In the choir room, we practice our Christmas hymns. “Let thy bright beams disperse the gloom of sin, Our nature all shall feel eternal day, In fellowship with thee, transforming day to souls erewhile unclean…” The longing in the hymns for the coming of Emmanuel, for the coming of light into our darkness, never fails to move me. More now, than in the simple faith of my childhood. Because now I know how dark our darkness can be.
In the paper yesterday, the headlines included the death of a seven-year old Hispanic child, who had been raped, beaten and stabbed to death as she returned to her apartment from the apartment playground. The younger two children were taken from the traumatized mother because she was under suspicion of neglegting her child by allowing her to play in the complex playground. I also read about the certain pain my daughter’s beloved friend endured when she was murdered at UNC, taken from her home where she was studying, and shot. I heard about the troubled homes of the children my son goes to school with, one father so drunk he couldn’t pick up his child who was suspended from school for selling drugs and alcohol. A dear friend is still looking for work two years after being laid off. She has to choose between food and medicine. It is hard if not impossible to keep from giving up oneself to whole-hearted despair, or cynicism.
What can we do? How can we live? our hearts ask us.
Christmas is for children, we think. For the rest of us, it might be a respite or chance to “get” whatever the latest gadget might be, the one that promises to transform our life. It might be precious time with overworked family members. We keep our expectations modest. And if the yearning for that elusive something rears up in us, we dismiss it as childish nonsense. We are realists, we are adults, after all.
We can’t go back to childish ways, nor should we want to. We know the world for what it is. We know that wishes often don’t come true. We know that precious children are wantonly destroyed. It is hard-won knowledge. And yet to dismiss our yearnings for the light, for transformation within ourselves and in our worlds, is equally as foolish as indulging a childlike fantasy that the world is a large Disneyland. The high Holy Days of winter, in whatever tradition, honor both the inky darkness, and the light that often does shine in our lives, despite all. And they ask us to live in the tension of knowledge of the dark, and the heart’s yearning for wholeness.
Please accept this offering of a poem, and the wish that light will come to you this winter solstice, and you will recognize it.
Hodie Christus Natus Est
Solstice Song in Four Parts
Not some perfected end time.
Here on earth,
These clinking glasses
these voices ringing.
Our voices. Not angels’.
Our voices, cracked and sweet, tired,
The light in us
We, like winter stars,
alone in the night sky,
constellations dancing together,
circling this earth.
Our fires finite,
our fires bright.
Born to us.
Born of dust in cattle and rank hay,
dust enlivened with breath.
Born of breaking waters,
born of blood and old enmities.
Out of this
a new thing.
new light to walk the earth.
This earth. Our earth.
or will be.
this night. Out of our darkness
of broken bodies, broken dreams, losses,
we light candles