“Longest Night” on Sunday, Dec. 20

Candlelight, meditation, music, prayer and Bible readings will point a path toward hope during “Longest Night,” a free event for anyone feeling pain and loss amid holiday cheer.

“Longest Night” will be at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, at Peace Lutheran Church, 828 W. Main St. near downtown Grass Valley. All are welcome, regardless of any faith affiliation.

“All it takes is having one piece of your life out of place for you to feel loss and grief when other people are partying,” said the Rev. Eileen Smith LeVan, who will lead the spiritual event. “This will be an opportunity to acknowledge those feelings are there… and connect with a healing God.”

After the service, people may partake in a form of healing offered by the earliest Christian leaders: anointing with aromatic oil and laying on of hands.

Nearly 7 percent of all adults, and nearly 9 percent of young adults, experience major depression during the year, according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. During November and December, when social commitments and material expectations rise, people may feel increased stress, anxiety and social isolation, according to the Mayo Clinic. For some people, long, dark days add to the blues.

The loss of a loved one can make year-end holidays even more difficult.

For Smith LeVan, Christmas always reminds her of loss: Her father died on Dec. 25, 1988. This year, Christmas will be especially poignant: Her son, Will, died in October.

“There’s a lot of reason for joy in my life,” Smith LeVan said. “But as I prepare to lead a church and be joyful, I feel the contrast.”

Smith LeVan’s faith finds symbolism in timing the event a day before the winter solstice – the year’s longest night: “God works in our lives to diminish the dark and increase the light,” she said.

Both anointing and laying on of hands draw from ancient Jewish tradition, Smith LeVan said. Anointing with oil symbolizes being set apart by God. Laying on of hands connotes a blessing and makes God’s presence real for the recipient, Smith LeVan said.

“When we do this with prayers for healing, we trust the healing will come in whatever way God chooses,” she added. “We trust God is healing our souls.”