Monday, 31 December 2012

New

A not-very-clear iPad snap - signs of new life!

Old English neoweniowe, earlier niwe "new, fresh, recent, novel, unheard-of, different from the old; untried, inexperienced," from P.Gmc. *newjaz (cf. Old Saxon niuwi, Old Frisian nie, Middle Dutch nieuwe, Dutch nieuw, Old High German niuwl, German neu, Danish and Swedish ny, Gothic niujis "new"), from PIE *newo- "new" (cf. Sanskrit navah, Persian nau, Hittite newash, Greek neos, Lithuanian naujas, Old Church Slavonic novu, Russian novyi, Latin novus, Old Irish nue, Welsh newydd "new").  (Online Etymology Dictionary)

It often strikes me that the calendar, if we look at it creatively, is very kind in offering several chances of celebrating the start of a new year. Some believe the Celtic year began on 1November, the  Church's liturgical year begins on Advent Sunday, and (again according to the invaluable Online Etymology Dictionary):

"c.1300; "þer þay dronken & dalten ... on nwe gerez euen."  The Julian calendar began on January 1, but the Christian Church frowned on pagan celebrations of this and chose the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) as its New Year's Day. The civic year in England continued to begin January 1 until late 12c., and even though legal documents then shifted to March 25, popular calendars and almanacs continued to begin on January 1. The calendar reform of 1751 restored the Julian New Year. New Year's was the main midwinter festival in Scotland from 17c., when Protestant authorities banned Christmas, and continued so after England reverted to Christmas, hence the Scottish flavor ("Auld Lang Syne," etc.). New Year's gathering in public places began 1878 in London, after new bells were installed in St. Paul's."

So... new, fresh, recent, novel, unheard-of, different from the old; untried, inexperienced.  Which resonates with you? Which draws you as a watchword for the new year about to begin?

A happy and bright one to you and yours, however (and whenever) you celebrate it!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Ox and Ass - and the rest







Disturbing news reached me earlier this week from a fellow blogger: the entire menagerie - and the heavenly host! - from her Christmas crib had gone AWOL (last seen in the loft). I sympathised; we've had two cribs go missing over the years, never found. One was a delightful Fairtrade wooden set: I can't remember which country it came from but I strongly suspect it was somewhere where camels are not normally found. The Wise Mens' steeds had bug ears, no humps and resembled no camel I'd ever seen.  It was a lovely crib, though; I miss it. Wonder what became of it...
Of course, if you followed the link above you'll see that Greenpatches' story has obviously had a happy ending.  I do like Zebedee - reminds me of Catriona's giant sheep over at A Skinny Fairtrade Latte...



Strangely proportioned characters are an occupational hazard in setting up Christmas cribs. There used to be a marvellous column in The Universe called The Secret Diary of Fr Hadrian Mule. Here's a cautionary Christmas entry:



"Tuesday: Just when I thought all was well with the crib some careless person dropped the ox. (Actually it came apart in my hands.) An offer from a butcher's wife of the large china animal from her husband's shop was declined when I realised that the said object was marked with all the cuts of beef. I felt the vegans in the congregation would understandably object. But then Divine Providence stepped in and a lady explained that she had intended presenting the church with a carved ox in memory of her uncle who had reared pedigree bulls and that it was ready.



Wednesday: The carved ox duly arrived. In fact, it is only half the size of the ass - not a serious problem as the figures are so out of proportion anyway that they look like characters out of two versions of Gulliver's Travels. However, carved on the ox's rump steak was: 'In memory of Syd Bloggs'. The ox was discreetly turned away from the shepherds who ranged from 2ft 6ins to 8ft."



Happy memories of one parish where I once served. The old and much-used china ox had to have its rump steak turned away from view, for a different reason: it was affectionately known to us all as "the cow with the broken bum".

But it's good - essential - to have the animals there. In this icon of the nativity the adoring ox and ass are closest of all to the Child - closer even than his mother. They are right there with him in the dark cave of our creaturehood, which he came to share and redeem. They know their Master simply, instinctively and intuitively. Would that we could too!


Have a beautiful, peaceful and blessed Christmas! Thank you for your company.









Deck the Halls

A trip into the countryside yesterday for a very happy lunch and exchange of gifts with family, including our two entertaining "grand-dogs". Our own Canis Minor loves them, and they had a wonderful time playing together. All except one embarrassing incident...

