The longest night, a week from tomorrow.

Romans 8:26

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.

I attended my first “blue Christmas” service a couple of years back. I wasn’t a member at our church yet, and I didn’t know what this special night was.  I had been told it was a night to grieve, to let yourself feel any of the things that didn’t seem allowed during the holidays.  The birth of Jesus is something to celebrate and the sacrifice on the cross does provide assurance of things to come, but neither of those remove sadness.  I grew up in a church environment that ironically viewed Christmas as very separate from Jesus.  Preachers and church leaders regularly lectured that Jesus was meant to be acknowledged every day of the year.  There were more examples of Santa than of a baby in a manger.  Plus, there was an intentional effort to not seem denominational or too closely resembling anything liturgical, so advent was something I connected with other branches of Christianity and not my own.  I thought the longest night of the year was just the longest night of the year, not also a day that Christians provided time for mourning and acknowledgement of loss.  A friend went with me to this service, and it might have been the first time that I had an inkling of what feeling holy and protected in church might be.  For years, those moments when I thought I had felt God didn’t happen inside church walls.  Overall, church was not a place of peace for me.  I did not attend church for solace or comfort, because I didn’t find it there.  God was in my walks, in thunderstorms, in stray cats that decided to claim me, in the sky.  My former church leaders told me God was there in those buildings filled with other Christians, but I just took them at their word.  During this first “blue” service, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from crying.  To have a church tell you it’s ok to cry, to give you a time and a place to allow all the hurt to unfurl itself, to remind you that being a believer does not mean that pain disappears, this was affirmation I’m not sure I’d ever encountered prior.  When you grow up being taught that happy people are somehow doing it right, being better Christians, you learn to shut up about depression and anxiety and fears and anger and trauma.  When a woman I really didn’t know that well yet asked if I wanted a hug after that service, I said yes.  It was a need in my gut.  That hug was her telling me, “you don’t have to pretend here.”  My friend only really knew me, and even she was safe enough to cry.  There was so much love in that church service filled with grief.  Some people were there to cry and some were there to hold them.  When training to become an elder, I spent a lot of time learning about the Holy Spirit and how it moves, what it can do, how it soothes and urges us to be and do things in faith.  What prompted my friend to allow her tears to flow freely in a room with total strangers?  What prompted this woman to let me stain her shirt with my wet face, crying into her shoulder?  None of this was logical.  None of this matched what I knew church to be previously.  People here were acting human and real and acknowledging that sometimes the bible doesn’t have the answers.  The bible doesn’t tell us why some people die and others don’t.  It doesn’t tell us why some people’s brains don’t feel content like others.  It doesn’t tell us why some of us are hungry and sick while others have health and immense prosperity.  The bible doesn’t tell us so many things.  The Holy Spirit moves in us, as individuals and in each other, helping us to love each other, guiding us to move in certain directions when our internal compasses are spinning with the forces of all the various things in our lives.  When God feels untouchable and Jesus feels like a historical figure lost in time, the Spirit intercedes.

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