‘Tis the season for all things merry and bright. Except when you’re feeling sad, lonely and perhaps grieving. Retired United Methodist pastor and current spiritual director Cindy Serio discusses why Christmas can be a challenging season for some folks and shares a guided meditation that acknowledges that you might feel blue at this time of the year while offering encouragement for finding hope, even on the longest night.
Rev. Cindy Serio
- Cindy established MOSAIC Spiritual Formation Ministry to help people “create beauty from the broken pieces of life” through contemplation.
- In 2019, Cindy founded The Texas Gathered Community of Spiritual Directors, dedicated to spiritual formation in church and community.
- Learn more about Cindy.
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This episode posted on December 16, 2022.
Crystal Caviness, host: ‘Tis the season for all things merry and bright. Except when you're feeling sad, lonely, and perhaps grieving. On today's episode, we discuss why it can be a challenging season for some folks and share a guided meditation that acknowledges that you might feel blue at this time of the year while offering encouragement of finding hope, even on the longest night.
We're in the Advent season now, but Lent is right around the corner. In the latest study from Barb Roose titled, “Finding Jesus in the Psalms,” readers can experience a meaningful encounter with Jesus and the Psalms throughout the Lent season. Learn [email protected].
Crystal: Cindy, welcome to “Get your Spirit in Shape.”
Cindy Serio: Well, thanks for having me, Crystal.
Crystal: I'm really, really pleased that you're here for a special episode of “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” Today we're going to talk about Blue Christmas, Longest Night worship. It's something that happens in some United Methodist churches. Even other denominations have these Blue Christmas services and they come at a time. We're in advent. We're singing joy to the world, hark the herd, angels sing all of these really happy Christmas carols Sunday after Sunday. But we know that there are people singing these songs or maybe in these congregations that aren't feeling that joy and aren't feeling that happiness because Christmas and the Advent season can also be a time of grief and loneliness, and we want to recognize that and talk about that. So that's what we're here to do today. And Cindy, we just feel really grateful that you have designed a guided meditation for our listeners, for this recognition of the time that people may be feeling lonely, may be feeling blue as in sadness, and just a time to give them some hope and to acknowledge those feelings. So thank you for being willing to be a part of this really special conversation.
Cindy Serio: Yeah, I appreciate it. And I really love that you used the word hope, because when I have done these services in the past, I always call them a night of hope, just simply because the Christmas story does give us hope, but it's maybe a gentler hope and a quieter hope and a hope tinged with a little bit of sadness.
Crystal: Cindy, we are in a society that, especially I think in December, is a lot about materialism. It's a lot about parties. We're always seeing commercials for groups getting together, laughter, singing, um, you know, just a lot of fellowship like that. But that's not everybody's reality. Even if they're participating in those groups inside, they may feel, they just may feel that they're not, they're not in the, the Christmas spirit, even that, even that phrase “Christmas spirit” comes with this expectation of joyfulness and, and happiness. So how can we, in the church be really attentive that people are walking a walk or walking a path during the season that just may not have all of the kind of those traditional feelings with it?
Cindy Serio: You know, one of the things I think is to listen, but also to acknowledge that people do have these feelings and that we have a tendency to not want to hear that. Because if I hear your sadness, it takes away from my happiness and I want to be happy. And so just being willing to listen to someone who may not be happy, happy joy, joy in a season of happy, happy, joy, joy, and just being there for people.
Crystal: I like what you're saying about this. Really what I'm hearing is a gift of listening. That's a gift you can give people. We know there are people who are hurting, we know there are people who are grieving, and that's a gift that we, if we're not in that space ourselves, that's a gift we can give to other people.
Cindy Serio: Yes, and it's a gift the church can give. When we have these services, they're generally quieter services, gentler music, so that it settles within your soul a little bit deeper rather than trying to take you to some mountaintop experience. It's intended to be that gentle place where you can rest. Because one of the things that grief does is it exhausts us. It's exhausting to grieve. And so just knowing that people don't have that kind of energy when they're grieving is, is helpful. But I think that's what the church can do for us to, to acknowledge everybody doesn't celebrate at Christmas in maybe the way we think they should. And maybe that's one of the things is there is no should, people need to be invited to celebrate in whatever way it is that they celebrate. And you know, there are people who come to these services every year who lost parents when they were children, and it's always this way for them. They're always a little bit sad at Christmas. So it's not just people who have lost loved ones recently. Everyone experiences grief differently, everyone celebrates differently, and to acknowledge that it's okay to be sad.