You see, we don't have a Christmas tree at home - not a full-size, floor-standing one. We don't have room. So CM isn't used to them. As far as he's concerned trees belong out of doors and have a particular usefulness for dogs. So when he saw a real, live tree next to the dining table, despite the fact that it was beautifully decorated and had presents piled beneath it, he did what comes naturally.  Oh dear...

Sunday, 23 December 2012

O Emmanuel

Tremendous, tiny, powerful, feeble,
cheeks fair of colour,
wealthy and needy, Father and Brother, 
maker of brothers,
this, sure, is Jesus, whom we should we welcome
as Lord of rulers,
lofty and lowly, Emmanuel,
honey to think on.
(Madawg ap Gwallter, 13th century Welsh Franciscan friar)


O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Matthew Paris (ca. 1200–1259)

The Virgin and Christ Child; Christ Crucified; Christ in Majesty

Corpus Christi College Library, Cambridge, MS 26


Saturday, 22 December 2012

O Rex Gentium

Christus Rex in Southwell Minster
..."Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you." (The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe)

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.



I sing of a maiden
That is makeles:
King of alle kinges
To her sone she ches. (15th century)


Friday, 21 December 2012

O Oriens


O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The shortest day... The year turns and the light returns. Where I live, today really did dawn in  splendor - fiery red and gold. Take time to notice light today, and give thanks.

Once again, Digitalnun says it all in her iBenedictines post for today. I won't attempt to paraphrase what she says, please have a look for yourself. There's encouragement, and a challenge - as there always is when light comes. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

O Clavis David

Royal Doors - St Catherine's Monastery, Sinai
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The icon of the Annunciation always appears on the "Royal Doors" of the Iconostasis in an Orthodox Church: fittingly, because in the Incarnation God is the key which opens the door between heaven and earth. As we stand on the edge of the Solstice, today's O Antiphon reminds us that the Light will come and disperse the shadows of death. Amen, come quickly...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

O Radix Jesse 2

...And here is a poem I love, by Peter Levi, about trees in winter. As you read it, see that word "God" in there as not just an exclamation but a cry of Advent longing for the God of beauty and wonder.


In midwinter a wood was
where the sand-coloured deer ran
through quietness.
It was a marvellous thing
to see those deer running.

Softer than ashes
snow lay all winter where they ran,
and in the wood a holly tree was.
God, it was a marvellous thing
to see the deer running.

Between lime trunks grey or green
branch-headed stags went by
silently trotting.
A holly tree dark and crimson
sprouted at the wood’s centre, thick and high
without a whisper, no other berry so fine.

Outside the wood was black midwinter,
over the downs that reared so solemn
wind rushed in gales, and strong here
wrapped around wood and holly fire
(where deer among the close limes ran)
with a storming circle of its thunder.
Under the trees it was a marvellous thing
to see the deer running.

O Radix Jesse




O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Today's O Antiphon, O Radix Jesse, situates the coming Saviour, Wisdom and Holy Lord, within a human family tree - that of Jesse. The imagery is, literally, that of tree-growth - a shoot from an ancient tree, bringing new life. Trees are all around us at this season: even in the city we bring greenery into our buildings. In the dead of winter trees speak to us of longing. Those which have lost their leaves whisper to us silently about longing and patience, waiting in the darkness in a spirit of trust; the rightness of cycles of light and dark ruled by the Love that Moves the Sun, that all shall be well. The evergreens tell us of fidelity and strength: even in the dark and cold times there is still life. We are silenced in wonder. Enjoy your fir trees and holly; learn from them!





Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Tricks of the Light

Today's NASA astronomy pic of the day
No, not tricks but beautiful optical effects... The Sun is so precious at this time of year in the northern part of our planet.  Look at this Sun Pillar captured by Göran Strand (and see his blog for more of his stunning photography) in Östersund in the north of Sweden - a place I know and love well. As I write, just after lunch, the Sun is already beginning to dip low and I love to watch the light changing moment by moment. I try to celebrate the "thinness" of the days around the Solstice by paying attention to light and shade.

And you can see some more "tricks" of winter light, in Finland this time, from Kaisa at her blog Valkoinen Poni.

LATE EDIT: more thoughts on light, winter darkness and The Light from Archdruid Eileen

O Adonai




Icon of Christ as Holy Wisdom, Härnösand Diocese, Sweden

O Adonai - today's Advent O antiphon. The God of the burning bush and the giver of the Law on the mountain "clothed with awe", whose name may not be spoken ("Adonai" means Lord or Master) is the God who comes... "The searing holiness of God desires our redemption, but only if we will allow it. To have such power over God is the paradox of being human" says Digitalnun today.

