On a museum visit one summer, an exhibit I especially wanted to see was strategically located in a remote corner on the top floor. Perhaps the idea was to get visitors to hike through some of the less-frequented areas. Indeed, it was quite a trek to find the room on the map and make my way down the long, winding corridors. When I got there, I was alone. It seemed I was the only person interested in blue and white porcelain that day.
It was blissfully silent, almost unnaturally quiet. As I stood there and read the display placards while admiring the artistry of this rather small-scale exhibition, I became aware of a noise. I listened to the insistent tap-tap-tapping headed in my direction. My first thought was, “Who wears noisy shoes to a museum?” My notion of a museum as a place of quiet was challenged by the noisy approach of one who had as much right to be there that day as I did.
Shame and self-reproach washed over my soul as I saw a young, visually impaired man making his way down the hall, assisted by the steady arm of a companion and the sure sight of his long cane. When our paths crossed, he made a U-turn and kept walking, seemingly unaware of my presence.
I sat down for a moment to consider the noise so necessary for his connection to life. I wondered, too, what a blind man could see in a museum. Perhaps he was there to gain the confidence necessary for a life of self-determination and independence. I realized that while I was there simply to look at man-made beauty, he was exploring the obstacles of the world. Disturbed by my rush to judgment, I left deep in thought about the noise that constantly surrounds us, and sometimes even convicts us.
Helen Keller wrote, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Gratefully, most of us never know what it really feels like to live without physical sight, yet when we grieve the death of one we love, especially at the holidays, for a while we may feel blinded. Our soul is darkened. We have sight but no vision.
Though we would like it to be otherwise, grief cannot be hurried. We cannot will our grief to be over, just because it’s Christmas. If we do not take time to grieve, we miss the vision. And it’s the vision that informs the rest of our lives. We need to inquire, to ask the questions of grief. Not just “Why?” but “What does this mean?” and “What are the implications?” The answers improve our sight and inspire our vision.
As the sounds of Advent urge us yet again toward the manger, for a while we may need to feel our way through the darkness of grief and follow the noise of the crowd. If we do not pay attention to the noise, we may miss the experience of Christmas, the glory of God’s presence to us as Emmanuel, God’s love transforming the world into light.
Perhaps the birth of Christ was not such a “silent night” event after all. Jesus was born into the noise of earthly life—the clip-clop of a weary donkey, the discontent of needy manger animals, the sighs of a mother in labor. With the heavenly music of an entire chorus of angels and the brilliant light of a radiant star, God proclaims that a savior is born to all the world. In an exquisite moment of Christmas, we kneel at last before Christ the Lord and offer praise from our inmost heart for the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. May the carols of our soul and the love we bring to Christ be the most beautiful noise of Christmas, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth” (Psalm 100:1 NRSV).