I will light Candles this Christmas: Candles of joy despite all sadness, Candles of hope where despair keeps watch, Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days, Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens, Candles of love to inspire all my living, Candles that will burn all year long.
by Howard Thurman
Just the other day one of my nephews asked what I hoped for the new year. At least I think he used the word “hope.”
After a brief pause I replied that I hoped the same thing I hope every day: shalom – the Hebrew word for peace.
As I understand it, it’s so much more than the absence of conflict. I hope that of course: the end of war between nations, the end of hostility between neighbors, the end of animosity within families.
I also hope for shalom/peace, in the sense of good health, healing, and wholeness. I hope for communities where all are truly welcomed and treated with respect. I hope for safe places where the gifts of each and every person are held sacred and celebrated. I hope for generosity and good will among all.
I hope that for you.
And I pray that after I light candles, I will have the integrity and courage to act in ways that further shalom/peace in our world.
Rows and rows of white headstones, often with an American flag carefully placed at the base of each one, are a common image on Memorial Day Weekend here in the United States. This morning – Memorial Day – I found myself thinking about my visit to Little Bighorn National Monument early in May and realized I had photos of rows and rows of white headstones.
Away from the cemetery are gravestones to mark where men fell in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn was fought along the ridges, steep bluffs, and ravines of the Little Bighorn River, in south-central Montana on June 25-26, 1876. The combatants were warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, battling men of the 7th Regiment of the US Cavalry. The Battle of the Little Bighorn has come to symbolize the clash of two vastly dissimilar cultures: the buffalo/horse culture of the northern plains tribes, and the highly industrial/agricultural based culture of the United States.
I grew up in eastern Montana and knew of the battle as “Custer’s Last Stand” – a terrible defeat for the cavalry.
But for the warriors who were defending their homeland, it was a great victory.
“That night the Lakota men, women, and children lighted many fires and danced; their hearts were glad for the Great Spirit had given them a great victory.”
– Etched on the Indian Memorial, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
“An Indian memorial to honor Native American participation in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, June 25-26, 1876, and to change the name of Custer Battlefield National Monument to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, was authorized by Congress in 1991 and signed into law by former President George H. W. Bush on December 10, 1991.”
From the sign describing the Indian Memorial
The design of the Indian Memorial is circular. It includes the etchings of the warriors (above) and words of “A Great Victory.” It also has a remarkable metal sculpture (below) and quotations from Native Americans.
Isn’t it interesting how we frame a story based on our particular experiences, culture, heritage, and more? What might we learn if we were to truly listen to a different narrative of the same event? Whose story do I/we need to hear today?
Christmas has come and gone. Except for Orthodox Christians who are celebrating today. As I get ready to pack up decorations two memories and a poem come to mind.
My favorite new memory: the cheering of a child at the end of every Christmas carol at the family friendly Christmas Eve service we attended. It felt like a celebration of the music. But could easily have been a cheering of the lyrics. Joyful and absolutely appropriate.
Another lingering memory: the Peace Candles at both Urbandale United Church of Christ and Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Catholic Church (Ankeny). Each had been lit from a flame that began in Bethlehem and was carried to Austria and across Europe, flown to New York City and passed throughout the United States. So many, many prayers for peace.
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people, To make music in the heart.