Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Midweek Musing: Singing Christmas 2

Songs from the other side 

Of course, there are many sides to this festive season. Christmas is not the only festival celebrated at this time of year. I love this fun nod to the breadth of the season from Glee characters singing for Hannukah.

Then there's this very fun Christmas Can Can, telling the story of Christmas season madness (and Hannukah):


Since my tradition is Christian, I'll stick with Christmas: which can be blue, too. Another Glee song from the other side of Christmas, is River, singing missing a loved one.

In many Christian communities, a 'Blue Christmas' service has become a new tradition in the Advent season. These gatherings are spaces in which to remember those who have died, who are far from us for any number of reasons, to hold in our hearts others who, to be held if we ourselves, are lonely, angry, ill, struggling in other ways. 

This is my favourite song from the other side of Christmas, giving voice to some of the most forgotten of our communities: the imprisoned.

In Australia, it is not only the convicted who are sentenced to be detained, vulnerable, innocent, frightened people are held in prisons off-shore, out of sight, out of reach of our compassion, so it seems. Many of them will not hold Christmas as their sacred festival at this time of year. That they are not like 'us' is no reason to diminish their humanity and our own.

As we tell again the story of light born in a darkened world, of a family in a long line of families who experienced persecution and exile, who sought refuge in foreign lands, I cannot help but wonder what foreign land have we wandered into, this land of fear – and how can we sing songs of God to lead us home again?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Midweek Musing: Singing Christmas 1

Singing the Season 

When I lived in Australia, I insisted, for the purposes of songs and cards and decorations, that 'it does not snow in Australia at Christmas.'

Now I live in Scotland, it doesn't necessarily snow at Christmas, but it's certainly a Winter Wonderland.

The festivities warm up as fast as the temperatures outside fall down towards (and below) freezing, and we get to sing our favourite seasonal songs. In coming weeks, I will muse on some of my favourite ways to sing Christmas.

As with some of my favourite ways to enjoy Shakespeare, I quite like both traditional and reimagined ways of singing Christmas. Later in the season, I'll issue a warning to anyone who messes up my all time favourite carol. This week, however, reimagining Christmas carols receives more favourable reception.

A couple of years ago, a friend from my home town reimagined a whole bunch of seasonal songs, including this one, which stays closer to the original melody than some of the others Nathan rearranged (get a taste in this preview – or even better, buy the whole album - Brand New Christmas, available on iTunes!).

Now, Nathan leaves the words alone in his rearrangements, but there are some carols that really do need some revision of words.

God rest ye merry gentlemen is one – how difficult is it to sing 'people all' instead of 'gentlemen'? And yet groups like Pentatonix continue to produce creative and innovative adaptations without making such a change, and for me, that leaves them wanting. We are in the 21st century, people. It's not about pandering to a PC agenda, but about letting our language reflect our cultural beliefs and practices.

Earlier this week, a friend posted on Facebook his concerns about O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and the supercessionist overtones to the promise to Israel of their Emmanuel. I must say, I share these concerns. After so many centuries of Judaism continuing as a vital, thriving and life-giving faith tradition, Christians singing about Israel receiving their Messiah seems to many ears a grating singing of one side of a complex story.

So, since this song is lovely in its anticipation and expectation and hope, not to mention its melody; and as the singing of familiar melodies connects us to our own story, our community, and our shared story, another friend of mine has written new words to this old song.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and fill our lives, all dark and fear dispel,

as once an exiled Israel you found,

redeemed, restored and set on holy ground.

Rejoice! Rejoice! 
Emmanuel shall come to us
and in our hearts will dwell.

O come, O light of Christ, so bright and clear

and lift our spirits by your advent here. 

In all who gather, show us your face,

that we may know the warmth of your embrace. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! 
Emmanuel shall come to us
and in our hearts will dwell. 

O come, O Wisdom, mind and heart divine,

help us restore a world we've let decline.

Enlighten us; your way we would know

and show us where new seeds of hope to sow. 

Rejoice! Rejoice!
 Emmanuel shall come to us
and in our hearts will dwell.

O Advent God of hope, joy, love and peace,

in you we pray our sad divisions cease.

Bind us as one, a people of grace,

for at your table each one has a place. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! 
Emmanuel shall come to us
and in our hearts will dwell.

Words © Sue Wickham 2010

There are many ways to enjoy our favourite songs, and many, many versions of them to choose from. I could list so many more  – and in coming weeks, I will – including some of the incredibly popular renditions by The Piano Guys and Pentatonix.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Throwback to courage in winter

On the day when my copy of Winter arrived, these lines seem a fitting 
Throwback Thursday celebration, from my contribution to the book, 
'We ask for courage', a prayer/poem for Christian Unity Sunday. 

Winter, ed. Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Midweek Musing: body beautiful?

As a child and as a teenager, I was thin, could eat what I wanted. 

Then it all changed. 

Was it the depression, the not so good lifestyle choices because of the depression, the medication to help live with depression? 

Was it the hormone imbalance (PCOS - read about it, it's loads of fun), which who knows how that came about, inevitability, depression, medication, lifestyle choices ... ? 

I was not thin any more. I did not recognise the person in the mirror anymore. 

It took me most of my twenties to learn to like my body again, as it is. And I mean like it, love it: not settle, or come to terms with, or accept. 

