What the Locusts Have Eaten

FIRST: A CHRISTMAS PET PEEVE OF MINE. The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days following the holiday, not preceding. December 25th is the first day of Christmas. Every time someone talks about the twelve days leading up to Christmas, I die a little. Anyway. The more you know.

SECOND: I accidentally talked a lot about Good King Wenceslas again in this post. I’m not sorry about it.

THIRD: Last one before actually getting to the post: cat gallery.



And you thought ‘gallery’ was an exaggeration. All the cats this week.

So. Last week’s post was a bit of a tough time. Understandably. And it’s hard to follow up something like that. I think, however, I can draw upon the inspiration of a few Advent things that I’ve encountered this week to offer some small encouragement.

There is a passage in Joel that I recently contemplated as I read this little reflection. It is describing a time that will come after–perhaps long after–a great calamity, where God will make things right. This is just a bit after we are entreated to rend our hearts and not our garments ( a phrase I have always found deeply moving). God declares,

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.

All that has been lost will be restored. It will not be–cannot be–erased, our wounds and the wounds of the world will not simply disappear. But there will be a truer restoration than anything we have heretofore known. The true peace. More than not-war, more than inner calm; true peace is deep and abiding relational harmony. As in positive peace, the correcting of systemic violence (which is injustice in any form).

That, at least, was the theme of the sermon at church this past week. That the peace so many seek comes less from within and more from doing right by one another. To paraphrase loosely, we do peace by taking care of those around us, in large and small ways. As I have said before, and the lyricist of Good King Wenceslas said before even that, “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.” As a matter of fact, rereading that post, I am just impressed with how well it’s held up. It’s a good one and it explains what I like about that song really well, if I do say so myself. Which I do.

Anyway. The point is this: in the midst of the despair of pain and death and things literally called ‘crimes against humanity,’ there is something else as well. Something, as Samwise would say, worth fighting for. And it is in the fighting that we fan the ember of hope into flame.

There is precious little we can do about the enormity of the problems facing our world. But, I believe, we are called to face them nonetheless. It is not said, ‘Blessed are the peaceful.’ It is said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’

May we all make peace as we can.

Wenceslas, Cold Feet, and Finding Blessing

As a quick follow-up to last week’s post, I just wanted you to know that it snowed again last Thursday night and with much more gusto. It was still not much for someone from, like, Chicago but I was plenty pleased! And it lasted much longer even though it started raining immediately after. Anyway, I like snow. On to new things for this week.

First, this cat picture because a cat laying on a cat is about as cat as you can get, I think.

Also, some of you may wish to listen to this song on repeat while reading the remainder of the post in order to achieve maximum enjoyment. Or at least, maximum Keegan empathy.

Some among you may know from experience that I have had Good King Wenceslas stuck in my head for, not an exaggeration, like eight years. Not just at Christmas–all the time. I get other songs stuck in my head and I’m not always singing it, but if I’m not thinking of anything in particular for a while, chances are it will start playing in the background of my mind and I will likely start humming it. Again I reassure you, this is not an exaggeration. People around me can confirm that I am always singing this song and have been for years.

Making matters worse (or maybe better, who knows) is that I only know really the first verse, and even struggle to remember all of that. I’ve looked all the lyrics  up many times, they just never seem to stick. But last year we sang it caroling with Choral Society and, at least to some extent, I learned more words. And, for the first time in quite a while, I could read the whole story of the carol right there and finally get what it was about. It’s sort of a strange song, as carols about medieval Czech saints are wont to be, but it’s nice, it’s catchy, and I do think there’s a point to it all.

Without going into the actual story of the saint Wenceslas, I’ll just give you a rundown of the tale told by the tune (because I’m not going to reproduce all the verses here, though I encourage you to look them up if you wish). So the king and a servant are hanging out, whatever, on the feast of St. Stephan. It’s cold and snowy outside and the king is shocked to spy a peasant going about his business in possibly a blizzard. Wenceslas calls to his servant who tells him that the peasant lives like three miles away up in the mountains. The king gets the servant to find some food and wine and they set out into the storm to feed the poor peasant and get him warmed up. The servant, though, is having a tough time because, you know, blizzard, and he’s like, “Sire, it’s dark and freezing and I’m gonna say we stop.” Then the king is like, “Nah, just step in my footprints and you’ll be right warm.” And that’s basically it, surprise, I guess Wenceslas is a saint because his footsteps were warm in the middle of a blizzard.

So. Reasons to write a blog post about it, other than to share my involuntary mania with you. Let me give you the last little bit and then I’ll explain. The song ends by saying,

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

And now the title all comes together, yeah? That was the idea. Anyway.

So there’s this whole thing commonly (in my circles, at least) called the prosperity gospel which is basically the idea that being a good Christian automatically results in being healthy, wealthy, and wise. Needless to say, I do not believe this to be the case. Possibly it is what the lyricist of Good King Wenceslas had in mind. But perhaps not.

