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Chaplaincy

Friday, First Week in Advent

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want... He leads me in right paths for his name's sake."
-- Psalm 23:1, 2

The Christmas Walk

Many of us long for a Christmas like the ones depicted in ads for Hallmark cards or in nostalgic books and holiday movies.  For a short time one night, several years ago I experienced a bit of that magic greeting card world that has become, for most of us, the Christmas we dream about.   It has become a tradition I have observed each year since.

We arrived at my parent’s home on the shore of a lake in the Adirondacks late in the afternoon.

Upon entering their home, I immediately found myself in the midst of preparing Christmas dinner and lost track of what was happening outside our windows.  At some point I glanced up to see that the sun had set and the snow, that had been falling softly as we arrived, was now coming down in earnest.

The house was warm; with a roaring fire on the hearth and heat from the oven and stove filling the room as we prepared our meal.

We ate by candlelight and with dinner over I found myself groggy from the heat and wine

and food and in need of a way to revive before driving home in the snow.

So, I put on my coat, grabbed my hat and my grandfather’s old, kerosene, railroad lantern and headed for the door.  I had taken the lantern home a few days earlier to clean it and fill it with lamp oil thinking it may be nice to use it in place of a flashlight for an evening walk.

I lit the wick and, reluctantly, left the warm house behind to step out into the cold, dark night and the snow.

As I reached the edge of the area lit by my parent’s floodlight, I realized just how dark it was here in the still of the night woods.  With no moon in the sky I could see no further than the warm pool of light my lantern cast around me.  Looking up, I watched the clouds moving across the sky occasionally revealing the stars and the tops of the pines.

  I moved briskly in the cold but soon found myself slowing down to enjoy the shadow cast by the lantern and the faint outline of the trees as I moved along the quiet road.   My hurried breathing had slowed to deep, slow breaths unlike any I had consciously taken since my wife and I had participated in a Lamaze class prior to the birth of our oldest daughter.  There were no sounds but the wind whistling through the trees and the faint scampering of critters in the woods. 

The sound of a car starting startled me.   I walked toward it to wish the driver Merry Christmas but found the vehicle empty; brought to life by the unseen remote starter in someone’s hand in the brightly lit house at the end of the driveway.

I walked on for some time, gazing up occasionally as Orion revealed himself through the parting clouds.  I was oblivious to the cold and snow, lost in the womb of my little pool of orange light, and soon found myself back at my parent’s driveway.

Inside I could see my family enjoying their gifts in front of the tree, laughing in the brightly

lit and warm interior.  I took a few last deep breaths of the cold night air, turned down the wick to extinguish the flame, and, reluctantly, left the cold and snow behind to enter the warm house.

“Good Hours”
by Robert Frost

I HAD for my winter evening walk—
No one at all with whom to talk,
But I had the cottages in a row
Up to their shining eyes in snow.

And I thought I had the folk within:           
I had the sound of a violin;
I had a glimpse through curtain laces
Of youthful forms and youthful faces.

I had such company outward bound.

I went till there were no cottages found.          
I turned and repented, but coming back
I saw no window but that was black.

Over the snow my creaking feet
Disturbed the slumbering village street
Like profanation, by your leave,           
At ten o’clock of a winter eve.

-- Chip Hemmel,
a COOP Community Partner in his work with Rebuilding Together Mohawk Valley
(also married to Betsy Hemmel in the Business Office...)