Subversive carols: “O that birth forever blessed”

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!


Subversive carols: “O hush the noise, ye men of strife”

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

The reason for the season

So many holy days in so many traditions cluster around the point of the winter solstice. Jesus shares his birthday with Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Son. Yuletide gave us decorated trees, flaming logs, and a night-riding gift-giver in furs who might be Odin. Hanukkah, as one Tumblr user wittily put it, celebrates an actual war on Hanukkah–the Jews won. Kwanzaa, too, has the symbolism of abundant light and abundant food.

The days will get longer now, but the weather will only get colder. In my neck of the woods, it might well be the spring equinox, another cluster point for feasts, before it truly starts to warm up. I’m not looking forward to standing at the bus stop on weekday afternoons, in the dark, perhaps in ankle-deep or deeper snow.

Why are we celebrating right now when things are only going to get worse? I think I figured it out. A Jewish friend of mine posted Christmas greetings to Christian friends on Facebook, with a picture of herself wearing antlers. I commented, “Hospitality: The real reason for the season,” and then I thought, Holy shit, it’s time for a blog post.

Hospitality. It’s cold and it’s dark, and it’s going to get brighter yet colder. The ground will be hard and the winds will cut. So we create light and color with our decorations, we create warmth with Yule logs and fires lit and ovens baking warm food. We have a surplus and so we share it. We invite friends and family over, make donations and volunteer to help strangers. We do these things, ultimately, because it’s cold and it’s dark and we’re not going to make it through alone. We share hospitality because we need it.

I’m divorced and I’m alone this Christmas morning, except for my bird, who appreciates his millet treat even if he doesn’t understand why he’s getting it. This is not my first Christmas on my own, but I’m seeing a lot of my friends who are isolated and suffering right now. I did have a party invitation I was eager to accept, but unfortunately, I picked up a cold at my workplace and decided not to go share it with my friends and their friends.

If you are enjoying a holiday with friends and family, food and gifts, lights and warmth today, take a moment to think of friends who might be alone. Call them, text them, invite them in. Show hospitality, because that, not axial tilt nor any one holy day, is the real reason for the season.

Sun gods and pious polytheism

Yesterday I went with my ex-husband and his wife to the Episcopal church where he is presently the organist. They have a Christmas morning service in which the sermon is replaced by a carol-sing (a thing which ought to happen more often, if you ask me). The church is a fairly typical Episcopal parish of the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast: Contemporary language in liturgy, progressive theology and politics, a decent balance between good ritual and social outreach. I enjoyed singing the familiar carols, even though my voice is woefully rusty and I stumble over the changes made to texts for the sake of current theology (“pleased as man with man to dwell”, please, not “pleased as man with us to dwell”).

PSVL said to me a while back, before I had made the decision to go polytheist, or realized I already was, that Jesus and Antinous have been friends for a long time. Lately, after more than six months away from any Christian liturgy or devotion, I have been looking at my relationships to Jesus and to the Anglican tradition and coming to see that while I have respect but no devotion for Jesus, I have an aesthetic love for the tradition and genuine devotion to my ancestors within it–a lineage of saints, poets, preachers, musicians, and mystics mostly congregated within the British isles. And so I put an icon of the Virgin and Child on my shrine, went to church with my family, said the prayers, sang the hymns, and received Communion, with a clear conscience.

One thing I did not do, however, was to recite the Creed. That is where I draw the line. From a Christian perspective, I do not believe the propositions of the Nicene Creed, and I will no longer recite it and commit myself to it. On the other hand, from a polytheist perspective, it doesn’t matter what I believe. I was in the sanctuary of a god, one whom I used to worship exclusively, and therefore I did the things one does in the presence of that god, as I was taught to do as a child, and without offending the customs of that congregation. Then, like a good Episcopalian, I went to brunch after the service, to which I was treated as a Christmas gift.

This evening my shrine is alight with candles, fragrant with incense, and laden with offerings of drink and sweets. The icons of Mother and Child and of Julian of Norwich remain enshrined; the former will probably stay out for the twelve days, while Julian is always with me. I feel at peace and a little bit hungry. I wish a joyous celebration of the feasts of midwinter to all.