Starry Night and the Astronauts by Alma Thomas (1891–1978) evokes the open expanse and celestial patterns of a night sky, “Color is life,” she once proclaimed, “and light is the mother of color.” This painting was created in 1972, when the artist was seventy-seven. In the same year, she became the first African American woman to receive a solo exhibition at a major art museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. See it in person at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
We seek you—Divine Love—brooding here
at the sacred boundary between darkness and light,
between longest night and the dawn of winter hope.
We are attentive to your presence here,
amid the silence,
amid the blue-black hue of this Quiet Christmas.
Warm us to your spirit.
Place your seal upon our hearts.
Open wide your welcome and mark us again as beloved.
Make sacred this darkness, God.
Make within us a home
where something gentle can come to rest.
Let heartbeat and breath
—the very foundation of life—
become all that matters…
a lifeline to your incarnate presence.
Allow tired eyes to close,
tired bodies to unbend,
tired souls to settle into quiet,
contentment, contemplative calm.
Make space for our hushed litany of gratitude:
for the near misses God,
for the improbability of clear path forward,
for the positive test results after months of holding our breath.
In the tenderness of this night,
we bring our bewildered hope that tumbles forth.
We bring our tears,
held back and then released.
We give over to you the burden
of holding in tension this year’s small incremental joy
alongside the canyon of trouble,
piles of hardship and misadventure
alongside whisps of gladness.
We bring the whole muddled mess to your throne of grace,
to your Christmas-tide manger where love is born anew.
And we ask: be with us, God.
In the loss that lingers.
In the heartache.
In the long love we treasure and yearn for.
Be with those we love.
Souls, carrying weary hope.
Hearts, longing for years past.
Be with the world that expands beyond our home: in the coldest places,
where snow circles round and there is nowhere else to go.
In the fragility of life,
especially those vulnerable to the powers and principalities
that seek war instead of peace,
violence instead of kindness.
Be with those in deepest need:
those on the margins,
at the edge,
those unwelcome or made unwelcome by others.
Let there be wide welcome.
Let the darkness of this night be a gentle reminder
that there is room, more than enough room,
for all to be present to your spirit, together.
Let your spirit grow within us.
Let your divine love charge through us.
Let the spark and tenderness of your grace encircle us.
Tonight and in the holy nights to come.