Last night we attended a Christmas Eve service with 9,200 people we didn’t know. But they weren’t really strangers. It was the Washington National Cathedral’s Christmas Eve Eucharist, and it unfolded with pipe organ preludes, youthful choristers, and a procession complete with bishop, Cathedral dean, and vergers.
There was the goosebump-inducing descant of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” There were enough people present in the Cathedral – although all chairs had been removed from the cavernous sanctuary – to make the liturgical responses sound convincing.
Sue drank port and I sipped salted-caramel whiskey as we watched heartfelt comments and hearts stream by on the YouTube livestream.
So This is Christmas. 2020.
We have relied on the cathedral, “The Spiritual Home for the Nation,” to get us through this season without family gatherings, home church Advent services and familiar choir music, outlet shopping, or much spiritual engagement. We have watched “Blue Christmas,” “Gospel Christmas,” “Joy of Christmas,” “Advent Lessons and Carols,” and last night’s service. There is an organ recital at noon today.
I even took a Cathedral online spiritual writing workshop with about 250 other virtual attendees. The reflections on a Monet winter landscape and Mary Oliver poems have inspired me to embrace winter rather than wish it away.
We had our shopping, all online, done ‘way early and white-knuckled the Post Office snafus. The tree was up by December 13, a week earlier than usual. We bought ourselves a few jigsaw puzzles, Nintendo Switch games, and Bose noise-canceling headphones. No surprises or stocking stuffers.
Incrementally, expectations flagged
We last went to our own church on March 7, for a funeral. Persistent technical glitches have made it a bit frustrating to tune into our Facebook Live services, but one side benefit of this year is the ability to find online prayer, worship and sacred music all over the place. I participated in four Advent contemplative prayer sessions with my former priest. I would never drive 96 miles round trip to sit in silence for 20 minutes; in this case, Zoom made it happen.
When this began in March – the longest month of our lives – we still expected to go on our Canadian Maritimes tour in June and a trip to Arizona in October. Incrementally, expectations and hopes fell by the wayside. By the time my RoadScholar bucket-list hiking trip to Havasu Falls was canceled, I was grimly resigned and rescheduled it for next November.
“Adventures” now amount to a drive to a German bakery in Dover, takeout at a Mexican restaurant in Milton, and trips to indoor farmstands for veggies and homemade cookies. We figure we have three to four more months of this before we can tentatively venture out for activities that we will never again take for granted.
We are privileged in that we are retired, healthy, and not struggling to home-school a child while working. We end the year grateful, content to abide in and appreciate the present, and willing to wait awhile longer for whatever “a new normal” looks like.
Merry Christmas and a hopeful New Year.