In the Bleak Midwinter
The Medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich once imagined and described the infant Jesus holding a small brown hazelnut in his tiny hand – a symbol of future hope. She also had a vision about the whole of creation, as small as this tiny nut:
“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so, have all things their beginning by the love of God.
In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”
― Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
In the Bleak Mid-Winter of 2020, the holy family (see our creche photo) are frozen in the shadowy snowdrifts as we contemplate God keeping us all in the palm of a hand. We remember Christmas past and how much we simply took for granted-travelling where we wanted or inviting friends and loved ones for eggnog and Christmas cheer. We remember the simple joys and warmth of human contact, carols and the smell of greens in church. All these things we hold dearly in the palm of our hands and no-one can take those memories away from us, not even in this bleak mid-winter.
An EMPTY CHAIR MEMORIAL has been created in our baptistry in St. Paul’s. It represents the 3,000 fellow-citizens who are taken daily by the Covid 19 pandemic -a figure that is unimaginable by any scale. Too many empty chairs this Christmas and New Year. We think of the first responders and medical staff who continue to sacrifice to be beside those who cannot breathe on their own, care and comfort them, and remember how many of them will not be able to spend time with the families this week, because of their vocations. It is extraordinary what our medical and scientific community has done this year and is doing 24/7.
Reflecting on the early AIDS crisis, there are similarities and differences with this current pandemic. What was also extraordinary in the mid 1980’s that science not only identified what was causing this strange disease but within 18 months had developed an antibody test to identify it. Even back then, we were skeptical: “This is a test for blood and not for people -don’t trust it.” we would say. The cynics and the anti-science lobby were similarly spreading their veil of suspicion and negativity back then, as some are doing right now with the advent of vaccines. Science has progressed so much since the mid 1980’s yet we still mistrust.
I heard a nurse from Los Angeles say this week as all the ICU beds are full, “If you want to thank us, wear a mask and observe all the social distancing protocols and avoid unnecessary travel”.
Mile and I were hoping to spend New Year in Florida, but like so many of us, plans had to change, and we will be spending our Christmas holiday at home and will make the best of it. We can always go to Florida later in 2021. A friend in Fort Lauderdale reported about half the people he sees on the streets and restaurants are not wearing masks. The sun may be shining, but we are truly living through one of the bleakest times in the history of this nation when a significant section of our population is oblivious to the pleas and cries of the nurse from LA.
I hope members of our community will come by the open church this week and light a candle, say a prayer and write the names of those who are departed as well as the names of loved ones we cannot see in person this year. The empty chair is both a focus for our loss and the enormous sacrifice many are making to move through the bleak mid-winter to a springtime of hope. The church’s decorations look beautiful and the sanctuary hold us all in her warm hands, so come by and be silent. Say a prayer and write a name. We will offer the eucharist on Christmas Eve just outside the door between 5 and 6 pm and again on Christmas morning from 10-11 a.m. Dan and I will be available to any of you who would like to pray with us or share your loss and hopes for the future.
Thanks to everyone who continue to support this church and make it such a channel of hope and inspiration as a community incarnating the Love of God. This is Christmas and nothing or no-one can take this away from that great holy procession of Bethlehem pilgrims that we call the church.
Rev. Canon Albert J. Ogle