Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Last day of the year

Last day of the year
  and old man’s beard
    smothers the hedgerow
like the fresh fall of snow
  we haven’t had

this winter. No flowers but the
  red tips of hips and haws
    perched in between
the palest green
  lichen creeping along blackthorn.

The damp creeps too,
  up from the earth
    to meet grey sky descending
like a bird’s song across the long
  wet end of the year.

Heavy the days at this slow time,
  ponderous the rhyme
    of bells which mark the turning
point; the pendulum swing,
  the ring of something new.

Poised as we are, between now
  and then, what can we know,
    but that we are cradled,
kept; the ground true,
  the green shoot poking through.

31st December 2011


Monday, 23 December 2013

We tripped into Advent

Advent 2013

We tripped, and falling forward into Advent,
we blundered into waiting, unprepared,
the altar purpled, candles spluttering
a welcome for the hesitating king.

As candles marked the time we took to walk
the plodding path, something unfolded there:
our ancient fathers knowing floods would come
prepared to sail to a different home,

and prophets wept alone in wilderness
and desert heat, a head upon a plate
the price for crying out ‘Prepare the way’.
Another curtain falls. But hope was in

an angel visitation, bearing down
on one shy girl. Outside the brown leaves turn
to mulch, the wetly rising smoke leaving
a hole in the resentful bonfire. Now

the damp gives way to rain, as if the last
drops in the world have saved themselves for this,
a heralding of water, leveling
the crooked earth, the stone, the moss, the path,

till at the dawn, the eastern sky is streaked
with something bright - the golden key that will
unlock the wait. O Morning Star, appear -
illuminate the turning of the year.

C. Alcock

December 2013.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Special care baby

Baby Jesus gets special treatment at the hospital
Pills, painkillers, nasal sprays and bowls of steaming water have been my Advent companions for a week now.

Sometimes these things are spiritual lessons, sometimes random, but it is odd that I came back from a helpful spiritual direction session which boiled down to the subject of being (unless I am content 'being' and being loved in God, I cannot be an effective 'doer') and immediately I went down with tonsillitis. So I have been spectacularly 'doing' nothing ever since. Just trying to be comfortable with the being thing.

As a result I have been a marginally better patient than normal. I have been a slightly more 'patient' patient. Nearly. My mainstay has been Matthew's gospel and the Jesus who seeks solitude (e.g. on hearing John the Baptist has died) and appears to ignore need, or to say no to some requests (e.g. bizarre interaction with the Canaanite woman).

Along the way I have enjoyed taking part in the #adventbookclub discussions on Twitter https://twitter.com/search?src=typd&q=%23adventbookclub as various people read Maggi Dawn's Beginnings and Endings and comment on its biblical insights - so day 12 and 13, aptly, show Elijah's physical and mental collapse after the prophets of Baal encounter, and recollect that God is as interested in our physical and mental health as our spiritual endeavours: 'Knowing that at the moment of extreme weakness, not a sharp spiritual lesson but food, drink and sleep is enough to reduce any burnt out minister to tears' (p. 64). Yes.

In an Advent Study Group we heard a lovely anecdote about some nativity figures, brought out yearly at our local hospital. Christ with us, literally, Emmanuel on the work surface next to the packs of surgical gloves and other healing paraphernalia. One of our church family works there and had voiced her feeling that 'baby Jesus' should be kept out of the scene till Christmas day. He was duly removed. She went away, he was brought back out. She came back, he was reluctantly removed. Popular opinion won and he remained out, but in deference to her liturgical scruples, someone erected a little sign: 'Baby Jesus is premature'. Our church friend couldn't resist a comeback: she duly made the baby Jesus his own incubator (see photograph).

I had a baby in special care once, just for a night, not premature, but she did have a hole in the heart. All wired up inside a little breathing tent, I couldn't reach in to comfort her when she was crying, which just about broke my heart. You want to protect a baby, a baby is vulnerable. Even Emmanuel.

The more I 'be', the more I am discomforted by the Jesus who wasn't afraid of being vulnerable, who got upset, wept, withdrew, said no, got tired, got exposed to the difficult world, got killed. 

This Advent, waiting to get back to being active is proving a fruitful, if trying, time.