Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
December 2012 - Volume 12, No. 12
The Small Places
As I write this, we are full into “The Holidays.” Thanksgiving is over, and it’s full rush to Christmas /Hanukkah / Kwanzaa / Solstice / Yule / Festivus - or whatever each culture or subculture comes up to fill our archetypal need for “Do Something Festive” as the cold of Winter approaches, and we “finish off” another year. Then we watch football.
A number of my clients force a promise from me that I’ll not leave town during this time, because it often marks a time of increased depression and despair -- because
Holidays often mean families, and Families often mean dysfunction, and Dysfunction often means psychic pain (aka severe depression). Plus, when you’re depressed, and the Big Rule is that everybody’s supposed to be happy, then you add isolation and alienation to the formula and you’re really depressed!
Even the rest of us begin to weary. There’s so much to do, with so little time, and too little money, and too little patience. And when it’s all over, some of us don’t even care that much for football! It does provide however some respite from the incoming credit card bills, and the necessity of preparing taxes. Yes, last year is over, now we have to pay for it. Happy New Year!
But you know from the title here, that I have something else in mind. When “Big” no longer works, then how about looking to “small.”
When it comes to the deeper ‘meaning’ of things, when it comes to places of contentment and happiness, when it comes to real “Life” - it seems “small” is usually where it’s at.
Big can be wonderful, and spectacular.I’ll often choose to see a movie on a “big screen” at my local cineplex rather than on my ‘small’ living room TV.
But when Big stops working, I look to small.
I’ll suggest to my clients, that when the Holidays depress them, look for something in the ‘small’ places. That’s where the good stuff is. That’s where the corrupters fail to notice, and leave goodness alone to continue being goodness.
The original Christmas itself happened in a “small place” - in an out-of-the-way little town, in the back shed of a full hotel, by a small couple many days away from home, in the middle of the night. Very few even noticed, just some shepherds. The whole story began a long time earlier with an isolated childless couple, Abraham and Sarah tucked away in the land of Ur. God has always seemed to choose to act in the small places, as if on purpose, far from any “Big” notice.
My daughter Heather and I have just returned from a Leonard Cohen concert in Detroit. One of my favorite lines from that earthy mysticism of his creative intellect is from the refrain of his song “Anthem” - ‘There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’
The light comes in through small cracks.
It’s as if what we’re really looking for isn’t even here, rather it’s behind the scenes somewhere, on the ‘other side’ of reality. When we look for Big, we don’t see it. When we look for small, we do. Many people are looking for Life, hungry for it, searching for it. Many people are looking for a purpose, for a meaning of things - hungry for it, searching for it. Many people are looking for love - hungry for it, searching for it. The pattern is the same.
Nor will we find much meaning in the ‘Big’ness of the the Holidays - these two plus months of mania and/or depression.
Look for the small. Perhaps, pausing to enjoy the face of a child, sharing cookies with a neighbor, saying hello to a stranger, spending a few minutes looking at something small that’s beautiful or interesting. For me it can be the midnight service on Christmas Eve at my local parish church. The commercial world has completed its work. All that’s left is a deep and holy silence. Or it’s the joy of feeding my kids on Christmas morning. Or perhaps wishing a Merry Christmas to the cashier at the Mobil Oil station. Or any random mini-moments of ‘light.’
The list can go on and on. I recall as a child and a youth, the many stories my parents read us, taught this secret: The real Christmas is in the small person to person matters, the ‘little miracles’ in the small places, with small people (as the world sees).
Yes, the light comes in through small cracks, into the small places of life. That’s my best sense of these Festivals we have, by which to prepare for the long Winter ahead, which in time leads to Spring. To finish out in a right and holy way this year that is passing, and prepare us for the New one ahead.