On the Fourth Day of Christmas

The first Christmas I was alone without the children after the divorce from their father, I discovered that Christmas could be magical even without the children to create a magical Christmas for.  I spent that Christmastide at Holy Cross Monastery with a friend who also spends holy times of the year in monastic houses.   That year the Hudson River froze and the ice boats paced up and down the river all of Christmas week to keep the shipping channels open. At Christmas dinner a man at our table remarked that the ice was so thick at the pond in the nature sanctuary “you could drive a truck onto it.”  I remember this because he and I now share a life together in marriage and Christmases at the convent.

But between then and now, I spent many Christmas mornings alone with a cup of coffee, in front of the wood stove, listening to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.  I learned that the quality of prayer makes Christmas.  The hymns and carols help in this atmosphere while for me the decorations (which I love!) do not.  Light.  Morning light, light reflected in snow, light seeking to penetrate the dark places of my heart.  Even now, this happy Christmas, with family and friends and decorations and music at the convent (this year I had it all!) the dark places in my heart still yearn for light.  The Good News is that despite how I feel, I know the Light is present, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth.

Despite the sad darknesses of my heart held to the Light, I hope, for healing, these memories of this Christmas so far (it’s only the Fourth Day of Christmas and VERY early in the morning -before dawn- of the Fourth Day!) stand out for the music.  The sisters sing and sing well.  And so we sang – joyous hymns, silly songs, haunting carols, until we all lost our voices by Vespers on Christmas Day. 

The other happy memory of this year that I’ll cherish: we’re preparing for Vespers, the creche Blessing, and Eucharist, and while the rest of us are busy with vestments, building up the fire,  preparing the incense pot, the readings, lighting the paper-bag luminarios for the path between the convent and the chapel, finding our office books and hymnals and music books,  my youngest son is in the Great Room where the creche is and where we’ll sing vespers, reading aloud to his girlfriend, his arm around her.  He’s reading O. Henry’s story The Gift of the Magi in which a young woman sells her hair to buy a watch fob for her husband’s beloved pocket watch, but meanwhile the young husband had sold the watch to buy beautiful combs for his wife’s hair.  I watch, and see his girlfriend’s lovely face, and watch her gasp as she realizes what has happened in the story.  This brought light and warmth to my heart.

One of the hymns we sang on Christmas Day comes from a poem by Richard Crashaw (d.1649).  The musical setting includes only the first verse.  But I looked up the whole of the poem and include the last verse here.

We saw Thee in Thy balmy nest,
Young dawn of our eternal day;
We saw Thine eyes break from the East,
And chase the trembling shades away:
We saw Thee, and we blest the sight,
We saw Thee by Thine own sweet light.

To Thee, meek Majesty, soft King
Of simple graces and sweet loves!
Each of us his lamb will bring,
Each his pair of silver doves!
At last, in fire of Thy fair eyes,
Ourselves become our own best sacrifice!

I woke up from disturbing dreams this morning. The darknesses of my heart had filled my dream world and still linger around me. I even took down and fingered the crown of thorns I keep on a high shelf in my studio for Good Friday liturgies and I tried to draw a meditation from it.  Humiliation?  Failure?  Silence in the face of shame? But I also thought I’d look up that Crashaw poem to get me going on the day.  I think I was meant to hear that last line,

At last in fire of Thy fair eyes,
Ourselves become our own best sacrifice!

As I finished writing this post the sun has come up, though it’s not visible behind the dark clouds and heavy snowflakes.  But I know the sun has risen, and I know the Light permeates the darkness.  And that the darkness has not overcome it  (John 1:5).

All these photos of our cresche are by Sister Catherine Grace, CHS

One Response to “On the Fourth Day of Christmas”

  1. Su Murdock Says:

    I too am grateful for the presence and promise of Light. Thanks for your reflections!

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