Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas 2020: A Time of Loss and Grief, Gratitude and Hope

By Michael J. Bayly

At Christmastide in years past I’ve shared at my blog The Wild Reed extensive posts of “reflections and celebrations” – compilations of words and images that celebrate all that the Winter Solstice/Christmas season signifies at the deepest level of the human experience.

This year, however, as 2020 ebbs, I’m very much aware of the upheaval and stress, the grief and loss of the past twelve months. We’re all familiar with the litany of challenges we’ve faced: a devastating global pandemic and the “social distancing” from family and friends it’s required; economic woes for many; a historic uprising for racial justice in response to police brutality that targets people of color; the rising tide of right-wing extremism and fascism, and a stressful election here in the U.S.

Many of us have also endured personal tragedies – some related to the pandemic, others not. In my work as a palliative care chaplain, I’m there for and with COVID (and non-COVID) patients and their families as they confront illness and death. And in the quiet of my own heart, I continue to live with the loss of my friend Mahad.

I must admit that the culminating force of all these things has left me feeling exhausted. I can cultivate and maintain the energy to do my chaplaincy work, but that’s really about it.

I realize that this exhaustion won’t last forever, and I’m definitely aware that I am choosing on a daily basis to remain both grateful and hopeful.

I am grateful for the beauty of creation, for the many life-giving relationships in my life, for the meaningful work I engage in, for Trump’s defeat, and for the coronavirus vaccines that are being developed and distributed. And I’m hopeful that the shift in consciousness that I believe the Divine Presence within and beyond all things is calling humanity to embody, is indeed happening.

You know, for quite some time now I’ve felt that humanity is on the cusp of a major paradigm shift in consciousness. Accordingly, I’ve been praying that each one of us may find the courage to respond, in the context of our own lives, to what I trust is the Divine’s call to move forward into a new way of being in relationship with one another and with the planet. I see this movement, this shift in consciousness, as an intentional decision on our part, individually and collectively, to move away from allowing greed, fear, violence, and mindless consumption to dictate our attitudes and actions, and to instead open ourselves to letting justice, compassion, trust, and sustainability inspire and guide us. Though it can often be hard to trust that such a shift is indeed underway, I trust and hope that it is – for both myself and the world.

That all being said, I also recognize that I must honor where I’m at and how I’m feeling here and now.

So this year, unlike others, I'm not going to exhaust myself further by pushing myself to spend time and energy on a lengthy Solstice/Christmas post.

Rather, I simply share a few photographs I took on the winter solstice (December 21) when I visited the Prayer Tree to pray for Mahad. These images are accompanied by some beautiful and timely words by Brigit Anna McNeill. May these images and words bring insight, rest, and replenishment to each and every soul visiting this page.


Be gentle with that tender heart of yours.

It may be holding a year’s worth of grief inside it.

Be caring with all those parts of you that feel life’s tender moments, childhood pains and unmet emotions.

Take yourself out into the gathering light and breathe a bright ember into the very centre of you, into your heart’s red soft middle, holding yourself in love and warmth.

Wake your heart slowly, allowing it all to be felt, allowing yourself to create space in which to rest and to breathe.

Let the coming light light up your bones and remind you of the gold that is held deep within you.

Related Off-site Links:
This Isn't a Very Joyful Christmas. But in Mourning There Is Strength – Rev. William J. Barber, II (The Guardian, December 25, 2020).
This Christmas, Let’s Rekindle Our Hope for a Better World – Rev. John Rogers (Jacobin, December 25, 2020).
Christmas for Mystics – Marianne Williamson (The Huffington Post, December 14, 2012).
What Christmas Means – Chris Hedges (TruthDig, December 24, 2017).
Why Is the World So Beautiful? An Indigenous Botanist on the Spirit of Life in EverythingTapestry (November 27, 2020).
The Sacred Space of Silence – Paul Bane (Mindful Christianity Today, July 7, 2020).

And at The Wild Reed, see:
The Joy of Christmas (2019)
Christmas 2018 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2017 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2016 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2015 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2014 – Reflections and Celebrations
Christmastide Approaches (2013)
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
The Christmas Tree as Icon, Inviting Us to Contemplate the “One Holy Circle” of Both Dark and Light
Something to Cherish (2012)
Christmas in Australia (2010)
John Dear on Celebrating the Birth of the Nonviolent Jesus
A Bush Christmas (2009)
Clarity and Hope: A Christmas Reflection (2007)

Images: Michael J. Bayly.