In the Bleak Midwinter – Christmas 2021

Photo: by Janet Small – Nativity Arrangement by Our Grandchildren

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. (Psalm 22.9-10)

I’ve had a lot of wonderful Christmases. There are the childhood memories of family celebrations. Janet and I were married 10 days before Christmas. We’ve had 40 years of celebrating with our children and grandchildren. We’ve even spent a Christmas Day in Bethlehem standing within feet of where Jesus was born. (Coincidentally, my dad also spent a Christmas Day in Bethlehem during World War II.) 

It was 75 and sunny that day that day on the West Bank as we drove by the Star & Bucks coffee shop in downtown Bethlehem. It was hardly the “Bleak Midwinter” we hear about in the Christmas Song or the “Bleak Midwinter” in pre-climate change “Minn-a-soda” where I was raised. 

In the bleak mid-winter 
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, 
Water like a stone;
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In my family of origin, Christmas Eve was the reference point for Christmas celebrations. There was an abundance of presents, children and grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. Christmas Eve also came with an abundance of conflict, fighting, competition, hurt feelings, temper tantrums, and scheming. This was mostly from the adults.

In this context is my favorite childhood Christmas memory. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve. I went ice-skating for several hours. My friends were already celebrating or traveling, so I went alone — or should I say in solitude. I pretty much had the rink and chalet to myself. It was snowing.

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, 
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter
Long ago
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A few blocks away was a public nativity scene. Off to the side was a message: “Wise Men Still Seek Him“. While there were a few scattered attempts to get us to church as kids, most of my theology came from TV and Christmas songs. Yet this nativity scene fascinated me. Why? Because I believed this story. 

Without being formally taught, I already had a faith in Jesus Christ. But how did this happen? How did I get to this faith with sparse and often erroneous teaching about Jesus combined with a strong dose of myth, tradition, sentimentalism, and fairy tales? The Gospel of John explains why. Jesus reveals himself: 

  • “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
  • “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
  • “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The wise may still seek him according to the nativity scene, but there is something even more profound: He came to seek me! He found a way to reach me apart from the church, theological training, or good works. This is the part many miss about Christianity. It’s the seeking and acceptance by Jesus Christ of who we are — just as we are. Once we embrace our status that “We are loved”, it opens up new possibilities and we find the magic in Christmas.

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1In the Bleak Midwinter. Poem by Christina Rossetti and later turned into a Christmas Carol by Gustav Holst. Information and poem formatting provided by Wikipedia

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Quotations: Part Eleven

I’ve been sharing quotations on Facebook and then recapping on this blog. These quotations typically come from my own reading/learning/listening and therefore have significant meaning in my life (or at least to a life I aspire to).

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We tend to think that the future happens later, but we’re creating it in our minds every day. When the present falls apart, so does the future we had associated with it. And having the future taken away is the mother of all plot twists.

― Lori Gottlieb

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Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.

― Daniel Kahneman

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There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.

― Alain de Botton

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Damage begets a different destiny than one you might have had otherwise, but it does not preclude having a life or making things that matter. Sometimes it’s not despite but because of something terrible that you become who you are meant to be and set to the work you’re meant to do. 

– Rebecca Solnit: Recollections of My Nonexistence

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If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. 

– Gospel of St. Thomas / Quoted by Dani Shapiro / Interview: From The Inside Out Podcast with Rivkah and Eda. 

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You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. 

– Eugene H. Peterson

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Almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it.

― David Foster Wallace

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She said to go ahead and feel the feelings. I did. They felt like shit.”― Anne Lamott

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Quotations: Part Ten

I’ve been sharing quotations on Facebook and then recapping on this blog. These quotations typically come from my own reading/learning/listening and therefore have significant meaning in my life (or at least to a life I aspire to).

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Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.

― Alain de Botton

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We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them and they end up using us.

― Eugene H. Peterson

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There’s another story about wounds and repair . . . It’s about the Japanese art of kintsugi, which literally means golden repair. It’s a method of mending broken ceramic vessels with a bond made of powdered gold mixed with lacquer. The result turns the breaks into veins and channels of gold, emphasizing rather than hiding that the vessel has been broken and making it precious in another way than it was before. It’s a way to accept that things will never be what they were but that they can become something else with a different kind of beauty and value. 

― Rebecca Solnit: Recollections of My Nonexistenc

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“You are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behavior than by hearing surprising facts about people in general.” 

― Daniel Kahneman

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Before diagnosing people with depression, make sure they’re not surrounded by assholes.

— Lori Gottlieb: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

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Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles.

― Source unknown / Quoted by Dani Shapiro / Interview: From The Inside Out Podcast with Rivkah Krinsky and Eda Schottenstein.

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Quotations: Part Nine

I’ve been sharing quotations on Facebook and then recapping on this blog. These quotations typically come from my own reading/learning/listening and therefore have significant meaning in my life (or at least to a life I aspire to).

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Spend the afternoon, you can’t take it with you. – Annie Dillard

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The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future. – Daniel Kahneman

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A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. – Daniel Kahneman


I would beg to disagree, but begging disagrees with me . . .
Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up. – Fiona Apple

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Myriad forms of injustice became visible in ways that made it seem normal to recognize them and easy to forget by what toil they became visible (which always raises the question of what else we do not yet see, and for what failings future eras will rebuke us). – Rebecca Solnit

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I think it’s tragic that people still have to march, protest, and fight for rights that I’ve had for over sixty years. – (I said that.)

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Quotations: Part Eight

I’ve been sharing quotations on Facebook and recapping on this blog. These quotations typically come from my own reading/learning/listening and therefore have significant meaning in my life (or at least to a life I aspire to).

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The sheer pleasure of meeting new voices and ideas and possibilities, having the world become more coherent in some subtle or enormous way, extending or filling in your map of the universe, is not nearly celebrated enough , nor is the beauty in finding pattern or meaning. But these awakenings recur, and every time they do there’s joy. – Rebecca Solnit: Recollections of My Nonexistence

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To forgive is to grieve—for what happened, for what didn’t happen—and to give up the need for a different past. – Dr. Edith Eger: Holocaust Survivor 

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For me, childhood roaming was what developed self-reliance, a sense of direction and adventure, imagination, a will to explore, to be able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back. I wonder what will come of placing this generation under house arrest. – Rebecca Solnit: A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. – Bessel A. van der Kolk: The Body Keeps the Score

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I speak because I can to anyone I trust enough to listen. 
You speak because you can to anyone who’ll hear what you say.
  – Laura Marling

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