The Renaissance of Love
Four months after the start of WW1, in the winter of 1914, the Germans had been in a fierce battle with the British and French. Both sides were dug-in, in muddy, man-made trenches six to eight feet deep that seemed to stretch forever. Already hundreds of thousands had fallen. But despite the constant machine gun fire and artillery bombardments, and even though in some places front-line troops were a mere 60 yards away from the enemy's lines, Christmas gift hampers containing food and tobacco prepared were delivered to troops on both sides by their governments. The Germans, who had a direct land link to their home country (British soldiers in Belgium were separated from England by sixty miles and the English Channel), also managed to send small Christmas trees and candles to troops at the front.
On that Christmas Eve, an extraordinary event took place. The Germans set trees on trench parapets and lit the candles. Then, they began singing carols, and though their language was unfamiliar to their enemies, the tunes were not. After a few trees were shot at, the British became more curious than belligerent and crawled forward to watch and listen. And after a while, they began to sing.
According to Stanley Weintraub, who wrote about this event in his book, Silent Night, "signboards arose up and down the trenches in a variety of shapes. They were usually in English, or - from the Germans - in fractured English. . 'YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT' was the most frequently employed German message. Some British units improvised 'MERRY CHRISTMAS' banners and waited for a response. More placards on both sides popped up."
By Christmas morning, the 'no man's land' between the trenches was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and (more solemnly) burying their dead between the lines. They exchanged gifts. Chocolate cake, cognac, postcards, newspapers, tobacco. In a few places, along the trenches, soldiers exchanged rifles for soccer balls and began to play soccer. According to the official war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment, 'Tommy and Fritz' kicked about a real football supplied by a Scot. "This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter.. The game ended for Fritz."
It didn't last forever. Some of the generals didn't like it at all and commanded their troops to resume shooting at each other. After all, they were in a war. German and British soldiers reluctantly parted, in the words of Pvt. Percy Jones of the Westminster Brigade, "with much hand-shaking and mutual goodwill." Soldiers eventually did resume shooting at each other. But only after, in a number of cases, a few days of wasting rounds of ammunition shooting at stars in the sky instead of soldiers in the opposing army across the field.
As a celebration of the human spirit, the Christmas Truce serves as a great reminder of the absurdities of war. A Scottish poet, Frederick Niven, may have got it right in his "A Carol from Flanders," which closed,
O ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day."
To me, although the Christmas Truce of 1914 may seem like a distant myth it remains a symbol of hope to those of us who believe that a recognition of our essential nature will soon prevail.
Fast forward now 30 years to the next World War and yet more unimaginable atrocities. In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl talks about what he learned from his experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. He writes, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one's own way." The extreme experiences of the Flanders troops and Victor Frankl remind me that no matter what the circumstances we are always free to choose freedom. We can be carried on the tide of the world's habitual fearful thinking -- by 'circumstances', or we can give our attention to our essential loving nature and allow that to be our guiding light.
Love or fear in any of it's forms, that's what choice really amounts to. Just these two. But for most of us, ensconced in our comfortable modern lives, we forget this. By default we choose the latter and then there appears to be a gazzillion other choices. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, "Most people, sometime in their lives, stumble across the truth. Most jump up, brush themselves off and hurry about their business as if nothing had happened." Isn't that sad?
It often seems as though our mind is master -- telling us what to think and do. But in truth our mind can only serve. And the choice is whether to serve Love or something else. But this choice isn't one between equals. The choice for love has all power in it, the other, none. This choice at first seems scary but only because it's unknown and we don't know the shape of things to come. But one thing is certain. When we let go of our need to control our life and choose Love as the cause, we can rest assured that effects can only reflect this choice. This is true freedom.
Another thing that can hold us back is a misguided sense of selfishness. It feels a little weird to choose to inhabit a world of peace, and simply refuse to join others on their battlefield. But in reality there is no greater service we can provide another than to stay firmly put in our own Truth. Joining others in suffering may seem charitable and compassionate, but isn't offering them the opportunity to join you in heaven far preferable to joining them in hell?
There's a quickening in the world that's happening in the world right now. Just below the surface there's a Renaissance of Love that's seeping through into our collective consciousness. To me, this is the bigger story behind the rise of messaging and blogs and social networks, that will eventually be told. It's a Renaissance fueled by our re-discovering that our identity and power lies in our connection, untouched by what we thought were our differences.
So let's remember that real choice has nothing to do with circumstance. We are always free to step back and let Love lead the way. We are free right now to tell each other the truth about who we are and what is real. And by doing so we undo the past in the present, and replace our imagined future with the beautiful, nourishing Flow of this endless Now. This is the choice for everyday miracles.
Have a wonderful New Year.
Note: you may have to click through from a feed-reader to play the video
Related Article: Let Go and Let Love... Why did no-one tell me it's so simple?