Problems with rejoicing (solved)

Yes, it is Gaudete Sunday. Christmas is coming for sure. It follows that we, who at least pretend to believe that Christ has come, and will come again, should be rejoicing. I have worded this in the “ironical,” post-modern way, in deference to the times. For today, we “have problems with that.”

Take Parkdale, if you will. The Lake is warm, after an unusually hot summer; the breeze is gentle; the air temperature only a little below freezing; and that breeze is blowing from the Lake. In consequence, we may be buried under a foot of pure, bright, beautiful snow. Our ancestors — at least, those not from Bangalore or Brazil — tell us to hitch the bells to the sleighs, and the sleighs to the horses, and go gladly riding. Dong-a-ling, dong-a-ling. Shall we not arrive at the church singing?

But no, Parkdale has changed in the last century. It is full of people trying to start their cars; and waiting for the snow ploughs; or grimacing as they spread their salt and scrape their shovels. It will be worse next morning, when they must go to work. Not one of them even owns a sleigh; or a horse; or bleeding bells for that matter. It would seem that we have ruined everything.

The achievement of those ancestors is worth remarking. They came here to the white-wool North, often as refugees from one place or another. Looking back, over the hump of time: not all survived their first winters. The birds began to fly south, and soon they understood why. Staying warm, and staying fed, wasn’t always possible. The preparations had to be learnt.

But they were learnt, and within a generation, a season of fear, death and starvation, was transformed into one of joy and leisure. And this with the help of no power tools, except such as could be turned by water. There is nothing so cozy as a cabin, with the hearth blazing, once the harvest is in. And the picking, the threshing, the canning and the stowing, was gaiety itself. The joy in common work — all hands gathered — is lost upon us now. For now we hire people. And we are all strangers.

My late mother, born as recently as 1920, remembered the gathering at Homeville, Cape Breton. In winter they sang, by the piano; jigged to the fiddle, whistled through the flute; read the Bible and some other books, often aloud; wove rugs and knitted; darned socks and patched shirts; played with the paintbox; told tales, and tales within tales; muffled in their woollens and furs; went out to feed the animals in their sheds. (They bred foxes, but also chickens. This required some tact.)  Or they walked under the shining stars; and the Northern Lights would come to them as angels. Mama in her turn told stories, to my little sister and to me, passed voice to voice down the generations. People long dead lived again in them.

The old carols remind, where it is still legal to sing them, of what has been lost — or will be lost, unless we recover the moral fibre to smack down the “progressive” devils. For the ancient ability to confront evil was also exchanged for our life of ease.

We do not tell stories to our children any more. We give them “children’s literature,” and video games. (They find their own drugs.) Hardly anyone has a piano. We have no notion of the thrill in the gift my mother recalled, of an orange. (That was the Christmas that little cousin Freemont got “the monkey what runs up the stick,” and wet himself when he saw it.) On the other hand, we have smartphones and widescreen TVs.

But these are all worldly delights, remembered or sustained; the Gaudete draws deeper than that. It is available to all men of goodwill, and of all races, by now around the planet — the knowledge that Christ is coming — and all we need is to discard our anxieties, with the bad living that is the cause of them. True, it has a worldly aspect: from our digging holes until the sky shrinks above us. Still, some shafts of light filter down. And Advent is “the rousing time,” to rise from our subterranean torpor.

Our friends, our families, and ourselves, enter and exit. The clouds settle, then move on. There is loss and gain; there is pain and pleasure; there is clarity and then bewilderment again. All of this must be accepted; even loneliness and galling injustice, because we are in the world. But through bad luck and good, the Truth is unfading. In all weather it speaks to us. “Rejoice in the Lord alway,” it is telling. Make your modesty your show. Repent every wrong — then fret for nothing. Direct your petitions in humble prayer. For the Lord is at hand.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.