One year a friend sent me a Christmas card that showed a cartoon cricket playing a violin and humming the notes that danced over its head. Then on the inside, the card said: “Hum bug! Merry Christmas!”
I’m feeling a bit “hum bug” myself this year. Yes I know ’tis the season to be jolly, and yesterday at church we lit the candle of joy for the third Sunday of Advent.
But there’s been so much grief this year, hasn’t there?
From the flooding in my part of the world, to the tornados in central and southern U.S., to earthquake in Haiti, to COVID around the world. From the personal to the political, in church and community and the wider world, I see the traces of grief everywhere.
That’s why this year I’m especially drawn to the sixteenth-century carol, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” Even though the traditional title isn’t the most inclusive, and substituting “Gentlefolk” is less than satisfying, this old English carol still speaks to me in its tidings of “comfort and joy.” Yes, there IS joy for those ready to celebrate. And for those who are grieving, there is also deep comfort. I love this version of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen by Loreena McKennit, a Canadian singer, composer, harpist, and pianist.
Another source of comfort and joy for me this year is Through Grief: An Anthology by Leane Winger (2021). Leane and her family were part of my church, where both she and her husband were active in worship ministry, and I’ve continued to follow Leane’s development as an artist. My husband and I are currently reading her debut novel, The Door, which is a story of mountaineering, friendship, and mystery. I can’t say more since we’re not finished the book yet, and besides I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for you!
In Through Grief, Leane shares some of her personal journey with grief, and so helps readers reflect on their own journeys. I especially appreciate the way she pairs each of her nine poems with one or more photographs in the first half of the book, then gives readers a look behind the writing of each poem in the second half. The book’s structure encourages readers first to take time with each poem on their own, and only then to go behind the scenes with the poet.
Thank you, Leane, for sharing your journey through grief, and for your permission to share excerpts from your beautiful book here.
by Leane Winger
O Mountain, where have you gone?
Bulwark of strength
Beautiful, you pierced the sky,
Defined the horizon
A solace once, for restless hearts
Place of belonging
Compass points spin, undefined
Fearful absence dominates
A new horizon
But there is one unchangeable
A refuge still remaining
In the chaos
O Mountain, know I will not fear
Though all else may fall
Still He is here
Behind O Mountain
As I wrote “O Mountain”, I thought about all the different kinds of mountains that can dominate our inner life. It isn’t just parents, but also ideas, beliefs, memories, locations, treasured possessions, and other important relationships. We all have an inner mountain range that we orient our lives around, and when we lose one of those mountains, we can feel very disoriented and lost for a while. So as I wrote the poem, I wrote it about Mom, yes, but I also wrote it in a way that the mountain can be whatever it is that someone has lost. It is about that grief that we all go through, because we all experience the loss of something we hold dear, at different times and in so many different ways. But God is always there. He is the Great Mountain that can never move and will never leave us. We can truly orient our lives around Him.
“O Mountain” and “Behind O Mountain” – excerpted from Through Grief: An Anthology by Leane Winger (2021). Used with permission.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: What mountains are part of your inner mountain range?
Leane Winger is a Canadian author, poet, and playwright. She says, “At the heart of all my writing lies my faith in Jesus, and my desire to live a life of grace, compassion, and reconciliation. I hope that the words I have written touch your heart, and through that, make the world a better place.”
For more on writing and other acts of faith,