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Blue Christmas attendees lit candles to process their grief. Jo Kroeker | Col­legian

The gar­lands adorned with red bows decked the balcony of College Baptist Church, but the golden stringed lights lacing them remained off. The light from above only reached the fifth row of pews before receding. One by one, attendees emerged from the shadows and walked to the altar, where they lit candles, offered up silent peti­tions, and pro­ceeded to Chaplain Father Adam Rick, who anointed their fore­heads with oil and prayed for them.

“They’re lighting a candle as a symbol of Christ and airing out rooms in their soul that haven’t been aired out in a while,” Rick said.

Almost 50 people attended Monday evening’s Blue Christmas service at College Baptist, where they were reminded of the place for sorrow in the Christmas story and given a space to grieve amid the focus on joy and mer­riness that the hol­idays bring.

“With grief, it’s good to be able to do some­thing with it,” coun­selor Brock Lutz said. “I think we usually think of candles with light and hope; so to me, there’s a certain catharsis in the sym­bolism of it. I appre­ciate that Father Adam prays right after that: We’re rec­og­nizing the pain, and then we’re going to someone to get prayer. We’re doing some­thing very tan­gible.”

This is the second year the Chaplain’s Office and Health Ser­vices col­lab­o­rated to bring this service to the Hillsdale com­munity. Last year, less than 10 people came, Lutz said, adding that it was finals week and five degrees outside. This year, he said, they did a better job planning it to get it to stu­dents before finals.  

In his homily, Rick men­tioned two weighty days at the center of the Christmas season: The Feast of St. Stephen, which honors the first martyr on Dec. 26, and the Feast of the Holy Inno­cents, which com­mem­o­rates the sons of Beth­lehem killed by King Herod on Dec. 28.   

“Real sorrow, true, deep, abiding pain and injustice is also a part of the Christmas story, and neither the church nor the Scrip­tures them­selves have never intended to hide these from us in the name of a cheap veneer of happy Christmas,” he said. “I’m showing you a place in the story for your own grief.”

He also gave prac­tical advice: Tell God about the pain and look to the examples of others, found in the stories of the saints and C.S. Lewis’ journals after the death of his wife, “Grief Observed.” Rather than hiding dif­fi­culties, he encouraged, people should talk to others: Just talking it through may help others under­stand and lighten the load.

The five fra­ternity brothers in Delta Tau Delta that sur­rounded their brother sophomore Luke Grzywacz acknowl­edged that the time wasn’t about them, but about him.

When Grzywacz went forward to light the candle, he did so for his mother, who died this June. He said lighting the candles reminded him of his trip to Germany in July, when he would light candles for her whenever he visited a church.

He said he really enjoyed the service.

“It felt very peaceful, it was a strange feeling,” said Grzywacz, who couldn’t remember being anointed since his baptism and con­fir­mation. “It’s a cul­mi­nation of the whole service.”

It will be his first Christmas with her gone but the second without her at Hillsdale, he said.  

“The sermon spoke volumes,” he said. “Going home…it’ll be a rough Christmas morning.”

Senior Paul Keenan said he was glad Grzywacz reached out. He said when people bring their suf­fering into the open, it draws us closer as a com­munity and as a broth­erhood.  

“You have per­mission to mourn this holiday season, you don’t have to put on appear­ances for anyone else,” Rick said in his homily. “You have per­mission to be sor­rowful. Jesus came into this world to meet you pre­cisely here. You don’t need to put on a stiff upper lip, he knows you better than that, he knows life’s hard­ships, betrayals, with perfect, per­sonal intimacy. He expe­ri­enced that himself. He himself cried out to his heavenly father in pain: ‘Oh God, my God, why have you for­saken me?’ God weeps with you this Christmas season: He’s here, he knows, and he cares. You have per­mission to grieve.”  

Lutz said the church was wel­coming in its privacy and solemnity — dif­ferent from a Sunday morning, where people know they will be greeted.

“To me, what I think is encour­aging about seeing lots of people here is that we were able to identify, ‘I’m not the only one who feels this way during Christmas,’” Lutz said. He said there is a benefit to seeing others who have lost someone this year or struggle with family hard­ships.

“There’s a strength in being able to say, ‘I’m not the only one suf­fering through this, and I can do some­thing with my suf­fering,’” Lutz said.  

As the Blue Christmas service drew to a close, the attendees sang “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” The thin voices that cracked occa­sionally and the single piano held the sadness and antic­i­pation of its singers. “Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel, Shall come to you, O Israel…”      

“The service is tech­ni­cally over, but the min­istry that Brock and I and some of the other folks on campus provide is available any time people need it,” Rick said. “I think some­times, people think, ‘I don’t want to come forward, I don’t want to be a burden,’ but that’s why we got into the line of work, so we could help people. We are eager to come alongside and help people if we can.”  

A note from Lutz: We hope that stu­dents or staff who are suf­fering pain or loss at Christmas or any other time of the year can utilize the many ser­vices we have available on campus — one of our four coun­selors, chaplain’s office, the deans, or pro­fessors:  

Brock Lutz, coun­selor:  

Email: blutz@hillsdale.edu

Phone: 216 – 789-9605

Fr. Adam Rick, chaplain

Email: arick@hillsdale.edu

Phone: 517 – 392-7994

Linda Snoes, admin­is­trative assistant of health ser­vices (to schedule an appointment with the other coun­selors):

Email: lsnoes@hillsdale.edu

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Jo Kroeker
Jo Kroeker is a junior from Fresno, California (no, it’s not Cali). She is the Opinions Editor of the Collegian, studies French and journalism, and writes for Hillsdale College’s marketing department. Her trademarks include oversized sweaters, experimental banana bread, and yoga. jkroeker@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @jobethkroeker
  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    What a great idea. Hol­idays like Christmas can be a time of great joy, but also sadness and lone­liness. Cer­e­monial sharing of grief like this can very cathartic. A novel idea, kudos to Chaplain Rick.