Here and There

Right before Christmas I went with my mom to Northern Ireland, where we used to live, to pick up my grandmother to bring her to stay with us for the holidays. A trip to Europe is exciting, no matter the reasons, and this one came with some interesting revelations.

I had not been back to Ireland for almost 9 years – I was only 14 the last time I was there – so there were a lot of things that I had forgotten that I needed to get used to. For example, in N.I. they drive on the other side of the road. Every time we ventured out in the car (even though I wasn’t driving) felt like a near-death-experience. On the first day there I think I gripped the seat cushion tightly for the entire car journey.

In N.I. anytime you go to someone’s house (no matter the time of day or length-of-stay) you get a cup of tea. A cup of tea with milk and sugar. Alongside this cup of tea are biscuits (meaning: cookies), cakes, buns (meaning: cupcakes), pastries, and other deliciousnesses. Seriously, no joke, when you wake up in the morning you have a cup of tea, then, before you go out, you have another cup of tea, then, when you arrive at your destination, you have another cup of tea, then, when you’ve been visiting/shopping/travelling for a while, you have another cup of tea, then, when you arrive, you have another cup of tea, then . . . well, you get the picture. I drank a lot of tea.

Another interesting thing that I discovered about N.I. is that everyone talks in hushed tones when out and about. Continually in coffee-shops, stores, or on buses, I would say something or (horror of horrors) laugh out-loud and then be subjected to the icy glares of the locals who had overheard me, classified me as an American, and judged me for my raucous laughter.

Something that I realized while in N.I. is that my accent really doesn’t fit in anywhere. I don’t have a ‘Norn Iron” accent (although when I stepped off a bus one day and said to my aunt, “och and thar’s yer wee huse nae” I would’ve begged to differ) and I don’t have an American accent (although all of my relatives thought I did, many of my American friends would say that I don’t). I guess I don’t really fit in anywhere anymore. I’m not “from” N.I. any more than I’m “from” America. For awhile during my trip I was very conscious about how I sounded – careful about how I phrased things, deliberately altering my intonation to make myself sound less American. Sometimes my mind got confused – words that I’ve been altering for years to make them sound more American got mangled in my mind on the way out because I didn’t know how to pronounce them anymore. In the end I just gave up and said words any-which-way and hoped that the person on the receiving end of my conversation understood me.

That all being said, don’t go away with the impression that I didn’t enjoy my time in N.I. – I had a wonderful time visiting with family, shopping, eating real fish and chips and chocolate, seeing proper sheep with black faces, and using two-pound coins. It was amazing. I refuse to wait another 9 years before I got back. In fact, I refuse to wait 2 years before I go back.

I suppose the part about my trip to N.I. that confused me was that I didn’t really fit in there. In much the same way that I am a foreigner in America I am a foreigner in Northern Ireland. I have a foot in both camps, I suppose, and a foot in neither. Does that make me a more astute observer of culture? Probably not – I don’t know. But it wasn’t until I went there and came back that I really felt that this world is not my home – that, as a Christian, I couldn’t, shouldn’t, really fit in anywhere exactly. I think it was once I made this connection that I stopped worrying about it – stopped trying to change my accent, stopped trying to muffle my laughter on buses, stopped pretending that I knew how to use the weird computer-chip credit card machines. And once I stopped, it was much better. It’s nice to know where my home is, and it’s nice to know that I’ll feel at home there, once I arrive. In the meantime, I think I am going to cultivate an increased use of the word “wee” into my vocabulary. It really is an excellent wee word.

Ring Out Wild Bells

Well, it is officially the Christmas season now, I suppose. I’ve been doing my Christmas shopping, baking Christmassy treats, and planning festivities. And yet it isn’t Christmas yet. It’s still Advent. Technically Advent is the time leading up to the arrival of Christ on Christmas day – but it also allegorically follows the suffering of the people of God who have been waiting for the coming of their salvation. The four weeks leading up to Christmas serve as a reminder of the difficulties of this life while waiting for the coming of the Messiah – the consolation.

I think I’ve been living in my own personal advent season for the past several months. It’s like an ‘almost winter but never Christmas’ feeling that comes when hope is deferred. I guess it happens to everyone now and again – that feeling of being constantly in a waiting-mode and unable (or, at least, too afraid) to get out of the cycle. All the Advent carols are in minor keys. Perhaps it’s just me, but it’s so much more fun to play songs with minor chords.

But I can’t live life like that – constantly playing a mournful melody and scraping the ice off my car with no Christmassy reward. Eventually I need to change key – eventually Christmas day will come. Eventually the winter will end.

I suppose what I am trying to say here is that Christmas is a promise – that life can have peace to end the suffering, that joy will come in the morning, and that “Aslan is on the move.” Maybe my own advent season will not end this Christmas day, but the promise of Christmas is that this time will end – that there is never a winter without the promise of Christmas for the Child of God.  And so, for this reason, there is a thaw in my winter – a major chord thrown in my minor melody – Christmas is a reminder that our suffering will end, that it has been portioned out, that it has been borne by another.

So, child of Christ, if you are like me and feel the weight of the world – the longing for relief – do not despair. Despite the rampant commercialization of Christmas, the cheesy song-lyrics, and the over-abundance of shoppers on the streets, let each sparkle of this season remind you that we do not suffer as those without hope – for Christ is coming, and He has come, and someday soon your Christmas morning will dawn – bright, new, and filled with hope.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

For those that here we see no more;

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party strife;

Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson