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Rituals, Gratitude & Untangling the Good

Christmas lights are so reflective of the holidays for me. The simple beauty in them. And the frustration they set in motion, when I get caught up in the execution of what things are supposed to look like.

I love Christmas Lights. The more the merrier - there is no such thing as excess. All that twinkling is one of my favorite parts of the season, inviting and festive. Warm and welcoming


Those cords of tangled lights that are replaced year after year are also maddeningly unreliable and not without their challenges. My more is better mindset lends itself to unmet expectations. The ritual of them, accompanied by a nearly annual Christmas Lights Quarrel, is not so inviting and festive, warm or welcoming. We are not singing carols and drinking hot chocolate when we take on this adversarial process. Though I intend to be merry, I’m not.


Like so many things about the holidays it is easy to lose sight of the sacredness and connection of rituals, especially as things get busy or we hold onto rigid notions of what our time together or celebrations should be. Our rituals anchor us, bring us together, bookmark important moments, invite celebration. But, they don’t have to be perfect. They often aren’t. Turning ordinary moments into something meaningful can be imperfect. And we can be flawed in bringing joy, touching someone’s heart, or creating a sense of unity. It can be sloppy - it’s the purpose that matters.


This uncommon prayer, by Brian Doyle, resonated for me, both because of my labile relationship with Christmas lights and because of Doyle’s reference to the “sweet terrible knot of a world to untangle.” There is indeed a lot to untangle this year. As we ease into the holidays, and usher out 2020, may we all focus on the things that matter most. On what is good this year: Whatever that looks like and however amended it is.


Muttered Prayer in Thanks for the Under-Genius of Christmas


Putting up ye old fir tree last night, and pondering why again we slay a perfectly healthy tree ten years of age, not even a teenager yet, and prop up the body, and drape it with frippery, and then finally feed the brittle former vibrancy into a chipper, paying a grim Boy Scout five bucks for the privilege: I watched mine bride and children quietly for a while, from behind the tree where I was struggling with the haunted cursed string of lights, and I saw the under-genius of it all; I saw beneath the tinsel and nog, the snarl of commerce and the ocean of misspent money; I saw the quiet pleasure of ritual, the actual no-kidding no-fooling urge to pause and think about other people and their joy, the anticipation of days spent laughing and shouldering in the kitchen, with no agenda and no press of duty. I saw the flash of peace and love under all the shrill selling and tinny theater; and I was thrilled and moved. And then I remembered too that the ostensible reason for it all was the Love being bold and brave enough to assume a form that would bleed and break and despair and die: and I was again moved, and abashed; and I finished untangling the epic knot of lights, shivering yet again with happiness that we were given such a sweet terrible knot of a world to untangle, as best we can, with bumbling love. And so: amen.


The Book of Uncommon Prayer, 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary - Brian Doyle