I am finally back. The feast has been gloriously had, the pie devoured, the long, winter walks taken and now I am here in the chill of a late evening to greet you. I hope your feasting was as sumptuous as could be hoped. Evening has grown old round my ears as I’ve sat working my brain back into the cadence of written words and now night is staring in at the window with black, enigmatic eyes. But in every shadowed pane of glass there is a wreath of glinting light, small points of golden brightness to sing out the advent of the brightest days of winter. I think the night is downright envious of my indoor, Christmas stars.
I feel ready to greet Christmas this year. In the past couple of years I have met this season with all the distracted elegance of a flustered hostess; entirely unprepared and frantically determined not to seem so. I scurried round in the usual circles of time honed tradition with a head only half present and a heart vaguely grieved by the flurry of it all. But I’m ready this year; I’ve set my house straight; got my thoughts in crisp order and opened my window to catch the calm, pearl light of steady contemplation.
I think it has a lot to do with my state of soul (I’ll be blogging soon about the, for me, revolutionary idea of “assenting” to my life as is). But it also has to do (of course) with some of my book companions. One in particular by a well-respected Christian writer who joined the Orthodox church with her husband. I heard Frederica Matthews Green speak at a conference a couple of years ago and was intrigued by her thoughts and the fact of her Orthodoxy. On an impulse, I snatched a little gem of a book by her, The Open Door, that I found on Ebay describing her journey into Orthodoxy and her experience of icons. I stuck it on my shelf for future perusal. For some reason, it stood out to me when I was scanning my shelves for some Breckenridge reading and I took it with me to the mountains. My interest is persistently piqued by more liturgical traditions within the church and I was curious at the very least to find out what Frederica might have to say about icons.
But instead of a neat box of information, I found a journey into a form of contemplation that I had never encountered. With the winsome voice of a pilgrim storyteller, Frederica took me into the hushed beauty of an imaginary Orthodox church. She explained the significance of each picture on the “iconostasis” the main screen near the altar: the risen Christ, the Theotokos (literally, “birthgiver of God”), John the Baptist, and the resurrection. She explained how in her church, icons are seen as pictures of the story of which we are part, as a means through which we re-enter into and take part in that reality. With the explanation of each specific icon, she lingered in a chapter long contemplation into the story that the picture represented. She led me to those paintings (reproduced in the book) and left me there, whispering of God’s work, His glory, His presence in the lives of his people. She showed me how the contemplation of something that pictures the story of which I am part can lead me deeper into its reality, into the flesh and bloodness of its real existence in my life.
It is rare in this time to take a long while to look. It is rarer still to let the looking weave itself into thinking. I don’t know a whole bunch more about Orthodoxy, but as I enter the Christmas season I am keenly aware of the grace of re-entering the beauty of the salvation story. That books sticks with me, it’s images and thoughts cloaking me in a comfort of sacred remembrance. I find the stories popping up in my thought, companioning my mundanest moments with intimations of the glory just beyond me sight. And for that, I have to say thanks to this little book and the pictures it contemplates. It’s set me up to enter a month of celebration for the birth that began the great story and it’s prepared me to enter it with eyes wide open, with mouth hushed, with heart waiting to see what I will find.
It’s a good way to begin. So here I am. I hope you are also finding a way to quiet your heart and to remember the grace infusing this coming celebration. For now, I guess I’ll wish you goodnight as I am very sleepy. And just for fun, here’s my official first: Merry Christmas!