Sunday, January 06, 2019

"That is that"

I took down the tree this morning.

There was no Sunday school - the heat is out in Fellowship hall, so the decision was made to cancel, so I have almost an extra hour this morning. After eating and dressing, I took the ornaments off. And then the lights. After finding out (from a call from one of my students) that there was no Sunday school for sure, I took the tree apart and bagged it back up. In a moment I will gather the boxes and take them to the storeroom where they normally live, and take down the Nativity set, and put away the Christmas stuffed animals....

This is always slightly melancholy for me. And I find myself thinking of WH Auden's "For the Time Being: Christmas Oratorio," or at least part of it:

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

Two images particularly grab me: first, the "Begging though to remain His disobedient servant" - as Auden says, we've sent away some of the closeness of Christ (I daresay there are more willing volunteers at soup kitchens and the like in December than at any other time of the year) and are going back to Ordinary Time, where we curse at fellow drivers, and whine to our colleagues, and maybe aren't as loving towards family members as we could be - in other words, being the "disobedient servant" and mindlessly forgetting at times, the two great commandments (especially the Love Your Neighbor As Yourself one). But, yes yes, we protest, we still want to be servants (I can almost imagine Christ, sighing in frustration, "But if you want to follow me, please act like it!"). But Auden here recognizes - we are all disobedient servants. Even those of us who might try a little harder or feel our slip-ups a little more regretfully.

The other one is the toss-away line about decorations: "Some have got broken." Oh yes, I feel this, too. The sadness of a glass ball slipping from your fingers and winding up in shards on the floor. For one thing, there is the annoyance of cleaning it up; for another, the pang of loss ESPECIALLY if it was something that had a sentimental attachment. (Most of the ornaments I currently have don't have particularly deep sentiment for me, at least not the glass ones, though there are some I've had and used nearly 20 years, and I might feel sad over breaking one of those). Much worse is untrimming my parents' tree, and one of the ornaments I've known since I was able to remember falling to the floor and breaking. (We didn't have any do that this year, though a couple got broken while stored in the box). I think there's also the finality of it - well, Christmas is really over, and it's over FOREVER for that particular ornament. Losses, for me, seem harder in January than at other times of year.

The poem itself is longer, and goes on to discuss Lent and Good Friday but also just the mundane-ness of living in Ordinary Time....David Lose, a Christian author, has the full text of this section, and a brief commentary about it....

On the one hand: it's a bit nice to have a more-spacious living room again. But on the other, things seem a little, well, plain. Later this afternoon or maybe tomorrow I might consider getting out all my fake-cut-glass (really: pressed glass made to look fancier) containers, and replace the batteries in my little battery-operated tealights (or even buy some real tealights) and set up some "crystal and candles" on my coffee table so I have something pretty to look at...

But anyway: back to Ordinary Time for a few weeks, and then it's Lent.

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