The following article appeared in the winter edition of Roqueta, Menorca’s English-language magazine.
I see the dentist every six months, so it has become a bit of a running (and probably worn-out) joke to wish the staff ‘Feliz Navidad,’ and ‘Buen Año’ in July. The winter edition of Roqueta has a similar nature, so perhaps it is worth pointing out that Ash Wednesday falls on 2 March next year, with Easter Sunday on 17 April. But of course between now and then all sorts of things will, or may, or may not happen. As we gradually relax restrictions relating to Covid-19 in Menorca, we can only hope that there will be some return to the regular routine of celebrating the forthcoming season with lessons and carols, for example.
Hope. That was the theme of last winter’s Roqueta article, to which Duncan Frazer, recovering from cancer surgery and chemotherapy responded, “Hope lives eternal inside my Emily Dickinson self.” It was a response to my quotation from her poem: “Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul …” It is a sadly poignant thing that the hope of successful cancer treatment was dashed when Duncan succumbed to Covid-19.
Last year’s theme of hope encouraged me to look back over “Church News” in Roqueta for the past five years or so, where we seem to have covered quite a lot of ground. The preceding December I wrote what turned out to be alarmingly prescient words: “Plans can be made, but life may rearrange our plans unexpectedly. Life is fragile.” Well, yes, it is, and the subsequent months, which have turned into nearly two years, saw many plans rearranged, and fragile – and not-so-fragile – lives lost.
In another winter Roqueta, the usual whining about the use of “Happy Holidays,” without the word Christmas, served as a reminder that the word, “Holiday” derives from “Holy Day.” Many of those who grumble about the lack of the word Christmas have forgotten its holy origins, seeing it as a largely secular event related to consumption and materialism. The traditions of Christmas have evolved over time, with services of lessons and carols dating back as far as (and only as far as) 1880, which is not long in 2000 years of church history. And in recent decades we have embraced Christingles (an orange with a candle, a red ribbon or tape, and fruits or sweets), symbolising various aspects of the life and ministry of the Christ child whose birth Christmas celebrates.
So what is there that is new to be said, as we wait to see how “normal,” life will become over the next year or so, and how much change will result?
I have a feeling that we may be facing a winter of discontent. For one thing, many are growing tired of living in Covid World, even though the disease is only in the early stages of being controlled. Regulations and restrictions are seen to be an imposition, or an affront to personal liberty, when in many cases they are designed to protect those who are vulnerable. I wrote earlier in the year about the contrast between investment in vaccines, which protect the vaccinated (i.e. self), as opposed to cooperation with such measures as wearing masks, which protect others (i.e. not the self). Are we committed to our own good or the common good? The disease has not gone away, and we must hope that frustration with protective health measures does not result in further illness and fatality. Every Covid patient who ends up occupying a hospital bed displaces someone else with other health problems or medical needs.
Apart from COVID, there are many politicians who feel that their fortunes prosper more by inflaming conflict than by seeking consensus and cooperation. All too often such conflict serves only to divert attention away from more important concerns, such as the continued pollution of the earth and its waters with plastic, or the need to take action (as opposed to blustering, hollow words) about the earth’s climate crisis. As we approach a season with the theme, “Peace on earth, goodwill towards men (and women),” we might do well to hold on to the mantra of “Peace on earth” as an antidote to those who fuel the fires of disturbance and conflict. As we have seen over the past several years, it is all too easy to fan the flames of division and polarisation – flames which can be very difficult to extinguish.
The season of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve and concludes with Epiphany (in Spain, Los Reyes, the Kings), which celebrates the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ. We might recall that they were late to arrive and warned in a dream to return home by a different route. The season of Christmas tells us that no matter how meandering our spiritual journeys may be, there is always the promise of a spiritual home to which we can return. There is always hope, if we persist in our journeys.
I have mentioned before that the season of Advent, which precedes Christmas, is an opportunity to prepare ourselves to understand better, in spiritual terms, what the message of Christmas means to us, and what it means about us and those around us. Perhaps as we approach shorter days and darker evenings we might spend some time in contemplation about where we need peace in our lives, both individually and collectively, and what we can do about it. Because when the days start to lengthen and the lighter days return we can look forward to Easter, which in fact gives Christmas its special meaning, even if it seems a long way off in mid-April, which will be after my next appointment with the dentist!