While trimming the trees in the rectory this past weekend, I had another opportunity to review my own personal history as reflected in the various ornaments I placed on the family tree. There is, to be sure, one tree decorated in period-appropriate decorations of a more rustic nature, in keeping with the historic provenance of the house. But there is also another tree that bears in minature, all the phases of my life from childhood to the present. Each year another special ornament is added, with a brief explanation attached to its storage container, so that I never forget the person or story behind the ornament.
Since all of these ornaments are one of a kind and irreplaceable to me, it struck me this year that preparing the house for Christmas can be more than a vehicle for self-expression: it can be a form of meditation on the deepest level. Carefully hanging a bird seed on eggshell ornament can be a prayer. Energetically hanging multi-colored lights is a way of remaking the world into something beautiful. Putting the angel treetop from my childhood is like hitting a high note while singing a song, reminding me to continue to release my fears and keep reaching fornew heights in my life. Each small aspect of decorating for Christmas carries with it the possibility of personal transformation: it only needs awareness and intentionality.
Decorating or doing arts and crafts, painting, writing, or any creative activity requires us to become fully present during the process of creating. This means we are less obsessive about what the outcome of our project will be and more focused on the “now” of the activity. As we do this, we can release any preconcieved notions or inhibitions or ideas about what needs to happen, and then God’s own creative energy (which is surely the source of all our own creativity) can flow freely through us. Whether we are writing or singing or making Christmas ornaments or trimming the tree, we bring to light a very real reflection of our innermost self in a particular time and place.
This is definitely the season of decorating our homes for the holidays, so if you’re the kind of person who thinks that “regular” meditation is something that doesn’t appeal to you, maybe think about trimming or creating something and allow that process to be your Advent meditation this year. You might even sing the old carols out loud as you bring the beauty of who you are into being as you trim your tree or home.
When I look at the finished Christmas tree that holds all the family ornaments, I see all of my personal history: the glass ornaments brought from Germany by my father’s family at the turn of the previous century; the plastic ornaments from the 1940s that were made using “new” technology that hung on my grandparents’ tree; the shiny snowmen that I purchased when the boys were babies; the American flag ornament Gayle and I bought after 9/11; the numerous Nutcracker ornaments from when I danced with Fort Wayne Ballet; the birdseed and husk ornaments Gayle and I made the first Christmas we lived in the house; the vacation ornaments from Key West,Ocean City, Paris and New Orleans; the numerous ornaments from students I’ve received over the years; the egnraved First Christmas ornament from each of my son’s first Christmas. It’s all there: a Christmas tapestry of triumphs and tragedies, wins and losses, good days and hard times, laughter and tears. The annual act of trimming that tree becomes much more than just one more crazy act of preparing the holiday: it’s a prayerful meditation of gratitude for everyone and everything that has brought me to this place.
Some years I feel more caught up in the holiday spirit, other years less so. But in every case I find the time to put up the trees and after Midnight Mass, when the house is dark and quiet, I sit with a glass of wine in front of the lit tree and I remember everyone and everything. Sometimes there’s a tear or two. Often a smile or two. But there is always an overwhelming sense of peace because, in the light of that Christmas tree, God shows me every year just how blessed I am to be alive.
Wishing you a week of mindful trimming,