I don't expect I'll be posting again until the New Year, so let me wish a very happy Christmas to everyone who reads this blog.
I'm hugely thankful to everybody who reads, comments, contacts me privately, prays for me, and so on.
People keep saying to me this year: "It's going to be very hard without your father at Christmas". It certainly adds a tinge of melancholy to all the Christmas rituals. But it's not as bitter as I feared. In fact, it gives me some comfort to include him. We said a prayer for him as we decorated the tree this year, so that he remained a part of it.
The prose-poem "Death is Nothing At All" by Henry Scott Holland (actually a passage from a sermon), which is often read at funerals, includes these lines which always bring a tear to my eye, and which I enthusiastically affirm with my own heart: Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
My father loved Christmas traditions, and this blog has its own; my favourite Christmas poem, "The Burning Babe" by the Jesuit poet and martyr Robert Southwell, who was executed in 1595.
As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I calléd unto mind that it was Christmas day.
I wrote at length about the poem here. (I must admit the metrically awkward sixth line still makes me wince.)
There is an excellent reading of the poem in this YouTube video.
Nollaigh shona daoibh go léir!