Thursday, December 24, 2015

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
John Donne's words from his poem "A Nocturnall upon St Lucy's Day" floated through my mind all day on Monday, the winter solstice, the deepest darkness of the year.
I was more than ever aware of it, not only because my own shiney Luci (who brings so much light into my life) is not at home yet - and will be striking out to have wonderful adventures on the far side of the Atlantic before the year is out, but because this year for the first time we were holding a "Longest Night" service here at the Cathedral.

I've offered something similar in other places - but was slightly anxious, here, that nobody would come, since the rarity of funerals in the Cathedral meant that I didn't have a ready-made pool of people to invite, whom I knew might be finding the season tricky.

But - come they did.
Somewhere around 70 of them, gathering at the front of the nave...Bringing all the difficult feelings that don't seem to fit into the expectations of the world at Christmas.
Because, you know, grief and hurt and illness and death don't vanish simply because we are approaching 25th December...
And the mounting frenzy of partying that is presented by the media, the avalanche of advertisements that demand more spending, more eating, more gifts that might yet drown us under a heap of those things that Betjeman refers to as "tissued fripperies" - well that just makes things harder.
We are encouraged to think that this is what makes Christmas...
A gathering of smiley friends and family around a perfect table, a glittering pile of wonderfully-wrapped presents awaiting under a designer tree...
And when our reality doesn't match...when we don't feel like celebrating at all....when we fall out over half nothing because we are stressed and tired from trying to achieve the impossible...
Well, then it's easy to despair.

And that's sheer lunacy - because the reality is all about a vulnerable baby born in poverty
About God giving God-self away in an expression of the boundless love that renders all over gifts unnecessary.
About the beauty of carrying that love to all the dark corners that most need it.

As the boy choristers sang " A great and mighty wonder, a full and holy cure" I realised once again that there is a cure for all the sadness of the world...
Not a cure that makes it disappear, but one that enables you to carry it, because you don't carry it alone.

As we prayed, these words became true once more

Holy God of Advent,
you became weak so that we could find strength
in moments of heartbreak;
you left the safety of heaven
to wander the wilderness of the world.
You set aside your glory
to hold our pain, so that we might be healed.
You became one of us,
flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone.
So come now, Child of Bethlehem;
you have promised to go before us
into our brokenness, into hospital rooms,
into empty houses, into our future.
to strengthen us through our longest nights.
Be born in our hearts, in our hopes, in our weakness....

WE experienced that reality very deeply on Monday night.
As we shared Communion, those words "The blood of Christ, shed for YOU" were unspeakably intimate...Jesus was meeting each person there, with whatever it was that they most needed.
And, unexpectedly, He met me too.

And I got to read the most wonderful piece as a prelude to the Blessing.
Just listen - and let it become real for you as well.

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan Richardson, from

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