“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
There is much that can be said about gratitude. There is also much that can be said about foundations. But when you are going through a crisis, the two are an unbeatable combination. Aristotle said, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Christmas 2017 will undoubtedly prove to be challenging for many people around the world for a variety of reasons. This can be anything from an extreme weather event like hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Maria or Ophelia (Mitchell, 2017), or the six currently raging fires in southern California. However, for my family, it will be the loss of two sisters, Polliana and Beryl, our cousins. They battled illness together for close to a decade in separate countries, but were called to final rest only 9 days apart from each other on October 23 and November 1, 2017.
The questions are as unending as they are numerous: How do you begin to plan for the traditional festivities of welcoming the Christ child? How do you anticipate the refreshing bite of the sorrel drink or enjoy the traditions of making fruit cake, and licking the batter with the spoon? Where do we spend
Christmas? Who will be cooking? Yet, somehow, in the gathering of long unseen relatives, the unexpected visits and calls from childhood friends, and the amazing awe and love that you can sense being wrapped by a jewel-studded sky, you know that you will be alright.
Helen Keller said it best when she said that “hope is going through the darkness with a friend.” Look to the light, my friend. No matter how dark it gets, there is a spark somewhere that grabs your attention and pulls you in the direction of its light. The creation of JK Rowling, Albus Dumbledore invites us to ponder our distressful moments when he reminds us, “… happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
So, what is the strategy to spreading peace and goodwill to all when you are winding your way through a maze of emotions and memories of loved ones that you have known all your life? What is the response when you are called to pick through their possessions to “see” if you want anything that they have left behind? Here lies a notice to all: You cannot take anything with you! Once again, we are reminded through all the natural and man-made storms of 2017, that life is important for the people we hold dear and the memories that we make with them. Yes, things have their place, but it is the simple treasures that you will cherish the most as you contemplate your life through the years.
In this blog, I wish to share my simple 5-point star to light this Christmas season. I must confess before I go further, that anyone who knows me well knows that this is my favourite time of the year – Christmas! No matter what has happened throughout the year – gains and losses, this season and the Christmas breeze that blows across our island home, makes it all new.
Star Point 1: Find the music. Everyone loves music. I find life more enjoyable for all the music and songs that tell of our faith, our love, our losses, and our triumphs. This season is one where the sacredness of life becomes the focus of the year. “Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace” (Pope Francis). Yet, we can only spread joy to the living who remain with us. Who will you choose this year? For Christians, Christmas traditions include the singing of hymns that tell the stories of our foundation in faith. Many carols tell of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the wise men from the East who followed the Star of Bethlehem from their homeland until it rested over the place where the baby Jesus lay in a lowly manger bed (Matthew 2: 1-12).
History and Astrology will confirm that around the time of Jesus’ birth, this star began to appear. But there is more to the heavenly bodies than first meets the eye. What we traditionally call a “star” was an alignment of stars and planets within the constellation Leo (lion in Latin). Also included in this constellation are: the star Regulus (“king”); Jupiter, the king planet; Mars, the “Warrior”; Mercury, the “Messenger”; and, Venus, the “Morning Star.” These all aligned in the constellation Leo, the “Lion of Judah” (Sharefaith, 2017), confirming the announcement of the birth of the Son of God who was the Lion of Judah, the King of the nations, and God’s gift of love sent for the redemption of mankind (John 3:16). Hence, the Magi saw the phenomenon known as the Star of Bethlehem, which identified the one who was “born King of the Jews” Matthew 2:2) (Sharefaith, 2017).
If we consider the distressing circumstances that gave rise to this birth, we can only marvel at the angelic chorus which greeted the infant’s arrival. The forced departure from the comforts of home while heavy with her baby, caused Mary to give birth in very uncomfortable, and unhygienic surroundings. So, where was the light? The presence of her husband, the kindness of an inn-keeper, the blanket of stars that served as the midwife canopy that ushered her baby into the world, and the lowly shepherds reminded Mary that God as still with her and her little baby. This Christmas, the hymn that reflects the gratitude and the foundations in my crisis is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Historical records catalogue this German hymn’s text in the seventh edition of Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, which was published in Cologne in 1710. Do you wonder how its popularity increased? The sacred music was so precious to the German Christians that it became a major force in the history of German church music. It was first assembled by the Jesuit hymnographer Johannes Heringsdorf in 1610, receiving numerous revisions through to 1868. Its use in Jesuit schools ensured its enormous impact among the youth and adults of Germany.
