On Christmas day I gazed upon tiny birds bounding from branch to branch of the bare chestnut tree rooted outside my window. Set against the taut black rows of power lines they were like notes writing themselves on the staff of a winter’s concerto. For a few brief moments their song of movement filled the air with dotted reverberations of beauty and blithe tap-tap-taps of life against a sleeping giant of bark and limbs. And then they were gone, flying away to another vista, their voice stilled in a grand pause that became its own aria of silent splendor.
Just then a chorus of crows swept down off the sky, feathered checkmarks of ebony purpose, pausing on stretched wires and dreaming branches and dew licked grass to see what was to be had and what still was wanting before their duties of being ushered them on to all that begs to be done.
These days when the exhale of dark shifts to the slow inhale of the coming light, it’s easy to miss this chance to tarry, to rest, to embrace the stillness of this time we call the holidays, the holy days. I know for myself that in years past Christmas has been a cacophonic torrent of busyness that I allowed to pull me under in its waves of expectations and guilted giving. These last few years I’ve slowly been weaning myself from the enervating siren’s call to buy and to do with relentless avoidance of the quiet this time of year begs of us all.
It’s in stillness, in rest, in the grand pause that winter’s arrival shares its sacred gifts. This season, this rooted time opens its arms and invites us inwards to our own silence, our own breath, to a brilliant awareness and an elated welcome to all that arises.
As the year ebbs with the parting moon, may your hearts find peace in the still, star-filled nights and may loving kindness be a garland of light to brighten all your days.
by May Sarton
When everyone had gone
I sat in the library
With the small silent tree,
She and I alone.
How softly she shone!
And for the first time then
For the first time this year,
I felt reborn again,
I knew love’s presence near.
Love distant, love detached
And strangely without weight,
Was with me in the night
When everyone had gone
And the garland of pure light
Stayed on, stayed on.
“Christmas Light” by May Sarton from Collected Poems. © W. W. Norton, 1993.
Rilke quote from In Praise of Mortality, translated and edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
Silhouetted birds in a tree by Angelo DeSantis via Wikimedia Commons