24 December 2015

I Wish You Peace and Light In These Dark Times

Stonehenge in the Midwinter Snow
Image source: http://www.disclose.tv

NB: This is a slightly modified post from years past that I wanted to reuse for Christmas.

It's a little out of character for me to write a blog post that is about neither books nor travel.  It’s also a little out of character to share many of my personal details in such a public space, but I’ve been away from the blogosphere since April, and I’ve had many supportive inquiries from readers.  2015 has been a very difficult year, which has marked, among other things, the death of one of my cats, the imminent death of my dog, the most difficult and exhausting time at work I’ve ever survived, and above all, the dissolution of my marriage.

Among the collateral damage of the latter was a swift blow to my ability to read, a blow that I’ve only lately been recovering from and am still not back to normal. Thus this holiday season has been far more emotional and challenging than most, and it’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been alone on Christmas Eve, a day which has been far more important to me (and my family) than Christmas itself.

There's a Christmas song lingering in my mind right now that I have been listening to more or less on a loop for  the last couple of days.  I love sacred Christmas carols, though I'm not Christian, or at least I’m not a Christian if by “Christian,” you mean somebody who believes that Jesus Christ is the offspring of God. Agnostic, I suppose, is the proper term for me.  Perhaps a cultural Episcopalian is a little more specific. But if by “Christian,” you mean somebody who thinks that guy Jesus Christ was a revolutionary ahead of his time, especially his ideas regarding the treatment of the disenfranchised, then maybe the term fits.

Whatever inclination toward the sacred that remains buried in me always feels deeply disheartened by the relentless commercialism of a secular Christmas; thus, my recent mental soundtrack of Loreena McKennitt's performance of Good King Wenceslas.

As far as I know, it is the only Christmas carol that remains as relevant today as it ever did.   Regardless of any divine context,  a couple of millennia ago, give or take, this guy Jesus did some pretty revolutionary stuff.  I'm prepared to accept that at face value, if not his divinity.  But what does the celebration of his birth mean for the world today, all those angels and mangers  and glorias in excelsis deo*? For my money, it's the et in terra pax ominibus** that is so important, so relevant today, yet so sorely lacking in our current times where grace and graciousness are endangered species.  

With the changing of just two little words so the song is non gender-specific or non-religious specific, Good King Wenceslas is what speaks to me tonight and all year 'round: give of yourself, give of your time, share what you have, even especially if it takes you out of your comfort zone.  It's pretty simple.  Here are the lyrics, with my slight modifications in place.  Maybe they will speak to you, too.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
Where the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling--
Yonder peasant, who is he? 
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence,
By St. Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine, 
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bring them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together.
Heedless of the wind's lament
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night grows darker now
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page.
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shall find the winter's rage
Freeze the blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, all good folk, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing:
You who now shall bless the poor
Shall yourself find blessing.

It's not just the song, for me, but also the arrangement that is so important.  I love the melding of a traditional western carol with Celtic and Middle Eastern musical elements and the instruments you don't normally hear outside a medieval/Renaissance festival. The Middle Eastern aspect actually places the song in a historical context like never before, and it’s an important signpost in these dark times when many Americans think Islamophobia is the way to go.

I hope, wherever you are, that you find peace in your heart during these darkest days of the year. 

* Glory to God in the highest
**And on earth, peace to all people