Blue Christmas (repost)

Five blue candles of varying heights, lit against the night.

Tonight will be the longest night, the night we’re furthest from the sun (here in the northern hemisphere at least). It’s cold, the darkness draws in, and astronomy becomes metaphor. We cycle through the season, springtime and harvest, summer and winter, but we can be wary about that awareness – what if the spring doesn’t arrive, what if the nights don’t get shorter, what if, what if, what if… It sometimes can feel like the night will go on forever, with the dawn nothing but a cruel mirage. Maybe this sounds like hyperbole. Maybe it sounds like truth.

It’s here that I say that things do get better, that you’re stronger than you think you are, even when you don’t believe that. The nights get shorter, a bit more light every day. But there are times in the year that give us reasons to pause and acknowledge that sometimes things are hard, that there are those who would have been here who aren’t, that there are broken things and broken hearts, that at this time of year the music of Slade and Mariah can get drowned out by the noise of war drums, of scapegoating, of panic, or by the silence of absence, loneliness, despair. We can’t move on without acknowledging grief and sadness and loss.

“Every worship group should have a break-up song.” I can’t remember who said this – they had an Irish accent if that helps – but they were right. We like to talk of hope, of faith, joy; we’re less interested in talking about doubt, of sadness and trauma, of depression and despair and disappointment, as if these were two binary choices rather than different facets of the messiness of life.

In some traditions, today is a day to acknowledge and make room at the inn for sadness, for loss, of worry. The Nativity contains all these things alongside the hope and hallelujahs. Blue Christmas creates a space to recognise hurt and all we’ve lost. And maybe it’s appropriate that it coincides with the Feast of St. Thomas, the doubting disciple, the one who had to wait for a glimpse of hope, the one who embodies both cynicism and faith. Let’s not criticise Thomas too much – he was given hope in the midst of an impossible situation. The candle still flickers, the dawn still peeks above the horizon, a scarred hand still reaches out towards Thomas, towards us.

Because if we celebrate Blue Christmas tonight, it’s in the context of the days getting longer, increments of hope. Things can change, not because that’s an inevitability, but because we can look after each other, weep with those who weep, dance with those who sing. Sometimes, on the darkest night, God can seem far away, but that’s just an invitation to see him reflected in those around us, churches and communities as stars in the depths of the dark, candles raging against the night, a reminder that we’re still in advent, that Christmas is around the corner, that someone, somewhere, needs and wants you to be here tomorrow, next week, next Christmas.

Strictly Come Dancing

Strictly Come Dancing Logo: Gold glitterball with the series name across it, radiating blue rays and glitter.

Well, this is unexpected. Never thought I’d be blogging here about Strictly Come Dancing. Random references to Doctor Who and superhero comics, sure, but not a celebrity dancing competition. I mean, I watch it, but never really felt the need to write about it.

But last night, EastEnders actor Rose Ayling-Ellis took home the Glitterball trophy. For those who haven’t been following this series, Rose is profoundly Deaf and a BSL user, and so that was reflected throughout the series, perhaps most notably when one routine had a period of silent dancing. And none of this journey was about sympathy or pity or “Aww, look at the Deaf girl”; Rose was a damn good dancer who won an exceptionally close competition. This was really about representation for a community that isn’t often showcased on mainstream TV. And this is a big deal, because while this was going on, Channel 4’s subtitles went down for weeks and the government was drawing fire for not having BSL interpreters at their televised Covid briefings.

So why am I talking about this on a Bible blog? Simply because I believe that the Church needs to learn some lessons from this about representation. Too often we’re too slow or too lazy to make adaptations, and while we sometimes make worship accessible, worship leading remains out of reach.; how many stages or pulpits are accessible to a wheelchair user? And yet when that is the case, we’re not learning from the faith stories of those who are Deaf, those who are autistic, wheelchair users or those with invisible disabilities. And yes, that means embracing theologies around disabilities, but also just freeing up everyone to use the gifts God has given them, of realising that Pentecost extends to languages like BSL, SSE, Makaton and any other method of communicating.

So I celebrate Rose winning Strictly. I celebrate my Church and their commitment to bringing in BSL interpreters. I celebrate these things, but I also pray that they’re not the end of the journey but the start.