This is an inner journey. A journey of the spiritual and mundane and about being human. An imperfect journey. My journey.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

We Need A Little Christmas...Now

Haul out the holly

Put up the tree 

Before my spirit 

falls again...
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things
But-!Deck the Halls 
again now...
From the Broadway musical 'Mame',composed by Jerry Herman,1966

I start checking the calendar for the date of the first Sunday in Advent by Thanksgiving. If you aren't familiar with it, Advent is the season of waiting when Christians prepare spiritually for the birth of the Christ Child. The word
Advent means " the arrival of something important", according to Websters Dictionary.

So... for the four Sundays in Advent, we in the interfaith community wait for the Divine Child ( the name changes according to personal spiritual practice: for some it's Jesus, for others it's Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun), for others it's Mithra...or we wait for an occasion: the Winter Solstice,Yule, the Wild Hunt, a visit from Father Christmas or Santa Claus. There are many reasons for the season, because there are many days of celebration.
Celebrations such as Festivus, Saturnalia, Misrule, Yuletide, Wintertide...and a few I know I've forgotten.

We do it mainly to wind up the end of the old year and ring in the new, right up through New Year's Eve smack dab in the middle, and continue for six more days until the 12th day of Christmas or the Epiphany.

I'm no longer considered a Christian in mainstream religious circles. Technically, I'm a neo-Pagan. I still believe the teachings of Jesus have deep moral and ethical meaning, but I also ascribe to the wisdom of the Torah,and the Buddha. I am comforted in the compassion of the Dalai Lama; I find strength in the teachings of many ancient religions, including the Celtic spirituality of my ancestors. Because I have integrated all of this into a devotional practice that is tailor-made for me, I can still celebrate Christmas comfortably to a point. To be perfectly honest, I do it to honor where I came from- to remember Christmases past- and as a way of staying connected to my roots.

 I don't rush right from Halloween into Christmas the way the marketing folks would like; I take a last leisurely moment to enjoy Autumn and celebrate Thanksgiving for its own merits. Most years there is a few days between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent; that's when I start to slowly decorate, building anticipation for the season. I haul out my table-top tree and carefully unpack ornaments I've collected or been given as presents over the years; some of these came from my childhood and belonged to my grandparents.

My tree top angel is one of them. She's white molded plastic with clear wings, a relic from the mid-century: a bulb used to fit in her back, but now I tuck the first light of the string into the hole, and she lights up just fine. The Angel has sat on many Christmas trees throughout my lifetime- those in my grandparent's house where I grew up, and all of the places I've lived since then. She's seen the child's wonder in my eyes when I got a certain doll I wanted, and witnessed the years when my grandparents had volatile arguments over my Grandmother's drinking.
She was there for my first Christmas in my first apartment since college, when Tinker the Cat and I were housebound due to a snow storm that dumped three feet of snow on the town where I moved across the state. She spent a couple of Christmases packed in a box with all the other ornaments in a friend's basement when I was homeless, but she triumphantly returned to her rightful place when I rented a room in a house in North Carolina. Today, she rests atop my little tree, that is grandly displayed in the triple window of my new apartment, which sits half way up a hillside. The whole town can see my tree and electric candles-and the Angel who serenely crowns it.

Meanwhile, I am baking fruitcake and cookies on Christmas Day because I was busy making a little money to pay my utility bills as a paid bell ringer for the Salvation Army. ( Yes, I do know they ascribe to a theology that does not accept the LBGT community. And yes, I do  disagree very much with that because I think all of us are God's Children and that the interpretation of the Scripture used to justify that thinking is flawed and misunderstood. But I also understand that in this area of Appalachia, the Salvation Army is more often than not the only charitable organization that genuinely benefits the poor of the community and those in need...and it is the only place that would hire me because of my disability when I needed to make money to survive through this winter. There isn't many places to choose from when seeking employment-and I was desparate.
 Working in the charitable branch of the organization is not supporting their religious beliefs. That's not rationalization, it's logic...and I have learned the hard way that I cannot eat my idealism. That's another story for later).

Today has been been bittersweet. There are memories of times with friends and loved ones who are still dear to me- some whom I spoke with on the phone this evening. I remember others who have stepped across the Veil to the place where people go when we leave this life.

Christmas is also a time for children, and since I have none of my own, the childhood memories I have are mine. Not all of them are endearing. I can call up particular moments of feeling very cherished by my grandparents...and times when I thought ( and still believe) I wasn't very loved at all. Mornings when all the neighbors came over to celebrate the holiday and marvel at all the presents my grandparents gave me because they " wouldn't take a million dollars for me"( did anyone ever offer them a million dollars for me?), where I was the center of attention and the joy of their very existence...and the time after company left that I was told not to play with a certain toy and not take it out of the box.

Years later, during one of Mom's drunken  tirades, I learned that those toys were returned to the store so my grandparents could get their money back. We were simply too poor to afford the more expensive ones, but our family had to save face in front of our friends and neighbors, so I was gifted with a pretension of gifts purely for show. Pop couldn't live with the thought of others thinking he couldn't provide for his family; he was, in fact, a very good provider. We never went hungry, the bills were paid. We just ate cheaper cuts of meat and spent less. We were poor, but when I was a child-especially at Christmas-I never knew it until years after he died. Now, as I struggle with making a living on my own as an adult, I am saddened at the thought of those years, but I understand the reasons behind what was done. The memories hurt, and I ache for myself and for Mom and Pop, but the years have given me a compassionate understanding of the reasons behind why things were the was they were. The true gift that has come out of all those years is forgiveness.

