The days are getting longer – had you noticed? Today will be one minute and nine seconds longer than yesterday. Sunrise hasn’t changed, but the sun now sets later. Soon the sunrise will accelerate too, and the northern hemisphere will hurtle towards summer.
Our grandson sent a photo of himself on a beach in Mexico. I must admit that my first reaction was not delight. It was envy. I looked at the sparking sand, the turquoise sea, the fluffy clouds. I could imagine warm sun on my shoulders. I wished I were there.
Why, I wondered, would anyone live anywhere but in the tropics?
But I know why, when I look out my window. Grey snow, piled along the roadsides. Brown grass. Bare tree limbs, black against a sodden sky…
I need these seasonal reminders so that I can fully appreciate summer.
If I lived in Puerto Vallarta, another perfect day would just be another day. Ho hum.
And if I lived in Australia, this last month, with daytime temperatures soaring above 50C – and that’s in the shade! Imagine it in the sun, with a forest exploding into flames around you! – I suspect I’d yearn for a misty-moisty Prince Rupert morning.
We need contrasts to appreciate their opposite.
Contrasts between light and dark.
Contrasts between heat and cold.
Contrasts between youth and age.
Life is yin and yang. All yin, or all yang, makes Jack a dull boy.
Author Joan Chittister mused on the down times of life, the winters of our discontent. “Where did all the joy go?” she asked. “Yesterday life was clear and vibrant. Today it is endlessly bleak. The darkness is unyielding.
“There is no light here, we think.
“But we think wrong.
“There is a light in us that only darkness itself can illuminate. It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God, and we are not it… Only the experience of our own darkness gives us the light we need to be an illuminating part of the human expedition…”
Light and darkness
Another author, Frederick Buechner, had similar thoughts. “If darkness suggests a world where no one can see very well; if darkness conveys a sense of uncertainty, of being lost, of being afraid; if darkness implies conflict, between races, between nations, between individuals; then we live in a world that knows much about darkness.
“Darkness is what our news is about. Darkness is what most of our contemporary literature is about. Darkness fills the skies above our cities. And in our single lives, we know much about darkness too…”
But the days are getting longer again.
Darkness – whether real or symbolic – is not invincible. It cannot be. Because even the smallest light can dispel it.
The winter solstice is thus both a measurable fact and a metaphor. What goes around, comes around. The carousel cycles. As Chittister continues, “We know now that life begins again on the other side of darkness… Having sunk into the cold night – and having survived it – we rise to new light, confident that what will be, will be enough for us.”
May light shine into your new year.
Copyright © 2020 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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“Thanks for these delightful thoughts!” Jim Henderschedt wrote about last week’s column, suggesting that the past still lives on in a variety of ways. “Things change, but somehow, somewhere, someone remembers and celebrates, turning ‘what was’ into ‘what still is’."
Wayne Irwin agreed: “Profoundly beautiful, Jim. It’s never over. Not even when the memories fade. It’s the stuff of the life of the world, the universes, the Mystery!”
So did Bob Rollwagen: “Really it is never over. History is a continuation of yesterday. At this moment I am surrounded by family and abundance. This combined with 7 or 8 social events with friends this past two weeks and plans to visit family on the west coast speaks to a reality we all have in our own way. If our eyes are wide open and we are listening attentively, Christmas is just a reminder of what should be important in our daily lives. It reminds us of the joy and love that comes from hope for a better reality for all. We, the few, should take note.
“Christmas has come and gone and will come many more times before we admit that the answer has come…
John Shaffer: “Your comment on reliving events triggered a memory of visiting a civil war site in Virginia in the early morning hours when no one else was present. There was some morning fog and as I walked on the path, it almost seemed like I could feel and hear the presence of ‘something’ as if I was anticipating soldiers coming over a rise in the distance. It was so eerie that I could not stay in that place.
“I often wonder if I would have had the same experience and feelings if other ‘tourists’ had been present. As we are learning, that era [of the civil war] is not over. Racial and regional conflicts are still very real. Even Nazis are feeling emboldened in the current political climate. Thanks a lot, Mr. President.”
