With holidays upon us, I have been thinking about traditions. There are many that we remember and practice this time of year as a matter of connection to the past, to loved ones, and to the future for which we hope. Sometimes we change them over time out of necessity of circumstances, and those transitions can be hard. My family would always gather at my parents home at some point during the week of Thanksgiving. We changed that tradition several years ago when both of my parents moved to the Atlanta area in order to find good care for my dad as his health declined through the journey with dementia. The family started gathering at my house. The upside of this change was that Dave’s family would also join in, and we enjoyed several years when both parts of our family were together around the Thanksgiving table. Though the transition away from her home and her own traditions was painful for Mom, she also embraced the opportunity to better get to know Dave’s Aunt Lisa, who is so precious to Dave, Joy, and me. There was something wonderful for us, too, in watching these members of our extended family develop deeper relationships with each other. I learned later that Lisa and Mom would sometimes talk on the phone and that Lisa sent my mom books in the mail. When Mom died, Lisa was right here with us, not just to help us with the logistics of all that we had to do, but to mourn the loss of someone whom she also truly loved.
Perhaps the happiest recipient of this change in tradition, however, was Joy. How many times is one in a room surrounded by people who love and cherish you beyond imagination? And at least four of those people (Mom, Lisa, my Aunt Mary, and my sister, Nancy, whom Joy calls “Auntsie”) were ready at a moment’s notice to give her as much attention as she could ever want!
None of those women will be at our table this year, nor will my dad. He has been gone since his death in April 2018, but he was missing from our table long before that. We will miss Mom for the second year since her death in the summer of 2019. This will be among the very few Thanksgiving meals in my memory that did not include Aunt Mary. (She was with us last year as we all missed Mom together.) Lisa and “Aunstie” are not traveling to Atlanta from their homes out of state due to the pandemic. Our dining room table will be filled with favorite holiday dishes, skillfully prepared by Dave Allen Grady, our resident chef. We will get out the china, silver, and crystal. We will give thanks to God for our many blessings and gifts. We will remember my parents, Dave’s mother, Aunt Mary, and all our family who has died and now lives in eternity with Christ. One of the ways we have begun to honor their memory is to share what we loved most about them. We will set aside time at our Thanksgiving lunch to do this. It will be like a mixture of light and dark: sadness and joy, wishing they were still with us and gratitude for their heavenly home. Thinking of it that way made me think of a short liturgy in our United Methodist Hymnal that really speaks to our journey into darkness, whatever it is that calls us there from time to time. It is called the Canticle of Light and Darkness:
We look for light but find darkness,
For brightness, but walk in gloom.
We grope like those who have no eyes;
We stumble at noon as in the twilight.
If I say, "Let only darkness cover me,
And the light about me be night,"
Even the darkness is not dark to you,
The night is bright as the day,
For darkness is as light with you.
Blessed be your name, O God, forever.
You reveal deep and mysterious things;
You are light and in you is no darkness.
Our darkness is passing away
And already the true light is shining.
Scripture references in the Canticle from Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, and John give us language for what we are experiencing now: “We look for light but find darkness,” and “We stumble at noon as in the twilight.” This is just hard, and it does not feel like things are getting any easier at all. Death, virus, children suffering, being separated from loved ones—it is all getting to us. We need light! We need hope!
Try praying this canticle on your own this holiday season whenever you are feeling enveloped by the darkness. Blessing God’s name can help us find light and blessing even in our darkest night. Because it will pass away, and already the true light is shining: Jesus Christ, who knew our sorrow, shouldered our pain, and offered us light.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I am thankful for you. And for the Light.
**If you are feeling sad in anticipation of the holidays, we invite you to watch our Longest Night Service which will debut on our Embry Hills UMC YouTube channel and Facebook on Sunday, December 6 at 6:00 pm.