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This week’s Words of Connection makes no apologies for being less inclusive than usual. Whatever our faith views, it is impossible to overlook Christmas and the happiness and sadness that so many of us have experienced recently. Many of us were looking forward to being reunited with our nearest and dearest, and now we are unable to do so, again. The vacillations of forces beyond our control have caused terrible heartache. Maybe by sharing this sorrow, and also the sadness of enforced isolation, the pain can be eased, if only very slightly.
The Solstice was on on December 21st, but the relationship between Christmas and the Solstice is inarguable. So we open with Winter Solstice and Christmas blessings from John O’Donohue. We follow this with two Christian prayers and two blessings. After this we offer up a meditative Solstice poem which was contributed by a member of the Quaker community. We close with The Christmas Truce, a deeply moving seasonal poem by Carol Ann Duffy.
Christmas must always include a carol, and this time we chose the Wexford carol – arguably the oldest known Christmas carol. It was original Irish, and was translated in the early 19th Century. We have two links and two versions of the song. The first is a traditional one by Libera, the all-boy English vocal group. The second is totally different, yet despite being an on trend version, it still seems to resonate with the ancient spirit of the song. It is performed by YoYo Ma and Alison Krauss. Acknowledging diversity — Classical and blue-grass country music can work together.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for this day and the days to come, hoping that despite the problems we face, there will be an end to the disappointments we have encountered this Christmas… let’s hope we will be made stronger for these uncertainties and difficulties. Words of Connection is for you, and it belongs to you. It thrives on your input and enthusiasm. We plan to continue to make connections this way until the pandemic leaves us, and ceases to disrupt our lives. Thank you so much for your attention, your support and your ideas.
Blessings, and very best wishes,
SOLSTICE AND CHRISTMAS BLESSINGS
Somewhere, out at the edges, the night
is turning and the waves of darkness
Begin to brighten on the shore of dawn.
The heavy dark falls back to earth
And the freed air goes wild with light,
The heart fills with fresh, bright breath
And thoughts stir to give birth to colour.
I arise today
In the name of Silence
Womb of the Word,
In the name of Stillness
Home of Belonging,
In the name of Solitude
Of the soul and the Earth.
I arise today
Blessed by all things,
Wings of breath,
Delight of eyes,
Wonder of whisper,
Intimacy of touch,
Eternity of soul,
Urgency of thought,
Miracle of health,
Embrace of God.
May I live this day
Compassionate of heart,
Clear of word,
Gracious in awareness,
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.
Celebration is an attentive and gracious joy of presence. When you celebrate, you are taking time to recognize, to open your eyes and behold in your life the quiet miracles and gifts that seek no attention; yet each day they nourish, shelter, and animate your life. The art of belonging in, with, and to your self is what gives life and light to your presence; it brings a radiance to your countenance and a poise to your carriage. When your heart is content, your life can always find the path inwards to this deep stillness in you.
TWO MIDNIGHT CHRISTMAS PRAYERS & TWO BLESSINGS
ANCIENT WESTERN RITE: SPOKEN AT MIDNIGHT: Lighting a candle
Oh God, who made this most hallowed night resplendent with the glory of the true Light; grant that we who have known the mysteries of Light on Earth, may enter into the fullness of his joys in heaven, at this most sacred hour. Amen.
CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT PRAYER
Oh God of peace, you fill our hearts with hope at every Christmastide, for we remember again that this is the world that you have loved. May that hope, peace and joy fill our hearts, this night. Amen
Blessings for Christmas
May the humility of the shepherds,
The perseverance of the wise men,
The joy of the angels,
And the peace of the Christ child
Be God’s gift to us and to people everywhere
And may the blessing of the Christ child
Be always upon us.
May we be blessed,
And know the spirit of joy,
In this season of cold,
For it is also the season of warmth and kindness.
May the cold be melted be the warmth of compassion
And find its way to those in need
May those that are bestowed with plenty
Open their hearts, offering kindliness to those with less
So that those with less, do not know hunger this day
But come to know the love of God, the angels and mankind
So that they, and all of us may be blessed this day and for days to come.