Crystal: What I'm hearing you say too, Cindy, is kind of this acceptance. We're just accepting people where they are. And that's really what, that's what the church should be about. They, again, there's a should, but that's what the church is about in our best spaces, that we accept people where they are. And even if it doesn't match up with maybe what we've been told or that maybe has been a tradition for ours, I love hearing kind of that as just a real acceptance, which isn't just a theme for this time of the year. It's a theme for all of the year.
Cindy Serio: Well, you know, I mean you say that, but honestly, Advent really is a very reflective season. The culture doesn't really celebrate it that way. The culture celebrates it as this happy celebratory joy, joy. But when you look at the lectionary readings that we're reading in the church, and if you look at the story, even simply an angel coming to Mary and saying, Hey, you're going to be the mother of God. Wait, what? You know, I mean, this is turmoil that you're throwing her into, and Joseph's in such turmoil that he wants to not marry her. These are difficult times, and sometimes we allow the culture to pull us into this place of joy that really has a place a little bit later. And so for me, advent is a very reflective time and a time to journey with these real people. Mary and Joseph are real people.
Crystal: You're right. When we think about the longest night services, a lot of times we think about grief as in losing a loved one. But it could also be grief of, you know, a situation that didn't work out like you thought, a relationship that didn't work out like you thought the loss of a job, the loss of a home. There's a lot of grief, a lot of trauma. So really this is a kind of service that's for everyone. It's not just for someone that maybe has lost a loved one recently,
Cindy Serio: And that that is absolutely true when people come to these services, it, it is all kinds of things. They just want a place to be quiet and to celebrate by holding the story, lighting candles in the darkness, doing something that is comforting.
Crystal: I've attended Longest Night services before, and one thing that I was surprised about was how much I really yearned for a quiet, peaceful space in what can be a very chaotic season in my life. I was there for a very, you know, I went for a specific reason, kind of a traditional reason. I had lost someone recently and kind of thought, well, yeah, I want to go and, you know, really grieve this. But it became almost like a little, just a real sacred holy time for me to not just consider my grief, but as you said, reflect on the season and maybe re-center myself. So, you know, that was something that kind of surprised me in a good way.
Cindy Serio: I think that's the reason I started offering those services myself, is because that's what I wanted. I wanted something quiet. I wanted a place where I could reflect on the story in a, a real way and not what I sometimes feel is a plastic way, a way that kind of glosses over life, but a place to be reflective and to listen. And I think there are many other people who do that as well. Your, your life is going 90 miles an hour and Christmas songs have been playing since Halloween, actually. And so you're in this whirlwind and is there someplace that we can go and just pause for a moment and just even speak a little bit slower? And again, listen, um, listen to the story and not bypass the feelings that we have, not bypass the yearning and the longing that we have. I think that the longest night for me is a night of longing, uh, a longing to um, kind of rest in the mystery that is God.
Because when I think of the Christmas story, when I think of the Incarnation, I think of the deep mystery of God. And I just, I'm filled with this incredible sense of wonder and I want to pause and sit in that wonder for just a few moments and allow God to hold me in that space to offer something where God can hold someone when they are grieving and when they are missing someone or when they have lost their job and they don't know if they will even have, uh, the ability to provide gifts for their children these places. God holds us so tenderly and deeply and to be able to provide that space for people, I think it's what the church is called to do.
Crystal: And that's where we find those pieces of hope.
Cindy Serio: Yeah.
Crystal: Well, Cindy, thank you for being here with us. We're going to go ahead and finish talking about this so we can get to the guided meditation that you created specifically for our “Get Your Spirit in Shape” listeners. We just appreciate you sharing those really special words with all of us at this time of the year. So thank you so much.
Cindy Serio: Thank you, Crystal.
Guided Meditation with Cindy Serio:
In the bleak mid-winter shadows dance in the lengthening darkness of the unfolding days, listen, as the birth of the Messiah is foretold, the prophet Isaiah said so long ago, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Emmanuel, which means God with us. As we approach the longest night of the year, a night in which the shadows become longer and the stars are the only light, I invite you to lean into the promise spoken through the prophet Isaiah, and do not be afraid for God is with you.
