the solstice --  I have found that these mirror the sadness and solitude that my soul can yearn for during the holidays.

And sometimes my sad soul wants a bit of joy. Rehearsing with parish children for the Christmas Eve pageant provided a lift. A little girl belting out "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" during a Rooted Tree rehearsal touched a deep place.

Sadness and joy are two truths that surface in the holiday season, and we are capable of holding both. It’s ok to feel sad or depressed when everyone else (at least the ones on tv) all seem so happy. And it’s ok to experience a bit of comfort and joy amid loss. It’s ok to feel both those things at different times in a day, or at the same time.

I have found that moving or joyful moments, even a bellyful of laughter, can be a conduit to tears at times like these. That’s ok too. Joy and mourning tap the same deep rivers of love in us.

It’s important to pay extra attention to what the soul needs at any given time during the holiday season. That can be different from what we assume the soul ought to want.  Liturgy, for example, can be a great source of calm and care, a place to be seen and held and comforted. The music can bring solace and the prayers may resonate with our own longings.  And sometimes the Sunday service can bring more tears than one wants to share with the others in the pews. Watching the livestream is just fine when in-person worship is a bit too much.  The Wednesday morning healing service is a simple, prayerful Eucharist of just six to eight people, where we pray for all the people on the prayer list. That can be a nice alternative to a large Sunday service.

This Tuesday’s Blue Christmas Service at 7 p.m. in the church will provide space for meditative song, silence, Scripture and sorrow. Rev. Emily started the service when she came to St. Peter’s more than 13 years ago, and it has long made space for participants to acknowledge the pain that can otherwise get suppressed during the holidays. This year we will be weaving in Taizé practices of silence and simple singing that have also been traditional to our parish’s prayer life. This gentle service can be a balm to those experiencing any kind of disappointment, sorrow, worry or heaviness of heart.

The other day my husband and I were listening to our typical playlist of Christmas songs as we sat by the tree.  The forced joy just wasn’t doing it for me. Is there such a thing as an Advent playlist? I asked my spouse, who is a master of the musical search engine Spotify. Sure enough, he quickly found a set of songs that were quiet, anticipatory, soulful and on-theme. My soul was glad.

No matter where you find yourself this holiday season, know that the Advent and Christmas stories with their ups and downs, their fears and their joys, their discomforts and their worries are designed to contain the full human experience, because they tell the story of God contained in the full human experience. It’s not always a happy story, but it is a joyful one. Because it contains the comfort of a God who knows and sees us, and it points to a hope of solace and deliverance a little farther down the road.

Finally, let us hold one another gently and with much love, this season. It’s perhaps our greatest gift as a community.

All my love,

Rev. Barb


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