There's so much to say about holiness, the power of God's name... So forgive a small digression. I've learned that the name of Adonis, the Greek "mortal God of beauty" comes, etymologically, directly from Adonai. Beauty, love, death, rebirth...

Beautiful, terrible, holy Lord, let me tremble and bow before you. Speak to me out of fire and cloud; inflame my heart, call me to take off my shoes and stand in awe on the holy ground where you find me - wherever that may be. Reach out to me when I cannot reach for you. Help me to long for your beauty, and give me the generosity to praise you when I  see it, even if its discovery disturbs me.


O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, 
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.





Monday, 17 December 2012

Happy Birthday Dear Blog!




I wrote my first post on this blog one year ago today! Hard to believe twelve months have gone by, and here we are at O Sapientia again. I have enjoyed blogging, as I thought and hoped I might; above all it's been so good to meet my little band of readers and followers - and such a joy to catch glimpses of your lives and creativity through your blogs. Thank you all! And always interesting to follow links and blogrolls and see what you've been reading... There's a lot of, well, questionable stuff (to say the least) out there in blogland - I've discovered the dubious world of rants and trolls along some dodgy by-roads - but also some amazing people who seek simply to "share what is life-giving", as I've given  as my reason for blogging.  Some of you might see this as in the realm of God/the Divine/Spirit, others will have different names but, all of you, what you've shared has enriched me. And I love getting comments! I'll never forget my excitement when I first saw that little tag "1comment". I still feel it every time!

The first of the Advent O Antiphons today as, in the light of yesterday's Gaudete rosy dawn, we start to call by name the One we wait for. Our first, distant glimpse is of Wisdom: despite the random ugliness and violence that sully the world we can still see God's "sweet ordering" all around us: Holy Wisdom, open and heal our eyes to see your handiwork in all creation.


O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other, mightily
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.



Sunday, 16 December 2012

Gaudete





Wintry rose from the BBC archives
There is no rose of such virtue
As is the rose that bare Jesu
Alleluia!

For in this rose containèd was
Heaven and earth in little space
Res miranda!

Rose Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent: a glimpse of the dawn of Christmas to come. It's the day to wear rose-coloured vestments in church.


In the last parish I served in there was nothing rose-coloured for the deacon to wear. My colleague got hold of some (curtain?) fabric and I cobbled together a rather Byzantine-looking stole which would have horrified liturgical purists, but we thought it looked lovely!
As always, Digitalnun at iBenedictines has wisdom to share today - especially as we consider those who find it hard to rejoice at this time...
And a verse from Eleanor Farjeon's Advent hymn which seems especially fitting for today:
Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.
Another name for today is Gaudete Sunday, from the first word of the introit: Gaudete in Domino semper (rejoice in The Lord always). I can't hear that without thinking of Steeleye Span, so here they are by courtesy of Tim Chesterton's blog Faith, Folk and Charity.  Rejoice!
















Saturday, 15 December 2012

Fairy Nuff





Spirit of the Night by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Here's a little bit of seasonal fun. What would Christmas be without a fairy on top of the tree? So when news came my way of this website, which will create a unique "fairy name" for you, based on your own name, I was intrigued and went to have a look... Allow me, therefore, to introduce myself: you are reading the musings of
Gossamer Moontree
She is a messenger of the moon goddess.
She lives in spider-webbed wonderlands and insect grottoes.
She can only be seen when the first leaves fall from the trees.
She wears dresses made of cobwebs and gossamer and has bright blue butterfly wings.

Now, I'd be honoured to be a messenger of the moon goddess. And I'd be happy to make an appearance when the first leaves fall - I enjoy that time of year (though it might be a bit nippy in a gossamer frock, especially if there were a stiff breeze). But given my tendency to arachnophobia I wouldn't be at my most comfortable in a spider-webbed wonderland. Also, I'm not entirely sure bright blue is my colour, and I'd hate my wings to clash with the rest of me.

There are names available for the chaps, too. And if you don't fancy fairies you can discover your identity as an elf, a mermaid, a unicorn or a witch*. The site suggested I might like to paste my name and description into my profile on my blog. Hmm, maybe not...

*Oh all right then. Since you ask. My witch name is Carbuncle Snailbasher. Quite!

The Fairy Dell by Beryl Cook. Which one do you think is Gossamer Moontree?



