Being Faithful When You Have the Christmas Blues
Local churches offer services that help people cope with sorrow in order to find joy.
Not everyone is feeling the "holly jolly" and the "ho, ho, ho" of the season.
This time of year, the greetings of "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah" and the all-encompassing "Happy Holidays" can be difficult, even depressing for many people.
This "most wonderful time of the year" is often not. There are various explanations why this is so, yet I think the underlying reason for the melancholy of many is loss.
Loss of a loved one, divorce, loss of job, foreclosure on a home, loss of relationships with family and friends, loss of health and abilities, loss of the way things used to be. With loss comes grief and feeling sad and blue. Even the loss of daylight hours increases already low spirits. I do believe that many people experience a "blue, blue Christmas," in the song popularized by Elvis Presley.
The Rev. Elizabeth "Betty" Bowen, deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church, prepared a "service of solace" on Sunday afternoon for those who have lost loved ones and are grieving at this time of year. This kind of service may be known as a "Longest Night" or "Blue Christmas" service in other churches. It was the first of this type for Trinity and was offered as a way of looking for hope whether we are in the midst of fresh or resurfaced grief, simply sad, or empty when homes and stores are full of things for our fulfillment.
Many candles were already lit as we began, but as were remembered and redeemed our losses and recalled that our faith is of promise, hope and an unfailing love, more candlelight glowed in the sanctuary.
We were invited to come forward and light one or more candles that sat on a table in honor or memory of a loved one. Enough came forward that more candles were needed.
More light was shining as the daylight turned to dusk.
We all came forward, and some of us named the person and their relationship to us. Remembering mothers was the most voiced reason for lighting a candle. Silent reflection followed and unison reading of verses from Psalm 139, and then the Rev. Tamsen Whistler, rector of Trinity, invited those who wished to stand and share a reflection or memory of one for whom they lit a candle.
"If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,' even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you." Psalm 139:11-12
New grief and old grief was shared calmly by all and for some the tears fell. We did our best to sing together the carefully chosen carols, reminding us that yes, in that little town of Bethlehem, hopes and fears were met in thee, God with us.
Most moving was the reading from Isaiah 40, by John Hawn, music minister at Trinity. As he read, I noticed a number in the sanctuary wiping away tears. Hawn himself read with a catch in his voice at times.
"I don’t know why I started to choke up," Hawn said to me after the service. I replied that he was asked to read quite powerfully poignant words in an emotional setting. I assured him he read beautiful words beautifully.
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her time of service is ended." Isaiah 40:1-2a
“Jesus wept,” was the inspiration for Bowen’s brief remarks to us. This verse is from the story of the raising of Lazarus, the gospel of John 11:1-44. “Notice all the emotions in this story,” Bowen said. “Anger, sorrow, indignation and faith. Martha’s faith leaps out as she believes in Jesus as the resurrection and the life.”
“Jesus,” Bowen said, “was in the pain. God is in the pain. The Incarnation makes this real to us. God with us in our sorrow.”
The truth of that statement helped us all feel the blessing of our faith. Our spirits were lifted as we exited into the dark night.
In St. Charles city, St. Charles Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will have a Longest Night service at 7 p.m. Dec. 22. There may be other faith communities offering a worship opportunity like this during the next few days. If your days do not seem so merry and bright, attending one of them might be the best gift you can give yourself.