All the Golden Hours

The last vestiges of Christmas: St. Knut’s Day, January 13, 2017

Laura and I have been blessed and delighted by the warm comments, notes, messages and feedback we’ve received over this dear little Golden Hours venture. What started as a fun challenge between two friends has become a sweet community of kindred spirits. What’s more, we’ve been encouraged.

Quite simply, you have put us in courage–which is about one of the most generous things one soul can do for another.

I once heard Diana Glyer explain how the whole act of creation is an exchange of resonance—how we all need other people to connect with our work, hum with its themes like a plucked string, and then amplify the music with a fullness it could not have achieved in its own.

You, my friends, have exemplified that. Your resonance has sung itself back to us, again and again, inspiring us with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Thank you–so very much.

Due to snow and ice, our Epiphany gathering became a little St. Knut’s festivity.

Back in November, I had the astonishing privilege of finding myself backstage at the Franklin Theater with three women I admire tremendously: Sally Lloyd-Jones, Audrey Assad, and Sara Groves. We were gathered for the Rabbit Room Live event, an evening of stories and songs celebrating the Beauty, Truth and Goodness of God’s kingdom, and it was such an honor to be included in the lineup. But, I confess, when I met (the funny, friendly, utterly down-to-earth) Sara, I was too star-struck to manage more than a few shy sentences with her. (I wanted to tell her how much her music has meant to me; how her honesty has soothed frightened places in my heart; how the integrity of her songs has given me hope. I think we talked about clothes.)

After my part in the program, I retreated to the balcony to watch the rest of the show. And there, clutching my husband’s hand in the darkness, I heard Sara perform “Why It Matters”, that exquisitely simple anthem to the sacredness of an intentional life. She explained how, in a season of discouragement, a friend had shared with her the story of the “Cellist of Sarajevo,” Vedran Smajlović, who played his instrument in the bomb craters of the besieged city as a brave statement on all that endures in the face of chaos and destruction. After hearing that story, Sara made her own statement in this lovely song. And as she delivered it that night in Franklin, the packed-out theater was hanging on every syllable. Talk about resonance!

(I want to listen to this song every time I sit down at my desk to write. I often do.)

And while Laura and I haven’t been standing up to the lions of injustice in a “war-torn town,” it has been our hope to carry a few cups of cold water to the souls who cross our virtual path. In celebrating all that we love about Christmas–from the bright sadness of Advent through the last shining tapers of Epiphany–the heartbeat behind all this hoopla can be summed up in two simple words: It matters. 

It matters to bring as much beauty and presence as we can to our lives, because it all enfleshes what we believe about the character of God, the value of life, and the sacred potential of the ordinary. Holidays, and Christmas in particular, are rife with opportunities to incarnate truths thrumming under the surface of life. To spread a lovely meal, to beautify our rooms with seasonal sparkle, to light candles against a deepening darkness–all are ways of saying to God, “Thy kingdom come,” and to the world, “Behold your King!” In ways I can’t quite understand but wholeheartedly believe, the everyday material of our lives takes on holy significance when received as gift and offered back as sacrifice.

This is precisely why Laura and I love Christmas so much, and why we seek to navigate the waters of “simple and Christ-centered” without jettisoning the crazy labors of love that set it apart from the rest of the year. The beauty of the thing, of course, is that the rest of the year gleams with the same potential. “Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory;” all the hours are golden hours. If the full radiance beyond the darkness of this world was unmasked at once, I don’t think we’d be able to bear it.

Two weeks ago we had our first forecast of snow for the year–an Epiphany snowstorm!–and Philip and I were as excited as children. We kept peering out the windows and flipping on the porch light to see if it had started yet.

Alas, the morning came with no snow. I was bitterly disappointed. But not too disappointed to appreciate the beauty of the ice-crusted world. I stepped out on the back porch in the freezing cold to watch the morning sun dance among the prisms of the holly tree. Every time the wind moved through its branches there was a tinkling of tiny bells. The dear old crepe myrtle was made of glass, blinding in each glance of the sun, burning but not consumed. The cedar tree was dusted with glitter, and every needle of every pine was a flashing rapier of green and silver. It was lovely.

In the evening, we walked down to the mailbox in the moonlight, turning often to enjoy that loved prospect of our home still alight with Christmas glow. As we walked I looked up into the bare branches overhead, glassy in the silver light. It hadn’t gotten above freezing all day, and what had melted in the light of the sun had refrozen by nightfall. The whole world was encased in radiance and silence; the only sound was that uncanny fairy chime of wind moving among ice-bound branches.

“Look at this,” Philip said, as we neared the house once more.

He directed me towards the Autumnalis cherry, that lacy, delicate spray of a tree in our front circle. It blooms twice, in the spring and again in the autumn, just like the man at the nursery told me it would. It’s not the showiest bloomer—it’s not one of those confections of a cherry tree that explodes in pink powder puffs, or showers a bridal cascade of pale petals. I stopped waiting years ago for it to take the prize in springtime—it doesn’t dominate the landscape, it compliments it, like a modest woman not wanting to draw too much attention to herself. I actually weary of explaining to people that it’s supposed to bloom in autumn (and that this is why when it does bloom it’s less than breathtaking). It’s a pretty tree; it has a pleasing shape, and I love it.