I had to learn to approach exercise as something I would do for holistic health and wellbeing; would do because I enjoyed the activity and how I felt because of it. Punishing myself with aerobics and weights at the gym did not suit my personality. I tried to be the person who enjoyed the process, but it's not me. I enjoy walking, because under the sky I find God. I enjoy walking because when I walk the words untangle and compose themselves into poems and stories and sermons. I enjoy the tai chi routine because I like to breathe and move and feel strong. I like its gentle strength, and flexibility. 

If I approached exercise as something I would do to get my body into some acceptable shape and appearance: nope. Sorry. Not a good enough motivation for me. 

I had to learn to eat foods that are healthy and nutritious because I liked feeling healthy. I had to make choices about food for energy, as much as for taste. Going cold turkey (pardon the pun) on sugar or alcohol or fatty foods or chocolate? Not a helpful approach for me. 

When I learned to love my body as it is, to be grateful for its strength and resilience, its very aliveness: then, I chose to move and eat for healthy reasons, for good health. Not for fitting into (pun intended) someone else's idea of what is beautiful, or even acceptable. 

I don't have the confidence of these women to wear tight fitting clothes, though paradoxically a well chosen form fitting outfit can be more flattering than loose baggy clothes that attempt to hide the curves. Truth is, I like the flowing, loose and comfy styles, though.

I sometimes worry that my lack of perceived (my perception) success in growing an audience for my work is because I am not thin and pretty like other poets who seem to have a wider and more engaged following. Perhaps that is a convenient cover for the reality of not being as good as I think I am as a poet, writer, performer.

Every now and then I get to have a real, open and honest conversation with someone who also struggles, as I did recently, with someone who has struggled, and has found a measure of peace and joy in her skin. Oh, there's acknowledgement that some foods are better to eat more often and some foods are better to eat occasionally, for good health. And that the body responds well to regular movement.

But there is also something to be said for celebrating the diversity of human shapes and sizes. In an age of post-Enlightenment individualism, we sure do like to try and squeeze everyone into the same box.

I was called a renaissance woman recently, in relation to my eclectic range of interests, gifts, skills, with the poetry and performance, music, scholarship, and whatever else. One way I tried to learn to love my body in the past was to celebrate being like the renaissance women – painted as objects of beauty and desire in their curviness, a sign of wealth and health and happiness.

So, perhaps I'll claim that image again, for myself. I am Sarah, Renaissance woman of many gifts and interests, and healthy, beautiful curves.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Midweek Musing: help (un)solicited

I asked Facebook friends. I received helpful responses from their experience. I also received further information which, in the voice in my head, sounded condescending and conveying a subtext of you're a child who knows nothing. But I asked, so getting annoyed is more my own sensitivity to being thought of as stupid than anything else.

But when I tell Facebook friends what I am feeling – sad, ill, in pain, homesick – and then get advice about how to fix it, my getting annoyed might be more excusable. For that advice is unsolicited.

Years ago I completed the Myers-Briggs personality scale. Some people find that scale and/ or all personality scales pointless, inaccurate, inadequate. I have found it helpful as a point of reference for understanding how I engage with the world.

I scored strongly on the 'NFP' side, with a balance of E/I. Briefly, this would indicate that I am intuitive, rely on feelings and perceptions for engaging with the world. I have heard the E/I balance described as 'ambivert'; I understand my balance of extravert and introvert tendencies to explain the delicate balance of energy I need to aim for. Too much time with people, and I begin to shut down and crave with a physical intensity solitude; I also don't like crowded spaces very much. It takes longer for solitude to turn to a craving for company, but eventually, too much time without others around and I go a little crazy.

All that to set the context for the telling my Facebook friends what / how I am feeling. I rely on my feelings a lot. Expressing how I am feeling – emotionally, physically, mentally – is helpful to me for understanding myself, and for connecting with others.

That introvert / extravert balance is vital in this vocation I am following. Solitary, but needing community, I gather that community from wherever I can, and have found live and local as well as virtual and scattered communities of support through congregations, family and friends, networks, scholarly institutions and more, in various places around the world. One way of connecting with people is for me to be honest and open about the way I am feeling – the 'good' and the 'bad'. It helps me, because perhaps you will understand and be able to support in one way or another, even simply knowing you know how I am helps me feel less alone. And I have found that it is one way I can help others, for in sharing honestly and openly I have shown people that I am a safe person to whom they can bring what they are feeling, and find welcome, affirmation and care.

So, when I tell my Facebook friends what I am feeling and get advice on how to fix it, that advice is unsolicited, and to be frank, unhelpful. Back or neck pain? No, thank you, I don't want your suggestions for how to fix it – I've lived with it for over 25 years, and I have methods that work. I simply need to give voice to the pain. Depressed? No, I do not want to be told to get out in the sunshine, go for a walk, or whatever seems helpful to you. I have lived with this one for more than 20 years, and I have methods that help me endure and move back towards thriving. I must speak out from the midst of it, for those of us with confidence will help our communities continue to improve our understanding and care for all who live with mood disorders.

When I tell you how or what I am feeling, reflect that back to me to tell me I have been heard. That is all that is needed, and is one of the most respectful and healing gifts we can give to another. To be heard.

And when I want your help, need your advice, seek to learn from the wisdom of your experience, I will ask. I've lived with those chronic conditions, remember, and if I have learnt anything from those experiences (and I needed to), it is how to ask for help.