See here’s the thing, you may have heard it before. Doing good is good for you. Blessing the poor may not make you wealthy, but it can make you rich– in love, mercy, compassion… the milk of human kindness. Additionally, the poor can be defined in many ways. Certainly we should give to the physically poor, whether it be with food, housing, clothes, medical care, friendship, legal representation, common courtesy. But in the same way as there are many ways to give, there are many to give to: the poor in spirit, the poor in health, the poor in relationship, the poor in hope.

I’m rewatching all the Harry Potter movies (and will reread the books too) so you’ll forgive a little HP analogy. At the end of the first installment, you may recall, the Mirror of Erised grants the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s, if you prefer) to one who seeks it but does not wish to use it. When we give without expectation of receiving anything in return, we not only bless others, we ourselves find blessing.

The carol is not about the cold peasant, in fact. You’ll note that the song concludes without the king and page having actually reached the poor man. Instead, the song is about the journey (woo, we’re all about journeys here 😉 ). The story told by the carol is not one of doing good works, it’s about trying to do good works and getting cold feet. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: doing good is hard. Often, it involves a great deal of discouragement, disappointment, and darkness. But, strangely enough, when we seek out opportunities to do good, even if they are confounded again and again, there is blessing in the warm footprints of those who have gone before.

If nothing else, Jesus. Because when all else fails (and all else will fail) he’ll keep your feet warm. He is the God With Us and that’s a big part of what he came for.


Yuletide Carols

Several of my classes are officially done for the term, just a few more sessions next week and then I’m off home! This weekend, I have one relatively brief paper, and then another that isn’t due until the end of January (so definitely not writing that one until January). It’s remarkable, I feel like this term has rushed to the finish. Things often seem to work that way–swift at the exciting beginning, interminable in the middle, and lightning fast at the end. Anyway, here we are.

This week has been pretty good, I haven’t really been suffering undue stress because of finals or assignments (I do sincerely sympathize with those who have). Last Friday, I went with some friends to a ‘Christmas Bazaar’ which ended up being a bit of a disappointment, but we made up for it by having some great Chinese food at a restaurant recommended by a Chinese student in our program. It wasn’t sufficiently spicy for her taste, but I think the rest of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There were six of us, and we got our own private room (not sure how that happened, the conversation was conducted in Chinese) and had a wonderful time chatting, eating, making animal sounds, and discussing our personal physical abnormalities (because that’s what friends are for).

On Sunday, we had a meal together after the service and decorated a tree with ornaments and what have you, and that was delightful. On Wednesday, we had a little rehearsal with Choral Society in preparation for singing Christmas carols at a couple events coming up. Who doesn’t love Christmas carols? It was a lot of fun. FYI, this is one of the few areas in which I’m comfortable with favorites: favorite carol is O Holy Night and favorite song is The Christmas Song, though Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is a close second. I knew almost all of them, though there were a few that were unfamiliar or I knew the words and not the tune. Interestingly, some of the ones I knew had slightly changed lyrics–similar but just a line or two of variance. It was sort of a disorienting experience in large part because it was so unexpected. For example, in Deck the Halls, where I’m used to singing “Don we now our gay apparel” the Irish sing “Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel” (surprise, the Irish version references drinking–and that’s not the only time!). My favorite, though, was the version of Silent Night that we sang, no questions asked, in English then Irish then German. That just made me smile inside and out.

It made me think of the traditions associated with Christmas–not the actual things we do, I guess, but the things we feel. For me, at least, the feeling of Christmas is coziness, joy, comfort, togetherness, excitement, thanksgiving. I’m not really maligning the commercialization of Christmas (mostly because I think doing so is almost as commercialized as the commercialization of Christmas itself, if that makes any sense) but getting at the feel-goods of the season. We decorate with evergreens and cover things in lights. And people (at least, the people of my ancestors–northern Europeans–and probs other peoples too) have been doing this long before Christianity. This time, the darkest, coldest, harshest time of the year has been transformed into the brightest, warmest, sweetest time. It makes me feel cool about being a human being, that we have persevered through conditions that were really very awful by celebrating the goodness that we know will come–and in fact, we make it come in spite of the awfulness! Think of those living in modern-day Norway 2,000 years ago. All they had to keep them going was the thought of spring, the knoweldge that days will grow longer and warmer and kinder. Think of the mostly pagan, quasi-Christian traditions that we still keep–evergreen boughs, Yule logs (at least in cake form), feasting, singing…we’re still just a cold and hungry people seeking light in darkness.

I don’t know, but there are some thoughts on the season. Things in the world have seemed so especially dark of late, so remember what people thousands of years ago knew–in times of great darkness, we ourselves provide the light.

And so I leave you in the words of the season, echoing across a great many years:

Wolcum Yule!