Quiet now, feel the kindly pressure of darkness:
be aware of this.
In the warm room the candles are extinguished.
Beyond the window
iron ground rejects the snow
ice wind bears upwards.
Outside in the hall
celebrants are waiting.
It is the year’s midnight: the shortest day.
On that magical threshold
the two eyes of the turning year
the frozen moon and the sun
standing one month in the summer sky
and the midwinter queen comes,
to tell you that darkness
in due time, always becomes light.
You have chosen for the threshold of your home,
your heart, the lady of light
to give you this reminder;
you have crowned her with candles
dressed her in a white dress.
Let people walk after her:
it is always done
in ordinary clothes
carrying red ribbons and tapers:
placed in her hands green branches
it is always done
and now in your darkened room
breathe in the darkness.
The candles are extinguished,
the table is adorned with pine cones, roses,
and little trees, and you are waiting –
suddenly beyond the turn of the door
a moving radiance:
suddenly through the fear of the heart
comes the singing:
and all the while on iron ground
the short ordinary day is dying.
She is coming into your room: Lucia.
She is coming, bearing green branches,
Lady of the midwinter light.
She is there in your room, distant,
crowned with candles, singing a high song,
and the people are all looking at you kindly
and giving you presents
so you know that the day has come
though not for you, and you know that
as each year turns it will return,
though not for you, and you know
that the lady of light is lovely and returns
regardless, uncaring, like the grass…
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE
Carol Ann Duffy
Christmas Eve in the trenches of France, the guns were quiet.
The dead lay still in No Man’s Land –
Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.
Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel, sparkled and winked.
A boy from Stroud stared at a star
to meet his mother’s eyesight there.
An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.
In a copse of trees behind the lines, a lone bird sang.
A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin holding his winter ground –
then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.
Somebody kissed the gold of his ring;
a few lit pipes;
most, in their greatcoats, huddled,
waiting for sleep.
The liquid mud had hardened at last in the freeze.
But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief thrilled the night air,
where glittering rime on unburied sons
treasured their stiff hair.
The sharp, clean, midwinter smell held memory.
On watch, a rifleman scoured the terrain –
no sign of life,
no shadows, shots from snipers, nowt to note or report.
The frozen, foreign fields were acres of pain.
Then flickering flames from the other side danced in his eyes,
as Christmas Trees in their dozens shone, candlelit on the parapets,
and they started to sing, all down the German lines.
Men who would drown in mud, be gassed, or shot, or vaporised
by falling shells, or live to tell, heard for the first time then –
Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht …
Cariad, the song was a sudden bridge from man to man;
a gift to the heart from home,
or childhood, some place shared …
When it was done, the British soldiers cheered.
A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel
and all joined in,
till the Germans stood, seeing
across the divide,
the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died.
All night, along the Western Front, they sang, the enemies –
carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems, in German, English, French;
each battalion choired in its grim trench.
So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist, to open itself
and offer the day like a gift
for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz …
with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.
Frohe Weinachten, Tommy! Merry Christmas, Fritz!
A young Berliner, brandishing schnapps,
was the first from his ditch to climb.
A Shropshire lad ran at him like a rhyme.
Then it was up and over, every man, to shake the hand
of a foe as a friend,
or slap his back like a brother would;
exchanging gifts of biscuits, tea, Maconochie’s stew,
Tickler’s jam … for cognac, sausages, cigars,
or chase six hares, who jumped
from a cabbage-patch, or find a ball
and make of a battleground a football pitch.
I showed him a picture of my wife. Ich zeigte ihm
ein Foto meiner Frau.
Sie sei schön, sagte er.
He thought her beautiful, he said.
They buried the dead then, hacked spades into hard earth
again and again, till a score of men
were at rest, identified, blessed.
Der Herr ist mein Hirt … my shepherd, I shall not want.
And all that marvellous, festive day and night, they came and went,
the officers, the rank and file, their fallen comrades side by side
beneath the makeshift crosses of midwinter graves …
… beneath the shivering, shy stars
and the pinned moon
and the yawn of History;
the high, bright bullets
which each man later only aimed at the sky.