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.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
~ Christina Rossetti
Singing Christmas carols has always been one of my favorite Christmas traditions. Growing up in rural, Central Illinois town we had the gift of knowing most of our neighbors. And in December there was most always snow. Enough snow to get in your shoes if you didn’t wear boots, and enough ice to fall on your fanny if you weren’t paying attention. My sisters and some friends would get together as it was growing dusk, and started singing and walking. When neighbors came to the door, we would stand outside and sing two or three songs for them. Sometimes we’d be invited in for hot chocolate. We walked and sang up and down the streets. It makes my heart feel so happy that I can still sing the alto line and most of the words to all the carol’s “greatest hits.”
“In the Bleak Mid-winter” has become one of my favorite carols. “Snow had fallen, snow on snow” continues to resonate within me. I know that weather, that cold, those winter-only sounds. My history is held in those long winter nights when all that you could hear was the crunch under your boots, and if there was enough moonlight you could see your breath. I know those words and that feel.
We are not yet in mid-winter, it will come soon enough. We have now moved through mid-Advent, leaning toward Christmas Eve. A week yet for this season, still a week for our hearts to feel what this season brings. There is a tender timelessness about these words. Grief holds well these words, “frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone…” As with many hymns, they were first poems later put to music. Ms. Rossetti’s words companion so well how deep loss feels. There is a cold and a weight that takes up our whole world sometimes; it’s all we see imagine around us.
And as her words continue in her poem, so is she inviting us to continue. Living. Her word-painting encourages us past how things feel now and into a greater picture. She invites us past what is into what can yet be.
The last stanza rings true of the message of this season. We are not stationary objects, always to be in one place and time. We are living cells and spirits called to breathe our next breaths, take our next steps. Her last stanza can provide a map for making our way in and through these coming days.
She asks, “What can I give him?” And perhaps this can be a healing piece of these days. Giving. What can I give? I am still here. I am still contributing. I am still needed and purposeful. These words of healing are also the words of our life’s faith journey. “For it is in giving…” that we find our balance, our healing, our purpose.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan (now a freshman at Guilford College) and Sam at sophomore at DHS in Decatur, GA.