“…Even a map cannot show you
 the way back to a place
 that no longer exists.”

Sandra M. Castillo,  “Christmas, 1970″

Last night, in LA, the rain came down hard.

I heard it for a long time, as I was having trouble sleeping, being worried about — well, everything.

It’s hard not to look back on the holidays, and remember happier times.

I feel the loss of my father, who died in July.

I was used to the routine: decorating a small tree for his room; and making my way up the coast with a plate of oatmeal cookies I’d made from my grandmother’s recipe for the aides and nurses who took care of him.

Now, there is emptiness.

Emptiness is not a bad thing, but there’s so much pressure this time of the year to fill it up — to react like the jazz musician who hasn’t learned that silence is part of the music, that it’s okay to let space go by, that listening is half of the art.

Lisa Marion, a writer friend, suggests getting rid of the Holiday shoulds. I don’t want to go to the parties, or decorate this year, but I need not feel guilty, if I read her correctly.

Possibly some of us need advent, the time of  waiting, before the baby bursts into the world. We could wait until Christmas actually starts, on December 25, and celebrate the 12 days afterwards, she suggests.

This makes sense; there is something comforting about living by the liturgical year, the rhythms of grief and joy.

The only thing I’m sure I want to do is attend the midnight service at All Saints Church to hear the music, be with friends, and hear our new Rector, Mike Kinman, preach. He has a gift, and always manages to be both comforting and motivating at the same time. He has a bit of the holy madness, the sense of urgency, that characterized the prophets of old.

I was trying to explain to someone this week why many of us, especially people of color, Muslims, and women, feel vulnerable right now, and why we need space to grieve.

“Then go and have a good cry. Go to the crying room. Here is your Wambulance. What a waste of a life,” he said.

“You don’t think segments of our population are vulnerable?” I asked. “And whose life are you saying is a waste? Mine? Are you saying my life is a waste?” I asked.

If my life is a waste, then what did he think about Jesus, who spent his life loving and caring for the poor, the marginalized, hated Samaritans, social outcasts, and vulnerable women?

As I listened to the downpour last night, I finally gave up worrying, and “had a talk with God,” as Stevie Wonder put it.

In the morning, equilibrium returned, and a sense of clarity.

As I watched the gray sky turning to blue again, and the evergreens standing tall and open to air and the morning light, I realized something:

Christmas isn’t about what we’ve done in the past, it’s about what God is leading us to do now, for the future.

It’s about standing with the marginalized.

After all, It was to the marginalized, the shepherds living in the fields, that the message of hope first came.

The shepherds, as Drew Hart reminds us, were marginalized, not only by  Rome (along with the rest of Israel), but, due to their low social status, they were marginalized by their own people.

And yet the good news of God’s revolution came to them.

The life-affirming message of “peace on earth and goodwill to all” came not to those with the most, but to those with the least.

As I ponder this, I notice that a red-throated hummingbird with tiny, flashing red wings has landed in the bare branches of a nearby tree. He looks like a shiny little Christmas ornament. He has filled up the emptiness with his dazzling beauty.

allans_hummingbird“We can feel sick at heart—we would be fools not to—but despair is not an option,” writes Robert Kuttner.

This – at least right now — is Christmas enough for me. 



  1. Denise B Bennorth

    Oh, Carolyn, what beautiful, heartfelt words you have shared with us. My heart knows of the pain of missing Dad at Christmas. I am sorry for your grief, but understand that is a part of the process of having loved so deeply.

    This touched me: “Emptiness is not a bad thing, but there’s so much pressure this time of the year to fill it up — to react like the jazz musician who hasn’t learned that silence is part of the music, that it’s okay to let space go by, that listening is half of the art.”

    It took me a long time to accept that sometimes we have to sit with the emptiness, to fully experience it, before we start to fill it up. Thank you for your lovely reminder.

    1. Post author

      Thank you for you response, Denise. I think that the willingness to “experience our experience” is key. Another year, I will be putting on the feast! I hope so! Merry Christmas to you and Chuck!

  2. Crystal Thieringer

    Your wee hummingbird brought tears to my eyes. How important to learn that silence is part of the music, that watching is part of the seeing, that flashes of incredible beauty are gifts to us in the moments we still to pay attention. This was beautiful, but I am sorry for the pain that wrestled you to the moment.

    1. Post author

      Thank you, Crystal. It can be a tough time of the year for people who are single and experiencing loss. I wonder if Christmas is different in Canada, if there is more space, and less rush. I imagine it is so.

  3. Via

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post. It’s a wonderful reminder that while Christmas is a joyous time, it can be a
    very sad and lonely for those missing loved ones or experiencing loss. I loved the hummingbird for a variety of reasons that I’m sure I’ll find myself thinking about in days to come.

    1. Post author

      Thank you, Via! Yes, the holidays can be a tough time for those experiencing loss. So many people where my father lived were abandoned on Christmas. I’ve already made a mental note to make sure I visit rest homes, etc., next year. I’m glad you loved the hummingbird as much as I did. Aren’t they beautiful? Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Merry Christmas!

  4. Denise DiNoto

    Carolyn, thank you for sharing your heartfelt words and observations with us. As you know, I too am having a different Christmas season this year without my father. I appreciate the reminder to consider what matters most.

    1. Post author

      Thank you, Denise. It gives me hope to see you surrounded by such a beautiful family at a time like this. I pray they continue to sustain you in this time of grief. May the new year be full of good times and many good words!

  5. Carryl

    Indeed music is made as much in the silence as in the notes and rhythms themselves. Thank you for the reminder that there is a rhythm even in the silence, that the pause before life springs forth is equally beautiful. Thank you, too, for this: “Christmas isn’t about what we’ve done in the past, it’s about what God is leading us to do now, for the future.” Regardless of the bleakness of the times, there is always hope. Thank you.

    1. Post author

      Thank you, Carryl, music is such a great teacher of silence, eh? What beautiful thoughts these are. Lots of love to you, and Happy New Year!

  6. Laura Hile

    I still miss my dad at Christmas, even though it’s been years. Thank you for sharing the picture of your sweet dad.

    I’m so glad you were able to find quiet time apart with God–and during a rainstorm too. Rain is a precious gift to residents of Los Angeles, especially during the holidays. (I grew up there, so I know.)

    And this: Christmas isn’t about what we’ve done in the past, it’s about what God is leading us to do now, for the future. Absolutely.

    Happy New Year, Carolyn.

    1. Post author

      I’m sorry you lost your dad, Laura. He must have been young when he died. I just finished reading Mary Oliver’s Poetry Handbook, and in the book she talks about how important solitude and alone time are for writers and poets. Having two days was a gift, although I felt the loss most acutely. That text from Jeremiah kept coming to mind, too — the one about God giving us a future and a hope. Love to you, and a Happy New Year!

  7. childofaslan

    EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS, Carolyn! Everything. Yes. And yes. I will come back to reread this throughout the next few weeks, I can tell.

    I’m spitting angry about your patronizing ‘splainer who mocked your (our) grief…but the rest of your post was soothing and resonant, and my blood pressure resumed normal levels.

    A friend posted this on Facebook earlier today, a timely reminder from poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:
    “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
    Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
    In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
    Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.”

    Amen and amen.

    1. Post author

      Yes, Ros, dear friend, there is a reason for the lament! I love those lines from Hopkin’s poem, and need them more than ever. Thank you for reminding me of them. Thank you for reading! Love to you and Happy New Year!


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