The following verse is most comforting in this time as it reflects the challenge of grief, but clings to the long-anticipated arrival of Emmanuel.
O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel (Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, 1710).
Star Point 2: Appreciate the blessing of family. We are all born into a family. We survive connected to family – by birth or by creation. Through the vicissitudes of life, they are the unchanging panorama of our lives. Daughters look like mothers, sons resemble fathers; aunts, uncles, and cousins have some features of one side of the family, while bearing testament to the relationship that bore them. No one faces loss alone. In tragedy, like the neighbourhood fires that result from electrical problems or the natural fires raging in California, people do not have time to select trinkets from their treasured homes. They mostly escape with their lives, and with each other. Where is the star lighting the way to what is important? It is the faces of those who have survived the blazes with you. Look deeply into their eyes, give them a squeeze on the shoulder, rub their heads or just hold their hands warmly in yours. No words are necessary. Simply breathe. For the promise is yours today, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, ESV). So, if you cannot catch your breath for the troubles that have hit your life, consider this promise. There will be a place of rest if you look to the light.
Star Point 3: Allow friends to share your sorrow. “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light” (Helen Keller). The day after my second cousin died, I was at home, sitting on the couch. I had finally settled enough to do some work, just as I am doing this now. I began typing the first couple of paragraphs when my cell phone rang. I saw a familiar number of a childhood friend, one whom I had not seen in months because I had travelled. I debated about taking the call and finally yielded. I decided that I could get back to work later. After we greeted each other and we made attempts at planning to see each other before 2017 ended, Sarah (name changed) simply said, “Keisha, I know. I know about your cousins. I am so sorry.” Almost a month later, I received another phone call. I was headed out the door on the morning of the funeral and my cell phone rang. Sarah was calling again. I told her where I was heading and she said, “Let me tell you quickly. Maria (name changed) is visiting and is coming down to see the plant on Tuesday. Maybe you can come and visit with her.” I hurried to shepherd my mother and my aunt and uncle who were visiting from New York, to the church. I had no intentions of going because my family would still be in Jamaica, so I forgot about the invitation. However, as I shared with these childhood friends, it became clear that I needed to go. So, I packed an overnight bag and went. We not only toured Sarah’s power plant, but we also met up with other childhood friends who were living in the area with their husbands and their children. We also made a new friend who was facing the first Christmas without her beloved sister. Where was the light in this moment? My grief had shepherded me into this fellowship of sisters. And, for this special new sister, I could share my tears and my arms, and the gift of Simple Treasures (Mitchell, 2015) which continues to heal me every day.
Star Point 4: Do what you can. “Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light” (Helen Keller). Sometimes, if you are used to pushing through a mountain of tasks each day, the grieving process will cause you to feel weary, lethargic, and impede your level of productivity. Understand it for what it is. Allow yourself permission to step back from your to do list and to just “be.” Learn to just exist. It may be with other family members or friends. Or, it may be in the quiet routine of your life. Do what you can. Be grateful for each moment of each day until your productivity levels return to normal. I think you will find, like I did last night when I had the idea for this blog, that your productivity returns when you do not anticipate it. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross proposes that there are five stages of grief. They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Vertical Health, 2017). Allow yourself to go through each one in turn. Then a new normal will emerge.
Star Point 5: Dream again. “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness” (Desmond Tutu). You may not feel it in the midst of your sorrow. But you will find a new dream for your life. By necessity, your life must change as you have lost people who were part of the tapestry of your life. With their missing threads, their contributions that pulled your life in their direction will be gone. So, how do you replace their threads? How do you get new colours back into your life’s tapestry? Begin by sharing the love that you received from them with others in need. Somewhere along the way you will discover a new possibility rising from the ashes of your life. For me, it is the first book that I wrote after I returned to Jamaica. I finished it in 2005. It is entitled: The Courage to be Free. As I grieved, I read it and it healed me. So, I rewrote significant portions of it and decided to release it as a Christmas gift to anyone who is confronting their creed, facing a crisis, and experiencing change. Look for it on Lulu Press as soon as I emerge from the ashes. The scriptures command us,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
I pray that as I share my writings with you that you will continue to look to the Light of all lights. You only need enough for the step that you are on in the middle of a crisis. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). My Friend, always, look to the light because “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us” (Albert Schweitzer).