A little singing

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Cold windy weather today after bright blue skies over Christmas.  A time to take stock, tidy up a bit, or, if you are the dog, lie flat out on the sofa, legs in the air, snoring.

It’s been a back-to-back week of celebration beginning with a saturnalia last Sunday, followed by Christmas parties and culminating in a Boxing Day family gathering yesterday, the feast day of St Stephen, for whom this neighbourhood is named. In the middle of it all, I attended a very sad funeral for a young friend who died in an accident in the prime of his life, It’s been one of those years when lots of people seem to have passed over, and in recent weeks, two more friends have been bereaved of fathers.

It’s curious how the word ‘celebrate’ encompasses both the tipsy singing of men in the pub in reindeer hats, and the solemn committing of a much-loved person to rest.

It’s an in-between time. The Middle English word ‘solstice’ refers to the sun seeming to have stopped.  The nights are no longer drawing in, but nor are they yet visibly getting shorter. A time to draw breath.

And drawing breath makes me think of one of the great pleasures for me of Christmas – the singing of carols. Our historic local pub has a close connection with St Stephen’s church and until the 1950s, the landlord combined his duties with being the sexton of the parish church. The church choir lead carols in the Beverlie every year and again, accompanied by the Salvation Army Band, in the centre of Canterbury on Christmas Eve, attracting thousands.  And, at Midnight Mass and Christmas Day in the cathedral, another chance to sing those familiar words, with their melodies rooted in the English folk tradition.

And it was a wonder to walk home on Christmas Eve under starry skies and to see the precise and bright crescent moon.

So, poem for today, one of my favourites by Li-Young Lee and his poem ‘The Hammock’, which conveys, delicately and non-dogmatically, the mystery of what it means to be alive, briefly, in the face of eternity.  How to respond to this mystery?  A little singing.