Monday, December 26, 2011

The Sacrament of Smiling

"Don't cry because it's over
Smile because it happened."


I think it's true what people say about having dread-filled expectations. Often the worry and anxiety are worse than the speech-making, solo-singing, or 24-hour train trip sequestered in a closet-sized room with 2 kids. No, I think that last one was about as awful as I expected!

It's no secret I've been dreading the holiday season knowing there would be empty seats at the table and ghosts of Christmases past hanging around the house. I dreaded being sad when everyone around me was going merrily about their business. Mostly I feared awakening the grief monster who seems ready to hang out in my heart, uninvited. To my surprise and delight, with the exception of a few crying jags, some extra naps and low periods brought on by deja vu, I got through the season with a minimum of sadness.

In my mind I keep going back to the Christmas Eve service at church, and how it summed up the beauty, magic and hope that is my "the reason for the season." There is just something about a candlelit sanctuary and children singing with gusto and slightly off-key that leads me to imagine a Bethlehem night filled with the light of a bright shining star and angel choruses getting carried away with glor-or-or-or-or-ias. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with people you know and strangers who only come to church on festive days bring to mind the shepherds and kings who visited the stable to see what all the fuss was about. The good news spoken from the pulpit mixed with peace-filled greetings and holy food retell and foretell the message of hope that was born that night.

I was moved by all of that and wish for a photographic memory to keep it clear for days days to come. But what I want to remember most was the smile I noticed on a young mother's face. A mother who lost her only child a year or so ago. A mother who has stayed away from church because she couldn't reconcile a loving God and a dying child. A mother whose heart I thought would never mend. How could it? What could possibly happen that would turn her frown into a smile? How could her grief ever let up? And yet there it was, a simple smile that seemed to whisper to me in the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit.

"Yes, dear one, life is hard.
There will be times when you feel so broken
even super glue won't hold back together.
In order to love with your heart's full measure,
you must also, at some point, bear the deep pain of loss.
But it is so worth it.
Trust ME.
You will mend.
You will smile again. "

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they often fill the cracks with gold, believing that when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. The sacrament of smiling, I think, is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spirit-filled heart veined with gold. It doesn't mean forgetting. It means remembering. It means holding on to the memories and letting go of the sadness. It means filling the empty spaces with golden rays of hope for the future. It means being awed by a sunrise that says goodbye to the night. It means feeling the pure love of a child cover you like a security blanket. It means living in order to honor the life that was lost.

As many of you know, lately I've felt lost in my loss. But on Christmas Eve, while the choir sang Silent Night, I held a candle and smiled.

Today I'm grateful for many things, mostly for the gift of a smile. I hope you'll share yours with others.

Merry ME

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