Bob Wallace thanked me for reminding him “of the echoes that fill our ‘thin places’ and ‘sanctuaries.’ On Christmas Eve (midnight, communion, and candles) a visitor spoke of sojourning in the ‘ultra-modern’ communities of alternative expressions, and yet, somehow, on this occasion, she needed to remember from whence she came -- a reclaiming of the roots of her spiritual being.
“When my wife and I visited the old kirks of Scotland, there were many echoes of men and women and days long passed, but still present.”
Isabel Gibson picked up the notion of rehearsing our stories: “Sometimes I think we do ourselves, our children, and our society a disservice by not consciously reinforcing those collective memories. And choosing which to remember and reinforce.
“Pre-schoolers in Holland wave Canadian flags to remember their liberation from Nazi occupation -- taught by parents (& grandparents) who weren't even alive when it happened.
“There are innumerable stories in our community, culture, country, and world. Which ones do we remember? Which ones do we teach?”
Richard Best sent me the opening parts of a sermon he has “used a few times (with reworking, of course) over the past number of years. It's titled ‘Hope After Christmas’, he noted, “but the first few paragraphs detail all the unfinished business left over after Christmas.
Richard admitted, “A good friend and critic told me just how depressed she felt listening to the first part of the sermon. Fortunately, when I moved into the Hope part, her demeanor improved.”
Barbara Dadd Shaffer “especially appreciated your version on the Psalm in today's message. Thought I'd just tell you so.”
On the theme of Christmas memories, Margaret Carr wrote, “I just had my last Christmas in my home, with 53 Family and friends who sat down for Christmas dinner. One of my sons-in -law told all the younger generation they should all come for dinner because Grandma had a ‘Best Before Date.’ Grandma is moving to Assisted Living on Sunday.
I started holding Christmas dinners in 1972 when my father-in law died the end of November and it did not feel right to expect his wife to continue holding a Christmas meal for relatives.
“I am not really looking forward to the move but I think it is best for all concerned. I am 87 years old and the home gives me everything I need, and all I have to pay is the rent and my Phone bill. It is even cheaper than staying in my home.”
Although my column connected to Sam Steele was two weeks ago, Gary Kenny suggested it was “perhaps, a distortion of Canadian history to imply, as you seem to do in your December 20th column, that the RCMP (or its predecessor NWMP) was created to bring law and order to the West -- as if that mission was primarily one of altruistic nation-building with only the purest of intentions in mind. As Steve Hewitt, a senior history lecturer at the University of Birmingham and author of three books about the RCMP’s history, recently wrote, the job of the Mounties, ‘effectively, was to clear the plains, the Prairies, of Indigenous people…to move them onto reserves whether they were willing to go or not.’
“Hewitt’s words are echoed by Jocelyn Thorpe, a professor at the University of Manitoba. Thorpe discusses how the Mounties were created for a specific purpose: to assert sovereignty over Indigenous people and their lands.
“Hewitt also says that Sir John A. Macdonald got the idea for the Mounties from the Royal Irish Constabulary, a paramilitary police force created by the British to keep the Irish under control. Macdonald envisioned his own Royal Irish Constabulary, Hewitt says, except instead of the Irish, they would control the Indigenous people already living in what is now Western Canada.
‘I thought I should bring this unfortunate chapter of Canadian history to your attention and hope it is helpful in some way.”
January 1 has passed, but the psalm for January 1 was Psalm 8, one of my all-time favourites. I much prefer it to Psalm 147:12-20, suggested for this coming Sunday. I’m going with Psalm 8.
My God, my God,
how wonderful you are!
There is nothing like you in the whole earth.
I look up to the skies, and I see you there;
Babies and infants open their mouths, and I hear them cry your name.
You have an aura that silences your enemies,
it keeps your opponents disarmed.
I look out into the universe, the infinite distances of creation,
sparkling with scattered diamonds,
and I feel so insignificant.
Why should you even notice me?
Why should you care about a mere mortal?
Yet you chose me to be your partner in creating;
you have shared the secrets of the universe with me.
You have made me responsible for everything I see;
I am one with the whole world --
the rocks and trees,
the birds and bees,
everything that exists in this wonderful world.
My God, my God, how wonderful you are!
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.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
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.)