Thursday, 13 December 2012

The tiniest house of time

Detail from Annunciation, Fra Filippo Lippi, National Gallery
This painting depicts the moment God entered the "tiniest house of time":

Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
you will not find me in the stupas, not in Indian shrine
rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding
around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but
vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me
instantly --
 you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this house I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)





St Lucy


For a beautiful reflection on St Lucy's day, have a look at today's iBenedictines post. 
A joyful feast day to all as Advent continues to unfold on a bright frosty morning!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Servant King




Here's St Francis placing the Child in the crib at Greccio, in a detail from Giotto's fresco in the Upper Church in Assisi. I used this image in my Christmas Day post last year (you can read what I wrote here, if you'd like to). Francis is wearing his deacon's vestments: you can see his dalmatic, the livery of a herald, for the deacon is the one who proclaims the Gospel - liturgically and in day-to-day ministry. You can't see his stole, but that is also a distinctive mark of a deacon. Unlike a priest's stole it's worn across the shoulder and (traditionally) tied, as you'd want to tie up your flowing garments to do the washing up or serve at table - because deacon, of course, means servant. As does the Latin minister. Some people think the Greek word diakonos comes from dia and konis - literally, "through the dust".


 I've been thinking about this picture of St Francis (who remained in deacon's orders all his life) throughout this year, because 2012 marked the Silver Jubilee of my ordination as deacon. (And that makes me feel rather old.  I was a lay deaconess for three years before that - an order now almost, but not quite, extinct in the Church of England. When I recently told this to a group of very young-looking ordinands they looked at me as though I'd said I'd known Cranmer).


At the weekend I discovered a blog called Let Nothing You Dismay (reflections on theological and churchy things). A lot of interesting reading there, but what caught my eye particularly was this. It seems that in the Anglican diocese of Hereford women were encouraged to wear aprons to church last Sunday as a protest against the General Synod's vote against women bishops (the idea, as I understand it, being to symbolise the subservient place in which women were felt to be kept by the decision.) As you might have noticed, I haven't posted anything about this issue, deliberately: not because I've no thoughts about it but because I don't feel I have the right. I'm no longer an Anglican. And because I really don't want to  enter into debate: I've decided I don't want this to be that kind of blog, though it works for others. (This is partly because of a sense of been there, done that: see note above about my feelings of age!).  


But I think it's OK for me to say how I feel about what I read, and that is - well, dismayed. What felt uncomfortable was that it would be so easy to see this as saying something quite disturbing: that the role of a silenced, tea-making skivvy is the only alternative to ordained high office. I wonder what some of the strong, powerful and courageous women who have shaped Christian history might say about that: I'm thinking of Scholastica, Clare, Hilda of Whitby, Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila and so many others. Not to mention those in our own day.  Worse still, does it hint that service is the polar opposite of ministry? As someone commented on the blog, "Is that how the Body of Christ behaves?" Sadly, yes it is. We do. And worse, God forgive us.


Shortly after reading about all this, my spirits were lifted by listening to Radio 4's Food Programme, about the role food plays in different faiths. I was humbled and shamed by the example of so many energetic and feisty people - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh - who spend their time serving others in food banks, soup kitchens and so on. "I am among you as one who serves," said Jesus. "He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant."
I expect some of them were wearing aprons.


End of Term

Yesterday was the end of term for the First Year of the Ignatian Spirituality Course. Hard to believe a whole term has gone by! We had a lovely day: the spirituality of St Francis and St Dominic in the morning, and the Body in Prayer in the afternoon. Both connected, of course, and both good topics for this season of Incarnation.

As always, I felt exhausted at the end of the day. The teaching itself, and sharing mince pies with the group at the end of the afternoon, felt good - as did the end-of-term meeting afterwards with my lovely, generous and gifted colleagues. I am so grateful to and for them. Less fun was the flurry of filing at the end of the day. I am not good with bits of paper: they don't like me, I suspect, and always seem deliberately to hide and muddle themselves. But I got the better of them in the end - I think - and left the office with everything (I hope) in the right place.

Then the very welcome offer of a drink with my dear and long-suffering friend J, who took me out and bought me a really undeserved glass of champagne. I am so bad at keeping up with friends (as some who read this might know!) but J is persistent and it was such a joy to catch up and spend time together.  We went to a delightfully eccentric wine bar where among the eclectic bric-a-brac we noticed a Bible perched on a shelf among mismatched vintage jugs and glasses. Pious creature that I am, I couldn't help reflecting on the Word of God, subtly present in the midst of our daily life. How wonderful.

