December 2016

Grieving during the holidays, how do we rejoice? Let us always follow the light.

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December 2016 is here already. How did that happen? I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the year. It was a pretty bad year, so maybe I hid a lot. Of course, the reality is that I was sick a lot this year…for most of this year if I’m truthful. I finally had to stop working because my health continued to put me down. Then, the election and wildfires happened in our area. The wildfires still burn and people still feel threatened on many levels.  There’s nothing as frightening as feeling that your world is burning down around you.

 

As I write, I am listening to Don Oiche ud i mBeithil*, a Gaelic Carol trying to get in the “holiday” mood. The chant is lovely and calming. I listened to Of the Father’s Love Begotten, another carol at least ten times. It’s one of my favorite carols. Still, I feel like a stranger in some weird outpost where Christmas is strange and foreign. I bought a beautiful, handmade Advent wreath in preparation, thinking that this household tradition would bring back some of the magic of the holiday. My wife put up a tree. There is beauty and light in the darkness, but I can’t say that there’s magic for me this year.

How can I rejoice, when just over the mountains in Gatlinburg, there are tragic deaths because of fires set by juveniles? Thousands of acres of forests have burned because of arsonists who are not juveniles, who should have known better. How can I rejoice when I know that my young friend who died suddenly has left behind a grieving mother, a grieving family?

I think on my friend who lost her wife of 30+ years, what is Christmas to her? What is Christmas to me as I still grieve my own loss of my dad two years ago? The loss of my old dog, Bear? How long before the magic of Christmas returns again, or does it leave forever if you have no children?

 

Page from a French Book of Hours
Page from a French Book of Hours

Als I Lay on a Yoolis Night is an Old English tune that seems to capture my mood. “As I lay on Yule Night alone in my longing…” is the line speaking to me as well as the tune and haunting sound of harp and psaltry playing accompaniment. As I listen to more ancient carols from different regions, perhaps I want to know that I too can rejoice in the midst of a frightening world. In comparison, our world, with all its craziness is still a safer more stable place than the world that surrounded the writers of these carols. Can I sing even when my heart is breaking? Can I find beauty in the world around me even in the midst of the charred remains of trees of life?

The beauty of the ancient carols, paintings, illuminated pages of prayers and hymns is to remind us that there IS something beyond the sadness. There will be light in the darkness even if we can’t see it at the moment.

 

 


*Gaelic and English Translations

Don oíche úd i mBeithil
beidh tagairt faoi ghréin go brách,
Don oíche úd i mBeithil
gur tháinig an Briathar slán;
Tá gríosghrua ar spéartha
‘s an talamh ‘na chlúdach bán;
Féach Íosagán sa chléibhín,
‘s an Mhaighdean ‘Á dhiúl le grá
Ar leacain lom an tsléibhe
go nglacann na haoirí scáth
Nuair in oscailt gheal na spéire
tá teachtaire Dé ar fáil;
Céad glóir anois don Athair
sa bhFlaitheasa thuas go hard!
Is feasta fós ar sa thalamh
d’fheara dea-mhéin’ siocháin!

I sing of a night in Bethlehem
A night as bright as dawn
I sing of that night in Bethlehem
The night the Word was born
The skies are glowing gaily
The earth in white is dressed
See Jesus in the cradle
Drink deep in His mother’s breast
And there on a lonely hillside
The shepherds bow down in fear
When the heavens open brightly
And God’s message rings out so clear
Glory now to the Father
In all the heavens high
And peace to His friends on earth below
Is all the angels cry

May I Be Worthy…

As wildfires burn in Western NC and fires of protest burn throughout the US, I find I return to prayer. The first word is “why?” The question is the continual prayer of my life in addition this this prayer, “…where is it written what it is I’m meant to be”? God knows I’ve read as many religious books as possible and tried the self-help books. Maybe the answer is only written on my soul.

I have always asked the question “why?” because I am a curious person. I love to learn. I will always ask the question of being, because I want to grow into the goodness that I feel God planned for me.

Yet, there are also questions that are larger than facts – the unanswerable questions. Conundrum, mystery, enigma, these are all embraced in the question of “why?” and in our days of discovery, we do not like to leave things alone. There are things that need to be left alone. Yet, there are always things that need to be questioned too.

 

The challenge of this week, after an election of a man and a vice-presidential candidate who seeks to get rid of people like me (homosexuals) is not where do I stand, but how do I respond? I cannot imagine the terror that people of color feel. What does it mean for me, a person who seeks nonviolence, to respond to someone who advocates hate and deportation of immigrants? I know that I stand for the underdog, the oppressed, the wayfaring stranger. I love diversity and different cultures, people of different races. The environment is important to me as well as human and animal rights. The natural diversity of life is beautiful to me and sacred.

 

Here’s the thing…I’m willing to stand up for others in writing. I can also be present and courageous in person. Because of my health challenges, I can no longer participate in meetings or marches or protests. I cannot go out and sing or teach and preach out in public anymore. It saddens me. I can only write. But the thing that others are reminding me is that writers and other artists can make a difference to empower those who are physically stronger.

 

How can I support you in this time of change? Who are you and what do you need in this moment? I have no money or advice really. Just ears to listen, a praying and loving heart, and words. It is my prayer that that is enough. May I be worthy.
Where Is It Written?  
lyrics from Yentl

PRAYER

God, our merciful father,
I’m wrapped in a robe of light,
Clothed in your glory
That spreads its wings over my soul.
Maybe I be worthy
Amen.

There’s not a morning I begin without
A thousand questions running through my mind,
That I don’t try to find the reason and the logic

In the world that God designed.
The reason why
a bird was given wings,
If not to fly and praise the sky
With every song it sings.
What’s right or wrong,
Where I belong
Within the scheme of things…
And why have eyes that see
And arms that reach
Unless you’re meant to know
There’s something more?

If not to hunger for the meaning of it all,
Then tell me what a soul is for?
Why have the wings
Unless you’re meant to fly?
And tell me please, why have a mind
If not to question why?

And tell me where-
Where is it written what it is
I’m meant to be, that I can’t dare
To have the chance to pick the fruit of every tree,

Or have my share of every sweet-imagined possibility?
Just tell me where, tell me where?
If I were only meant to tend the nest,
Then why does my imagination sail
Across the mountains and the seas,
Beyond the make-believe of any fairy tale?
Why have the thirst if not to drink the wine?
And what a waste to have a taste
Of things that can’t he mine?
And tell me where, where is it written what it is
I’m meant to be, that I can’t dare-
to find the meanings in the mornings that I see,
Or have my share of every sweet-imagined possibility?
Just tell me where- where is it written?
Tell me where-
Or if it’s written anywhere?

From Yentl