Sat 13 Dec 2014
We are still having “San Diego-like” weather here at this old house. We set a record high of 65 degrees yesterday, though thanks to the Pineapple Express storm that slammed into California the other day, we are supposed to get a tiny bit of snow tomorrow. Warm, dry weather certainly has made it easier to get around town and hike on the trails that surround this old house.
We got our tree up. This one really is a “Charlie Brown” one. We always cut a “thin,” meaning, we cut a tree that is growing in a clump with other trees. Not only does thinning trees make for a healthier forest but also, because we need tall, skinny trees with a flat back to fit in the only spot we have in this old house to put a Christmas tree, a thinned tree usually fits the bill. Everyone wins. That said, this year’s tree is a little more sparse than usual but it is a great candle tree because there is so much space between the branches. We have lights on it and the candles in their holders. Decorations will come later.
We really do light the candles on our Christmas tree. We can do that because of the following:
The tree sits close to the front door where it could be quickly thrown outside in case of a fire.
We turn off the furnace so it doesn’t blow the flames onto the branches.
We all sit there, watching the candles burn. We NEVER leave the room, even for a moment.
When we are finished, we leave the lights off until every candle is blown out. That way we know we have them all out.
Only when it is completely dark in the room do we then turn on electric lights and put the furnace back on.
That said, a Christmas tree with candles lit on it is a breath-taking sight many have never seen before. It is a different kind of light than the strings of small colored lights we turn on without concern no matter how lovely the light bulbs are. The glow of a live candle is qualitatively different than an electric light bulb. Candles feel like living things compared to a more static light bulb. Yet, the danger inherent with the “living” candle is so much more real than with the light bulb. Certainly, tragic fires happen due to shortages in electric wires but a lit candle on a cut tree, even a very fresh cut tree, is far more dangerous than the 300 colored lights glowing there as I write.
Life is like that. Life is filled with more danger than death. Think of a charging grizzly bear vs. one that is dead. They both offer a thrill to behold but one will kill you while the other will not. I forget who said it but it is so true: “life is fraught with dangers, safety among them.” Safety is a dangerous illusion too many of us in North America don’t understand. We assume, when we get in our car, that we will arrive at work or the grocery store. We know intellectually that we could be in a car accident but we don’t really believe it will happen to us. We assume when we go to bed that we will wake up in the morning and that our children will as well. We get a cold and assume we will get better. For many people in the world, those are not necessarily givens. When we live in peace and safety, we can get lulled into thinking that this is the way the world works. We begin to take things for granted, things like clean water, plenteous food, secure shelter, clothing, education, healthcare. People in war zones and refugee camps know how difficult life is without those things.
Then, there are the daredevils of this world: people who climb dangerous mountains or fling themselves at high speeds down hills on skis, dive in underwater caves or chase wars as foreign correspondents. I certainly shake my head at some of these escapades but sitting in fear in supposed security in my living room is no way to live either. If we embrace life, there will be danger. Period. And we all die in the end so we are never truly safe in this life.
That is why I think it is good to sometimes put ourselves in a place of risk, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. When we move out of our comfort zone to help someone, when we go back to school after years of being out of the classroom, when we step out in faith not knowing the outcome, when we light a real candle on a Christmas tree, we are igniting a life force deep inside that too often is kept locked up in a false desire to “stay safe.” I am not advocating foolish behavior but I am advocating embracing life more fully than we may be inclined to do normally.
Advent invites us to embrace life. Advent helps us light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Advent says live life knowing that eternal life is yours for the choosing. Pushing ourselves past where we might feel safe in some situations can be a good spiritual discipline. Just make sure you don’t burn the house down while doing it.