I have grown into a tradition of beginning my journey home by a different route on end-of-term days, and walking over London Bridge before catching my train. Rivers are sacred, liminal places and the Thames has been regarded as holy from prehistoric times, as the votive offerings found there testify. I like to throw in an offering - metaphorically - as I pass over the bridge. When I first did this I would "throw" in all my negative experiences from the term to get rid of them; of course I soon realised that this is not what our ancestors did. They didn't throw in rubbish: they made offerings of precious things, coins and artefacts, to honour the deity. So yesterday evening I stood in the chill wind and looked across the river, up at the majestic Shard and the lights on Tower Bridge and Southwark Cathedral; and I "threw" in:

My joy at a completed term and the thought of holidays to come;
The privilege of being able to teach things I feel passionate about;
Hearing the participants share their insights and learnings and knowing that I've played a tiny part in that;
The gifts, talents, generosity and sheer loveliness of my colleagues and students;
My time with J and the fact we could talk about shopping, dogs, the weather and prayer all in the same breath...

And as I did this, funnily enough all the negative things (there have been plenty of them; I'm not Pollyanna) fell gently away into the river too.

Here's a picture of the Shard from London Bridge (I think), taken at the laser show to mark the Shard's completion back in July. Bit warmer on the bridge then!






Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival

As you might have noticed from the comments on my last post, I've been invited to join a group of Catholic bloggers who get together to share what they've been blogging about. Have a look here to see  the host blog of RAnn who was kind enough to leave the comment. I realise that Sunday lasts longer in different parts of the world (if you know what I mean) but here there's not all that time left for Snippet-gathering.

So, to anyone who stops by here - as well as my little band of regular readers - a brief word of greeting on this Second Sunday of Advent, and welcome to The Love That Moves The Sun. It's a place where I like to try and put my thoughts and musings into words: as I say in the little blurb on the right of the page, I love to share what is life-giving for me. In previous stages of my journey I had the opportunity to do this through preaching, and though I don't always miss the discipline of sermon deadlines there have often been times when I've read or seen or heard something that touched my heart - and I found myself wishing I could pass it on; pay the gift forward somehow. That's how this blog was born - almost exactly a year ago. There have been gaps, and frustrations with the techie side of things - Blogger does seem to have a life and a will of its own sometimes and I am not the most technically-accomplished of people - but I've decided I really enjoy the world of blogging. It's always a real privilege and joy when someone comes along and leaves a comment to say that something I've written has touched them too. So thank you to all who have done so.

This Advent I'm trying to find time to stop and savour all the gifts of this season, which I love: to "pay attention", as Mary Oliver says in the quotation I've used in the heading of my home page. I've shared my ponderings on:
The early appearance of Christmas lights and decorations
Looking at the sky on a wintry night
Considering God in all things on a walk with the dog
Gifts from others' books and blogs

I hope you might enjoy some of it!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Advent gifts

Such a richness of Advent gifts from my dear fellow bloggers! Pictures, music, prayers, reflections... it's a delight to look at my reading list each morning (means I don't get a lot of things done, but maybe that's not such a bad thing...)  It would be impossible, not to mention invidious (if that's the word I want) to single any out, but please have a look at my list of blogs further down this page on the right and click on just about any of them; for a longer list check out my Blogger profile under the "about me" section. You'll find some gems to move your heart!

And I've been reading books too. During a time of enforced hanging about yesterday I finally caught up with Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, which has been on my must-read shelf (aka the bedroom chair) for quite a while, and read it from cover to cover in one sitting. It's the harrowing but deeply inspiring story of the author's abusive adopted childhood, her breakdown in adult life and the profound healing which followed, and her quest to find her birth mother. Above all, it's the amazing story of how she found salvation and nurture in the world of words and books. This description is totally inadequate: if you want to laugh, weep and be challenged  to see the world differently read it for yourself.

It's dangerous working in a place with an excellent bookshop. I've treated myself to a book of poems: Sounding The Seasons, sonnets for the Christian year by Malcolm Guite - whom I knew in Cambridge and is now Chaplain of Girton, my old college. (So I had to buy it!)  A beautiful resource for prayer and liturgy.

Here, as Advent gifts I can pay forward, is a quotation from each. They seem to connect with each other, and with themes I return to in this blog. First, Jeanette Winterson:

When we look up at the sky and the stars we imagine we are looking out at the universe. The medieval mind imagined itself as looking in - that Earth was a seedy outpost... and that the centre was  - well, at the centre - the nucleus of God's order proceeding from love.

