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Advent 2020: the Daily Reflections

This is where I'll collate the daily reflections, in case you would like to scroll through the collection as it builds. (And if one of your daily e-mails gets blocked, you can come straight here to read it instead.)

20 // Shall We Dance?


In an emotionally charged final of Strictly Come Dancing last weekend, the head judge Shirley Ballas told one contestant - who’d made a dramatic personal breakthrough, just at the right time -  that “you begin to dance most truly when you stop trying to impress, and start to express yourself, instead.”

That struck me as profoundly practical spiritual advice, especially during Advent.
 

*     *     *


For it’s precisely because of what we’re preparing for in Advent - the Incarnation - that we can, indeed, be set free from the ego’s debilitating push to prove our worth in life to whoever’s watching. It’s thanks to Jesus, who, ‘being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but … humbled himself.'
 

*     *     *


And because he shared our 'very nature', we, now, can share in his.

It might seem blasphemous to believe we can become God-like, as such (who, me..?). Yet as always, the gospel, the good news, turns our expectation on its head -  as we find that the nature we’re invited to share in is not about power, wealth, or a place at the top ... but loving humility.

Because it was always in God’s nature to humble himself.


*     *     *


So right here, this morning in 2020, we make connection with that very moment Jesus entered the world as a child, born in a stable; and we are liberated - born again, if you like - to become the unique expression God created us to be, all along.

Good news, of great joy.
 

*     *     *


And just think: all the sunsets and sunrises we’ve beheld this Advent, and the marvels of Jupiter and Saturn aligning, and Venus glimmering, and the enduring sound of the robin at twilight … this wonder-filled Creation, of which we are a part, was never designed to impress anyone, but to express Love to everyone.

Fall on your knees, and hear the angel voices.

 

The sound of a robin, once more this morning, echoes the divine song of hope that perches like a 'feathered thing' in our soul. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.”


A thrill of hope. The weary world rejoices.

It’s a precarious time, at the end of a difficult year. "Do not be afraid," as the Christmas angels assured. Perhaps now is our moment to be released as God's fluent expressions of love, and joy. For if not now, when?

It may even feel like a final, of sorts - the moment we've been practising for, all this time. But it's one in which we have nothing to prove, and in which we are, so mercifully, not alone. So take a deep breath. For the Creator reaches to us, through the hopes and fears of all the years, and whispers, most humbly, and with love: "Shall we dance?"

 

*     *     *


Until Next Time

Thank you so very much for your kindness, support and presence during this unforgettable year. 

I'm so grateful for all your shared wisdom through the RSVPs. You can see everything I managed to post by close of play last night on the RSVP page here!

 

And if you'd like to browse through all the Advent reflections in one place, you can do so by clicking here.
 

*     *     *


You really are a most beautiful expression of God's love.
Thank you.
And really, really well done, for making it through this far.

Until we meet again, then.
Go well!

....

19 // Here We Are


In time-honoured tradition, for the penultimate reflection of our series I have re-traced where we've been.

I've taken a line or two from each reflection in turn (in chronological order), to create a meditation based on our journey. I've added one final line for today. Don't rush the reading. Take a breath between each excerpt and let each one speak.

I hope you enjoy looking back, and that it helps you to look forward, even as we're able to say together, "Here we are" ...

 

*     *     *


I’m sure many of us are not where we'd have planned to be, 12 months ago. A bit like Mary and Joseph, perhaps. But what better place from which to start, than from where we are?

Just one, slow breath can help us enter more fully the fullness of this God-given moment ... to step through a doorway into a still and welcome space; like the sanctuary of a stable in Bethlehem, when there's nowhere else to go.

(Why not take one, slow breath now?)
 

...


Perhaps we can start humbly, by welcoming the ‘apricity’ of Love within us - so that we, in turn, may radiate its gentle warmth. “A light so lovely.”


...


Pause, to be vigilant. For something is about to be revealed.


...


Behold, the sheer poetry of the Incarnation! It's not we who are laid bare before God, but God who is laid bare before us.

...


This is embrace, not escape. Heaven and earth, the physical and 'spiritual' ...  they meet, don't they? They break bread together. (And don't forget to generously butter the crumpets!)

How deliciously hospitable, and mutual, that God tastes life as one of us, while asking us to taste life as one of God’s …

...


Even if the roof comes down and life itself is rendered open to the sky, the Spirit longs to overflow this temple of our heart. No fire can stop revolutionary love.


...


Gather what needs attention and let go of it in the love of God.


...


Everything, everything crumbling and mixing and decomposing underneath. Nothingis wasted. You are like a tree whose roots reach down into a rich and fertile soil. You stand on holy ground.


...


“Is that God?” asks Mercy. "The excitement behind the excitement…" (The heart of my heart.)


...


