White Christmas?

At yoga class this morning, my friend Alan shared a lovely poem that he had written. I’m sure he had no idea how appropo it is to my situation. With his permission, I am sharing the poem here. I wish you could hear him reading it with his deep baritone voice and distinguished English accent. But you’ll just have to imagine that part!

He prefaced the poem with this:

“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless.”

Salmon Rushdie

Irving Berlin, who wrote the secular Christmas classic, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” remembered the sight of an Irish family’s Christmas tree when he was a child on the Lower East side. He later said it seemed to him to tower to heaven. In fact, it was a tiny, miserable little tree, but for the immigrant, the holiday represented the magic and wonder of a New World.

White Christmas?

Dreaming of a White Christmas?
Why not? Irving Berlin did, based, by the way,
on no experience.
So here’s your chance to escape the mess of belief and

Grab whatever story
you’ve been telling yourself about yourself
and fling it into the season’s whirlwind!
What comes flying back may surprise you.
It may make you cry. It may make you ache with

Wandering into the story didn’t bother Irving.
Why should it you?
Besides, he had the knack of remembering
something that never happened.
It wasn’t a matter of belief
but an openness to be changed by stories.

Can’t we give this baby-in-the manger stuff a chance to
deconstruct whatever nonsense
we’ve been telling ourselves about the world?
Jesus, Irving, Emma, Fred, or Sue? What’s in a name?
The baby’s the one that matters.

Don’t knock nostalgia.
Irving’s “White Christmas” did something to those who
heard it in 1941.
The story of the mother and her baby
might do the same for us.

Carl Sandburg said this sentimental song crooned
by Crosby, “caught us where we love peace.”
Not a bad place to get caught, a good way to start
dumping the story that’s trapped us
with the angst of clutching and fussing over what?
You name it.

There are plenty of Pearl Harbors to go round. (Who
bombed the financial market?
Who made the golden parachutes?
Yours and mine lost in the mail?)

Bethlehem, like the Lower East Side,
offers us a new world.
“Just like the ones we used to know!” Hardly!
Irving didn’t know squat — this Jewish kid from Russia.
His dismal story didn’t stop him from telling it anew —
discovering a New World.

So, start deconstructing!
See yourself in the mystery.
It’s your story too.
And given the mess we’re in,
isn’t it time to grow into a new one–
into the one where God slips in among us–
the divine New Deal?
Merry and bright!

by Alan Jones, dean emeritus of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.


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