It is Christmas Eve and outside my window there is a fresh layer of snow, there is a crisp bite in the air at negative four below zero. The lights on the tree are twinkling, carols play on the radio, and the house smells like Christmas cookies. It looks, smells, and sounds like Christmas … except it doesn't feel like Christmas.
If you are going to church today, it likely won't feel the same way, especially if you are watching it from home. Your family gathering will likely be smaller and over Zoom, while the annual fancy Christmas outfit might just be your pajamas this year.
Traditions and rituals are important. They ground us to where we have come from and with all that has shaped us. They remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. They call us forward to carry on that message and those teachings. In my tradition, that involves lighting a candle in church with people in your family and community while singing "Silent Night" taking time in this darkest time of the year, to reflect on the light that shines into our lives in the form of the Christ child.
As mentioned, this year will look and feel different. Whether you light your candle from you car in your church parking lot, or while watching a virtual worship, or on your table while you eat your Christmas dinner by yourself, I invite you to try this candle centering ritual as part of your 2020 Christmas experience. Maybe it will become a new ritual for you and your family as a way of remembering the things we learned in this strange year and returning again and again to the manger and the hope that began that night.
The prophet Isaiah writes in his ninth chapter, verses 2-7:
"2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
Throughout the Bible there are references to the breathe of God in our lives. What is often called the "Jesus prayer" or the "breath prayer" can be traced as far back as third century Orthodox Christians. To experiment with your own breath prayer, simply,
Light a candle.
Read Isaiah's words, cited above from Chapter 9, aloud a few times, particularly focusing on verse 6.
Take three slow breaths balancing the in and out breath.
Then choosing a name that speaks to you, speak the name aloud or silently as you take the in breath.
On your out breath, breath out the desire of your heart.
There is no particular length of time for this practice. If your mind wanders, it's okay. Simply leave that to which it wanders and bring it back to your breath and your chosen name.
Most importantly, know that you are heard. Know that you are valued. Know that despite the strangeness of this season, the Christ child hears and knows the deepest stirrings of your heart.