God? That which made bees and mountains and water? GOD. LOVES. ME.

No matter what.


...


“I wanted to give [you] a gift ..."


...


Who would not keep, if they could, that intensity of imagination, that facility of suspending disbelief, that readiness to wonder?

We enter the kingdom, after all, as a child.

...


Awaken to the truth that any place contains every place and every moment contains eternity.

This is the day. Today. ("My favourite," said Pooh.)

...


We bring the walks, the talks, the racked up miles and awkward smiles ... we bring the social distance - this space we hold with loving care between us - and the still, small voice of calm that speaks within our isolation.

Gather us up.

...


Thy will be done.
Thy kingdom come.

Mary trusts in God, the way God trusts in her. May it dawn on us, that we may do the same.


...


Because the song that someone else may hear, as they stand within their deepest dark, could yet be the one you've learned to sing from deep within your aching heart.


...


The Word is out, and on the street:
 

...


It's precisely because we are weary, and poor in spirit, that God can touch us with hope. ‘Christmas is cancelled’? Humbug. This is where it all begins.
 

...


This is the Christmas Day the Lord has made. We shall rejoice, and be glad in it.

 

*     *     *


If you have a little time, now:

Take a breath.
Look around you.
Here you are. Here we are.
Go back over the reflection, line by line, slowly.

...

Have a listen to this piece of music by Brian Eno called 'An Ending (Ascent)'. Enjoy the shots of Earth. Give thanks for the Advent journey that God made through Jesus. 'For God so loved the world ...'
 

*     *     *


The Habit of Twilight 

At the solstice, the sun seems to stand still (in terms of where it rises on the horizon) for three days, before the days begin to lengthen again. This can be a precious time of waiting, before the light of Christmas Day arrives. Don't rush ahead. Savour these twilight moments.
 

*     *     *


Thanks for all your amazing 'six word memoirs'. I still have more to post up - so do check back on the RSVP page here!


*     *     *

 

If you'd like to browse through all the Advent reflections in one place, you can do so by clicking here.
 

*     *     *


Last one tomorrow!
And may you know peace, within all our uncertainty, today.
Go well!

...

18 // In the Bleak Mid-Winter


'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' (Matthew 5)


*     *     *


Saturday didn’t start so well, and by the time I got to the barber’s, I was feeling upset and regretful, and slumped onto a chair to wait my turn. And it all caught up with me in those moments of waiting: the weirdness of the year, the angst in the air …

I expect it's caught up with you recently, too.
 

*     *     *


An obstinately soulful version of 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter' came on the radio in the background, sung by Annie Lennox.

I realised I'd always lazily equated the words “Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow …” with the magic of a Christmas card scene; but they come into truer, biting focus as news of the new strain of virus, and extra lockdown restrictions, fall like fresh dumps upon this year's chill accumulation, until it feels like an avalanche.

But in one of those merciful glimmers when a signal crackles through the static, the barber’s well-rehearsed conversation about 'these strange times' fell still, and the shop seemed to stop, and we listened as a little congregation.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:

In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.
 

*     *     *


‘It is precisely because we are weary, and poor in spirit,’ writes Kathleen Norris, ‘that God can touch us with hope.’

Blessed are the poor in spirit ... 

I'm sure these have often proved hard words for many of us in the comfortable West, at least, to relate to.

‘This is not an easy truth,’ Norris agrees. ‘As the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, once said, it is only the poor and hungry, those who know they need someone to come on their behalf, who can celebrate Christmas.’
 

*     *     *


This year has reminded us of the humanity we share across our planet. For many of us, it’s the first time in our lives we've experienced such conspicuous, collective ‘weariness’ with so many others. Snow has fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.

But this is precisely the point at which we are able to celebrate, as archbishop Romero reminds us. So it’s a spiritual invitation like no other, in that sense.

The headlines, this weekend in the UK, announced that 'Christmas is cancelled'. Humbug. This is the moment Christmas begins. And if we feel as if we’ve nothing left to give, we’re probably ready to offer the one gift of true worth at our disposal.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give him, give my heart.

Which is almost certainly the only thing God was ever hoping for, anyway.
 

*     *     *


If you have a little time, now:

You might like to close your eyes and listen to Annie Lennox sing this live version of In the Bleak Mid-Winter.

Give your heart.
 

*     *     *


The Habit of Twilight - Solstice Special, along with the Great Conjunction!!!

It’s the winter solstice today, and a chance to face the darkest night with courage, in a 'twilight moment' which, in a sense we've been practising for, all along: to gather in the gloom, with obstinate soulfulness; as the poor in spirit, as the weary, waiting.

(By the way, Paul says in the Message version of Romans 8.24: ‘Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting.’ I think that's lovely.)

Please do step outside at twilight, if you can, or wait at a window, and be conscious of us all waiting, together, in the darkness ...

Here I am. Here we are.

...

And if you’re blessed with clear skies, remember, tonight, the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, as they draw closer together (in our line of vision from Earth) than they have done for 400 years.

Some experts believe this event, which also happened around 7BC, could have been the star of Bethlehem seen by the Magi. Whether it was or not - and whether we can see it through the clouds or not - tonight is a celestial reminder that from within our great darkness, a beautiful Advent light begins to shine.

RSVP! Final window!


It would be lovely to receive a 'six word memoir' of your own advent journey this year. If you can make it a story in six words, so much the better! Send your response by replying to this e-mail. I'll post as quickly as I can over the next two days - and you can read them on the RSVP page here!


*     *     *

 

May we take heart, as we give our heart, today.
Go well!

...

17 // The Word is Out


Good morning.

I mentioned yesterday how hard it is to describe that deeper sense of hope. At times, I think you just have to say: “Hope looks like this …”

So today I’d like to say that hope looks, in particular, like Pastor Mick Fleming from Burnley, and his friend Father Alex Frost.

They've helped to put sacrificial Christian love into the headlines this December. You might have seen the very moving feature on the BBC national news, featuring Mick and Alex, who have been assisting the poor on the streets of Burnley (one of the most deprived areas of the country) for years.

The area has suffered acutely since Covid, and the pair's relentless work among some of its poorest has captured hearts - so much so that over £250,000 has been sent by the public to the charity they serve, Church on the Streets, putting the pair back in the headlines again.

Their personal investment seems total, and it's clearly intensely painful for them to see people struggling so badly. At one point in the film Father Alex breaks down in heartfelt tears. "I'm sorry for getting upset," he says, 'but you carry people's burdens. You try to tell them it's all right..."

"Is this testing your faith?" asks the BBC's Ed Thomas, with sincerity. "No, my faith is being strengthened by this crisis," answers the priest, "because it's given me an opportunity to live out the gospel, to serve the poor and to help the needy ..."

"Together," says the reporter, "they're the hope for thousands in this crisis."
 

*     *     *

 

In an inspiring follow-up article for the BBC's website yesterday, Pastor Mick shares how he found hope himself after a life of crime and drugs. He had a road-to-Damascus experience (blinding light and all) as he was about to pull a gun.

"It was the end of a troubled life, and the beginning of a new one of hope," reports Ed Thomas. "It wasn't easy …" says Pastor Mick. He experienced a breakdown, and it was a very long way back (including, in the end, through a theology degree and ordination). "But it was my path to God - and all the way to 2020 and the pandemic."
 

*     *     *


It's rare that such tenacious love makes national headlines, but how good that it has - and how positive to remember there are countless other unsung saints quietly helping others where the need is greatest. "Salt of the earth," as Jesus said.

We don’t all have a dramatic story like Mick, but we share the same potential to make a difference because we share the same profound Advent hope - in the Word who 'became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood', as the Messageparaphrase puts it. The God who got stuck in, walked beside us, wept with those who weep. I've been reminded, by Mick and Alex, of the courageous, compassionate and hopeful reality of the 'good news' this week, as embodied by Jesus.
 

*     *     *


I'm sure hope looks like all sorts of things, from a robin singing in a tree to a former criminal handing out hot food in Burnley (they have to serve it hot from the back of their car, by the way, because so many people there now can't afford the gas or electricity to cook the food parcels the charity used to deliver).

But perhaps we can look out, this weekend, for what hope looks like, when it looks something like this. And how good if we can share the news, however humbly, through our own Advent lives. At a Christmas time like this, when so many of us won't be able to 'worship' in a church in the time-honoured, lovely way, it's a hopeful reminder, if we need encouragement, that the Word is out, and on the streets.

 

*     *     *


If you have a little time, now:

Please do watch the BBC news report here (5 minutes).

There's a longer version of this film here on BBC iPlayer (if you're overseas you may not be able to access this one). It's 11 minutes long.
 

And I really recommend you take the time to read the BBC's excellent, gritty, and moving follow-up feature on Pastor Mick and Father Alex here.


...

What does hope look like? Have a look at how a collection of artists responded to the question, back in the spring lockdown, here. The pictures are available to download or print as part of a project to inspire hope via the fineacts collective.
 

*     *     *


We had a wonderful time together on the Twilight Moment Live. If you missed it, you can watch again on my YouTube channel. Pour yourself a cup of something warming and settle in to gather up the week.

 

*     *     *


Thanks for so many inspiring responses this week. I'll invite the last round on Monday, but for now, do catch up on the RSVP page here!


*     *     *

 

May we live in Advent hope, today.
Go well!

..

16 // We Have Hope


“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet, never, in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of Me.

Emily Dickinson


*     *     *


Yesterday, I stood outside with a cup of tea to watch the dawn break. Venus, the morning star, was glimmering like a messenger in the half-light of the eastern sky, and from the stillness, a robin began to sing.

What hopeful companions they have been, in this early winter! They're first to sing in the morning, and last to finish in the evening, and a pair have sung their hearts out here, all day long, joyfully reminding me of Emily Dickinson's words of hope.
 

*     *     *


As we edge nearer to Monday's shortest day (in the 'North', at least), and deeper in toward the darkest point of this darker year, let's keep in mind that we draw closer, too, to the breaking dawn. It's often at that darkest point that truest hope is born.

As the author Sarah Arthur writes of Advent, 'We rehearse both the first and second comings, juxtaposed against a backdrop of the world’s longest night, all creation holding its breath for the final turn, the last and best sunrise.'
 

*     *     *


Hope is mercifully not the naive optimism that keeps its fingers crossed for things to go our way, as Nadia Bolz Webber helpfully reminds us in a talk on what she calls ‘the three saddest words in the Bible: “We had hoped.”'

They’re spoken, to the risen Jesus, by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who had pinned their hopes, she says, on his triumphal entry, not a crucifixion! I'm sure we'd have done the same. It’s harder to fathom that we must die, to live again.


*     *     *

 

As usual with the gospel, it's a counter-intuitive place to find yourself. You wouldn't think that suffering and hope should mix, but for the apostle Paul, 'suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us' (Romans 5).

We've all struggled in different ways this year, and what I've learned in the lowest points - perhaps truly for the first time - is that hope abides, for Jesus meets us there, in love, and bids us rise again, with him.

'I had hoped' this would be over, by now; instead I have hope - one that doesn't dissapoint - that 'You are with me', as Psalm 23 puts it so hopefully. It's hard to describe this to myself in words that don't sound trite, so I'm thankful for metaphor, as it was the first shoots of spring, and the falling leaves of autumn. It is a 'tune without words' in the gale.

 

*     *     *


You can’t self-help this kind of hope into being, I don't think. But you can behold it.

I’ve never noticed robins in such fine December voice before. I guess they always sing this much - but I've heard them this year because I’ve been out there in twilight, in darkness - and here, right now, waiting in these moments before dawn.

And while hope asks not a crumb from us, it has to overflow us into action, doesn't it? Because the song that someone else may hear, as they stand within their deepest dark, could yet be the one you've learned to sing from deep within your aching heart.

It's not pristine out there, today. No Venus, for me. It's wet, and the wind is blowing strong. And yet - I hear it now! - there's hope, arising in my friend the robin's song.

 

*     *     *


If you have a little time, now:

Take a breath.

Wait for the dawn to break. Listen for the birds.

You might like to speak that line from Psalm 23, as you do, with a pause for breath between each word: "For You are with me."

...

In a moment of quiet reflection, why not look back on the year, and forward with hope, and complete the phrases:

"I had hoped ... "
"I have hope ..."


Twilight Moment Live Today! 4pm!

Today is our final 'Twilight Moment Live' together - so please join me just before 4pm on my YouTube channel. Butter yourself a hot crumpet - generously! - and make a pot of tea and let's share a moment to remember!

 

*     *     *


Thanks for so many wonderful responses so far this week. I'm still posting, bit by bit, on the RSVP page here!


*     *     *

 

May we find hope, today.
Go well!

...

15 // The Dawning


"May it happen to me, as you have said."  Luke 1.38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


I love this painting of ‘The Annunciation’ by Henry Ossawa Tanner. Not that I know much about the visual arts, but for me, it fleshes out that moment Elizabeth Rooney describes when ...

One single
Simple
Open soul
Received
The potency
Of the creative whole.

What is it, in Mary's expression, that catches in the light of Gabriel's radiance? A dawning?


*     *     *


There's something in the body language of this moment, too (albeit Gabriel's not personified but depicted as that stunning gash of luminescence). As Jane Williams says in The Art of Advent, 'there is a real dialogue of respect, here ... a gentleness in the angel’s approach, as well as a quiet self-possession in Mary’s response.'

That helps me to see the unforced nature of the love of God within the bigger picture of this painting, too.


*     *     *


As my wife said to me yesterday, it's heartening to know, after such a singular, seismic moment in Mary's life (let alone, human history) that her cousin Elizabeth is expecting, too, and has a supporting act to play within this drama. God knows, we need to share the load. (And worth noting, incidentally, that it's the women who have the speaking lines; Joseph's thoughts go unreported; Zechariah is rendered dumb.)

How much they must have shared, as well: from that moment the Baptiser leapt for joy in the waters of Elizabeth's womb (did Mary reach to feel him kick, as she sang Magnificat in wondered response?) ... to the three whole months that Mary stayed there, with Elizabeth, incubating hope, together; preparing, for the Way.

What to expect (when you're expecting) - of birth? of life? of the sacrifice of love? In Tanner's painting, a shelf behind the angel completes the outline of a cross, and perhaps both mothers had the inkling they would share the pain of loss.
 

*     *     *
 

It is good news, of great joy (like John's!), which the Christmas angels bring, to each of us - but the expression we glimpse on Mary's face reflects something, perhaps, that humanity itself is still trying to take in, after all this time.

Behold: that God would give himself to us, like this; and ask us to receive Him, thus.

"May it happen to me, as you have said," agrees the mother-to-be of her Lord, our Lord, Jesus. Thy will be done. Thy kingdom come. She trusts in God, the way God trusts in her. May it dawn on us, this Advent; that we may do the same.
 

*     *     *


If you have a little time, now:

Just sit prayerfully, in stillness, with the picture.

...

Breathe out, "Thy will be done."
Breathe in, "Thy kingdom come."

...

You might like to listen to this version of Mary Did You Know?

Or stand outside, to see the dawn break, and listen to the birds.


'The Habit of Twilight'

Set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk where you are) and try to get outside, or look from a window, and watch the light fade.

Why not try to write a haiku (which is comprised of three lines: the first has five syllables, the second lines has seven syllables, and the third has five) about your experience of twilight, or what is beginning to dawn?


 

Twilight Moment Live on Friday!

Make sure you pop our final 'Twilight Moment Live' together in the diary - it's this Friday at 4pm on my YouTube channel. Might I suggest that we celebrate by bringing a hot buttered crumpet and a pot of tea to that moment? Make an occasion of it, and feel free to invite your friends on-line as well!

 

*     *     *


Thanks for so many wonderful responses so far this week. I'm still posting, bit by bit, on the RSVP page here!


*     *     *

 


May we welcome the dawning, today.

Go well!

...

14 // Gather Us Up


'How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings ...'  Matthew 23.27
 

*     *     *


Good morning.

I wanted to write some lines to help us begin to gather up this historic year. I hope this helps to give some voice to your own experience. And to express something, albeit incomplete, of what we have shared, not just through Advent so far, but throughout the last 12 months...


*     *     *


For it has been quite the year. It's such a joy to hold this holy space, together; for and with each other. A stable place, in unstable days; sanctuary for the weary soul.

Breathe deep.

We gather, not to fix, or to gloss over, or to prove what’s what, but to come just as we are; to bring our aching, longing, hoping. We bring our ‘Here I am’, and ‘Here we are’ - for we are still here, and we have come so far, this year. So far.
 

*     *     *


We bring our still not-knowing, our, ‘How long, O Lord?’, our ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come’. The songs to keep the spirits up, ‘We’ll meet again’ (some sunny day, I'm sure we will, when all of this is done).

We bring the flickers of joy we’ve learned to kindle in this present dark: rejoicing in the simple gifts, like bud, blossom, the birds that sing ...

We bring laughter, and the dam-burst holy tears that overflow the reservoirs, within. Our weeping: for those we’ve waved to through closed windows; or have waved goodbye to, on a screen. For ourselves, too: as we think what might have been.


*     *     *


We haul our aching bodies here in dogged perseverance that we will not fail or fade; looking, at least, for mercies every morning, and to say, in faith, this Groundhog Day is still the day the Lord has made.

We bring each other, the notes of love, the rainbow windows, the cakes left to surprise and cheer us, feeding both the body and the hungry soul; the “How are you today?”s; the clapping, and discovery of long-lost neighbours, right next door.

We bring “the new normal”, and all the other things we’d never dreamed of saying one year back, like “Have you got your mask?” and “You mustn’t hug your grandad” and “I can host the Zoom”.

We bring the walks, the talks, the racked up miles and awkward smiles while skirting round each other on the pathway; we bring the social distance - this space we hold with loving care between us - and the still, small voice that speaks of calm within our isolation.

We bring the emptied roads, and clear blue skies, and nature’s breathing deep. We bring the litter left on beaches, like lament; and our anger when the rules are - if not broken - well and truly bent.

The sickening gasps of “I can’t breathe…” and here we go again. We bring every falling leaf of loss and find we stand on holy ground within the pouring rain.


*     *     *


We gather every last thing up … the times it all went right, the days we had the energy to say “Yes, oh yes!” to life. And then, the “No, please, no!” when all came crashing down within those same four walls again.

We gather up these pieces, and standing in the twilight of this once pristine, now fading year, we bring them, in our darkness, praying: Gather us, to you, O Lord; Immanuel, draw near.

Amen.
 

*     *     *
 

If you have a little time, now:

You could listen to this lovely song by Lauren Daigle called Light of the World.

Why not write a few lines of your own, of recollection. Sit with your own 'pieces', gather them, and ask to be gathered.

'The Habit of Twilight'

Do set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk where you are) and try to get outside, or to look from a window, and watch the light fade.

You might like to read 'Gather Us Up' again as you stand in the darkness tonight.
 

*     *     *
 

RSVP! (Third 'window' to respond)

If you haven't yet this week, please feel free to send a response to anything from the last few days. Please keep it concise, and choose your words with love and care. Thank you! I shall post bit by bit on the RSVP page here!


*     *     *


May you gather, and be gathered up, today.

Go well!

...

13 // My Favourite Day


“This is the day that the Lord has made.” Psalm 118
 

*     *     *


Good morning!

Perhaps you'd take a moment to re-read the verse above, before you continue. Leave a little pause between each word. Breathe it in, and out. And bring yourself to this gift of a new day with openness, and love. For you are a gift, yourself.


*     *     *


My ten-year-old reminded me yesterday of some advice she'd offered me, back when it was all beginning to feel too much like Groundhog Day. It came from the gospel of Winnie the Pooh, and bears repeating.

Pooh and Piglet are walking along together in the forest.

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favourite day,” said Pooh.”
 

*     *     *


Perhaps that's what the psalmist was thinking, when he wrote: “This is the day ... We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118)

This day, the one with the wind and rain forecast and the Covid restrictions (though to be fair, there are stars twinkling out there at the moment, and a robin is singing).
 

*     *     *


It's understandable that sometimes we want to be anywhere but here. If we could click our fingers and end up on the other side of 2020 and all this, then who wouldn't? It's been such a tough year, and by the way: well done for getting this far.

But we have come so far! - so let's stay with it, if we can, and with the 'gift of now' that contains more than we can ask for, or imagine. For all the while we're straining forward for what's beyond our reach, we forget that the gift of gifts is already given: Immanuel, God with us; Alpha and Omega.

As the priest and author Richard John Neuhaus writes, 'We are forever seeking, while the forever for which we seek is now. Awaken to the truth,' he says, 'that any place contains every place and every moment contains eternity.'

This one, too.


*     *     *


It all, mesmerisingly, flows from that one moment in time, when Mary received the gift for all humanity; which makes today, and our participation in it, as much a part of everything as those extraordinary Advent days of old.

The American poet Elizabeth Rooney describes exquisitely this point we find such eternal consequence within, in her poem 'Annunciation':

There was
Is
Has been
And will be
An everywhere
Fixed
And transfixed
Wherein
One single
Simple
Open soul
Received
The potency
Of the creative whole.
 

*     *     *


One single simple open soul received. May we, today be formed and re-formed in that moment of Creation - containing all moments from the very first 'in the beginning' to when He comes again - as we receive Immanuel, God with us, the potency of the creative whole in this moment, in this, 'my favourite day'.

In the words of another poet, Susan Coolidge:

“Every day is a fresh beginning;
Listen, my soul, to the glad refrain,
And, spite of old sorrow and older sinning,
And puzzles forecasted and possible pain,
Take heart with the day, and begin again.”

Amen.
 

*     *     *

 

'Annunciation' is used by very kind permission of the Elizabeth Rooney Family Trust.
 

*     *     *


If you have a little time, now:

Behold, the day before you. And - using the words of the psalmist - complete this sentence spontaneously, or prayerfully:

"This is the day the Lord has made. I will ..."

...

You could listen to this lovely song by Audrey Assad called 'New Every Morning'.

Or to Morten Lauridsen's soul-shivering 'O Magnum Mysterium' sung by the choir of King's College Cambridge here. It evokes the image of animals beholding Jesus in the stable, and always helps me to imagine being there.


'The Habit of Twilight'

Do set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk where you are) and try to get outside, or to look from a window, and watch the light fade.

Keep tracking Jupiter and Saturn, if the skies are clear, in the southwest horizon in the hour after sunset. They are heading towards the historic moment of 'the Great Conjunction' next Monday.

 

*     *     *

 

RSVP!

Send me a sentence starting, 'This is the day I will ...'

Otherwise, simply send a response to anything from the last few days. Please keep it concise, and choose your words with love and care. Thank you! I shall post bit by bit on the RSVP page here!

 

*     *     *

 

May your open soul receive today.
Go well!

...

12 // To Suspend Our Disbelief


'The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.'    Isaiah 11.6

 

*     *     *


On one level, belief really matters, doesn’t it?

When Maya Angelou and Desmond Tutu came, independently, to believe that “God loves me, no matter what”, it released in them something so beautiful - like a kingfisher in flight! - that they could start to make great things happen. As though they had nothing to lose.
 

*     *     *


But a lot of us may feel as if we’re not quite there, yet.

(Which is OK, too, because ... God loves us, no matter what.
Take a breath.
Be still.
You've nothing to prove, today.)
 

*     *     *


Mercifully, I think the twilit hinterland between belief and its seeming ‘opposite’ matters, too. Because it reminds me that life was never binary in the first place; it’s not just a matter of either yes or no, take it or leave it, believe it or not.

Saturday’s poem by Katherine Venn was special to me because (as you probably know) I’ve seen a kingfisher at several serendipitous moments, which I’d love to believe was sent, each time, as a gift.

But whether God did, or didn’t, open his hands to release that special bird (and whatever it is the 'kingfisher' represents for you), nevertheless: in that moment when we become so utterly present to its flight along the river, which Katherine describes as ‘the gift of now’, we are invited, I believe, gently to suspend our disbelief.

And perhaps that’s enough to open us to the mystery that - whether God made it happen or not - God was there with us, regardless, delighting in that moment, too. Which is surely what makes it so delightful.
 

*     *     *


It was the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who first coined the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’, as he aimed to write the kind of verse that would propmpt a ‘poetic faith’ in his reader, and thus open up a deeper encounter with life through his art.

CS Lewis would later apply the phrase to childhood. As we grow up and reflect on what to keep and what to lose of being young, he said: “Who in [their] sense would not keep, if [they] could, that tireless curiosity, that intensity of imagination, that facility of suspending disbelief ... that readiness to wonder ..?”

We enter the kingdom as children, after all.
 

*     *     *


I adored reading my kids the Narnia Chronicles when they were young, because it helped me step back through the wardrobe, too ... to the place that's 'always winter, never Christmas' to begin with, and yet which shifts so stirringly, as news arrives that "Aslan is on the move!"

Spine-tingling echoes of Advent, which invites us, too, to suspend disbelief for long enough that we glimpse, with 'readiness to wonder', Immanuel in the manger, born of a virgin. No wonder this season can summon so vividly the redeemable magic of childhood, 'the excitement behind the excitement', however old we are. It seems to want to.

And if we’re open to the idea that it could all happen, there in Bethlehem ... then with 'tireless curiosity' we might yet envision a land in which it can happen, once again; the kind of place in which 'the wolf lives with the lamb, and a little child leads them'.

And if we can imagine that - then we can start to help it happen, too, in this land, this life, this heart; and to sense God with us, wonderfully, in that moment ... delighting, as we do.

 

*     *     *

 

If you have a little time, now:

Take another breath, be still. You've nothing to prove.
God loves you, no matter what.

...

When you're ready, listen to 'I Wonder as I Wander'. Audrey Assad's version evokes a mystery that's truly worth beholding. Allow it to help you suspend disbelief, and to welcome your 'readiness to wonder'.


'The Habit of Twilight'

Do set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk where you are) and try to get outside, or to look from a window, and watch the light fade.

Keep your eyes out for Jupiter and Saturn, if the skies are clear. They appear near the southwest horizon in the hour after sunset, and they are getting 'closer' with each passing night. Next Monday, on the winter solstice, they will seem as if they are almost one star - the closest they have been 'together' in our line of vision since 1623. It's known as 'the Great Conjunction'. Why not keep watch, this week, as we begin to face (here in the Northern hemisphere) more directly into the longest night.
 

*     *     *

I shall re-open the RSVPs tomorrow. But remember to read the first two 'windows' on the RSVP page here!

 

*     *     *

 

May you be ready to wonder, today.
Go well!

...

10 // Glimpsing the Glory


"For God so loved the world ..." John 3.16
 

*     *     *


Good morning!

It feels lilke we've been edging (in our series) toward that wonderful realm of ‘epiphany’ - the occasional, and often delightful kind of 'A-ha!' moment that can send a shiver down the spine. It's no surprise, really, for Advent surely is the time to be especially receptive to heaven's way of touching earth.

While we tend not to see angels in the skies these days, still: so many gifts present themselves, if we're present - whether it's through reading the Bible or beholding works of art, being asked a really good question or having a wild swim or even reading a book in a nice warm bath ...

And sometimes, they change things, for good, in a moment. I remember the night Richard Rohr led me, and the rest of a packed cathedral, into 10 minutes of silence. I’d never experienced anything like it; and I was never really the same again.


*     *     *


In an intriguing collection of interviews by Elise Ballard (called Epiphany), in which she asks all sorts of different people 'What's the most significant one you've had?', Desmond Tutu describes epiphany as 'an opening, or a revelation, that enables you for a moment to glimpse the glory of God, or the glory that is God.'

For Maya Angelou (who was also interviewed before she died), it's when 'the mind, the body, the heart, and the soul focus together and see an old thing in a new way'. That's helpful, isn't it? It's when the kaleidoscope turns.
 

*     *     *


And that's when it's time to pay good attention, too. For it's not, ultimately, just about the experience. The art is to be open to, and to be opened by the gift. Archbishop Tutu clearly has been: the major awakening in his life, he says, is an on-going event which is simply, and profoundly this: 'that God loves you, no matter what.'

