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Pillar and Cloud

‘Tis the season of Chanukah, Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Many of us are busy as bees preparing for company coming to our homes, or for our own travels, and buying gifts for loved ones. This time of year can feel overwhelming for those of us who are bearing the burden of preparation.

Even for those of us whose holiday-preparation burdens are light, the ever-increasing commercialization of the end of the year can obscure the spiritual meaning of what we are celebrating. For me, there is an irony that in the middle of so much abundance, it can feel as if there is a spiritual void.

And for some of us the holidays are emotionally painful. Families can be messy. The myth of the perfect family holiday celebration is just that, a myth. For many of us, the holidays are a time when the ghosts of the past emerge from the shadows. Our un-healed pain, our unresolved anger, can be uninvited guests in our family gatherings.

This can also be a very lonely time of year for those who live alone, and for those who are mourning the loss of a loved one. It’s small wonder that not everybody looks forward to this time of year.

As a Unitarian Universalist community, I think that it is important for each of to be able to name and share these feelings and to try to be supportive of one another. At this time of year, “How are you feeling?” can take on a deeper meaning than usual. We might ask follow-ups to our usual words of greeting - -“No, I meant, how ARE you feeling, really?” Sharing feelings, and listening deeply, are vital gifts in themselves, and can be more meaningful than the ones that come in gift-wrap.

Let’s also not forget that many of the December traditions have spiritual roots, going back to the earliest days of human civilization. When the long nights and short days meant the supply of food we had on hand might not be enough to last the winter, we humans found a way to connect with the powers-that-be in the universe. Having spiritual connections and practices are always important, but seldom more so than at this time of year.

Spiritual practices are not limited to prayer and meditation. Going for a walk outside, writing a poem, learning a new craft skill or picking up an old one. All of these and more can help us to center, and to connect with the holy place that lies within each one of us.

Lately, I have been spending a lot of my downtime learning to be a better nature photographer. There is a creek near where I’m living that has been frequented by some wood ducks. First, there were seven, and the last time I was there over two dozen of them were jumping in and out of the water. Chicks emerging from their baby plumage, as well as majestic adults, they have all been in attendance in the small creek surrounded by cottonwood trees. They come and go, and when I am lucky enough to be there, my camera gives me an insight into wood duck family life. I think wood ducks may be the most impressive looking birds in North America. No matter what mood I am in, when I see them, they lift my spirits.

This will be my first and only winter spent in Northern Arizona. As news of snowstorms in New England has reached me, I am glad to be here to experience the different shades of light, the dryer air, and the sights and sounds of the colder seasons at a higher elevation. I used to dread the onset of winter when I lived in the east, but this year I am looking forward to it.

I hope that all of us in the Granite Peak community will have a way to find meaning in this holiday season. I hope that all of us, in this beloved community will experience joy, and hope, and peace, and love no matter what our circumstances.

Blessing to one and all.