Monthly Archives: December 2014

Christmas in Ireland – guest blogger, Carrie Kohler

Four years ago I spent Christmas in Ireland by myself. I had moved to Ireland that year to study for my masters degree at Trinity College Dublin. I arrived in September on a one way ticket with the expectation that I would not return to the states until my degree was finished the following September. So I found myself in my little flat in student housing on Christmas Day in Dublin. There were a few students in my building who also remained for the holiday with similar reasons to mine for not returning home, i.e. the price ticket of a plane trip across the Atlantic. But there were also a few students who didnt celebrate the holiday, a few who had no family to return to, and one or two who couldnt be bothered with leaving in the midst of such important research.
As I saw people in my building leading up to Christmas Day, I suggested a Christmas dinner around 4pm in my flat. Not a single person confirmed that they would come up out of the 15 or so students left for the holiday. So I went about the next couple days thinking that I would be spending the day by myself.

I had been told by quite a few Irish men and women not to expect snow for Christmas. Ireland is actually a relatively temperate climate. Major weather usually consists of rain and more rain and maybe some more rain after that. As I remember it, there had been a lot of rain that fall leading into winter. Darkness starts to comes on around 3:30pm each day in Ireland as November turns to December and it can feel as if the cold rain has seeped into your bones. At least thats how if felt on those walks home from campus in the afternoon through that season. Finishing the semester had felt like a long sprint and I was ready for a break. And it was right as we were approaching the end of our semester when the snow started to fall. And boy did we get snow. I felt as if the whole island had shut down. Some friends didnt know if theyd make it out of the country but by December 23rd I had said goodbye to the last one. I approached Christmas Eve with snow on the ground and the thought of Christmas Day by myself. My family sent over Christmas presents. My mom had even sent a pre-stuffed stocking for me to enjoy. As the day of Christmas crept closer, the city of Dublin quieted even more. Chr-IrelandThe only places open seemed to be the pubs and churches. I went to a small Christmas Eve service at an Anglican church in my little neighborhood and as I walked home the bells struck midnight. Christmas Day had begun in Ireland. The air was cold and filled with the smell of smoking peat fires. In that moment I felt surprisingly connected and overwhelmingly cared for. There was something in the smell of the burning peat that connected to a deep sense of home inside me.

I set my presents out for myself that night and woke up to a great little pile of gifts. I made myself tea, started my Christmas music and slowly opened my stocking. I met my remaining flatmate in the kitchen while making breakfast and we relayed pastime Christmas traditions to each other. I was surprised to see this flatmate out of her room. She and I weren’t real minglers, her even less than me. And she had warned me that she’d probably just spend the day in her room watching movies. I lit the advent wreath another roommate had made before she left, leaving it to burn through the day. After opening my gifts and skyping with my family, my flatmate suggested watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in the common room.

It was about 2 when the first knock came. A neighbor from a few floors down wondering if it was okay that he came so early for the 4pm dinner. He had brought chocolates to share. We had only met once before but soon he was watching Christmas movies with us. Shortly after him, a few more arrived, and before 3pm hit, the remainder of the building was in my flat. Chr-Ireland1Some had brought wine, others came with dishes to share, a few came with sweets from their home countries that had been gifts from moms and boyfriends and grandparents. My flatmate and I made a big bowl of pasta to share and we all gathered around the small kitchen table. We had sent some people back to their own apartments for extra chairs and we were snug in the small room. There was a tugging inside me to offer a prayer before the meal but I was afraid to. Not all of us gathered together were believers and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. But a new friend from Finland sitting next to me cleared his throat and said, “Would anyone mind if we said a quick blessing?” Everyone nodded their approval and my friend turned to me. “It should be you as you are our host this Christmas.”

So I swallowed my nervousness and these were the words that came to me: “Lord, thank you for gathering us together in fellowship on this day that remembers your coming into a dark world and bringing light. Thank you for the food before us. Care for these new friends gathered here. Amen”

It wasn’t groundbreaking but it sealed the warmth in the room that Christmas evening. There was conversation and Christmas music into the night as the snow continued to fall outside.

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Whelmed

It’s been hard to write for the last few weeks.  There’s so much going on.  And there’s so much that catches my emotions.  Reading, with deep frustration, the stories from Ferguson and New York, the shattering of an admirable image in Bill Cosby, the destruction of pensions, the confirming of the brutality by the CIA, the escalation of ISIS… just all hit and wore me down.  After spending weeks, casually, and then a solid week intently, studying the community care developed in the Brehon Law of Ireland, it felt withering to stand in the shadow of the news of our days, the shadow of death of life, future, and hope for so many. There are headlines splashing the margins of our local paper for days now sharing the story of the murder of a young teacher that was just random, a burglary that went so wrong.
And with my life feeling pretty good right now, that can make me wonder if it’s okay to feel okay.  Is it okay to have joy when so much hurts around me?  I’ve come back from a serious engagement with study I thoroughly enjoyed and then spent a lovely adventure with my wife.  I’ve walked back into work that I love, with a staff I so appreciate and in a place where I see engagement and strength growing in people.  This is the moment when people I know have asked why or gotten quiet because they don’t want to admit that they’re loving life.
But asking why in this moment is the same as asking why in the moment when so much sucks.  We can figure out whyWhy is not of God.  The answer to the why we ache for isn’t as deep as we want it to be, because it doesn’t really touch truth.  If it did we would be dealing with a maniacal or whimsical tyrant who was either out to get us or just playing with us.  The why of life is the simple cause and effect we all know.
What God does is serve.  As we are willing to receive his presence and his care, his wisdom and his resources, we start to walk in a place where we should be crawling.  The nature of God is serving and this is what he provides us when we are in need.  What is frustrating in that this image is connected with weakness.  Real weakness resides in the ones who are served, those who don’t know how to do it or don’t know where to find it or don’t have resources on which to draw.  The one who serves is the one who can get things done.  And God provides us with the resources we need to deal and then to do and to become more, the servants of others.
As we are healed, God infuses the assurance of grace in our lives that allows us to gain the courage and wisdom to come alongside those who are in the same kind of need from which we’ve grown.
So, I bow my head in gratitude for the goodness I experience in this moment and then I look at the work I’ve been given the strength to do.  It took me a bit to go back and ask for the strength and that didn’t happen until I remembered how grateful I was.

Blessings,
Geoff