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Unwrapping Christmas

As I dressed myself for a December Sunday service at herchurch, a place where Divinity was called Mother and Grandmother and Gaia, I saw in the mirror my sinewy, grandmotherly body. Its muscle memory recalled for me the awe of holding my daughters newly born, their faces slightly bloodied and swollen from pushing through the tight circumference of my womb that had so painfully opened itself for their passage to the world. The awareness that every human being had come through a similar portal brought a new recognition of my body as sacred and powerful, even as it had continued to change. We were approaching Christmas, and I was ready to celebrate Christmas as the birthing event it was, in which Mary’s labor and “yes” to Mystery was as essential as the holy child she produced.

Arriving early to church, I joined Spiral Muse Band in rehearsing before leading this Sunday’s worship service. I loved this band. At weekly practice, the four of us delighted in complementing one another’s voices and rhythms. Dionne, the drummer—and the strongest on the rhythm guitar—played and sang with primal power. Her wife, Alison, also played guitar and sang. Together this wife-wife team and the group’s chorale mistress, Kathleen, created an exquisite vocal blend, weaving harmonies that took sudden turns and burst into heart-melting awesomeness. Riffing on their lush harmonies, I felt I was coming home to the power of my own creativity and birthing beauty from my inner world.

In the sanctuary, the herchurch congregation was gathering to celebrate both Christmas and winter solstice. Aluminum foil covered the narrow windows slotting both sides of the sanctuary, which created a womb-like hollow of deep stillness. To help lead the service, we positioned ourselves a few steps up from the large glass altar, which was located close to several semicircles of upholstered chairs. The pastor, Stacy Boorn, handed out skinny little candles for the candle-lighting part of the service as the pianist played the prelude.

Toward the end of the service, the congregants lit their candles one by one. With the lights were dimmed, their candles shone like sparklers. I lifted my violin to my chin to play the intro to “Away in the Manger,” a lullaby that reverberated with the nostalgia of my childhood Christmases. As the congregation sang, the carol’s new lyrics, penned by Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton, resonated with my new experience of Christmas as a special time of the Mother and Her embrace.

Still holding their candles high, the congregation sang “Silent Night” with its new lyrics, after which Pastor Stacy asked the congregation to blow out their candles. In the ensuing darkness, she stood for the final blessing. “It is Solstice,” she announced buoyantly. “Solstice and the return of the light. So let there be light!” And everyone rushed to the vertical slats of windows, to the west and to the east. With a couple of quick tugs, they yanked off the temporary coverings. The December sunshine flooded through the stained glass in muted rainbow hues as we musicians busted out the maraca rhythms of José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.” The congregants applauded and danced, as they always did for a few minutes at the end of the Sunday service. And then we went downstairs to feast.


Excerpted from Unwrapping Christmas: A Memoir , Lana Dalberg’s new book that “narrates a journey through holiday events that will make you want to laugh and cry and dance.”

Here’s what Jann Aldredge-Clanton has to say about the book: “In Unwrapping Christmas: A Memoir, Lana Dalberg combines her gifts as a compelling storyteller, creative teacher, and wise spiritual guide. With vivid sensory details, she takes us into some of her childhood experiences, her exciting adventures with Salvadoran rebels, her anguish over betrayed relationship, and her rebirth through finding the Mother in Christmas at Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran in San Francisco. Throughout this book Lana engages readers with her authentic voice and page-turning suspense. Unwrapping Christmas is an inspiring, beautiful gift for this season and all seasons. I highly recommend it!—Jann Aldredge-Clanton, PhD, author of Breaking Free: The Story of a Feminist Baptist Minister. Order your copy now!

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