As Christmas approaches, I wondered today, what made me happy about the season.
I know. A “good” Episcopalian would have thought perhaps, of Lessons and Carols Festivals – I was that Episcopalian once. Or perhaps of Midnight Mass – well, to be honest, that can be horribly exhausting. Or angels and mangers and sinless virgins – I was that kind of Christian too, once upon a time.
But today I am old enough and have lived in the church long enough to realize that the key to being content is not hard work, nor wealth, nor liturgies, nor the gear that comes with titles – nor titles at all. No, really the way to achieve contentment is to lower one’s standards. I mean, not too terribly low. Just low enough to stave off perpetual exhaustion and ecclesial tantrums.
So this year, having not found a church that could fill a grumbling stomach after a three-year search, I’m going to stay home, light a candle, lay my dog across my lap (she sleeps there upside-down most evenings). Instead, I’ll sip one Gingerbread Martini out of one of the clay tea bowls I have made over the past four decades, that I keep in this numbered wall cabinet. Number one was made in high school, 40 years ago – my very first pot, on my very first day at the potter’s wheel. Other tea bowls (slash – martini cups!) were made in the ups and downs of life – one for my niece’s wedding, one for my 23rd birthday, one for a soothing tea ceremony during the Reagan Administration. Each cup has a history. Each one was made by my hands in the ups and downs of life.
And that, I think, is what this COVID-QUIET-CHRISTMAS will be – a cosmic time-out to set aside the frantic of Christmas-week in favor of the faithful of a winter week. Early sunsets. Lots of candles. My warm dog “Sugar” and the recent memory of Kai-the-dog who seems still to look at me from over by the woodstove – until I turn to look back – not there after all.
I make my Gingerbread Martini with two parts frozen vodka and one-part frozen Canton ginger liquor in a clay tea bowl, the rim of which is dipped in honey and then in a mixture of nutmeg and gingerbread cookie crumbs with a candied-ginger garnish. Or six garnishes. Or nine.
One day, back when I preached, a child asked me, in front of a very large group (Why do we let children have microphones!?) Why is there Evil?
The crowd hushed. I sat down on the floor so as to be eye-to-eye. And I explained that there is no such thing as Evil. There are only evils. And though I no longer knew then, nor know now, for sure, how it all works (God, and everything, I mean) I asked if he liked apple pie.
His frown turned upside-down and his broad smile emitted a tiny Cindy-Lou-Who giggle. “Yes!” he said in 2001, with the enthusiasm of a Democrat in 2020.
I then explained that nutmeg is a very important ingredient of an apple pie. Without it, and cinnamon, and cloves – the pie would not taste so earthy, so spicy, so rich. When I lived in Haiti, we would eat a whole tablespoon of nutmeg as medicine for an upset stomach. It was bitter when eaten in a big gulp. Evils, I explained, are like spoonfuls of nutmeg. A big mouthful is hard to handle, but without it in life, the light would have no dark.
I am not sure what to think of a baby in a manger. Maybe. Maybe not. Or of a Virgin-Mother-Meek-and-Mild – um…no. Or of a massive star. But I will, this week, with a candle and a dog and a nutmeg-rimmed martini, think warmly of that child who once asked about Evil. I will rejoice that it is only “evils” and not Evil. I will rejoice that whatever the child was like in that manger, the kid I knew with the microphone – the one who grew up to be a recently ordained priest in Virginia named Sam – the one with whom I remain friends, still these 20 years later. THAT child – THAT man is life. And so am I. And so is Sugar-the-dog. And I believe passionately in Life, willing to be humble enough not to try to explain how it happened and how it continues and why it can sometimes be so very hard with its occasional evils and spoonfuls of nutmeg.
So, no Midnight Mass this year. No Lessons and Carols. No Shopping. No parties (God! I hated those!) Instead, I lift my nightly Gingerbread Martini and I toast Sam and David and so many young men and women who will help the Cosmos midwife something new. Something to help us face evils. Something to help us rejoice. And again, with a martini lifted to the heavens, I say, rejoice! Again!
The Daily Sip is written by Charles LaFond, a potter, writer and fundraiser; who lives with his dog Sugar on a cliff on one of the more than 400 islands in the Salish Sea, pondering and writing about how to be a better human, but often failing. And sometimes not.