Simple things

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Just at the moment there is a small cartoon that is circulating far and wide on social media. The picture is a silhouette of the nativity scene around the stable. The wording above says, “The first Christmas was pretty simple. It’s okay if yours is too.” Given the current situation this seems to me to be a pretty sensible sentiment and very fitting for 2020.
It did however remind me of what I’ve been saying to the Year 8’s and 7’s I’ve seen recently at our secondary school. As we haven’t been able to have Mass or Eucharistic services at school for quite a few months now, we have introduced Services of Word & Prayer, which take place with various Form bubble groups. These short services have been described to me as being a simple alternative to having Mass. They are of course no real substitute for Mass, but it does give us an opportunity to start the school day with some words from scripture and a chance to pray as a community.
We have spoken about being an example to others, and how we can each make a difference to someone else’s day by what we do and say. In these testing times, many people are feeling justifiably anxious and fearful of the COVID 19 virus – not only for themselves, but for those that they are closest to as well. It is a time where we should be aiming to support each other in those times when we, or they, are feeling down. How can we do this?
I was also struck by a short poem attributed to Spike Milligan which reads:
“Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too.

I passed around the corner
and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realised
I’d passed it on to him.

I thought about that smile,
then I realised its worth.
A single smile, just like mine
could travel round the earth.

So, if you feel a smile begin,
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick,
and get the world infected!”
I thought is was a great sentiment and just what we need to try and lift the mood.
But as I was talking to the students I realised we potentially had a problem, at least for part of the time. So I asked the question, “How do you know, when I’m wearing a face mask, if I’m smiling or poking my tongue out at you?”
The students however didn’t see this as a barrier, and came up with all sorts of suggestions as to how a smile can be started and passed on, even with the obstacle of a mask. The amazing thing was that all of the solutions were pretty simple, ranging from choice of words and tone of speech, through to body language and gestures with hands or head. We also worked out that we can tell when someone is smiling with their eyes. Simple solutions to a now everyday problem.
And the same can be said about Christmas. We can make it as complicated as we want to, or just like the poem we could take the initiative and start to spread the true message that surrounds the birth of Christ.
It is also an idea, as we have this week started the season of Advent, that we could focus over the next four weeks, in line with the Advent wreath, of substituting smiling for
I just have to work on putting each of these into practice in my life as the great celebration of Christmas draws nearer. Getting drawn into the hustle, bustle of shopping and the thinking about presents can be a distraction – but what should really count is taking the time to think about what is the real message I want to give about Christmas?
Keeping it simple might just be the perfect way forward.

Deacon Ian Black

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