‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all over the floor
lay the littered remains of the day just before…
That’s a cynical view of Christmas. No presents left under the tree, just bags of tattered Christmas wrapping to go into recycling. The carcass of leftover turkey lurks in the refrigerator. The music channel has put Christmas albums away for another year and gone back to golden oldies.
There’s not much left of Christmas.
Or is there?
The other night we watched a re-run of The Sound of Music, starring an infinitely younger Christopher Plummer. By some coincidence, the next day a Christmas letter arrived from Bruce McLeod, a friend and former Moderator of the United Church of Canada. He quoted Christopher Plummer: “that the walls of old theaters, churches, and recital halls hold echoes of beautiful events that happened there -- echoes, that if you sit there in the quiet, can be heard, almost re-lived, again.”
I’m told that sometimes, when tourists sit in the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome and turn off their critical minds, they can for a moment feel the roar of the crowd, the smell of the mob.
National Geographic did a special on the graffiti found on the walls of Pompeii, buried for centuries under volcanic ash. Twenty centuries ago, they suggested, those walls were the people’s social media.
“Hush,” our parents used to warn us, “the walls have ears.”
Back then, it was a caution against blabbing secrets. Now, I rather like the idea that the walls of an opera house might somehow still resonate to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s soaring soprano. That a sports stadium might remember Roger Banister’s Miracle Mile. That a street in Jerusalem might remember Jesus’ sandaled feet.
Because that means something isn’t over, just because it’s over.
Somewhere, then, our children’s excited exclamations -- “Oh! Oh! Oh!” -- might still echo early Christmas morning.
Somewhere, my wife’s father still lifts his daughter up to place a shining ornament onto the top of the tree.
Somewhere, my mother still sets out her best china and silverware for dinner in front of the fire.
Somewhere, a couple and a dog still stomp through hip-deep snow to find the perfect Christmas tree.
But there’s pain as well as joy. Somewhere, a collection of waifs and orphans -- a family abandoned by their father, a family who lost a son, an alcohol addict rejected by his family -- gather around a table and, somehow, celebrate friendship.
Somewhere, a widow or widower bites back tears for a first Christmas alone.
That somewhere is memory.
Personal memories, of course. Bruce McLeod wrote of “outdoor skating at homemade rinks, the neighbourhood grocer who knew your name, bundled up crowds streaming to midnight services …”
But also collective memories. That why some of us attend those “midnight services” to rehearse and recall the stories of a couple named Mary and Joseph, and their baby, born in a stable. We gather in worship to renew what Christopher Plummer called “echoes of beautiful events.”
Yogi Berra was wrong. It ain’t over just because it’s over.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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There was only one significant letter about last week’s column, on the implications of copyright law on, among other things, pictures of Sam Steele.
Steve Roney wrote, “It does not strike me as particularly troublesome that depiction of the RCMP uniform is protected by law. Police uniforms are protected by law anyway—impersonating an officer is an offense, and needs to be.
“Religious symbols are not, as you say, similarly regulated. But it seems to me there is an argument that they should be. The same argument, really. As things stand, anyone can claim a religious symbol, and so bring the religion into disrepute.
“An obvious example is the Westboro Baptist Church. They claim to be Baptist, and bring both the Baptist Church and Christianity in general into disrepute, by saying things that are the opposite of their established teachings, and there is nothing the Baptists can do about it.
“A more egregious example still is the swastika, a standard symbol of Buddhism, being pilfered by the Nazis. Terribly difficult now for Buddhists to explain to the uninformed that, no, they are not racists, and no, they did not support Hitler.
“It would surely also be useful for a representative Muslim body to be able to legally declare that this or that terrorist organization has no right to use the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamic’ in their title. Could do a lot of good for the public perception of Islam.
“Permitting and recognizing trademarks or copyright to religious organizations need not, it seems to me, restrict anyone’s religious freedoms. It is just extending to them the same rights we give to everyone else, to protect their reputation. You can still do and say things without calling yourself ‘Baptist.’
“Maybe it becomes a problem if you declared that only the Catholics and the Orthodox have the right to show a cross, because they used it first. Without this, there is a legitimate issue of fraud. What do you do, for example, about Scientologists using the cross image? Isn’t this misleading?”
Bob Rollwagen wrote a general “thank you for a wonderful year of thoughts and insights. Enjoy and warm family Christmas and may the New Year bring as much Joy and new memories as is possible given the reality of our worlds.”
In a letter last week, Calvin Hefner used the term “transitioned” to describe someone who had died. Frank Martens was intrigued, “So I looked up some of the other terms used for dying and came upon the following, some slang, some just plain, uh, humorous: get smoked; at peace; at rest; belly up (one of my favourites); beyond the grave; beyond the veil; big sleep; bite the dust (another favourite); bought the farm (which would be useful in my case as an retired orchardist); and a Cockney version which you have probably never heard -- ‘brown bread’ -- apparently rhyming slang for ‘dead.’”
Frank didn’t include “kicked the bucket.” Which is why cowboys are supposed to “die with their boots on.”
The shortest day of the year has passed; the days are growing longer again (a paraphrase of Psalm 148):
1 Come join the joyful dance of life!
Celebrate each moment of increasing light!
2 When the sun comes out after the snow,
when the south wind blows the blizzards away,
all creation creeps out of its caves
to soak up the welcome warmth.
3 “All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
4 All things wise and wonderful...
5 The Lord God made them all.”
6 God imagined their characteristics and personalities;
8 The rain falls, the wind blows,
frost forms its delicate traceries,
just as they should.
Rain does not rise, nor frost burst into flames--
they know their form and function;
The Lord God made them all.
7 So join the joyful dance of life.
The fish of the sea can shimmy;
9 Peaks and ridges march in royal ranks;
trees wave and grasses weave;
10 Cattle can stomp and marmots can whistle,
Chickens can cheep and porcupines bristle;
11, 12 The whole earth throbs with the pulse of life;
The drums of life pound their passionate rhythm.
Princes and popes, outlaws and outcasts,
all races, all colors, all ages, all species,
swirl together like galaxies glowing in a summer night.
13 In God's great dance of life, there are no wallflowers;
Every piece of creation has a part to play.
14 We humans live and die;
our communities come and go,
our empires rise and fall;
But God's great dance of life goes on.
For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
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ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)