For the last several Christmases, I have thought about these lines (below) from Seamus Heaney’s play The Cure at Troy. From his translation of Sophocles’s tragedy Philoctetes, they deal with age-old themes of startling currency. From ancient Greece to Northern Ireland to Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, there are truths here worth remembering, especially as we ponder the meaning of the Incarnation, the shalom of God among us, during these days of frivolity and feasting.


Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols [jails]
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.