Yesterday Erinn and I, along with our dear friend Sam, sang Christmas carols for “Jane”, a Dale friend I’ve blogged about here. Jane has been living in a long term care facility for the last four years after suffering a major stroke. She hasn’t spoken, eaten solid food, or moved the right side of her body for those four years.
When I first started going to see her, Jane would weep with tears that communicated that she recognized me. Over the years, there have been fewer indications that Jane knows who I am, or if our visits make a difference to her. But when the three of us walked through the door yesterday, Jane started to weep again. Throughout our visit she would calm down, then start to cry again We held her hand, sang carols to her, and prayed for her before we left. It was so sad, and I think it was also very good.
I can’t imagine what Jane has endured these last four years, spending every moment in her bed, unable to communicate. But I can guess that of all the carols that we sang, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear rang the most true, especially verse 4. If you’ve never really absorbed these lyrics (as I hadn’t until this year), I invite you to read them all:
- It came upon the midnight clear,
- That glorious song of old,
- From angels bending near the earth,
- To touch their harps of gold:
- “Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
- From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
- The world in solemn stillness lay,
- To hear the angels sing.
- Still through the cloven skies they come,
- With peaceful wings unfurled,
- And still their heavenly music floats
- O’er all the weary world;
- Above its sad and lowly plains,
- They bend on hovering wing,
- And ever o’er its babel sounds
- The blessèd angels sing.
- Yet with the woes of sin and strife
- The world has suffered long;
- Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
- Two thousand years of wrong;
- And man, at war with man, hears not
- The love-song which they bring;
- O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
- And hear the angels sing.
- And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
- Whose forms are bending low,
- Who toil along the climbing way
- With painful steps and slow,
- Look now! for glad and golden hours
- come swiftly on the wing.
- O rest beside the weary road,
- And hear the angels sing!
- For lo!, the days are hastening on,
- By prophet bards foretold,
- When with the ever-circling years
- Comes round the age of gold
- When peace shall over all the earth
- Its ancient splendors fling,
- And the whole world give back the song
- Which now the angels sing.
This has become my favourite carol, because it pulls no punches. It acknowledges that life is hard, and that we are in desperate need of peace. May Jane, and all of us, know deep hope in the midst of this weary world.
Yesterday was one of those days when Erinn, Meagan and I had to give our heads a shake and re-adjust ourselves a few times.
The day started with a pretty chill breakfast and art drop-in, with many of our folks quietly creating art using some newly-acquired adult colouring books while another community member flipped pancakes and fried up some bacon. The peace and homey-ness was palpable.
This time needed to be cut short in order for us to transition into a memorial that folks from the neighbourhood had asked us to host for a friend who passed away suddenly on Sunday. Dannie was very well known around the Parkdale Community Health Center, having spent time in the parkette adjacent to the center almost every day for the last several years. His sister, a number of staff from PCHC and many of his friends filled the room where we had just eaten breakfast. Songs were sung, stories were shared, tears and laughter both flowed freely. His sister requested that a group shot be taken in the parkette, so we filed out into the cold and gathered around his favourite sitting rock for a photo. The grief, and the celebration of a life that impacted so many others were strong in equal measure.
Directly after the memorial, Erinn, Meg and I went to my house to prepare little Christmas gifts for distribution at our Monday drop in, and some more substantial gift bags to be handed out on Christmas Eve. These gifts were made possible by the generosity of the church in which I was raised, (Ferndale Bible Church in Peterborough), and a few other kind friends of The Dale. We sat around my living room, writing “Merry Christmas! Love, The Dale girls” on 120+ gift tags, listened to Christmas music, and enjoyed the smell of scented candles. My gratitude for the generosity of our extended Dale family, and sadness that these gifts may be the only ones our friends receive this Christmas were both very real.
Peace, grief, gratitude. A roller coaster, to be sure. While there is an ever-present risk for whiplash, there’s no other ride on which I’d rather be.
The first Sunday of Advent has finally arrived. I’ve been waiting eagerly for this season of… waiting. Seems a little strange, I know, to be excited about waiting.
There’s a lot about this season that I don’t love. The mindless consumption, the pressure to make things appear perfect, the aching sadness that runs deep in so many of us for whom this season acts as a reminder of loss and loneliness.
These things exist in stark contrast to the reasons that I love celebrating Advent– the intentional season of waiting in hope for the arrival of the Incarnate God. A God who generously gifted us with God’s very self. A God who knows we aren’t perfect and loves us anyways. A God who knows the ache of loneliness and loss, and walks with us in our sorrow. We wait for the celebration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and for the day when He will come again and make all things right.
But we don’t wait passively. We wait and we work. We work to create places of belonging where we embody Christ for one another — where we gift one another with our presence, where we acknowledge that none of us are perfect but we choose to love each other anyways, where we walk with one another through the sorrows and the joys.
The Dale has a number of Christmas traditions, which I think/hope/pray help to create a sense of belonging in a season that can be so hard. This week we’ll bake cookies and go caroling around Parkdale. Next week we’ll have a special meal, with some guest musicians and extra desserts. The following week we’ll be handing out some gifts at our Monday drop-in, and on Christmas Eve we’ll walk around the neighbourhood with more gifts. Then we’ll have a Christmas Eve service, and celebrate Jesus’ birth, and our deep hope that all of our waiting will one day culminate in His coming again.
We wait and work. We bake and sing carols, we gift one another with our presence. We hold onto hope.