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What Matters Most-- Reflections by Jo Gross

From J.R.R. Tolkien, comes the following quote: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but there is much that is fair; and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”


With the consequences of a surging pandemic, in which most plans are altered, along with an exhausting political year for our country, we sense the perils and are aware of the many dark places. The usual joys of Christmas feel out of reach and we come to this season weary. We are weary on our own, and we are weary together because we feel a pervading sadness for the suffering of humanity and we feel the mingling of love and grief because of our own humanity. So we ask ourselves, “How do we peel off the layers of holiday traditions, rearrange our comings and goings and recognize what matters most at such a time as this?


Words to describe our feelings are hard to come by, but we agree that love, even love mingled with grief, is what the world needs most. But there is another word I would like to consider and that is “rejoice,” which, I admit, may sound inappropriate. I turn to T.S. Elliot who offers a verse suggesting that “we rejoice that things are as they are,” because, consequently, when things are as they are, or when we see our circumstances for what they are, “we have to construct something on which to rejoice.” That’s what keeps us going. We come to grips with our weariness and our limitations and claim our reality. By adapting and looking for the good we cannot see and for the hidden good in the world around us, we construct something new, which is cause to rejoice.


Our eyes open to simple beauty, and we are amazed at what we find. And we realize that what we find is enough. Instead of being obsessed with our own melancholy, we become more aware of other people’s heartbreak. Our own hearts open with empathy and compassion and we are transformed to a new way of seeing and hearing.


We may not go so far as to rejoice that things are as they are, especially this year as we are living through a nightmare, but we grasp the poet’s point when we rejoice that humanity . . . the front line workers, the firefighters, scientists, and the common man . . . is given the resilience to meet the challenges, to be merciful and to create new paths as we learn from where we have to go.


As to our fears and anxieties? The scripture taken from the 4th Chapter of Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians’ comes to mind: Rejoice always, again I say rejoice. Have no anxiety about anything but in everything with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving; let your requests be made known to God and the God of peace will be with you.


And, might we be reminded that with that peace of mind comes hope as echoed in the beloved verse from “Oh Holy Night” . . . “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, as yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”


At such a time as this, isn’t this what matters most . . . that we believe a new and glorious morn is possible . . . that light will overcome the dark places . . . and from the consequences of this painful and wearisome year will come a thrill of hope and a vision of a better world?


Yes, there are perils and many dark places but there is also much good. May we wait with patience for that world in which all people, from east and west and north and south, come together and rejoice.


Jo Gross

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