Yesterday my Original Wound was bleeding. I was feeling HALT: “hungry angry lonely tired.” The weather had derailed a much-anticipated day off with my priest buddies, and the parish office was a bit more toxic than usual because of somebody else’s bleeding Original Wound.
So I jumped on my motorbike and raced across the Golden Gate Bridge for a hike. The stormy weather, as it turns out, had supercharged Mount Tamalpais’ ravines with roaring waters, which swirled around the towering redwood trees on one of Marin County’s most charming (and least known) trails. I only met two people on the way down to Muir Woods, and both were full of smiles. “I’ve never seen this much water!” one of them beamed as we passed each other beside a torrential Redwood Creek. “How was your hike?” I asked the other. She replied that it was “just what she needed” as a waning sun cast delicate hues over the vast Pacific.
A brisk hike through Redwood glades is about as beautiful as nature gets, and the three of us soaked it up yesterday. But it’s not enough to worship trees (as tempting as that is). Nature only goes so far if we don’t look up, to the tippy tops of those trees, to the God who made them. Nature, in the end, will always fail us: my eyes will grow dim, my legs will grow wobbly, and I will die. Yet even in my dotage, yea even as I lay dying, my heart will long for life with a longing that must be satisfied.
Every drizzly November I vaguely dread the lengthening of darkness as daylight grows shorter. How can I make it through another winter? I’m getting too old for cold and dark. And then Grace steps in, the Grace of Christmas. Just at that time of year when nature is failing us, Advent and Christmas supercharge us with joy. Christmas takes us across nature’s threshold of darkness (the Winter Solstice on December 22). In a week, the days will begin growing longer, and nature will be on the road to recovery.
I think the secular culture’s extension of “the Christmas” or “the Holiday” season is motivated by more than just commercial profit. I think even atheists need Christmas. As daylight fades in late October and November, we need a bright holiday to offset the growing darkness. Thanksgiving and Christmas are essentially religious holidays, because Grace builds on Nature. Without Grace, a redwood tree is just a tree. Without Grace, Christmas is just a show. But with Grace, a tree is a gift, a sign of God’s providence and burning love for us, a sacrament pointing to heaven. With Grace, Christmas provides us a bright and loving home, beside the ox and the ass, with Jesus, Mary and Joseph.