All is calm, all is bright. Now, let’s be a little bit more honest. These six little words could not be further from the truth.
All is Bright
The rules go like this, you can have it bright or calm, but you cannot have both. Bright decorations, bright faces, bright packages require someone put in extra work. For many people, that extra work erases any calm before Christmas. When I look around, I see people hustling to make things bright. But there’s no calm in their eyes.
Many of us are also tightening our budgets, there is less money to spend, but we are keeping it bright, by the holly and the mistletoe. It’s Christmas! Go put a bow in your hair and serve some cider.
Every year, I see less people I could call calm. I see subdued, grey, locked-down people. I see people so tired, often sick at heart if not in body, too. But it is rare to see the calm of peace in their eyes. Sometimes, I do, but they are rare souls. All is never calm and bright in our tiny teacups of life unless you know how to see beyond your teacup. All is calm, all is bright only if you stop hustling to be bright.
Some people do this with gratitude lists or serving others. Well and good. But does this bring true calm? In my teacup of self-importance, I have to check in with the truth of the Scriptures again. In the wider world of reality, beyond the material world and way beyond the chemist’s beaker, there is a Master who gives calm and with it natural brightness. The disciples glimpsed his calm as he slept through a monsoon on the Sea of Galilee. I’m seriously interested in that kind of calm as we will be on the water in our boat soon.
Jesus woke to calm the seas only to tell his men that they didn’t have calm in their heart. Calm only comes from trusting a Master of all the weather brewing.
I have been praying more regularly these days. And so I have found it easier to see the real world of calm breaking into my mundane world. Today at the grocery store, I was ready to bring my calm to Market Basket. I failed in all the typical ways I measure brightness. I was slow and inefficient but miraculously calm. I let others merge and careen their shopping carts ahead of me. I smiled and laughed alongside real people, some who didn’t even look at me. But I saw them, these souls who I may never see again. I was bright because I was calm. That breaks the rules, which is why it’s called a miracle.
All is Calm
I wanted a still life that captured the calm that Jesus brings his followers. Taking a favorite brass candlestick and picking some holly from a friend, I arranged and painted this still life in my laundry room studio.
This was my little space while my studio space was renovated. Inside the tiny space, I set my still life inside a small cardboard box to control the shadows. In this tiny space inside a tinier space, I felt like the Ukranian nesting doll. But inside the smallest package can be the best prize. Just like the wizened, dumpy lady bending over Little Debbie snacks can be the one soul you know sees you at the grocery store. All is calm in her, even if she isn’t eating “right.”
In painting, the challenge for me was figuring out how to get that candle to glow and to decide on the right size. As it burned, the candle sunk lower and lower. Sometimes this is how the message of hope seems, so small in this world of LinkedIn business connections and biopsies. But like that candle, God came in a tiny way to look us squarely in the eye. A Jewish man who lived 2023 years ago bring calm, it’s fantastical, but it’s true.
This good news can still conquer the highest skyscraper and the hardest heart. I hope you recognize the title, “All is calm, all is bright” from the chorus of the famous Christmas carol “Silent Night” a tune my family likes to sing together at Christmas. I don’t hear these carols anymore at the grocery store. I hear brightly gaudy music that has nothing to do with Jesus. The tunes of the “holidays” have become, frankly, brightly exhausting. But the calm and brightness of Jesus, this is what we chase when we skid into the pew to worship. This is what Jesus brings me and my family every day of the year, as we grow to trust him deeper.
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright