And so we come to Lent

Easter is the earliest it can be this year. And so, as soon as Candlemas was over, Ash Wednesday arrived….

And Lent is upon us, bringing the usual question: “what are you giving up for Lent this year?”

I have done my share of giving things up for Lent, some more successfully than others.

There was the year I gave up butter, eggs & milk. And my husband nobly said he would do the same. All there is to be said is never again!

And the year we gave up tea & coffee – and suffered migraine-like headaches & cramps for the first two weeks.

In recent years, I have stopped giving things up & have instead taken something on….

One year, I committed to reading the Bible – all of it. That didn’t quite work out.

More successfully, I agreed to do several hours gardening each week at a local retreat house. They benefitted from tidy borders & I found spending several hours in their lovely peaceful garden most conducive to quiet meditation.

Last year, to the great amusement of my non-church friends, I gave up church for Lent…

It started as a bit of a joke but the idea had a strange attraction. I did go to one or two services, when I was the altar server, and Palm Sunday & the Chrism Mass – but for the rest, I stayed home & spent time in prayer.

I found it a remarkably liberating experience. And, on pondering why that should be, I have decided that I do not care much for Lent.

I do not at all mind having seasons where reflection, quietness, amendment of life & waiting are prominent. Indeed one cannot celebrate all the time…

But I do not like the emphasis that the church seems to place on sin & guilt & shame. I do not like being told that I am “a miserable offender” & “not worthy to be called a child of God”.

I do not like the dirgy hymns or the sombre atmosphere; the bare church or that preoccupation with sin.

So much so that this year I am giving up….well, Lent actually…

At least, I am not keeping it in the church’s way.

It is right that we should remember our Lord’s journey to the cross. But we know the end and new beginning of the story…and so, we can follow in his footsteps knowing that we are indeed children of God, that we have been saved by his blood, that we are forgiven and loved – and we can celebrate that (but quietly, deeply & reflectively).

And that is what I will be doing over the next few weeks, spending time alone & silently, but not miserably….

Waiting for the Lord

Here am I, waiting for the Lord:

waiting, waiting…

as life and times pass by.

Here am I

waiting for the Lord.

In this ancient place of worship

where prayers are soaked into the stone;

where people come, friend and stranger,

to wait for the Lord.

Is he here? I cannot see.

Is he speaking? I cannot hear.

And so, here am I,

waiting for the Lord.

But I am one of action,

lacking the patience of saints.

I need to walk beyond this place

for there will I find the Lord.

Not in that place

but carried in my heart and soul

from the place of worship where I waited

for Him who was always within.

Looking Back to Look Forward

So here we are, nearly a week into the New Year. I am choosing, just for a moment, to look back, to Christmas, and further, to Advent. Already it seems like a lifetime ago.

Last year, I kept Advent. I did not set out to do that but, as the season progressed, I realised that Christmas had not registered for me, had not begun to impinge on the expectancy of Advent. Three weeks in and, apart from a brief outing to buy presents, I remained impervious to Christmas. Not impervious to the expectancy but to the commercialism, the endless trumpeting  about how many days are left to shop, to cram our baskets full of things we do not need and, in so doing, obscure the true meaning of the season.

The advertising that my friends, particularly those with children, complained about passed me by. I suppose it helps that I do not watch television and am not a recreational shopper!

So, for me, no angels, no tinsel, no tree, no nativity scenes, no carols….

After four weeks of quiet expectancy, of looking forward to a birth, of pondering on the lives of the patriarchs, the words of the prophets, the messages of the angels and the acceptance by Mary of God’s task for her, suddenly it was here! All in a flurry of glitter and tinsel, sparkling lights and mysterious packages; the glow of candlelight on the white of the altar linen, the lights sparkling and dancing, the ruby red wine and piled wafers speaking of life in abundance, the peal of bells and the solemn joyfulness of the organ, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King…

Christmas was come, not in November, not during the weeks of Advent, but at midnight as Christmas Eve became Christmas Day and unto us is born a boy….

To everything its season, for everything its time. A time to wait,a time to listen, a time for joy, a time to be born…

Advent first, then Christmas Day and then the twelve days; the excitement of the birth followed by another time of waiting, for the wise men at Epiphany.

By which time, the old year has gone, the new year has begun and we can look back on a season lived and look forward in joy and hope.

 

Fireside Musings

I’m really not sure it will catch on. The Christmas Tree is standing in its holder in the corner. But it is naked. Unclothed. Minimalism taken to an extreme.
It has been there for two days, having been extracted with some difficulty from the front porch. And I am kind of getting used to it – but I can’t help thinking it misses the point.
I could have decorated it, dressed it, this evening. But I am lying quite comfortably by the wood burner, which is blazing nicely, having been fed some pieces of the old floor from the church, nice dry oak wood. The dog is sprawled on the rug, her head on my legs, slumbering peacefully. I have a glass of red wine to hand & am recovering, warming up nicely after a chilly winter walk on the beach.
The boxes of baubles have been disinterred from the glory hole & are perched on the rocking chair. Perhaps if I concentrate really hard, I can transfer them to the tree without having to move…….
It isn’t working…..I am reminded of that bit in the bible where Jesus talks about moving mountains if you have faith enough. Perhaps baubles are too trivial a thing to waste faith on….or perhaps he was being figurative rather than literal.
The present buying rigmarole has been completed, the wrapping process still to come.
And the turkey has been ordered. It is probably roosting just now, blissfully unaware of its fate. Or perhaps it has a vague uneasy feeling that all is not well…
So the tree can wait I think, and join the rest of us, waiting, waiting, for a day.

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Let my eyes be for you a reflection of your soul:

see in them the compassion and love which is in you.

Let my ears hear your whispered fears

and, in hearing, keep you safe.

Let my voice comfort you and, in my words,

hear your own sweet solace mirrored there.

Let my arms enfold you, strong and sure,

and feel the encircling love of Christ holding you.

Let my heart be open to you

and, in that trembling vulnerability, hold us both secure.

The Seasons of my Age

I walked in the new wood in the spring of my age;

bright green leaves unfurling, like flags in the wind;

ramsoms perfume strong, and bluebells gently dancing.

Sprightly was my dance then, light footed on the grass;

bright shafts of golden sun through the branches lancing.

 

I walked in the green wood in the summer of my age;

heavy blossom perfumed, bees humming loud;

sunshine overhead, humid, hot and burning.

Sultry was my dance then, seductive in the shade;

birds muted shrilling, berries’ colour turning.

 

I walked in the golden wood, in the autumn of my age;

chill air on the leaves, setting them a-rustling;

bright pheasant flying, rousted from his cover;

fungus all a-sprouting, cream & rust & red.

Hurried was my dance then, rain clouds gathering;

seed heads full to bursting, summer now is dead.

 

I walked in the naked wood, in the winter of my age;

branches bare & barren, the sky of ochre cloud;

there the golden promise lies, a carpet all of rust.

Slow & halting was my dance then, a memory of grace;

all the joys & sorrows, all the dreams & dust.

 

I walk among the tall trees, in all the seasons of my age;

remembering sun & rainfall, the curses & the blest;

the mountains I had climbed, the sea shores I had waded.

Eternal is my dance now, amid stars & moonlight, darkness & the dawn;

In all the changing patterns, not a memory has faded.

Christmas is coming…

Christmas is coming, and the geese are getting fat….be sure to put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.

For those who remember that nursery rhyme….

It is November, not yet half way through. Advent Sunday is more than two weeks away.

Advent, that time of waiting, expectant, excited, a sparkle, which is altogether missing in Lent, added to the quiet meditations.

But when I look around, I do not see Advent. I see Christmas – but not a Christmas that Christ would recognise. I see Greed, Waste, Substitution, Commercialism, Heartlessness, Lack of Compassion.

I see shops laden with goods; most of it totally superfluous, expensive, gaudy…I see things which beggar belief in a country where so many are dependent on food banks, who do not earn enough to make ends meet……if one believes that, or is it just another media-fuelled piece of propaganda?

I see the adverts, portraying cosy homes with perfect families, beautifully gender-divided, white middle-class, comfortably off….the covert message – if you cannot or do not live like this, then you are a failure….

Buy this, have that – or be seen as deprived, poor, selfish, beneath contempt….

Then I look at pictures of refugees, arriving at our borders, with the clothes they are wearing & a few items hurriedly shoved into a bag, clutching their children & the shreds of their dignity.

I see the newspaper headlines blaring & glaring: THEY ARE COMING FOR YOUR JOBS! THEY ARE COMING FOR YOUR BNEFITS, YOUR HEALTHCARE, YOUR EDUCATION….

Telling us that our communities, our language, our culture are under threat from these swarms of possible terrorists…

I see a father, holding his two children & his fear & his despair; his face crumpled in tears & humiliation.

I see the small son of heartbroken parents, lying on a beach, dead.

I see a perfect little black girl, her hair neatly-braided, floating face-down, cradled in the lapping waves….

And still, after all these years, I see the East African woman, my sister, forced to leave her sick child alone in the desert to die, in order to save the other three.

How many of our “own” people will spend this Christmas alone, on the streets, hungry, cold & forgotten?

How many houses in our country lie empty? How many beds will have no occupant? How much will we eat & how much will we throw away? How many gifts will we receive that we neither need nor want…

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat…

But first there is Advent. Can we shut out the commercial clamour for that precious few weeks and consider where the need truly lies and can we think about putting a penny in the old man’s hat…

The Bread Prayer

I hold up this dough, Lord,                    to make bread for the hungry.

Bless the farmers who sowed the seed        and tended the growing wheat;             who harvested it in due season.               Bless the sunshine & the rain                 which enabled growth.                               Bless the miller who ground the wheat into flour.                                                   Bless the packers, and the delivery man, who brought it to my door.           Bless the yeast,                                     and the sugar to activate it;                      bless the oil & the salt that flavour it.    Bless my hands which knead it;             and bless all those who will eat it.   

Post-church Blues

Always the same, always the way,

Church serves itself, at the end of the day.

All of the gospel, all of the talk,

Easy to say not easy to walk.

Love your neighbours whoever they are,

Care for the stranger, from near or far.

Welcome all who come through the door,

Welcome them all, rich or poor.

But do we do it? Not in the least!

Those like us can come to the feast.