“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
The sun casts its late afternoon light upon the tops of the birch trees behind my home as I sit here, mulling over words that seem reluctant to show me their shape. This is the way with words…I must simply begin with faith, to find out what needs to be said.
It is 3:30pm on Christmas Eve…about -5°C, the ground white with frozen snow left from last week’s storm.
The vegetables are prepared for tomorrow, homemade eggnog is chilling in the refrigerator, the turkey is ‘brine-ing’, gifts are delivered, others are scattered beneath the tree. All is well and solid in my world.
My heart has been searching for the precious, sublime moments cast quietly amidst the rush of this season…straining for a glimmer of light amidst the despair…despair felt both with people whom I love, and with grieving strangers beyond our borders.
And my willing heart has found a treasure trove … the cold glitter of moonlight, the pungent drift of wood smoke, gentle flakes dancing, the haunting strains of a violin, friendship that needs no words, shadows cast by flickering candlelight, an aged sanctuary bathed in light, an impromptu trio of voices…the music of the ages.
This is the lovely little St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Hillsborough, NB, a tiny architectural treasure built in 1887. Unlike many churches, you won’t find this one boldly centered on the village’s Main Street.
No, St. Mary’s is unobtrusive; almost shy. The humble little structure with windows stained with glass, cedar shakes and a practical chimney instead of a steeple, is tucked away on a back street, amid century-old trees and leaning tombstones.
Like its members, it does not strain to call attention to itself, yet those who stumble upon it quite by accident feel as if they have inadvertently touched upon a secret longing.
St. Mary’s has a small, but faithful congregation, less than 30, really. Oh, but the care that you will find here. Most all participate in the ritual of service. While Sarah plays the violin on Sundays, her daughter solemnly crawls about at her feet. The ladies knit and sew and bake to raise funds. They gather materials for medical kits, and stitch dresses and shorts for children in other countries. They check on each other when one is missing for a few Sundays in a row.
They gather regularly for meals in the evening, or tea and cookies after the morning service. They epitomize Christ’s love, one for another.
Two weeks ago, some of the men clambered over the steep pitches in biting cold to string Christmas lights along the peaks. Outside, the gleam of white lights now sparkles modestly against chilled darkness.
Inside, reverence reigns in a warm sanctuary where hand-knit afghans and cushions soften stiff, narrow pews. High wooden ceilings, arched and ribbed like the hull of a ship, resonate with rhyme and ritual, hymn and harmony.
We came here, for a silent vigil, several days after Newtown, finding comfort in the worn wood infused by countless liturgies and prayers. The following Friday morning, one of the members made a special trip to open the church. Inside, he grasped the thick hemp rope attached to the iron bell lodged high in the belfry outside the peak, braced himself part way down the aisle and began pulling on the chord, ringing out a solemn tribute into the winter air…28 times in remembrance of the dead.
We may be separated by miles and borders, but are joined by the nature of our small town souls.
We returned this weekend, to light the manger scene and put out cookies and hot chocolate for those seeking a quiet interlude with God. Candlelight flickered as visitors were warmly welcomed to come in a sit for a spell in the silence.
A few came, anxious to spend a moment pausing silently in remembrance of One who is the source of our longing…the One who also did not draw attention to himself, but came quietly and unobtrusively on a darkened street in a small unremarkable village, an unexpected Light in the Darkness.
Tonight, more will gather just shy of midnight, candles lit, voices rising.
To all my friends, near and far, I bid you a sweet finale to 2012 and a tender Christmas season. Watch for those single precious moments and capture them firmly in your grasp. There is something there for you, a treasure, a glimmer of light and longing that has much to tell you.
I am so grateful for your many words of encouragement, your thoughtful comments, your friendship and wisdom offered. Heartfelt love from my heart to yours,
God Bless and Merry Christmas,