Sunday, December 15, 2013

Blue Christmas 2013

I am spent.

Today we kicked off our third service; an 8:28AM option that worked out well for all concerned, but pushed our morning start time back by a good 30 minutes. Which meant that I was up at 5:30AM. Which, for some, is not unusual, but this girl is NOT a fan of early mornings; particularly when I was awake, tossing and turning, until 2AM.

The bad weather (that wasn't really) pushed our annual Blue Christmas service ahead a week, and we met this afternoon to rehearse and prepare. An amazing team of people whose greatest gifts are mercy and kindness were on hand to help set up tables and candles and beautiful things. Several of our artists came early to prepare to live out the presence of God as it happened, by putting it on the wall behind the people with chalk and colors, words and pictures.

We ran music - just Lindsay, Matt and I - and I polished up a song that had been brewing in my heart for several days. Sydni was there to wrap words from the Psalms around the song I wrote.

And we met, with fear and trembling. We worshiped. We sang. Angie delivered a beautiful, poignant, gentle message full of truth and hope and all of the good things Jesus offers, the stuff underneath all the political shouting and theological posturing.




We waited there, and something amazing happened. My head is still spinning, my heart is still clenched, and I am so exhausted that I doubt there is much I could sort out if I tried. But here's what I know; we experienced something new tonight, connecting art beyond music to the expression of our souls. Everyone in the room was invited to write their sorrow on a scrap of paper, as they lit a candle to commemorate the reason they came. The papers collected in beautiful bowls, and then one by one, artists pulled out papers and painted what they saw and felt and heard in the words or pictures they found. While we sang, while Angie taught, they drew.

I believe you're my healer
I believe you are all I need

Candlelight and tears, sniffles throughout the room. Lindsay's powerful voice crying out:

I need a reason to sing
I need to know that you're still holding 
the whole world in your hands…

And all the while, they drew.

At the end, just our voices sang Silent Night, a nod to the traditional hymn of Christmas that did more, somehow, than point to the baby in a manger on what was probably not a silent night. Tonight those words carried more hopes and dreams and sorrow and tears than I'd ever felt before.

Son of God
love's pure light

We finished, and I spoke a benediction:

Go in grace. Go in peace. The author of grace and peace goes with you.

They turned, all of them, and I kept playing, gentle walk-out music. My head was bent, my eyes were closed, as is often the case when the space is holy and sacred. I heard shuffling footsteps, I sensed the haze of candles, still lit.

I heard sobs.

I felt a stillness.

I finally looked up, and they were there, gathered around a wall of chalk scraped across the black. They looked and pointed and stared and touched, they gathered one another to themselves and held on.

They cried.

The service ended, and for 30 minutes after the final song, the healing continued. Crowded together, heads bowed, resonant.

Love's pure light.

Together, our written words found a place to live; sorrow collected. Connected.

Love's pure light.

I've never experienced anything quite like it. Precious and sacred and beautiful; the spirit of community and flesh and spirit. The honesty of vulnerable, raw places opened and exposed with hopeful hands and willing hearts. Artists, holding loosely the pain entrusted to them and mirroring it back to us all as ours.

Will there be a victory? 
Will you sing it over me now?

It was a beautiful, holy, sacred thing. Years and years of "doing church" have dulled my senses, I think. I hate to say it, but it's the truth; I find that few things surprise me anymore.

But this? This was that; a beautiful, glorious, broken surprise.

Love's pure light.

I walked to the wall when it was finally over, 90 minutes after we'd begun, 13 hours after we'd first sound-checked for the day's first service. My chest tightened and my heart expanded, my soul caught in my throat and I could not breathe for the tears. For all that we'd done in the front - the songs, the candles, the words and melodies - nothing matched the power of this, the visual representation of what was actually borne by those in the room.

What a privilege. What a sacred honor.

Love's pure light.

The songs we sang:


Lori said...

Oh Beth, that stirs my soul so deeply. How powerful the spirit truly is. What a blessing. What a gift.

Jayne said...

What a beautiful feeling that must have been. Thank you for sharing something so special.

annie said...

Thank you for sharing with this sister who needs this and could not be there. Tears are welling up here at work. I am reminded of the verse in Isaiah, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

Thank you, Beth, and Christmas blessings to you and yours.

Jean Lewis said...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This beautiful service truly helps those of us that struggle with the "festive & happy" part of the holiday season. It's truly hard to continue to smile and be merry when we have pain and grief in our hearts - we feel guilty and an outsider when we can't share in the merriment that comes during this time. Therefore this service allows us to grieve and to cry out and to know that there are others who are also feeling this pain. I love you and I love our church...and thank you for posting a particular snapshot - my cell died and I couldn't take the picture - he will always be in my heart.