December Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for December is wonder. Most of us recognize that the stories, imagery, decorations, and lights associated with the holiday season are designed to fill us not only with a sense of wonder, but also with joy, awe, peace, and the desire to be good people, to be kind to others. My hunch is that, for many of us, our sense of wonder during the holiday season is linked to positive childhood experiences. It is indeed in the nature of children to experience wonder in this cheerful time. And that experience doesn’t end when we graduate from high school. It journeys with us into adulthood. As adults, the holiday stories, imagery, decorations, and especially the lights, easily take us back to that often unexamined childhood mix of holiday wonder, awe, joy, peace and anticipation.

Except this isn’t the case for everyone. Holiday-inspired wonder is not universal. Not everyone can reflect back on positive holiday experiences in childhood. Not everyone welcomes the holidays as a time of joy, let alone wonder and awe. We sometimes refer to this as “Blue Christmas.” I am grateful to Beth Hudson Hankins and Vivian Carlson, members of our Sunday Services Committee, who will offer a special vespers service on Tuesday, December 13 at 7:30 PM, to address those for whom the holiday season is not a wondrous time. Are you grieving the death of a loved one? Are you estranged from family in some way? Are you someone for whom the holidays just create more stress? Are you someone whose family of origin didn’t—or couldn’t—muster cheer in the holiday season? If so, our December 13 vespers service may be for you. Please watch our weekly eblast for more information.

Finally, many of you know that I often try to look beyond the stories, imagery, decorations and lights of the holiday season, and to peer into the darkness. Indeed, I try to welcome the December darkness and discern what it has to teach. We light lights in the midst of the darkness, but I sometimes feel we focus too much on the significance of light, and not enough on the equally powerful significance of darkness. For my December 11 sermon, I will be reflecting on how we experience wonder in the darkness. It’s a different species of wonder. It’s not the wonder associated with the birth of a savior, or the advent of peace on earth and good will to all. It’s not the wonder associated with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, gifts, caroling, hot chocolate and Frosty the Snowman. It’s not the wonder of a guiding star. Indeed, the wonder that comes with darkness is mysterious. There are fewer words to name it. In fact, in trying to name it we often miss its essence. It defies naming. It’s a response to absence more than to presence. It is an apprehension not of what is, but of what isn’t. It is an affirmation of empty space, a silencing of the impulse to fill it up with color and sound. It is the vast backdrop for the light; and to experience it we must be very intentional about how we look. We must be willing to sit outside of the light, sometimes in the chilly late Autumn air. We must be willing to sit with unknowing. We must be patient. There is wonder in the darkness, and it will come if we are patient.

That’s just a taste of what I plan to preach about on December 11. For now, I welcome you to the holiday season at UUS:E and in the wider community. In this holiday season I wish for you joy. I wish for you peace. I wish for you opportunities to name pain, sorrow and loss, so that these pieces of you aren’t lost in the midst of holiday cheer. Most of all, I wish for you moments of wonder not only in response to the lights, but also in response to the darkness. May wonder feed your soul.


With love,

Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek