Rainbows are most common in the Northwest during cold months. Rain requires a certain angle of sun (42 degrees) for the right kind of refraction. Noon showers in July offer nothing prismatic. Folks, we’re in the perfect rainbow season. Bright, low sun. Lots of rain.
Christmas is a prismatic holiday. Ordinary things are amplified and magnified. We have stained-glass cookies, gold dresses, velvet vests. Maxed-out credit cards. Overstretched waistbands. It’s a season of glittery excess.
And God said, Let there be rainbow LED lights, eggnog lattes and sequined Ugg boots. And there was evening, and morning—and then another Early Bird Sale.
“We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
The magi journeyed from the east to Bethlehem, an arduous trek across mountains, deserts and rivers. (Much like the Costco parking lot feels on a Saturday.) These astronomer priests had spotted a star heralding royal birth. Setting out full of excitement, their destination was still uncertain after months of travel.
Recently, I trekked to Seattle to visit a friend’s church. The road, the sky – and my mood – were equally gloomy. What did the future hold? Am I too old to go back to school? Why are we alive, anyway? No GPS or star could answer these questions.
Fine drizzle fell, as if a diamond had exploded overhead.
And then, just past the casinos, car dealers, truck stops and billboards, light broke through. Bright, low sun. Lots of rain. Something wonderful interrupted my thoughts. A rainbow several miles wide appeared across I-5.
I drove closer and closer, and suddenly, I was in the rainbow!
That’s right. The conditions were perfect. I had my own personal, portable rainbow. An atmosphere of transfiguration, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, hovered inches from my face.
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”
Brake lights flashed like Rudolph’s nose in a fog bank. The road wasn’t slick – we were freaking out. Everyone was slowing down. Brilliance made us anxious. Who expects a choir of rainbows singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” for 10 miles, on a wet highway near Fife?
Awe arrives like that, in the midst of drizzle. Ordinary life has prisms to refract our glories and failures both into terrifying displays of beauty.
Christmas, more than any season, shines with light and good cheer. Grace radiate from a story set in humble stable straw. We find strength to heal hurts, to act generously, to make merry with friends, family and strangers (and to shop midnight madness sales).
“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Surely the magi felt surprise, and some disappointment, when they arrived in the backwater town of Bethlehem. There was no king in a palace, no servants to water their camels.
Maybe your Nativity scene this year wouldn’t impress a magi, either. Maybe it’s a tableau of tow trucks, bounced checks, self-doubt, achy knees or check engine lights, right there with the lambs, angel choir and eggnog.
Maybe your stocking deserves coal. Maybe this season holds a mix of worry and wonder. Or maybe you’re one of the season’s true miracles – someone who shopped early and already finished wrapping gifts.
If, like me, you sometimes find yourself in conditions of drizzle and mud this winter – my fellow weary, bewildered astronomers – there’s no need to fret in that unexpected, low place. Present your gifts anyway. The magi did.
Not all of us are born under a lucky star (and some that were found the road led to a cross, not a worldly kingdom.)
Bright, low sun. Lots of tears. Kneeling before the king. Perfect conditions for your own personal, portable rainbow.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”Maria Gudaitis, a writer and designer, is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Reach her through her blog at mariagudaitis.com, where she writes about food, poetry, faith and art.