“When the song of the angels is stilled;
When the star in the sky is gone;
When the kings and princes go home;
When the shepherds return to 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 the peoples,
To make music in the heart.”
— The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman
As the Internet meme says, “What happened in 2012 stays in 2012.” Good wishes to everyone in Jefferson County for a truly new year in 2013. Personally, I’m pleased to see the back of 2012. (Here’s your hat, ol’ man. What’s your hurry?) Yet, before Baby 2013 stands up and starts walking — I am writing this on New Year’s Eve — I have to wonder about the last quarter of the last year.
Whatever happened to Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas? What happened to the 12 Days of Christmas as the time of celebration? Did it seem to you that everything about Christmas this year was upside down — at least in the outer world? Did it creep into your awareness that what used to be the holy time of preparation before Christmas has become a commercial orgy? Did it seem that the whole idea of 12 Days of Christmas to celebrate the coming of Light into the world turned into a two-month buying extravaganza, long before the 12 Days arrived?
And then, the hullaballoo was blasted to bits by the massacre of 27 — (the violent death of 28 — in Newtown, Conn. How meaningful is a new piece of jewelry, or an iPod, or whatever gift one might have been hoping for, amid the harsh reality of the deaths of small children? “Rachel is crying for her children, who are no more.” The pain of the event was a public assault on every aspect of our society and our stated values, except, perhaps, for the bottom feeders, who immediately began to look for a way to make money from an horrific disaster.
The politics of the situation came into play pretty rapidly, and I will not comment on them here. Despite the politics, everyone who gave serious thought to what happened at the Sandy Hook School was devastated. However you celebrate Christmas, or don’t, you probably came to Dec. 25 with more heaviness of heart than in years past, unless you lost a loved one at or near “the holidays,” in which case they already carried the weight of sorrow.
The question is: now what do we do? How do we go forward? Do we simply try to forget, to become “Comfortably Numb,” as those great 20th century sociologists, Pink Floyd, put it? Or do we engage “the Work of Christmas,” as the great 20th century theologian and mystic, Howard Thurman, suggested. Do we stay awake and watch, as Jesus asked?
To keep from putting all those lost lives at the back of the memory closet, along with the deaths at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora, Colo., and elesewhere, here are some things you can do here in the Eastern Panhandle, at the recommendation of the town government of Newtown, which suggested that rather than sending gifts to people there, you do something in your community, and make it a memorial to the lost lives.
Let’s use the categories Dr. Thurman offered.
“To find the lost”:
The American Red Cross at 1948 Wiltshire Road, Suite 2 in Kearneysville can be reached by telephone at 304-725-5015. It offers disaster and emergency services of many kinds. Also, any of our local fire department/EMT services hav people who literally specialize in finding the lost. Also, the Friendship Fire Company has specialists who help to find people lost on the Potomac and the Shenandoah. For more information, call 304-535-2211.
“To heal the broken”:
The Shenandoah Women’s Center, at 110 N. Lawrence St., serves victims of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse. The center can be reached at 304-725-7080. The shelter’s hotline, available 24 hours, is 304-263-8522. Also, the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic serves sick people who have no insurance. To reach the clinic, call 304-724-6091. The offices are at 1212 North Mildred St. in Ranson.
“To feed the hungry”: Meals on Wheels, at 220 E. Washington St., serves one nutritionally balanced meal a day to shut-ins and those unable to cook for themselves. The program, which needs driver and deliverers, can be reached at 304-725-1601. The entrance to Meal on Wheels is at Mildred Street in the Presbyterian Church office building. Also, Jefferson County Community Ministries,at 208 E. Washington St., in Charles Town, offers a food pantry, a clothing pantry, assistance with fuel bills, and other occasional services. Participants must offer proof of residence in Jefferson County. Volunteers are always needed. Call Bob Shefner at 304-725-3186. Along with that, the Jefferson County Homeless Coalition provides meals, cold weather overnight shelter, and a day program for people experiencing homelessness. For more information, call the Hospitality Center the coaliton operates at 304-919-0146. To volunteer to prepare meals or be an overnight shelter volunteer, contact Becky at firstname.lastname@example.org . To donate funds, call the Rev. P. Lee Brumback, treasurer, at 304-725-5284.
“To release the prisoner“:
Kairos is an international prison ministry program of Christian spiritual formation for prisoners and helps them to transition to life outside prison. An offshoot of the Cursillo/Emmaus/Tres Dias Christian community spiritual formation programs, it is ecumenical. Locally, Harold Taylor of St. James Catholic Church is involved in the Kairos program, and points out that it asks intensive preparation of its participants and a faithful commitment of time. For more information, call Harold Taylor at 304-725-6619.
“To rebuild the nations:”
Please see information about the Red Cross above. Also, many local churches have international rebuilding programs, such as Episcopal Relief and Development, Catholic Relief, and Lutheran World Relief.
“To bring peace among the peoples”:
The Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, has many peace initiatives and works and prays to live them out. For more information, call Neal Peterson at 304-582-0852.
“To make music in the heart”:
By all means, make music in the heart. Here in Jefferson County, you can also make music while lifting the hearts of others. Roberta Ranelli, long a choral director in the high schools in Jefferson County, is now directing the Jefferson County Community Choir, which does two concert seasons, one in the fall in preparation for an early winter holiday concert, and one in the spring. The group has a Facebook page. The choir needs men. For more information, reach Mrs. Ranelli at 304-724-8344. The choir also accepts donations. All the funds from its spring and fall concerts go to worthy community organizations.
Finally, Nan Broadhurst of the Buddhist sangha in Shepherdstown, says this is the perfect quote for 2013. In a long and honorable Internet tradition, I have stolen it from her Facebook page:
From Thomas Merton: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
So, worthy neighbor, I wish you love in the New Year, and suggest that there is much to rejoice in, as this New Year begins. Peace be with you, and may the pilgrimage in 2013 be worth making.
— The Rev. Georgia DuBose is the priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Harpers Ferry.