“If you’re going through hell, keep going” Winston Churchill
Take a look at the two pictures. The first is a commission I made as part of an event aiming to focus on the Christian meaning of Christmas. I have shared it previously in a colour version. The second image by Henry Moore shows people sheltering in the Underground during an air raid in World War 2. What do the two pictures say to you about safety and care?
So, it seems we might get a few days off lockdown for Christmas. However, the scientists are saying that each day of lockdown could equal a week of lockdown in January. Which means we’re potentially looking at the whole of January in lockdown My question is: is it really worth it? What will we achieve by a collective mass travelling and visiting frenzy? What really is the focus of the desire to put caution to the wind for a few days? I’m not advocating that we keep total lockdown, I think that would be very hard on the most vulnerable in our society, but I am saying that care needs to be used when releasing restrictions so that a free for all does not ensue and we begin next year in much the same state we were in March. The concern is that the knock-on effect will be huge: following the semi-announcement, my husband immediately went into an emergency staff meeting. The university he works at are concerned that there will now be another spike and an ensuing huge drop out as students decide that it really isn’t worth paying nine grand a year to study virtually.
And how must all the Hindus and Muslims among us be feeling when their celebrations of Diwali and Eid were, in effect, cancelled – in the case of Eid, at very short notice. I still think that Muslims in particular were extremely gracious in the way they handled what was, it seemed to me, a completely unthinking and seemingly racist decision to enforce lockdown in many large cities the night before Eid. However, if we all get this reprieve for our ‘Christian’ festival, that will surely rub in the inequality they must be feeling. I say ‘Christian’ because, I really do not think that the Christmas that most people celebrate is particularly Christian and maybe this is part of the issue around this lockdown get out of jail free card.
If we look at the Christian values as displayed in the nativity story of a selfless love that was displayed through humility and poverty, it is hard to find a resemblance to the consumer fest that Christmas seems to have become or the selfish desire to enjoy Chrirstmas, no matter what the cost. The only corelation between the original story and now is perhaps the importance of family, which is something the Prime Minister is maybe trying to help us experience. However, when we examine the nativity in detail, what we see is Mary and Joseph by themselves, having to shack up in a shed in order to deliver their own baby. There are no doting grandparents, or other family members, only some farm animals and a random gaggle of shepherds, maybe some wise men at some point. Not exactly the sort of support structure you want when having your first child. Not only this, but shortly after Jesus’s birth, they have to flee the country as refugees.
We keep talking about the Dunkirk Spirit in an attempt to gee people on in what are undoubtfully difficult times. However, if we look at what Christmas was like during the war, the reality is that it was pretty grim. Most luxury and everyday foodstuffs were on ration, and in 1941 even wrapping was banned to conserve paper. Most people spent their Christmas apart from their loved ones, often those fighting abroad, or prisoners of war, but also women who were away in the services and many children who were evacuees. And this went on for five Christmases in total!
If we return to the idea of Christmas Spirit, we would do well to remember that it is, in its essence, about caring for and showing love to others. That this was what God was up to in the nativity, coming to us, being with us in all our mess and offering hope. And that is, when best celebrated, what Christmas can still be about now even if some of us do not have a Christian faith. To me, the best way I can care for my fellow humans, my family and my friends is to keep being careful so that they and I can have a better 2021 than the year we are currently ending.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- what are you looking forward to over Christmas?
- what or who will you miss?
- how can you find a new focus for the season?
- how can you find love and care for yourself and others?
You will need some wrapping paper and sticky tape
-take time to look around your house, notice what catches your eye: perhaps because it delights you, or it reminds you of or is a thoughtful gift from someone, or maybe it is something that talks to you about a special time or person. Choose a few items if you like
- take time wrapping each item and placing it somewhere where you will come across it in your daily life. Over the next few days, unwrap one item each day and look at it, thinking of all the love and care and delight it represents. Make time to consider the gifts that you already have in your life.
This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission