For twelve years, Laura and I have been getting together in early December to celebrate our excitement in the unfolding season—and to remind each other of our highest ideals in the midst of manifold opportunities to over-do. From the beginning we’ve called it our Advent Tea, and though the location changes from house to house, we’ve always made an effort to create a space of beauty for one another, a bright bit of holiday to help usher us into this sacred time with our heads on straight. The story of these gatherings, and the friendship upon which they’re built, is the story behind this site. But what many of you may not know is that there are three faces of Golden Hours, not just two. Our dear friend Rachel makes it a triumvirate, and her perspective and values are an indispensable part of Laura’s and my approach to the keeping of Christmas.
Though I’m sure she would deny it, Rachel’s life absolutely exemplifies the co-existence of simplicity and beauty. To enter her house is to come into a place where loving and skillful attention has been given to the smallest of details, but where the details never obscure the realities they represent. Rachel’s is a home in which Christ is at home, because her faith is central to her aesthetic. All three of us believe that beauty awakens native longings which have the potential to reveal something of who God is; all three of us struggle to shepherd our high ideals into the narrow path of simplicity. But Laura and I would be lost without Rachel. We like to call her our “secret weapon,” because she consistently reminds us that our greatest weaknesses are usually corruptions of our greatest strengths—and vice versa—and she has an uncanny ability to pierce the heart of a tangled matter with profoundly simple insight. What’s more, she decorates her Christmas tree with birds, knows where to find (and how to use) gold dust glitter paint, and loves her a boys’ choir with the best of them. We just adore her.
Three Christmases out of our twelve have seen Rachel living overseas, so Laura and I have been obliged to soldier on without her. But this year she’s back in our midst once more—and this year’s Advent Tea table was happily set for three. We met last Friday and dined by the fire in my kitchen before moving into the den for tea and gingersnaps by yet another fire and the newly decorated tree. And it struck us all, I think, that the old adage rings true: the more things change, the more they remain the same. The actual details we discuss have changed drastically over the years, but our underlying desires have not. We still want to keep Christmas both simple and special, beautiful and peaceful, idealistic and honest. But sorrow and loss in all of our lives have chastened away some of the early non-essentials—somehow the perfect wrapping paper or the best price on double-faced satin ribbon doesn’t matter quite as much when you’re dealing with a special-needs teen, or when there’s an empty chair at your Christmas table. Not to trivialize the eagerness and inexperience of our younger selves—but in recent years our talk has turned more towards the bright sadness of the Advent season, the great universal longing towards which our individual longings point. We’ve leaned in close to our griefs and disappointments, trying to make out what they have to say to us, now of all seasons of the year.
For all these years we’ve been wrestling through the details of our lives to get to the meaning at the heart of it all. We still go on rampages over ribbon and wrapping paper, of course, and we still have so very much to learn. But I can only hope that every year at our equally traditional Twelfth Night Tea, wherein we gather once more to compare notes, confess failures, and celebrate our moments of tear-blinding clarity and joy, we’ll be that much closer to the stupendous reality of what “God with us” really means.
This year after our tea Laura and I recorded a little podcast touching on some of these things. (We tried to get Rachel to weigh in, but nothing doing.) It was our first (very) unscripted endeavor of this nature, and, while I manage to repeat myself a number of times (and while we did have a very unscripted guest arrive midway through), we had such a good time. We hope you enjoy it!
p.s. Don’t forget, the giveaway for the Phyllis Tickle book ends tonight, so if you haven’t shared Golden Hours with a friend, there’s still time!