“I’m good actually. But everyone isn’t”: A Blue Christmas reflection

I was seated in a coffee shop reviewing notes for a storytelling workshop, when, to my surprise, I started singing Christmas carols. It was a good sign. For years I dreaded the holiday season. Ugly sweaters. Christmas cards. Gift exchanges. Santa cookies. All of it grated my nerves. But on this particular day, however, as I sat under Caribbean-blue skies, I chuckled and sang along with Bing anyway: “oh the weather outside is frightful.”

Singing means I’m happy. That wasn’t always my case, however.

On December 22, 2010, I terminated a love project 12 years in the making. I had no Plan B, for love never fails. Yet there I was, 1996 Toyota Avalon loaded beyond capacity, leaving the chaotic life through which I maneuvered in the midwest for adventure and mystery in seminary on the west coast.

First year of my journey was cool — meeting new friends, enjoying new experiences, creating new normals. The anxiety persisted, and was magnified, however, during the holidays. With all the “Ws” I’d amassed in my wins’ column that first year, it did little to stoke holiday cheer. Like all the years before, I spent the holiday season wishing January 2 would hurry up and arrive already!

Then one of my seminary friends told me about the Blue Christmas service at a church about 30 miles from campus. It infused art with lament. Art and lament versus faux praise? I was curious about this event and committed to check it out.

I arrived 45 minutes early. The dance team — a group of elderly white people wearing short choir robes — moved stiffly through the liturgical dance choreographed by a young black man helping them to keep count with the song “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

In a different life I would’ve found this scene comedic. But their mission was not to create a marquee performance. It was to lead grieving members of the community who acknowledged that even the birth of the Savior of the world was not enough to counter the overwhelming sadness they felt because of the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or sickness in their bodies or, like me, the end of a significant relationship. Their mission was to create a safe space for us to name our loss and then name our hope.

Following the dance and poetry reading and the minister’s homily, we were offered the chance to light a candle. The directions were to take an unlit candle representing our grief, approach the one lit candle on the altar, and then light our candle’s wick while naming our hope.

I was afraid during this exercise. I could clearly see my loss. But hope? Not so much. Still, I followed the directions. I waited in line for my turn to approach the altar. I searched my heart frantically for a true hope. I refused to lie to the masses by faking holiday merriment. That same integrity was in place as I stood behind a man who, like me, agreed to fellowship with a group of strangers, united only by the truth that none of us were joyful.

Then it was my turn. Cautiously I approached the altar, my grief candle gripped tightly by my right hand. As I tilted it towards the flame, suddenly my hope was illuminated and I stated aloud “I hope to find love again,” then wept as I walked back to my seat.

I thought my 12-year love project depleted my faith in love. While it took me to dangerously low levels, there was still a spark. That spark was reignited in a space created for me and others who grieve during the holidays, a space to experience hope as more than a four-letter word.

Like all good things, I’m compelled to share everything that has been meaningful and effective in my life. That 2011 Blue Christmas service is a milestone marker — marking the first time I joined with neighbors and strangers to say “hey, this is not the most wonderful time of the year for me.”

They didn’t try to alter my feelings; they concurred. They also didn’t leave me feeling “blue”. Instead, they created room for me to acknowledge that my pain was real. They also led me in tactile exercises pointing towards hope, convincing me of realities I do not yet see.

If you or anyone you know feels blue during the holiday season, join us for Jesus, Jazz & Dessert Wine@Vespers: Blue Christmas/Silent Light virtual event, 5:30pm EST, Saturday, December 12, 2020, https://youtu.be/rrnJipobrt0.

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alexusrhone

alexusrhone

Revolutionary artist. Artistic theologian. Fan of all things “Golden Girls”. Curator of true, first-person narratives. “Truth Meet Story” - www.alexusrhone.com