But until that night, I had never seen it—never glimpsed its true nature. Standing in the cold under a silver moon, I saw that tree as it really is, as it was always meant to be. And the glory was so great I wanted to take off my shoes.

Like every other tree and twig and branch on our property, the Autumnalis was sheathed in ice. Looking at it from the house with the darkness as backdrop there was nothing to see but a rigid black form: spidery, lacy, indistinct.

But looking at it in the light of the moon, with the twinkling candle lights in the windows of the house beyond, it was a thing of such beauty I could scarcely tear my eyes away. It was not merely made of silver or crystal, earthly things—but stars. The whole tree was a dazzling fretwork of heavenly bodies; a galaxy of light; an immeasurable universe of tiny blazing suns and moons. A few of last year’s blossoms clung to the tips of branches here and there, preserved in this spell of glass and fire. It stood like a saint, lifting endless constellations of glory to heaven.

This potential—this essence—had been in and of that tree all along. Had it not been for the dark, the moon, the right amount of rain and the right temperature of the air, I never would have seen it. But I never will forget it.

If God could so unveil His glory in a tree, I thought, what might not He do with a willing life?

And it’s just because of such things–ice-bound cherry trees and early daffodils, the daily liturgy of afternoon tea and the thrill of the first frost–that Laura and I want to keep chronicling and celebrating in this space. From the solemn aisles of Lent, to the glad garden of Eastertide; from the paper and lace of Valentine’s Day, to the sweet in-gathering of Thanksgiving, we want to honor the hours of Sacred time and Ordinary time alike.

Because it’s all Sacred time, right?

We won’t be posting with quite the intensity of Advent and Christmastide (although we anticipate a gathering crescendo of recipes, reminiscences and beloved ritual as the calendar circles back towards December again!), but we will be updating regularly, as glory seizes us in the common hours. (Or, as the case may be, when we need a little Lenten attitudinal adjustment, or when we have an epic garden fail. Or when we need to be reminded that the hearts that break are just the hearts the world needs…)

(Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Laura and I are just a little obsessed…)

Won’t you join us in this journey, as we look for the Golden Hours? We’d so love your company.

There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see – and to see we have only to look.~Fra Giovanni, Christmas Eve, 1513

(So, after our book club meeting last week, Laura and I threw our “Stay Golden” tees over our frocks for a little photo shoot. Yep, these pictures pretty much say it all…)

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13 thoughts on “All the Golden Hours

  1. I’m thrilled you are continuing this blog! I’ve loved every post and the continual reminder of why beauty matters. Bravo!

  2. Ladies~I am utterly delighted to know that I may look forward to more posts here:-) Too..I adore the tender but impassioned filled voice of Sarah Groves. Her songs make me want…. to strive to be….. more better 😉 Finally…Lanier…that paragraph… the paragraph where you are describing the indescribable beauty of that Autumnal tree…. I kept expecting a photographic depiction so that we the readers could join you in that moment. I’m ever so glad there wasn’t one. Your words…..what a tapestry. They left me quite teary at the Glorious image they conjured in my mind. Girlfriend~you wield a mighty God given glory thru your words. An aside sort of but not:-)….Your Christmas sonnet…Bliss.

  3. Oh, that is wonderful news! I was hoping you would leave the blog available, so I could start reading earlier and slower next year. But those are great prospects!
    And regarding St. Knut I have to admit that I suspected Lanier of inventing some additional saint in order to prolong christmas. I informed myself and have to apologize! You might want to consider extending christmas until the Catholic candlemas on february second, though – we always leave our tree up until this day…

    1. Martina, this made me smile. I think Philip thought I was making it up, as well. He looked up St. Knut on Wikipedia. 😉

      I wish I could have left my tree up to Candlemas, but, alas, it was too dry. We did make a merry bonfire of it on the 5th, however. I still have Christmas cards pinned on a ribbon around the kitchen door, and candles in the windows, though (they’re just too cheery on a winter’s night!). And I’ve saved a special beeswax candle for Candlemas on the 2nd… 🙂

      Lovely to hear from you, as always! xx

  4. I want to know what you both laughing so heartily ? Looks like you had great fun . I just love this blog and it’s posts and it’s lovely scribes . 🙂 ~Sharon Goemere

    1. Thank you, sweet Sharon! 🙂 As far as what we were laughing at, I’m afraid that’s our default pretty much any time we get together–particularly when we start taking ourselves too seriously! 😉

      1. Lanier, Sounds like my husband and I . We have been through so much and yet laughter is our default setting as we’re both simply very funny people.Quick witted with a quirky view of life.And vivid imaginations as well . 🙂 Laugh on my friend.

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