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?
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