Christmas Carols – Verses speaking in 2021 to the compassionate heart of this holiday season
Christmas is a mixed bag for many people. Joyful if the tradition re-awakens deep aspirations for peace in one’s own heart as well as on earth, if there is health and happiness in the home, with resources to nourish generosity and resonant connections to nourish the heart.
And if there is illness, or poverty, or loneliness, in the world or in our own homes, the contrast of an idealized Christmas with reality can be a reminder of suffering and lack.
Though it’s been years since I migrated from my Christian upbringing to my Buddhist practice, I can remember the poignancy of singing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the American civil war:
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
There are men and women of good will and great courage of various faiths in humanity all around our world. These two poems invite us to be among them.
A Christmas Carol
by Larry Robinson
Away in a manger
or a crack house
or under a bridge
or in a bombed-out village
or a refugee camp
or in the mesquite shade close to the border wall some Mary is giving birth.
Even as you read this
a child is being born.
What if one of these were the promised one, the beacon of hope, the seed of a new light in a dark time?
What if they all were?
What gifts would you bring
if you were wise?
– Larry Robinson
By Elizabeth Herron
First were the boats –
rafts, dories, even an inner-tube,
in the Mediterranean. A boy
washed up face-down in Greece.
Innumerable rescues and many
too late, bodies floating
like fallen feathers. The diaspora
of the 21st Century begins to jumble —
Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Nigeria – They come in waves over land and water.
I wanted to write about them
the refugees, though no one wants to call them that.
Refugees have rights. Migrants
are flightless birds, spoiled fruit, parts of broken promises — pressed between countries, between civil collapse and the loss of arable land – I saw them
on the television in the Nissan Sales and Service lobby
with the sound off
gathered in the winter woods
with their meager consolation of thin jackets and small fires and thin blue tents,
the same blue tents we see along our freeways where P2P-meth users huddle against the sear of uselessness, discarded lives in blue tents everywhere here and there in the winter woods without food, with snow the only water – I saw them
on the TV
with the sound off.
Tired of waiting
my car still not ready
I walked through November’s dusk
to the closest coffee shop – a Starbucks – as the tipped cup of the moon came up above the neon strip of auto row, There she is, I thought, the silver lady pouring her light
on the busy street
on the blue tents by the overpass
and on him — the boy with the animal-ears cap I’d seen on TV in his father’s arms facing a wall of razor wire.
I wanted to write about them to report
from one human to another
about those people in the forest.
An infant who died of exposure is buried there and a Syrian man who drowned in the border river.
There were others too.
The silver lady spilled her cup
on their graves. Days later her light
floods the woods, floods over the snow
stained by their pilgrimage
and over the abandoned debris, the residue of their defeat, evidence of their presence and their departure. Could you say in a manner of speaking from the heart that now those woods are a makeshift sacred ground?
I wanted to write about them
our brothers and sisters seeking milk and honey or just a job and a plate of crappy food and a safe place to sleep. Or just to get out of the killing cold.
I wanted to write about the blue tents – to say those people matter.
I wanted to mark the time and place —
mine walking to Starbucks
on the border of Poland and Belarus
and in the no-man’s-land beside the freeway —
all of us
under the same silver lady.
I wanted to say these people are strangers only because we have yet to recognize ourselves.
– Elizabeth Herron