Last year, in celebration of the holiday season, Hallmark released a new James Taylor CD of songs and carols. On this collection was a song that within an hour of first hearing it, I began replaying it over and over again for spiritual inspiration and comfort, and in it I found direction on a journey that, at best, felt most dark and bleak.
This song, a traditional carol written by Christina Rossetti in 1872, is one that Taylor and his partner on this recording project, Dave Grusin, breathe new life into with their haunting arrangement. "In the Bleak Midwinter..." (full lyrics below) includes the following prayer:
"Then what can I bring Him empty as I am
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would know my part;
What then can I bring Him?
I must bring my heart."
My days were filled with the colorful busyness of the holiday season...choosing just the right gifts, wrapping presents, making and carrying out travel arrangements for loved ones, cooking, baking, chauffeuring children and meeting with patients, tea with friends. This busyness, with all the details of caring for others, allowed me to push down the deep sadness and pain that poked constantly at the edges of my smile. I felt like I couldn't even begin to consider what were looming questions about my life and the lives of those I loved.
My nights, however, seemed like a colorless empty pit...a void so dark and abysmal that I often felt, once I had the children settled in for the night, I would never climb out of the utter confusion I felt about how to take steps towards a solution. Even the process of discovering what those steps might be, seemed lost in a quagmire of emotion, culturally interpreted issues of respectability, and my own fear of failure and rejection. Night after night I would put on my running shoes and pound the streets in our neighborhood, and cover miles on the local track, praying for direction and guidance. I often wasn't sure whether I was using running, metaphorically, to get away from my problems, or to move towards a solution...but I ran, and ran, and ran.
By the last week in December I had listened to Taylor's CD so often that I had all the words to each of the songs memorized. "In the Bleak Midwinter" was my step by step mantra for covering the endless track-based miles I convered each week (an earlier blog speaks of Martina McBride's "In my Daughters' Eyes" and how that song gave some direction to thoughts during the "street" sections of my nightly running that winter).
One particularly cold night as I stood, bent over at the waist, mid-track...having just finished an exhausting two mile "loop"...I realized that the above quoted stanza was also running, side by side with me, in a loop through my head, and it wasn't stopping from exhaustion. One part of my nightly routine was to take a break after each two miles on the track and go to the long jump pit where I would move through a series of yoga-based stretching positions under the treeless bowl of stars above me.
As I found my balance in the Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog) position that night tears rolled down my temples...gathering and freezing in the stray hairs that had fallen in front of my face. I was bringing to that moment every sacred hope I had cherished for a peace-filled resolution to what seemed like almost an insurmountable dilemma. I was hearing over and over in my prayers, "What then can I give Him...I must give my heart". I returned to Balasana (Child's Pose) as I exhaled and released myself from every self-presevationist instinct that I had left to retain control over my own heart. I gave that which I most thought I could control and hold sway over, my own heart...my own right to be the architect of my expression of love.... into His hands under the stars that night.
As my tears froze on my face I wept for what I knew I no longer could control, determine, "make happen"...I gave up my right to define outcomes, design impressions, or preserve pretenses....I surrendered my right to decide how I was going to be seen, how my motives were going to be interpreted, or how those around me were going to feel about me. What could I give him in this moment of worship, in the midst of these feelings of profound emptiness... I could give Him my heart. It was really all He ever wanted from me. The only gift that made a difference in my worship. So I did. I gave him all that I loved, all that I hoped would symbolize love in my life...I gave Him my fondest hopes, deepest desires, my most longed for outcomes.
I didn't finish my run that night. I lay on my back in the long-jump pit until I was almost too cold to move and "let go" more and more with each exhale of steamy breath into the clear star-filled night. I watched stray clouds move across a mid-cycle moon and knew that I was walking into a wilderness I could not anticipate the landscape of. I rose to my feet and took a variation of the Tree Blows in the Wind position, yielding to a divine pneuma or wind that would "blow me where It listeth" ....I became a willing willow rather than an intractable and rigid oak. I walked the rest of my course that night and was keenly aware that something in me had shifted into a new and unknown place of worship and sacred surrender. I walked away from my control and into Her arms...for her "Mother's kiss".
I gave Him/Her my heart and didn't try to hold on enough to pull it back if things got scary. And they did.
He/She still has my heart. God has proven to me this year that when I give Him all that is dear and precious and most holy and sacred in my life, He cares for it in ways I could never have expected, anticipated or imagined.
He has a plan for you too....trust Her with your heart....She will tenderly care for Her young, She will protect and preserve its innocence, purity, its most tender desires and fiercest loves. He is the Creator of your heart and the conductor of its rhythm, the choreographer of its beating...trust Him/Her. What then can you give Him?....you must give your heart".
In the bleak midwinter, icy wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow on snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long..so long ago.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim rising in the air;
Oh, but holy Mary, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a Mother's kiss.
Heaven cannot hold Him, nor can earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall fall away when He comes to reign.
What then can I give Him, empty as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would know my part;
What then I can I give Him: I must give my heart.
- Christina Rossetti