Do you know the story of Hope in No Man’s Land?
The movie does my heart good.
The setting is Christmas, 1914. World War I—raging for only four months—had already become one of the bloodiest wars in history. Soldiers on both sides were trapped in trenches, exposed to cold and wet winter weather, covered in mud, and susceptible to sniper shots.
On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas, asking “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” Powers that be, said “No”.
And yet. On that Christmas Eve in 1914, in a place of mud and cold and bloodshed, something unexpected and extraordinary occurred.
A few men saw what others did not see.
With strains from Christmas carols (in three languages) floating into the sky, soldiers from both sides—in the fields of the southern portion of the Ypres Salient—stuck their heads out of the trenches, set aside their weapons and their hatred, if only temporarily, and walked out to meet in No Man’s Land.
Captain Charles Stockwell was one of the first out of the trench. He writes that he shouted, “Don’t shoot. We don’t want to fight today. We will send you some beer.”
The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There is a story that soldiers from opposing sides played a good natured game of soccer.
One officer writes in a letter home, “We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by Germans—Fritz and I in the centre talking, and Fritz occasionally translating to his friends what I was saying. We stood inside the circle like street corner orators.”
No, the peace did not last. The war continued. And was bloody.
But on this one night…
on this one night…
on this one night…
there is peace.
And yes, I know this—peace—is hard to believe, or apply to our world.
And I know it triggers doubt, and often, disparagement. One reaction to my recent post, “You’re joking. Peace will never happen.” Our world hurts, and so do our hearts. And it is no exaggeration to say that every one of us has a battlefield. And in truth, the battlefield can be entirely internal (grief, loneliness, anger, you name it). I may not need an enemy. You know, someone or something to push against. Although I often create one.
In all fairness, some of us are not in a place where kindness or compassion or hospitality is easy. Because there is something in our world that is heavy, unsettling and sad. And the stories I receive in letters and emails remind me that our world is fragile. So, here’s our question this week: how do we honor a no-man’s land in this kind of world?
Regardless of faith tradition, we could all use a little bit of that. You know, for peace to dwell among us. I know that I do.
Waiting creates a space for recollection… even in the middle, even in the muddle, even in No Man’s Land.
Recollection for what we value.
Recollection for those things and people for which we are grateful.
Recollection for the simple gifts of grace (say, plum pudding and beer on a battlefield).
Recollection of the power of a smile, a kind word, the sound of laughter and a hug.
Recollection that hospitality and inclusion have a way of healing us, just when we least expect it.
I’ve told this story before. But it has special meaning this year. And I needed it.
And let us not forget… “Peace is our gift to each other.” (Elie Wiesel)
And here’s the deal: Peace is always, always small steps. Little gestures.
(Fitting that this reminder for peace this season, does not come from trumpets, or armies, or might, or braggadocio. It comes from a child in a manger. Yes. It comes from a child.)
So, here’s the deal… This week, send up a prayer.
Or perhaps, meet in no-man’s land. You never know…
Practice a random act of gentleness. One encounter at a time… “I see you.”
Our Christmas Eve day we had an unexpected beginning. I’m writing this not long after our early morning earthquake. The kind that shakes the house. But mostly rattling the nerves. All is well…
Just last week, our Seattle Office of Emergency Management website offered information on preparing for hazards—including earthquakes, windstorms, tsunamis, floods, bomb threats and power outages. Emergency planning, it tells me, saves lives. (Unfortunately, I confess that I seldom take notice, until say, my house is doing an imitation of Noah’s ark. Then, I panic, and hunt for instructions about treading water.)
So. Planning. And I realize that it is no different with the need to nourish and replenish my soul in places where peace is vulnerable and necessary. And preparing begins here: peace and gentleness to one’s self. We forget that. The power of self-care, and how that spills to the small world around us.
On Christmas Eve in 1914, soldiers on both sides chose hope. And I say that even if only for a day (or a moment), it’s always the choice worth pursuing.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we lit the Angel’s Candle: symbolizing peace… the purity and justice that the angels and Christ bring to the world. A reminder of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
I loved this news bulletin: “Another way to beat the holiday travel stress is to spend a little time cultivating mindfulness, compassion and gratitude, said Larry Wissow, psychiatrist with the UW School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital.”
Not bad at all…
Savor your time my friends. And I am so grateful we are on this journey together, walking one another home. Peace to you.
Quote for our week…
Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. Parker J. Palmer
Today’s Photo Credit: “Sunset, Manasota Key, Florida. Pull up a chair. All are welcome.” Ed Kilbourne… Thank you Ed… And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
Letters that do my heart good…
–Terry, Your book, Stand Still has been such an inspiration and a blessing. I have ordered four copies to give out to friends and relatives. I pick this book often to keep me motivated. Thank you for your insight into the human condition. I am so appreciative to have this wonderful book. Jayne
–Dear Terry, Happy 69th Birthday! We are here to help blow out those candles and send many blessings for your coming year. We are so glad you are in our lives. We also celebrate Hannakah and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Tradition. We enjoy every precious moment of your Sabbath Moments. Kack and Cynthia
–Terry, I hope that you had a wonderful birthday celebration and ate a big slice of dark chocolate cake. Thank you for all the time and effort that you put into your writing. Some stories make me laugh and some bring tears and I am grateful for all of them. I look forward to starting my day reading SM and being reminded to slow down, to savor and to appreciate whatever the day will bring me. God bless you. Paulette
–Dear Terry, I start my day with your comforting words. You are a gift to me and so many others. Keep it going, Jill.
–Good morning Terry, I laughed out loud at the story of the man and his wife buying wine and your following quip! So funny and also, the much needed reminder to let our inner child out to play and balter. Thank you as always for your wonderful perspective. Happy Monday. Have a sweet, peaceful, funny, childlike Christmas week. Fondly, Kate
–This one really hits home. I am often so taken with your writings that I screen shot them. I want all of this one! Merry Christmas! And thank you. Mary
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Open me up to the magic and possibility
of living within what my dear friend calls
“the grace of the day”—
where every gift is savored
for as long as it lasts,
like being lost in a song,
swimming in its layers,
fully present, strangely free,
wanting nothing more from life
than dancing into the next tune.
All is a gift from you for me.
Thank you, Lord.
A Blessing for Christmas
Let the Star of Hope blaze through discouragement,
doubt, and disgruntledness.
Let the Star of Kindness radiate through
what you think, feel, and do today.
Let the Star of Remembrance glitter in thoughts
of good people and good deeds.
Let the Star of Laughter sparkle in your eyes
and in your smile.
Let the Star of Joy dance in the corners
of your heart that have forgotten to sing.
Let the Star of Patience permeate
that which you find difficult and irritable.
Let the Star of Love encompass your heart,
a ray of welcome for everyone you meet.