Like most of the British Isles, and indeed the whole world, Christmas for me begins with The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Each year, Rhys and I sip eggnog on Christmas Eve with our ears glued to BBC Radio Four. When the crystal tone of one boy soprano singing, ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ rings out, goosepimples rise on my arms.
The Yuletide Season has indeed begun.
Even as Rhys and I enjoyed the traditional lessons and carols, what struck me most forcefully this year was the benediction spoken by the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, the Reverend Dr. Stephen Cherry.
In a world where there are no guarantees and your nice comfortable life can go pear shaped at any moment, benedictions provide what I, and probably you, crave most: comfort and peace.
The various clergymen I’ve known throughout my life all had a favourite benediction. One I particularly remember was …
Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling,
and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory
with exceeding joy,
To the only wise God our Saviour,
be glory and majesty, dominion and power,
both now and ever. Amen.
In Chicken Soup for the Soul is a story of another kind of benediction. One that a father and daughter shared as they parted, perhaps for the last time, in an aerodrome. They both said, ‘I love you and I wish you enough’.
The man who overheard this was fascinated and approached the father to ask what ‘I wish you enough’ meant. It was an old family benediction passed down through the generations that went like this:
I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all you possess.
I wish you enough ‘hellos’ to get you through the final ‘goodbye’.
But you can’t beat the Irish for heartfelt and pithy benedictions.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Or my particular favourite:
May the light always find you on a dreary day
When you need to be home may you find your way
May you always have courage to take a chance
And never find frogs in your underpants.
In the far off days before telly was invented and when ‘Nickelodean’ referred to a coin-fed jukebox or storefront theatre, families sang together of an evening, often ending with a benediction hymn. In the 1933 movie version of Loisa May Alcott’s book Little Women, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy sing…
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
My Nain (grandmother) would often reminisce fondly about her family singing together for their own amusement in those pre-telly days. ‘We always ended with the same benediction hymn’ she would say.
God be with you till we meet again,
’Neath His wings protecting hide you,
Daily manna still divide you,
God be with you till we meet again.
So on Tuesday evening when Reverend Dr. Cherry blessed the congregation in the Chapel of King’s College and all of us listening via the BBC as so many thousands have done since the 1930s, I felt it profoundly. It’s been a hard year for all of us. The Parliament was recently shaken up. The American President is fighting impeachment. There is war, famine, violence, disease, pain and suffering both at home and abroad.
As The Festival says:
… let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the
helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick
in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and
the unloved; the aged and the little children …
We need blessing. We need healing.
And so, as 2019 draws to a close, I want to thank all of you who have faithfully read my blog all year and leave you with the final benediction from The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one things
earthly and heavenly, fill you with peace and goodwill,
and make you partakers of the divine nature;
and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be amongst you and remain with you always.
I wish each and every one of you a belated Happy Christmas and an early Happy New Year!