Join me on a journey of Advent reflections. If you are somewhere where you can close your eyes, you might see images in your imagination. But if you are listening while working or driving, simply allow the moments of reflection to come alive in your mind. Perhaps you will find a word, a phrase, an image, or a reflection that will hold you in the coming days.
If you are ready, imagine that during the time of this guided meditation, we can be anywhere we want to be. Will you journey with me and join some of the angels on their Advent assignments? Let us begin by meeting the angel Gabriel on his way. So what does Gabriel look like in your imagination? What expression is on his face as he sees us? As we join him, we ask, where are you going? I'm going to see Mary. And just like that we appear in Mary's house. Can you see her? What is she doing? Listen, as Gabriel says, “Rejoice favored one, the Lord is with you.” How does Mary respond? How do you sense she feels about this uninvited appearance? How would you feel? Is this a dream or is this real?
Immediately, Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid.” So perhaps Mary is afraid, most of all. If you were her, how would you feel about all the angel is telling you about becoming the mother of God? And at such a young age as the angel comforts her? Mary brightens with hope when he mentions Elizabeth, someone she loves very much and who loves her. Suddenly Mary says, “I am the Lord's servant. Let it be with me. “Just as you have said, you sense that Elizabeth would be a great support for her. Who in your life supports you when life gets complicated?
Now take a deep breath as we are off through space and time to find the angel of the Lord who will appear in Joseph's dream. Things have gotten very complicated with Mary's pregnancy. Joseph knows this baby is not his. And yet what is this wild story Mary tells? What would you be thinking? How would you feel? Perhaps Joseph is contemplating giving up the woman he loves because she is not the woman he thinks she is, and yet he wants no harm to come to her. What would you want to do if you were in his situation?
As we join the angel of the Lord in Joseph's dream, does he look different from Gabriel or does he look the same to you? Listen, as the angel says, “Do not be afraid. Joseph, take Mary as your wife, care for her. Raise this child of the Spirit as your own.” This is a big decision and one that may change the way some people view the couple. Has a dream ever changed your mind about something this important? How do you think Joseph sleeps after he's made up his mind to do as the angel instructs him to?
Even as Mary and Joseph receive what seems to us as clear messages for their journey into parenthood, their life will be filled with as much pain and heartache as joy and peace. It is challenging just to make it a safe place for their baby to be born.
What challenges are you facing in your life right now? Where do you need to hear the angel's voice? Do not be afraid into all of their difficult circumstances. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us was born to Mary and Joseph. Earth and heaven rejoiced.
Would you like to journey once again with the angel of the Lord to see the shepherds? Why do you think of all the people in the world? God chose the shepherds tending their flock in the darkness under a sky filled with stars.
Once again, we hear the words, “Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you wondrous, joyous news for all the people. Your savior is born Christ, the Lord.” Suddenly into the dark night, heaven opens up and a multitude of angels and beings filled with light appear praising God, glory to God in heaven and on earth. Peace. As you gaze upon this beautiful scene, the angel of the Lord appears beside you and asks if there is anyone you would like to see for just a moment. While the love of God in Christ has opened space and time for you with just a thought in the blink of an eye, your loved one appears perhaps as you remember them or perhaps transformed in some way, or perhaps you only have a sense of their presence with you in this moment. Your loved one offers you what you need so that you have peace in your heart. And we say, not goodbye, but as sweet until we meet again. Do not be afraid dear one, for just as God is always with you. So your loved ones are always with you, for they live on in you and through your memories.
And now it is time to follow my voice to the present moment. If your eyes are closed, go ahead and open them. When you are ready, before you move on, consider if there is a word, a phrase, an image, or a reflection that you are being invited to hold onto right now.
Crystal: Advent will soon be over and we'll be thinking about Lent and Easter. Barb Roose's latest study titled “Finding Jesus in the Psalms” may be the perfect study for you and your small group, combining an interpretation of the Psalms with real life stories. Barb guides the reader through the familiar words of Psalm 23 toward the painful cries of Psalm 22, uttered by Jesus on the cross. The study includes reflections on the life of King David and the original context of the writings, along with connections between the Psalms and the life and death of Jesus the Messiah. A leader guide and six video sessions make this a great six-week group study. Learn more at Cokesbury.com.
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