Sit quietly in a room

Gloria and Pasha sit by our tree, Christmas Eve 2008

Gloria and Pasha sit by our tree, Christmas Eve 2008

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” 
―    Blaise Pascal

For decades, every year until this one, I have spent much time meticulously decorating our Christmas tree, a sort of yearly scrapbook with an ever-growing collection of ornaments, each representing a memory.  I often question whether this is something on which I should spend so much time, because it seems to me that hardly anyone ever sits by the fire to enjoy the tree.  But Gloria, my husband’s aunt and one of my dearest friends, is an exception to this.  She has spent several Christmases with us, and she never fails to spend much time sitting by the tree (with Pasha nearby) simply enjoying its unique splendor.

Amidst the rush of the season, I hope we will all pause for some quiet moments alone.  If you decorate for the season (or even if you do not), take a few minutes to sit quietly in a room and reflect on things that often go unnoticed.  Such moments of solitude and contemplation enhance our appreciation of the festive, noisy gatherings of December.


  1. salpa58

    Beautiful Julia, I like to sit by the tree as well, because it always has so many beautiful memories hanging from it’s branches.:o)

    • Isn’t a neat way to enjoy memories? Since it’s only up once a year, we don’t get so accustomed to it that it loses its magic. And since there is a fixed time to put it up, it doesn’t lie neglected for years on end as some of our photo albums do, waiting for “when we have time.”

  2. Gloria is no doubt accomplished at what one author describes as “going inside oneself, to check one’s perceptions”. (read paragraph below the photo of the elk)

    • Eric, that is absolutely right. Gloria’s own life circumstances, as well as her profession, have sharpened that ability in her. It has served her (and others) very well. Thanks for sharing the insightful quote!

  3. The generation prior to ours (aka “the greatest generation) was familiar with the work, and great recorded voice of Lowell Thomas. As much of a world traveler and “man in the know” as he was during the first half of the twentieth century, it is said that he once confided that he was terrified of being alone, in a quiet place – that he had to at least have a radio – something to fill the emptiness of quiet solitude. I believe this is truly sad. Oh that the world would have more “Glorias”! Perhaps we would have a better grasp of who we are, and where we fit into God’s universe.

    • Eric, I agree. Perhaps the craziness of our modern world will lead many of us back to this healthier enjoyment of quiet and solitude. In this, as in so many other things, Jeff has been a source of strenth and my continual example. He is like his aunt in that regard. I believe both view their “alone” time as time with God; not really alone at all, though solitary.

  4. Mike Bertoglio

    Julia read you this A.M. on Upper Room site.

    • Thanks, Mike. I have written occasionally for The Upper Room and have another devotional to be published there in the spring, I believe. It’s a wonderfully supportive online community, with many who are faithful in prayer for each other.

  5. Carlyle

    I have always admired your elaborate trees. In recent years, your beautiful “12 Days of Christmas ” have become a central part of our holiday decoration and the highlight of our Christmas enjoyment. You are amazing!!


    • Thanks Daddy. Christmas memories are perhaps the ones I treasure most from a childhood rich with blessings. You and Mama taught us, in words and example (with some help from the incomparable Mr. Dickens), how to celebrate Christmas. “…though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

  6. Thank you, Julia. I surely did need this.

    • Carla, I’m so glad it helped! Love you.

  7. Kathy

    In the quiet of the night, after everyone is asleep, in that moment just before I turn out the Christmas tree lights, THAT is magical.

    • I agree!

    • Rene

      Or in the morning, before everyone else is up…that is my Christmas sitting time.

      • Yes Rene, I have learned to see my occasional early-waking insomnia as a sort of gift. Though I’m NOT an early riser by nature, I find that when I do get up early, I always relish the stillness and beauty of the very early morning, even when it’s too cold to go walking outside.

  8. Michael

    I saw part of your post on URD site posted by Monte. Once in a while I make it into his summary which I appreciate. But I seem to check your site first.
    Heard an interesting interview with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz Mass at the Abyssinian Babtist church in Harlem. I tried to visit there on my last trip to NYC. That is another story.
    He talks about sacred versus secular and that how things are part of a whole. How we would like to get rid of winter, but it is part of the whole and makes us appreciate more the spring. We would like to get rid of darkness, but its part of the whole experience. We would like to get rid of sickness, but it is part of the whole. Hope that relates. After living a year in Hawaii I find the NW winters tough, or maybe the cold is more bothersome in advancing age. If you asked me to name what I like about winter-I would have a tough time answering-except I don’t have to mow.

    • Monte really does a great thing with that summary – many days when I am pressed for time I will just read that, but lately I can’t even manage that much. I appreciate him passing along the news to everyone. WOW, a chance to hear Wynton Marsalis in person?! Now I am curious about that story. YES what he says makes perfect sense. It reminds me of the line from the movie “Shadowlands” where Joy, the wife of C. S. Lewis is in remission from cancer and he expresses some fear of what lies in the future for them. She said “The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” Jeff would agree with your idea that the best thing about winter is not having to mow. I’m no fan of winter either, and hope never to live in a really cold climate (four years in Ohio were more than enough for me). But I love the excuse to sit inside, maybe by a fire, drinking endless hot tea and reading or writing. I love the lacy way ice looks on bare tree branches. I love snuggling under a down comforter and feeling thankful to live in the climate-controlled surroundings that people of past centuries (or even people a few generations back) could not have imagined. I love being able to cook or bake without worrying about heating up the whole kitchen; the heat is a nice bonus! So all is not bad with winter. Having said all that, perhaps you should consider moving to Atlanta where your son lives. It’s a pretty ideal place to live, in my opinion.

  9. Michael

    I will try to find the link for you to the story, but If you punch in Abyssinian jazz mass on Google you can watch the gospel show on U tube. It is like one hour 15 minutes-so it takes some time.
    That is a good point about the baking thing.
    Wynton’s discussion was also about music and secular vs. sacred and how both are part of a bigger whole. I think he was raised Episcopalian so he talks about going to mass. I always wonder if God really prefers country music. I have never heard Wynton is person. Perhaps someday on my NYC jaunt to Lincoln Center. I did get to see Tommy Igoe big band at Birdland on last trip.
    Atlanta has a lot to offer- I believe.
    And would be closer to son number two in NYC.

    • Mike, if you are looking for someone to convince you Atlanta is the place to be, you came to the right place. Speaking of African-American church music, one thing you might want to see in Atlanta is “Heaven Bound” at the Big Bethel AME Church in Sweet Auburn. If you’ve driven much downtown, you have probably seen their steeple and the “Jesus Saves” sign on it. When I was in high school, sometime in the early 70’s, a group of us went to see Heaven Bound with some of the teachers. It was great. I don’t know if a public school would allow such a field trip anymore – someone probably would say it violates the separation of church and state. I’m glad we were able to go see it back in the old days. But it’s still playing each year, and probably hasn’t changed much.


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