I'm glad Christmas is 12 days because you can't fit all of the celebration into one day. These days it's not so much Christmas as it is Yuletide for me. I mainly celebrate the Solstice,and the return of the Light. The Light, as I see it, is the spark of life that rekindles the spirit and guides the soul in the cold winter months. The Light is hope. It is the justification for my believing that to the darkest days, the Light will return. We will always have the fact, we need it. We need darkness to rest and restore our life force, just as a bulb planted in the cold,dark earth in the Autumn will grow and burst through the ground into the light in the Spring. Humans are like that,too. We need one last celebration, to haul out the holly, put up the tree, throw on the glitz, feast and make merry before we get down to the serious business of growing in the light of the new year. Today, I need a little Christmas...and maybe tomorrow, too, and the next day, and the next...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

And Now....

It's been a long time since I've posted to this blog. The big news is that I have a new home. Well, not so new actually...I moved nearly six months ago to that little mountain town I mentioned. The area is vast and remote. If you check a 'flat Earth' map, just beyond where the ocean drops off the edge and the caption reads "There be dragons", that's where I moved. It's a  joke I like to tell to describe my new home to friends.
There is a bit of irony in it...and a lot of truth.

The area of Southwestern Virginia/West Virginia is divided by the rest of the region by the Appalachian Mountains, which essentially isolates it. In 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission was formed to study economic development. Appalachia was then-and still is - one of the poorest parts of America. The Commission designated the area as economically distressed and endangered-and rightly so: it continues to grapple with poverty and population loss.  This is traditionally coal mining and logging country. In the little town where I live, coal mining dwindled out right about the time I was born in the mid-fifties. Little economic development occurs here now and a majority of the townsfolk make a living at minimum wage jobs. A sign at the edge of my new hometown places the official population at 300; it is, if you count all the cats, dogs and pigeons. The population of the cemetery is higher than the current number of residents. It includes 114 miners and laborers killed during an infamous explosion in a nearby mine. Both are on the National Registry of Historic Places. They filmed a Maxwell House Coffee commercial here once, and a movie 20 years ago. Since then the place has gone to ruin and boasts a mind-boggling number of abandoned buildings. Sic transit gloria mundi.

By now you're probably wondering why I moved here. On the darkest of nights, it's a question I ask myself.
The quickest answer is that I wanted to get out of a bad situation. The best answer is because I could find affordable housing easily so I could reclaim my independence. The life I left feels like time in a vacuum. The place I left felt more like home than where I spent the first 50 years of my life. The friends I left were more family than family, and now that the holidays are approaching, I find myself missing them more and more. Not that I haven't made friends here because I have: it's just that those relationships are so new that they haven't had time to develop the depth and richness of those in North Carolina. I know that will come in the passing months and years, but right now I have moments of intense lonesomeness. I'm not lonely, mind you...I just feel the distance between those I'd come to know and love and myself. I miss their presence and constancy. I miss intellectual discussions on Sunday afternoons over coffee, and sharing a spiritual practice with them. I miss the feeling of coming into my own among peers. When I moved I knew that wouldn't actually end because there are ways of staying in contact through phone calls and the Internet, but I do miss the face time none the less.

The mood is not all melancholy, however. There is still a feeling of civic pride that is easy to get swept up in: Forth of July fireworks, Harvest Festivals unique to the area, parades on Labor Day, Veterans Day and Christmas...Scarecrows and Christmas wreaths hung on the light poles in the main section of town. Everything is within walking distance: the tiny library, Post Office, a nice park with picnic tables, a thrift shop that benefits the Christian Action organization supported by all the churches in the area.

About those churches: you cannot throw a rock in any direction without hitting a church dedicated to a mainstream denomination. The Community Church has become a community center, and the synagogue is closed. I wish it weren't. I love the serenity of the Jewish Sabbath, and it would have been nice to have had a Rabbi in town to have religious debates on Scripture. I've already test driven a couple of the churches in town and had discussions with the pastors. Both are men of the Christian faith-one Episcopalian and the other Methodist. The first attended the same seminary as I did, and was ordained under similar circumstances, so we have an instant history...and he's the spiritual advisor of the local paranormal group. That elicited a big smile from me over the lunch we had one day. The second is a man of unshakable faith. I don't always and entirely agree with his views, but I have to admit....he's one hell of a preacher. I am envious of his ability to preach and pray extemporaneously. Both of these men have hearts as big as all outdoors and would agree to disagree within their chosen faith traditions, and yet they do agree one one thing: they believe this town is in its death throes. I don't want to yet believe this, because if or when I come to this decision on my own, it will be time to leave...and I just got here, damn it. I have an inkling there is a kernel of truth in their sincere assessment that the problem with this town is the attitude of its people. They've both been here long enough to know...but I am still yet an optimist. Perhaps because because I am new and have a different perspective, I can overlook the infighting and apathy and still see the beauty and potential of this place that's so steeped in history. My ability to dream has yet to be taken away, and right now I have faith and believe it can rise again. Maybe not to the level of it's glory days, but to a place of a sustainable existence. It will take a lot of elbow grease...or maybe just a lot of turn the page before the book closes forever.