My basic theory is that “the holidays” — that amalgam of December, Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, and everything in-between — captures a snapshot of our lives, like a Christmas card.
Maybe you send a Christmas card every year. The family gathers, dresses up and looks for that one perfect shot to encapsulate the year — the kids a bit older, you a bit grayer. You hope everyone is smiling. (You content yourself with the knowledge that, at least in the picture, the children are still.)
Some people’s seasons reveal a vision of infectious cheer. They spread it through music or baked goods, thoughtful notes or timely gifts. Chances are these people are quite good at this year-round; but the effects of contagious cheerfulness may catch on more when the weather turns cold.
The point is that everything we do is magnified this time of year. If you’re generous you’re liable to be moreso. If you’re curmudgeonly, that too.
If you’re lonely, nowhere is that felt more than this time of year.
“The holidays” magnify what we do. They create a snapshot of our lives.
Not every Christmas card is an accurate representation, however, since so much of what many of us do this year reflects the busyness of life that speeds up even further this time of year. That can’t be captured in a still photograph. Maybe next year you can try a time-lapsed camera to compile your month into a few minutes of footage. This is why “the holidays” may be a truer revelation of our lives than just a picture.
I don’t want to claim this for everyone but I think it is a generally observed phenomenon, and maybe an occupational hazard for a pastor, that this time of year is busy. We lose ourselves in frenzies of baking, buying, worshipping, singing, wrapping, visiting, socializing, as if Christmas would not come without these things. What was once a season of waiting and expectation has taken on much of the character of the unfortunately hurried parts of the rest of our lives.
I discovered this while walking a labyrinth. A labyrinth is like a maze except for one important difference — there are no dead ends in a labyrinth. Each step brings you closer to the destination, the center. Even as you twist and wind your way through the layered pathways, the distance always shortens and the journey progresses.
We set up a labyrinth in church this year as a way of preparing for Christmas. There is no particular tie to the season except for the fact that we want to reach the center — Christmas, that great celebration of God’s presence with us in Christ’s birth. But to get there, you have to walk through the twists and turns of “the holidays.”
The thing about a labyrinth is you can’t walk it quickly. There are too many switchbacks, too many paths arranged in layered curves so that if you went too fast, you’d be liable to switch lanes, lose your place or go backwards. If your mind jumped too far ahead you might get dizzy trying to trace path before your feet. There is nothing you can do in a labyrinth except put one foot in front of the other.
What I realized is in this practice is that I’m not very good at walking slowly. My legs tremble. My feet itch to jump. It’s no wonder so many of our lives take on a frenetic pace when we’re used to going at high rate of speed.
But there is nothing you can do to speed it along. You walk, and you wait. You can try to race through, but it won’t work. That’s what I’ve told myself this year.
As daunting as the journey may seem, as frustrating and mysterious the path becomes, in the end, it’s God who comes to us. It has little to do with our foot speed or what we do along the way. It’s always the Father who races towards the prodigal; and that’s the one snapshot of our lives that matters most.
Will Scott is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dalton. His column appears the fourth Friday of the month.
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