Last night was the longest night of the year, when the earth’s axis tips the farthest away from the sustaining light of the sun. In our part of the world, we experienced nearly fourteen hours of darkness. Known as the Winter Solstice, it also means that winter has officially begun. Last night was our Service of the Longest Night, which we have every year. It is a service of acknowledging sorrow in the midst of celebration, grief in the midst of happiness, and light in the midst of darkness. It is a service that reminds us that God is in all of life.
Recollection, in the context of one’s spiritual walk, means attention to the presence of God in one’s life. Living a recollected life has little to do with happiness or calm. It’s not about things always going our way. It’s certainly not about God answering all our prayers in the way we think they need to be answered. Living a recollected life means living a life that is balanced and enduring. It means being alive. It means knowing in the deepest part of our souls that God is with us and that there is always something more than what we see.
As I sat in last night’s service, I couldn’t help but look back over the last year. Some of those who came up to the altar to light a candle were those with whom I had walked through the most profound loss and grief imagineable. But I have also held brand new life in my arms and celebrated the hope and promise that comes with that. In the last months, I have been with those who are staring death in the face and those who in that very moment were crossing the line between earthly life and the next journey. (And we sang!) You would assume that that range of experiences comes with being a pastor. It does, but I think that, more importantly, it comes with being human, being fully human. Being fully means being totally immersed in the full range of humanity–sorrow and happiness, grief and celebration, life and death. And in it all is joy–not happiness, which is momentary and fleeting–but true, profound, abiding joy.
This morning I watched an interview with another pastor from Houston (who shall remain nameless but whose initiatls are J.O.) who depicted the Spirit of Christmas as happiness. Well, I will say that I respectfully disagree. The Spirit of Christmas, the Spirit of Christ’s coming, is not to bring us happiness and health. Those are temporary, fleeting. God was born into this world as human, as fully human, set to experience the full range of humanity. God brought the Divine Presence into all those things. And, there, was joy–abiding, eternal, neverending joy! (And we sang!)
Being fully human means being recollected, seeing the Presence of God in all things and all things in the Presence of God. Only three more days to go! The air is so thick with the Presence of God you can almost touch it. I suppose that’s the whole point. For what are you waiting? Recollect yourself. Become fully human. There’s a baby coming! And take joy!
The day is almost here! Gift yourself the gift of recollection. Take all that you are and that you have, the full range of who you are, and begin traveling to Bethlehem. Give yourself the gift of joy, no matter how happy your life is at the moment!
Grace and Peace,