December 17th: Wisdom in the Embers of Life

On December 17th the Church begins counting down the days until Christmas with earnest.

From now on the Church will call out one of the great names for the Messiah (they’re called the O Antiphons), reminding itself what exactly all this waiting has been for.

It’s an interesting practice, I think, this whole “reminding one’s self” thing. It’s interesting because, well, I do it a lot, too.

I remember doing it as a Middle Schooler. As the new kid in school, I was picked on pretty heavily after we moved from Ohio to North Carolina. Every night I found myself telling myself some stories to bolster my spirits, stories that went something like, “Here are the good things that happened today. Here are the people that you know who like you and support you. You are a good person.”

Yeah, it sounds cheesy, but I found it necessary if I was going to get up the next morning.

We’re almost at the Solstice, Beloved, and these are some of the most shadowy days. In fact, the church has called these the “Ember Days,” because it’s when light is most scarce.

In the Ember Days of December, and in the Ember Days of life, we adopt the practice of telling ourselves stories again.

Today’s O Antiphon is “O Wisdom.” We sing, “Come O Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh…

When the light is almost out, when there are just embers left in your soul, remind yourself of the stories, both personal and cosmic, that will breathe some life on those embers and cause them to spark up again.

It’s what the church does in these days. It’s what I do some days. I commend it to you, too.

And as you’re doing that story-telling, listen to the wisdom that the Ember Days of life have to impart. It’s wisdom that comes from trials, but also wisdom the reminds you that the ember remains and is never, truly snuffed out.

Throw on “I Heard the Bells,” a musical setting of Longfellow’s grand old poem. But don’t do the hymn setting of the song, do this one by John Gorka. I learned it as a kid, and it’s still my favorite version of this piece.

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