I like it that order should proceed from love.

And from Malcolm Guite:

Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, out-buildings of an inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed-at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.
And from this day our world is re-aligned;
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The End begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.



Winter Sun, Österåsen, Sweden

Sunday, 2 December 2012

A tiny Epiphany

An ordinary suburban Sunday lunchtime walk... Sharing a joke with fellow walkers; magpies chattering; wild feathery cirrus clouds in a blue, blue sky; frost in the shadows; a bicycle bell pinged in greeting; avoiding dog sh*t on the pavement and picking up after my own (my dog's that is); sunlight through the remaining green-gold leaves of an oak tree. I stopped by someone's clipped privet hedge and, struck by the vibrant colour of the leaves, I suddenly thought - no, that's the wrong word... I sensed, I heart-knew, I gut-knew... God in all things. And then, bigger and wilder and more astounding... All things in God. In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28). Emmanuel. The Love that moves the Sun. Amen: so it is; so be it; truly.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Greater lights

I was going to add this as a late edit to my last post, but decided I'd give it a post of its own. Night has fallen and, if you reckon the day to start at evening as Genesis and the liturgical calendar do, it's Advent. The season of joyful, hopeful waiting has begun; for some of those I care about and with whom I've been in contact lately it's a time of transition, anxiety or sorrow. "O come quickly" Lord, as we'll be singing.

I do love the artificial light and sparkle of this season, as I mentioned last time, but I've just had a glimpse of some of the most beautiful lights of all: a bedtime trip into the garden with the dog revealed a clear, frosty sky with a bright waning gibbous Moon, a parade of constellations (even here in suburbia) including my old friend Orion and glorious Jupiter.

The light-years involved in this stunning display of stars makes the age of yew trees look minuscule in comparison. The Incarnation seems but a blink or a heartbeat away. It's now; Emmanuel. May he find us waiting.
Orion, from the NASA astronomy pic archive

Lights in the darkness

Brightening my journey home

On Wednesday evening this week I was walking home past our local Anglican church and saw through the glass doors of the parish hall a Christmas tree blazing with lights. For a few seconds I entertained a few grumpy it's-not-even-Advent thoughts, but then I reverted to my first, instinctive reaction: what a lovely thing to see on a cold, dark evening! I realised I was smiling.

Intellectually I can see the point of the traditional rants about how the world misses the point of Christmas by ignoring Advent and anticipating the "season to be jolly" (and, have you noticed, the rants start earlier each year? It's not right...). But in my un-reconstructed heart I simply love the first appearance of lights and tinsel. I start looking forward to it as soon as the clocks go back.

As my train rumbles its way towards Waterloo through Vauxhall it passes the headquarters of the Pimlico Plumbers, and at the beginning of each November they put up a wonderful display of Christmas decorations - snowmen, reindeer, penguins (?), Father Christmases - yes, all that stuff! - along the roof of the building so it's right alongside the train windows. Some people complain, apparently, but I look forward to it each year. It really cheers me up, particularly on the journey home  when the lights are switched on. And I love the way my friends in the north of Sweden hang wreaths of lights (which we'd regard as Christmas-specific) in their windows at the beginning of the dark time and keep them there till the days lengthen.

When I was making the Spiritual Exercises in daily life, I began the part about the Incarnation in late autumn. I was then working near Oxford Street in London and I can remember going into the John Lewis department store where they had just set up their Christmas department. Not many people were there yet, and it was wonderful to walk around looking at all the baubles and tinsel and thinking, "nobody might realise or remember, but this is for Him!"  I surprised my two colleagues by bringing each of them back a little sparkly star.

I hope you'll excuse a shameless plug, but a couple of years ago I contributed a chapter to a book about urban spirituality (I don't get a penny for this, honestly! Got nothing for writing it, either...) in which I wrote this (it came from a conversation with my spiritual director):

A moment will meet you, perhaps when at dusk you turn a corner into a street of shops and see for the first time that the Christmas lights have been switched on. For the space of a breath you will see through the tawdriness and consumerism to the sheer beauty. And in another breath you know that this is all for the Incarnation of the God whose love pervades the universe, and that you, the lights, the shoppers, the city are utterly dependent on this unconditional love. A moment of ‘radical amazement.’

Does this ring any bells for you? I'd love to know what you think.