Curious thing this December, more than ever, it is the stillness that speaks to me. That I seek. That some days I grope toward as if blind and making my way through the woods on nothing more than the steadiness of my footsteps and the fine-grained whorl of my fingertips rubbing up against the underbrush, telling me I’ve lost my way.
It is as if the deep dark stillness itself is divining me toward home.
Which, of course, it is. It always is.
Oh, there’s noise all right this December. Clanging like a cymbal in my ear, the squawking from the news box, the screeching of the brakes.
But I am—in my best moments—pushing it away.
I take it in in stiff long drinks—the news, the noise, the grave distractions—but then I do odd things: I lift the blinds at night so I can watch the snowflakes tumbling. I wind the clock and listen to its mesmerizing tick and tock. I sit, nose pressed to frosty pane of glass, and watch the scarlet papa cardinal peck at berries on the bough.
I am practicing the art of being still.
Stillness, when you look for it, is never far away, and not too hard to grasp.
I find, though, it takes a dose of concentration. And sometimes a stern reminder; I mumble to myself, “Be still now.”
It is Advent, the counting-down time, the something-coming time of darkest winter. And, in my good spells, I am deeply, urgently, savoring the getting there.
I am hauling out my usual armament of soothers and elixirs. I simmer spices on the stove. I scatter corn on drifts of snow. I kindle candle flame. Crank soulful Christmas tunes. Tiptoe down the stairs in deep quietude of night, and stumble onto moonlight making magic out of blue-white undulations in the yard.
I am even dropping to my knees, or curling up in bed with incantations on my lips. They carry me to sleep some nights; what better lullaby?
I am ever thankful this December for the one bright side to all the fiscal downturn: There will be little shopping this year. No running here to there.
I will simply look the ones I love squarely in the eye. I will tell them how deeply and dearly I depend on their presence in my every blessed day.
It is an Advent this year of simple things: There is a ring of candles on the kitchen table, one new one lit each and every week, till at December’s peak there will be a rising cloud of incandescence as we join our hands and pray.
There is a string of red-plaid pockets, each one numbered, 1 to 24, strung from one window to another, and every single morning, my little one rushes down the stairs to find the sweet tucked there inside the number of the day.
It is, as it so often is, my littlest one who softens me, who stirs me back to stillness, who insists we not forget to give the twisty fir its drink. Who takes me by the hand. Who asks his big, wise brother if he too “checked Advent” (meaning did he yet dig out his daily dose of duly-numbered sweet).
It is, nearly as deeply, the thick meringue of snow bending all the branches. It is the flash of scarlet feather at the window. It is the sound of orange peel simmering. And the tinkling of the spoon scraping at the bottom of the cocoa-filled mug.
These are the things that make for stillness, or rather are the keys on the ring that might unlock it after all.
It is, in fact, the heart, the soul, that are the vessels of pure true stillness: those chambers deep inside us that allow for the holy to unfold. The birthing rooms, perhaps, of our most essential stirrings.
To be at one with all that matters. To begin the pulse-beat there where the quiet settles in and the knowing reigns.
It is, yes, in the stillness that the sacred comes.
And this December, more than ever, I am blessed to find it’s that, simply surely that, that is carrying me through this tangled woods.
Excerpt from Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press) Used with permission.