In her book Hallelujah, Anyway, Anne Lamott talks a bit about her struggle with alcoholism and shares that she converted to Christianity while she was drunk, at a tiny church led by a pastor who apparently looked a lot like singer Marvin Gaye (which was part of the reason she kept going back). Anyway, a year later and a few months sober, she was ready to be baptized. But then called her pastor the morning of her baptism to tell him that “regrettably, she’d have to cancel the baptism, as she was currently too damaged and foul for words. She promised to call him when she got a bit better. He told her to get her butt over to the church, that she wasn’t going to heal sitting alone on her 10 x 12 foot houseboat. He said she didn’t have to get it together before she could be included and, in fact, couldn’t get it together without experiencing inclusion.” So her friend picked her up, and she was baptized.
(For the full video version, click here.)
There seems to be this misnomer that when we’re feeling “too damaged and foul for words” we shouldn’t be anywhere near the church, that perhaps we’re not good enough for God… or at least not good enough for all the “really good people” who are there (which is also false as I’ve never met anyone without skeletons in their closets and scars on their soul).
Ann Weems has a wonderful poem entitled “Toward the Light” that suggests that when we’re feeling “too damaged and foul for words” is when we run. As far from God and others as we can get. We don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone, and if we could possibly get away from ourselves as well, we would. Here’s her poem:
Too often our answer to the darkness
is not running toward Bethlehem but running away.
We ought to know by now that we can’t see where we’re going in the dark.
Running away is rampant…
separation is stylish: separation from mates, from friends, from self.
Run and tranquilize, don’t talk about it, avoid.
Run away and join the army of those who have already run away.
When are we going to learn that Christmas Peace
comes only when we turn and face the darkness?
Only then will we be able to see the Light of the World.
Despite the standard greeting of Merry Christmas, many folks just don’t feel merry, and instead fall into that category of wanting to run and hide until the holiday is over.
There are many things that can take our “merry” away from us:
- Grief over loved ones gone
- The state of the world juxtaposed with the peace we hope for at Christmas
- Challenging families
- Loss of job, or lack of money
- Health concerns
- Empty nest
- Lack of sunshine
It may be enough to make us feel like the Grinch, or Scrooge, or want to break into a chorus of “Blue Christmas.” In the midst of this season of celebration and joy, it isn’t unusual to also feel a deep well of pain, sorrow, grief and loss.
The truth is we can’t escape our own darkness, nor can we begin to heal while we’re running from it. Ann Lamott’s pastor was right, sulking on her tiny houseboat wasn’t going to fix, heal or help her. She needed to feel loved and included for that. She needed to turn into her own darkness to see the tiny glimmer of light we call God. And so do we…
This glimmer of light in the darkness is the point of Christmas… the trees and tinsel, presents and cookies are all great, but not really the point. Those are merely a shiny, shallow covering for the depth of the meaning and magic of Christmas. The real point is that people saw Jesus as the revelation of a loving, compassionate, peaceful God who cared for all people, and perhaps especially for those who were hurting, oppressed and poor.
As Zechariah says in his prophetic proclamation:
“Blessed are you, the Most High God of Israel – for you have visited and redeemed your people.
You have raised up a mighty savior for us of the house of David…
Such is the tender mercy of our God,
who from on high will bring the Rising Sun to visit us,
to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
God raised up a savior – which had nothing to do with supposedly saving people from their sins, and everything to do with personal and social transformation. Jesus showed the way to a deeper spiritual peace within oneself that would then hopefully manifest outwardly in more harmony, compassion, love and justice.
Megan McKenna tells a story about poet Rainer Maria Rilke. When he lived in Paris he used to take a walk every afternoon, and daily he passed by an old lady begging along the footpath. The elderly lady sat there stoically and silently and showed no sign of gratitude for the alms the passersby gave her.
One day, the poet was strolling along with a young lady friend, and much to her astonishment he gave the elderly lady no alms. She wondered why. He said in answer to the question he could fee, “A person must give something to her heart and not to her hand.”
On one of the next days Rilke appeared with a small, half-opened rose in his hand. Naturally , the young lady thought it was for her. How thoughtful of him! But, no, he laid the rose in the hand of the beggar lady.
And then something wonderful happened. The beggar lady stood up, reached out, and took Rilke’s hand and kissed it. She clutched the rose to her heart and disappeared. She stayed away for a whole week. And then she came back and sat there as lifeless and cold as before. “What do you think she lived on during that time?” Asked Rilke’s young companion.
“On the rose,” he answered.
Christmas is like the gift of a rose, it is a spiritual gift that touches the heart with love, joy, peace and hope. It is light in the darkness. Christmas is for all of us no matter whether you are happy and on top of the world, or whether you are “broken and too foul for words.”
Turn into the darkness and find the light within.