May Love Rest You Merry this Solstice, As Darkness Holds Us in Her Grace



I grew up with a beautiful Solstice tradition: the Blue Christmas service. Each year, on or near the darkest night, our churches would offer a ceremony to remember those who had passed that year and hold space for the specific pain of holidays without loved ones we so sorely miss. Christmas itself named a broader pain, of injustice, of our many earthly wounds, and it offered a word of hope, of healing: a vision and promise of justpeace for all Creation. But Blue Christmas was different.

Blue Christmas said, sure – there is much work to do. If we really want to be vessels of a mighty Spirit of Love, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work! But… not tonight. Tonight, our work is to pause. To look away from the holy preparations of Advent, from the festive and the merry, and from the coming cruciform Birth. To be still. To turn toward pain we do not want to face. To allow ourselves to rest a moment, in Mighty Arms of Love. And to light a candle.

Sometimes, when I don’t know what else to do, I light a candle. There is something incredibly powerful in this simple act. It draws and focuses my energy with its warmth and flickering light. So small, and yet so incredibly, dangerously powerful, it offers me both comfort and joy. In my Methodist tradition, fire symbolizes that mighty Spirit with which we try to align, to allow to change us and move us, but which we can never comprehend or control. So we light candles, and burn palms, and anoint ourselves with the ashes… but, how do these rituals feel to those affected by wildfires? Who have lost loved ones?

I remember the first Christmas after my grandmother had been killed in a house fire. Lighting candles felt utterly terrifying. Christmas felt terrifying. Merry? Joy? Impossible. Advent felt like some kind of sick joke. But as I listened to the hymns and the Scriptures with forever changed ears, I started to understand this personal side of the Solstice. Darkness can feel so scary – there is much we cannot know. But, if we pause, maybe we can feel the darkness as a holy embrace in the not-knowing. Weeping may tarry for the night, writes the Psalmist; but our tears release our pain into those Mighty Arms, stronger than any heartbreak, such that – unbelievably – there is comfort, and yes, joy. A Little Light of Mine, that gives me the strength to do the work of justpeace. Candles of firelight, powerful candles, within and around us all.

In this dark and holy season, I offer two hymns I rewrote with a Blue Christmas Solstice blessing in my heart. I pray you can find a moment to pause. To light a candle. To feel held. And to breathe in the healing streams of starlight that sing Creation’s new birth.

~ ~ ~

Love rest ye merry, gentlefolk, let nothing ye dismay
Remember Light will come again, again shall come the day
To bring us warmth and hope and life, to cast our fears away
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy!

Love rest ye merry, gentle creatures, winter homes within
Rest in the cradle of the land, surrounded by your kin
Be safe and warm in holy darkness till the spring begin
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy!

Love rest ye merry, gentle Earth, enjoy this time for peace
Though storms may swirl and winds may roar, a Light shines in the East
A beacon of eternal hope, for last and lost and least
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy!
1

~ ~ ~

Silent night, holy night; all is calm, all is bright
Round yon circle, candlelight; holy darkness, holy light
Breathe in heavenly peace; breathe in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night; spirits lift at the sight:
Healing streams from heaven above! Starlight rains down heavenly Love!
Cares and sorrows release, cares and sorrows release.

Silent night, holy night; Love Divine, Love’s pure light
Radiant beams from each holy face; Darkness holds us in her grace
Breathe Creation’s new birth, breathe Creation’s new birth.

Silent night, holy night; wondrous stars, lend thy light!
With the angels, let us sing! With Creation, let us sing!
Light again is born! Light again is born!
2

~ ~ ~

  1. Based on 18th C English carol ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.’
  2. Based on 19th C German carol ‘Stille Nacht.’

 

Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee does Climate Resilience Chaplaincy in the Boston area. She recently earned her Ph.D. in social and ecological ethics from Boston University School of Theology and she is an adjunct professor for Wesley Theological Seminary. She continues to study intersections of ecofeminism, permaculture ethics, grief, and nature connection. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives in metrowest Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.



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16 replies

  1. A Blue Christmas – I never heard of this tradition but I think it makes so much sense – in my own non – religious rituals celebrated 8 times a year I always create a space to feel sadness as well as joy. And Nature witnesses – always with compassion. To “pause” takes enormous courage, I might add. Thank you for this narrative.

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    • I am so glad you are able to make space to pause, Sara. You are so right that it take great courage – that’s why we need each other so much (including all the more-than-human each others). Many blessings to you during this challenging time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So beautiful, so comforting. Thank you! Love rest ye merry!

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  3. I love your rewritten carols! I’ve rewritten several carols, too, but mine aren’t nearly as beautiful and inspiring as yours.

    I suspect that millions of people who have lost relatives and friends to the Covid are feeling a very sad Blue Christmas. I wonder if anyone is lighting candles or finding any kind of comfort and joy, especially I wonder if they actually do feel any safety in staying home and possibly alone during this holiday season. It’s so sad these days. I wish them glowing candles and peace and survival. I wish these things for all of us. And brightest blessings with the tiny, returning light for everyone on the planet. Goddess rest us all merry.

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    • I’m very glad you like the carols, Barbara. And I’m so grateful to be on the journey together with you.

      You have exactly named my prayer this year as well. Thank you for everything you said. Amen.

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  4. We need this so desperately this year. Thank you so much for helping the light to embrace us, no matter who or what our God/dess is.

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  5. Your beautiful, perfect-for-these-times, Post, reminded me of a song I just recently heard: “Fall on Me” sung by the exquisite voices of the Bocelli father/son duo. Thank you so much for writing about grief and loss at this time of year and reminding us to “fall” into the arms of Comfort. Holy Blessings to you, and to all.

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    • Stephanie, thank you for telling me about that beautiful song. I just listened to it, and it’s so gentle and wonderful. Thank you for your blessing; and many blessings to you as well, to feel held and loved.

      Like

  6. Your new hymn texts are wonderful. How does one get permission to use them for parish worship?

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    • I’m so glad you like the hymns. Please feel free to use them in parish worship. The originals are in the public domain; I would put a note of the original author/source, and then ‘revised and rewritten for the Winter Solstice by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee.’ I have more as well, for the Solstice, Advent, Christmas, the Vernal Equinox, Harvest, etc, that I am slowly putting on a website my sister Trelawney and I are creating called Sacred Awen Ministries. The website will be up soon. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What wonderful re-writing and re-visioning of those carols. Gentlefolk, gentle creatures, gentle Earth. So beautiful. “The darkness as a holy embrace in the not-knowing” – poetry. And And your Silent Night as well.

    Sorry to hear what happened to your grandmother. I can’t even imagine the terror that invoked. And yet here you have turned the lessons and the heartache into something so beautiful. Well done! I want to sing your songs.

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    • Thank you, Janet, for your kind words about my grandmother. It was as you say, full of terror and trauma, and it has taken a long time to find healing and peace. I am incredibly grateful for all the ways I have found healing, particularly through the symbols and rituals of my tradition. I am so glad that you appreciate the ways I’ve used these symbols here in such a deep way. Many blessings to you, friend. And I do hope you get to sing the carols. If you ever want, I will gladly lead a carol sing from my piano.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am appreciating more and more with time how our faith tradition gives us so many gifts we may not have noticed or appreciated until we needed them… and they were just… there. Born of the pain, struggle, and hard won wisdom of generation after generation of faith ancestors. Thank you for this moving post.

    Like

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