Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Eve in Annapolis

Everyone is welcome at church, but especially on Christmas Eve, when we think back to the moment when God came down to live among us, took on human form to be with us. But sometimes it is hard for people to feel it is so. Maybe because we are always aware of what makes us different; we wonder if we're welcome. It's hard to break away from life, to sit still, to concentrate, to let go of all that keeps us from celebrating and believing. 
For many years, on Christmas Eve we've attended the candlelight service at the US Naval Academy Chapel. The place fills me with a very welcome feeling of wonder. And for some reason I can't really justify, I do feel welcome there; I feel at home. 

If you've never been to the chapel, it's worth a trip, long or short, easy or arduous, to see it. Elegant and uplifting, light-filled and echo-y, it is one of Annapolis' treasures. As you walk toward it -- visible from most of downtown Annapolis, you'll notice the dome verdigris with weather rising above the Academy walls. 

Come closer and you'll see through the blue-tinted windows to the golden space inside the dome lit with tiny lights that make it look like a little indoor sky captured there. Seeing it often as I do, I think always of  Hopkins' great poem, "Spring," where he describes the thrush's egg (blue and cupped as the sky above and containing all of life within) as a "little low heaven."
This image found its way into Solomon's Puzzle:

....Taking a seat in the rows called Sleepy Hollow that stood cross-wise to the main aisle, he found it a perfect place to read in secret. The breath of the wind against the high windows on the west side reminded him that he sat sheltered and hidden. Though the rim of the balcony curved above him, he could see up into the perfect, arched dome that rose above the place where the arms of the transept crossed the main aisle of the nave. Tiny lights hovered there amidst a cupped bluish ceiling that seemed, once again to Ben, a little, low heaven.

      Above him, the dome’s star-like lights shone dimly; as the afternoon passed, they glowed brighter and brighter in answer to the quick, cold sinking of the sun. The great arch behind the altar was lit only by the flickering of a commemorative, perpetual flame that cast its solitary light on the magnificent stained glass, which proclaimed the Navy’s hope: Eternal Father Strong To Save. Christmas trees had been grouped on the altar; their subtle fragrance, their gold, symbolic decorations suggested a world beyond even this one in which he had been kept apart all afternoon.

But step inside the chapel and look up into the expanse of the dome rising above, filled with lights so like stars, the impression is the same; it is a little heaven come down to visit us. And that is how it feels, and aptly so, on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas Eve service has beloved hymns, crowds of people, magnificent organ music and at the end, when everyone joins to sing Silent Night, candles are lit and the lights are all turned out.  

When Clare was a baby, her daddy held her in a bjorn carrier, bouncing slightly until she slept while her loving family, including Uncle Karl watched her.

How dear of our children to come with us!

This year, we went with Val and Andrew to the family service at the US Naval Academy Chapel. It begins at 4, is much shortened, and children dressed in nativity costumes take part in telling the story of Christmas.  

Clare and Pop

the curve of the balcony above Val and Andrew gives a covered feeling and you can still peek up into the dome

She sat down on the floor  by our feet as if it were her own little room and played with the tiny troll with bright pink hair that I stuck in my purse at the last minute.     

She walked the troll along the hymnals saying "Walk, walk" very loudly until Val suggested that the troll    tiptoe.  "Tiptoe, tiptoe," Clare whispered.  

Heaven, indeed, come down as low as we needed, to our great joy. 
Merry Christmas to you and yours!


  1. Ah, thank you for the reminder about how special the USNA Chapel is, especially for the first-time visitor.

    The Naval Academy grounds are loaded with places conducive to meditation and quiet. My personal favorite was always the seawall, where I would sit and listen to the lapping water and breathe the Chesapeake and the Severn waters, and wonder how James Webb ever managed to run on the seawall in the wintertime...

    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  2. I am so glad you all had the opportunity to go with the Vaches :)

  3. So much fun! Such a great idea. Everyone should go.