A Thrill of Hope

Christmas is over. Bing’s gone back to a global-warming green Christmas after severe winter storms. Clarke Griswold has taken down the lights one strand at a time. Tiny Tim survived, thanks to Scrooge’s repentance and intervention.

Yet, this Christmas felt more like Carol of the Bells than Jingle Bells, didn’t it?

Just before Christmas, I found myself burned out, edgy, and tired. The sprayed on painted snowman and reindeer display in the window at Burger King didn’t help my lack of spirit nor did the smells of the Christmas tree lot kick start the eggnog in my veins when I walked by each night as I listened to podcasts and processed my day on my urban trek through the Christmastide.

Just after Christmas, I feel the same.

A few days before Christmas Day, I found myself in a locked area of a nursing home with seniors who no longer knew their names. I was visiting a woman from my parish who was in an activity room where they were about to play Christmas Carol Bingo. I sat at the table with all of them as the activity coordinator invited me to play. I disqualified myself, since I pretty much know most Christmas carols, and I wanted to just visit. The residents at the table wanted me to play, too. So, I did.

I stayed, I played, and I won. They were a tough group: even though they no longer remembered who they were, these carols were still in the mix and haze of dementia.

Then, before Christmas there was the funeral for a former narcotics officer with the RCMP, I was asked by his deeply-devout Roman Catholic wife not to mention God because he was an atheist. Besides, she believed enough for the both of them. Her husband had been diagnosed with cancer a few years before, and he referred to his treatments jokingly as “Club Chemo.” Most of the people attending his funeral were retired police officers. His sons weren’t too interested in religion, either. So, out of respect for them all, I didn’t mention God during his funeral; however, I did say at the beginning that asking a minister to not talk about God made me the last person he handcuffed.

Norm saw the world in sin and error. He saw the world pining for it. Long lay the world, indeed. And he worked hard, day by day, person by person, case by case, to change his city. He saw people at their worst and hoped for the best. There’s something holy in that. This year, I have done several funerals for those who have overdosed on fentanyl. One mother told me, of her adopted daughter addicted to the drug in Vancouver, “When the emergency room would call to say that my daughter had overdosed, I asked them to tell her when she woke up, “Your mother loves you.” She was a slave to that drug. Change shall he bring, for the slave is our sister. At her funeral her mother said, ‘That drug and her pimp no longer have her; we do.’

The year 2017 has laid waste to hope; launched a ballistic missile attack on facts; and it has given those of us in the helping professions ulcers trying to care for the least and the last. No wonder, for many of us, Christmas seemed a wee bit hollow, and an even more political story than it has for a good many years. In their book, “The First Christmas” Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan speak of the violent world into which Jesus was born.

Christmas Eve worship was political and spiritual. It’s a radical act to light a candle and to sing, “Sleep in heavenly peace” in a world with so much conflict.

One of my favourite stories about people treating each other well happened when I was in an elevator at the hospital during Christmas. I was standing there, wearing a clerical collar, with two doctors when a cleaning cart was pushed in and a janitor greeted them. They all knew each other. One doctor asked the janitor how he was, and he replied that he actually wasn’t feeling well at all. The doctor took his pulse and said, “You should go to emergency,” to which the janitor replied that he would, after work. The doctor said, “No, you’re going now and I’m taking you.” As we stood there the janitor said, “Well, what better place to take a heart attack than in an elevator in a hospital with two doctors and a priest?”

Somehow, there’s  a  thrill of hope to see people caring for each other.

And the weary world rejoices.

And the soul felt its worth.

In this season of Epiphany, as people have taken down their Christmas trees, and have turned off the Christmas lights on their homes and in their apartment windows, perhaps we need the light more than we realize.

There’s an old proverb by Samual Rayan that gives me a moment’s hope.

It says,

“A candle is a protest at midnight.
It is non-conformist.
It says to the darkness,

‘I beg to differ.’”


  1. Emily

    Thanks for this; it’s beautiful.

  2. Lia


  3. Katherine Murphy

    Thank you for this reflection. I know many people, especially those in helping professions found 2017 exhausting.

    I find kindness, humor, and insight here. Thank you. I also go into the archives at OnBeing and listen to the unedited conversations with wise people.

    What I found in 2017 is the health and the time to volunteer with League of Women Voters. I spent over a dozen years isolated by illness. Now, in this window of health, I am being useful in a larger circe. In trying to focus on what I’m for and to try to be present for those I meet, whether walking the dog or grocery shopping or talking about civic participation with high school students.

    May 2018 bring you joyful adventures, , generous companions, and access to the well of solitude to replenish your strength.


    • Heather Williams

      Katherine, this is also a beautiful reflection! Thank you for the inspiration.

  4. Jo

    Thank you. This is a beautiful and personal reflection. It also captures so much emotion for so many.

  5. Jeff Doucette

    Profound and soul stirring.

  6. Carol

    Thank you for sharing this!

  7. Heather Williams

    Thank you for this. I felt similarly over the holiday, but keep trying to light the light.

  8. Kathleen Unger Hart

    CHRISTMAS 2005
    by Kathleen Unger Hart
    December and this sad old world
    Hauls out the Christmas lights again,
    And every Christian nation rings
    With “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.”

    And still the wars go dragging on,
    Diseases threaten worldwide death.
    Earthquakes, floods and famine kill
    Ten thousand at a single breath.

    In this dark world, so cruel and grim
    What difference can this tinsel make?
    Only to mirror a little light
    From whatever Source, for the Light’s sake.

  9. BeLikeADuck

    Scrolling through twitter this morning…trying hard to gear up for yet another day of I can’t believe these things are happening but I have to find a way to keep fighting, keep helping, keep hoping…and I click to find this.
    Not a coincidence.
    This post was a gift: a message, a gentle hug, a powerful reminder. From God — through you — to me.
    Thank you

  10. Clay


  11. Carolyn Nord

    It all boils down to Light and Darkness, doesn’t it?
    What makes vision possible for us, and what makes it impossible to see.
    We have eyes that look out upon the world around us and see the both the joys and the sorrows of our fellow humans, and Nature of which we are not only a part, but excruciatingly dependent!
    (Joy to the World! What a Wonderful World!)
    We close our eyes to look inward, to turn out all “distractions” – to be in a spiritual Island…this does seem to quiet us, to calm us, but we’ve pushed out of view where Life is happening constantly. It’s a different place…alone, no demands, no presence around us to navigate…
    (Silent Night! I am an Island!)
    Light and Darkness…not so much Good and Evil…but at such a season of holiday…more so chosen Vision or Chosen Blindness. Can I share in the Joys of the former, seeing the happiness, the exultation, the unique activities around me as I walk through my world of plenty? Can my eyes reach those places where there is need that I can assuage in some way? May I ever sing with the caroleers and gift another of my time and care in the way their need runs? And may both be a integral and most necessary part of the Celebration of the Sacrament of One Another?
    (I Wonder as I Wander. Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.)

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