Here we go, it’s that time of year again. Christmas–the Feast of the Nativity, the holiday season, the day before boxing day sales, whatever you call it–here we go again. Some call it a holiday, others revere a solemn Holy Day. Some find it very unsettling, lonely, even disturbing. Others simply dissolve into the bliss and innocence of either the baby Jesus or Santa with assorted elves and a giant sleigh.
Favourite stories and music erupt in our household, on cue, each year. What is Christmas without Charlie Brown and my buddy, Snoopy. Then there’s A Christmas Story, where Ralphie attempts to convince his parents, his teacher and Santa that a Red Ryder BB gun really is the perfect Christmas gift. The women around here always request Love Actually but Ken only watches it for the Bill Nighy washed-up-senior-rocker bits. He still watches Alastair Sim in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every year. Kathie and Hannah love How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (Not sure what Cameron likes but he doesn’t read my blogs anyway!) Finally there are the Raymond Briggs Father Christmas stories (read the books or watch the movies). And yes, there is a dog at the North Pole.
Then there’s carols, sung less these days though broadcast in store elevators from the day after Remembrance Day each year. Growing up in Victoria, Ken and Kathie both found See amid the winter’s snow beguiling. For Victorians, Christina Rossetti’s poem is fanciful:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Sitting by the Christmas tree the other night Ken told stories of groups of carolers over the years, strolling the streets, visiting care homes, in one instance a horse-drawn sleigh in a cold northern climate with candles in rope held jars. He also remembers as a child a Salvation Army Band touring throughout Oak Bay playing arrangements of Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls. These days you only see bell jingling volunteers in malls or grocery stores attempting to protect their collection from a growing number of grinch-like thieves. “Stick em up Santa” I kid you not–what is the world coming to? I should volunteer to guard a collection station near here. I can be nasty if pushed too far.
While I sleep late most mornings (I am a very slow starter) I occasionally listen in with Ken to Dean Robert of Canterbury’s Morning Prayer services. In recent weeks he has moved carefully through the Letter to the Hebrews. Recently he focused on these words: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Tis the season of hope I am told.
To me these are important words. I cannot live without faith or hope, hope in something or someone beyond my own projection or identification. So I hope that my humans will continue to care for me, to enjoy my antics and my doodle-ness; I will respond faithfully with a similar commitment to and with them. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow and that I will continue to enjoy life. With my humans, I enjoy a certain tangible privilege. I hope to find community as I recently enjoyed at the dog park, where six of us played, and played, and played. There is joy to be found; at least for some of us.
If I have faith that good things will happen in my world, I seek the same for others. Such conviction is tough to find or to grasp right now. The Omicron Virus is disrupting our lives; it is distressing and confusing everyone. As with climate change, it is the speed of exponential growth of infections that scares most folks including myself. Thankfully, the virus is not found in animals, at least not yet.
Extreme weather events pile up, one on another, in our province and country, in Australia, in the United States—each and every day another disaster is named, and its cost counted. Hope seems in short supply these days; fatigue is real especially in the global north as we discover what the global south has known and decried for decades. Privilege is no longer an effective defense against adversity.
So what can I dare hope for, and what is my pawed place in a specific future? While walking in the morning I heard humans explain their hope to each other, that they can do something, some action, some resistance, some resilient initiative which will help us all move in a good direction towards a more sustainable planet—for dogs, for humans, for all creation, mutually interdependent, sustainable and beautiful.
It’s a lot to imagine; it’s a big ask; a big hope. What lies before us is arguably the largest shift in life engagement in the history of humanity as we know it. In the present Anthropocene age humanity has accomplished so much; at the same time we have taken too much from each other and from creation. While David Attenborough told COP-26 negotiators that humanity has more ability to solve problems than at any other time in our short history, those who wield power choose not to do so. Therein lies the moral and ethical failure of those who lead and influence our daily lives most.
Our hope at times seems rather shallow, thin, impotent. Hope can seem hollow, no more than a fanciful dream. Hope must be more than simply a good wish. For the Christian, hope remains a gift of the great Creator, something beyond our thoughts or actions, powerful well beyond the most energetic nuclear fission or fusion. It is founded on inspiration, determination, resilience and community. Combined with faith and love, St. Paul tells us that hope conquers all (1 Cor 13:13). Our hope thus emerges in combination with our own abilities and the welcoming of a force beyond our control or understanding in a co-creative unravelling.
All faith traditions attempt to describe or embody hope in various ways. The Buddhist influenced deep ecologist Joanna Macy writes in her book Active Hope:
Active Hope is not wishful thinking.
Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued . . . .
by some savior.
Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life
on whose behalf we can act.
We belong to this world.
The web of life is calling us forth at this time.
Well the world is certainly calling; on the present climate emergency it is shrieking! Creation has a voice and it’s a voice of complaint. At the same time creation sings a beautiful song. If you will, there are two songs competing, simultaneously, for attention, each craving response. Both tell a particular truth; both require an audience. Both are necessary–where failure meets success; limit meets infinity; prediction becomes surprise.
May we all be surprised, this Christmas and at all times. May hope appear even in moments of despair. There is a future, and we are part of it. It is both stark reality and open-ended possibility. That is a Good News story.
Paws raised to all. Woof. Juno