No lights twinkle and no tree can be found in the parsonage. No gifts are bought. The smell of freshly baked cookies won’t be wafting from the kitchen before — or after — Christmas. Yep, it’s December again and I’m a pastor.
Maybe I’m blue because of my nest; it’s been empty now for over a decade. Maybe I’m blue because of the increased demands on a pastor during this time of year. Though, hard work is not inherently discouraging to me.
Maybe I’m blue because of the memories. My mother who died thirteen years ago, personified Christmas joy and, to be sure, loving extravagance. Maybe I’m blue because my chaplain wife — who will work Christmas Day — and I lead a two-town lifestyle filled with 180-mile roundtrips so that we can both do the ministry to which we’re called. Maybe it’s just the grey weather and short days.
I’m blue but I’m not alone. In this season which demands unceasing happiness in its expectations, many of us struggle. Some feign and fake smiles and laughter and go home and weep. Some move in and out and back into melancholy. Some wear blue like a too-heavy overcoat.
I’m blue but I’m not alone. I’m blue but I’m beloved by God.
And so today, I sit within my azure-tinted mood. I embrace the tears; I feel and notice the weight. I accept it without trying to change it. I love myself and am kind to myself.
Even from a distance I suspected something wasn’t right. Arriving on the sacred ground which lies part-way up the Coyote Wall trail my suspicions were confirmed. I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble. Given the storms that I know they successfully endured, I am doubtful that a natural occurrence caused the fall.
I could be wrong.
Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a biker racing down the trails losing control and inadvertently sending the stones to the ground.
I could be wrong.
Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a group of people laughing and kidding around. Getting rowdy, one of the group inadvertently bumps into the sacred altar. Rocks fall.
I could be wrong.
Though I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble, I find some solace in the attempt to re-stack them. Did a remorseful biker frantically seek to restore the altar of small boulders? Did she reject antiseptic wipes and a bandage to her knee while she sought to rehabilitate the altar?
I don’t know.
Maybe the laughter and kidding around turned to shock and dismay as boulders tumbled to the ground, the very ground I deem sacred. Maybe formerly joyous hikers’ moods turned contrite and serious as they carefully sought to restore the zen rocks to their former state.
I don’t know.
I am not likely to learn what caused this sacred altar to be altered. My imagination can create a myriad of possible scenarios to explain the destruction and the attempt to restore the sacred space to its former condition. None of my imagined scenarios change the present condition of a the sacred site along the Coyote Wall rim trail. (See A Whisper of a Trail and Sacred Ground.)
Conjecture and supposition — my imagination — does not have the power to change the present moment. However, they does have the power to change me.
Each interpretation of the unknown is accompanied by emotions. Some of the emotions have the power to make me miserable. For example, if I chose to imagine (and believe) that vandals maliciously destroyed the tower, give feelings ranging from sadness to hurt to anger to overt hostility a green light.
And so it matters what I choose. I decide who I want to be. And so I choose to focus not on what I don’t know but on what I do know. I know that the rocks fell and have been reassembled in a new way by someone.
I am disappointed and grieve the change in the zen rocks. Those are legitimate emotions; I own them. I hold them for awhile and then I will let them go. Though I know those emotions are my human desire to prevent change, I take note of them. I learn about myself from those emotions.
I recall that during a wilderness time in my life, this sacred ground with its seriated rocks were important to me. I honor their contribution to my well-being. Like the transformed zen rocks, I have changed. I am no longer in that wilderness. Reflecting, I learn that in my humanity, I still fail to live fully in the present. In recognizing and learning from my emotions, I accept myself. Like every one of us, I am on a journey unique to me.
Because I want love to be the vehicle in which I travel, I focus on the zen rocks as they exist today and carefully choose what I imagine. I think about those who re-stacked the fallen rocks. Though I don’t know, I choose to see a group effort at restoration.
Pondering the sacred stones, I see an upper spire that grows out of many rocks. Combining my chosen imagined reconstruction with their present state, I am reminded that love is communal. Just as each stone in the altar’s reconstructed form depends upon many others, it is in our mutuality and interdependence that love grows.
Because I chose carefully how I would react to the loss (or transformation, really) of a physical monument, I perceive hope. I am reminded that our individual and mutual hope lies in our one-ness with and appreciation for others and their journeys. Our personal and collective hopes lie in choosing to interpret the experiences of our lives through a lens of love.