God loves you, no matter what.

It's affected everything, from his joyful heart to the impact of his Nobel-prize-winning work - for as he says, 'even the worst of us in our communities is a beloved of God, and that has taught me that there is no one in this world who is a lost cause.'
 

*     *     *


I began to think someone was trying to tell me something when, after reading this, I settled in to Maya Angelou's contribution, and found disarming similarity. She told a story, of course, to illustrate hers.

Her voice teacher, once a month, used to gather his students together and get them to read aloud from a book. One day, when it was her turn to read, she came upon the sentence, "God loves me."

The teacher asked her to say it again, which she did.

On the third time of asking, she felt so inferior and embarrassed (in front of her white peers) that she spoke, she said, 'with such ferocity - forcefully: "GOD. LOVES. ME ."

'And at that moment,' she recalls, 'I knew it. I knew it...

'I thought, "God? That which made bees and mountains and water? Loves me? Well then, there's nothing I can't do. I can do anything good." And 50 years on, she said, 'I could still weep with joy ... that I am loved by Love itself.'


*     *     *

 

Two of the great cultural, social, political, spiritual leaders of recent years, then, both with the simplest, Sunday school message at the heart of their life-changing work.

Perhaps if there is one gift we can be open to, and opened by, afresh this Advent then, it's this: that God loves us so much, he sent his Son. That's enough for today, but also, it seems, for a lifetime.

God. Loves. You. No matter what.

 

*     *     *


If you have a little time, now:

Don't rush off. Take a breath, relax, and pause. 
Hold out your hands. Stay a while.

You could also listen to this wonderful rendering of EE Cummings words from yesterday, set to music by Eric Whitacre - I Carry Your Heart (Thanks to Christine P!)

And why not ask yourself: What's the most significant epiphany I've ever received?


'Twilight Moment Live'

Do set your alarm for 3.55pm GMT and join me for 15-20 minutes of guided reflection, as we gather up the thoughts of the week, light a candle and say a prayer.

Click the link here to my YouTube channel and look for the 'live' box (it'll be there from about 3.55pm) ... and I will join you at 4pm!

 

*     *     *

 

And do have a look at the wonderful collection of responses from the Advent community so far at the RSVP page here.


*     *     *

 

Elise Ballard's Epiphany is published by Temerity.

 

*     *     *

May you glimpse the Glory, today.
Go well!

...

9 // Heart of My Heart


'The Son is the radiance of God's glory.' Hebrews 1.3


*     *     *


Good morning!

Mercy (15) and I walked up a hill at dusk the other day. The moon was rising, and a few stars were beginning to glimmer.

All of a sudden, she felt a shiver of excitement, out of the (darkening Advent) blue.

“That feeling you get about Christmas, dad” she said. “I know the presents are exciting, and everything else. But there’s another kind of excitement behind the excitement…

“Is that God?”

 

*     *     *


The 'excitement behind the excitement'. I get it. (I get it when I hear a choir sing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’! I tend to think that when we can't describe something, we are, most likely, describing God.)

Mercy's words evoked some lines of a poem by E E Cummings, 'i carry your heart':

‘here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life…)’


Behold.
 

*     *     *


And as it's Advent, perhaps we should talk, too, of the light of the light.

We strung some fairy lights up outside this week, but it felt less about making things festive, and more about offering a gentle radiance for passers by who felt the gloom of 2020’s darkness. A refulgence.

Intriguingly, the writer (and French resistance leader) Jacques Lusseyran found, when he went completely blind at the age of seven, that in his total darkness he could detect a different kind of light within, which illuminated objects and people, giving them form and full colour.

It would fade when he acted from the ego in a scheming or calculating or anxious way. And the way to keep that inner light shining, to see in the dark, he wrote, "was to love”.

Wow. I don't 'see' like him, but I thought I could sense, at least, a light behind our little lights of love, this week.

God of God! Light of light! Lo, He abhors not ...


*     *     *


A lot of our festivities will be stripped away this year, for better or worse. Parties and get-togethers, carols by candlelight, nativities and drinks with friends … And while it will be strange - and painful, when it comes to separation - it's a unique place, too, from which to cast a subtly more radiant vision for 'Christmas 2020'.

And if the way to see in darkness is, indeed, "to love", we probably have all the clues we need to make some different plans. Jesus was the radiance of the Father's glory. He loved, to shine the light of God. And lights us, now, from inside out, to go and do the same.


*     *     *


EE Cummings concludes his poem, thus:

‘and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)’.


"Is that God?" the girl on the hillside said. 'Heart of my own heart,' as the old hymn puts it, 'whatever befall, be Thou my vision ..." For Christmas, and all.


*     *     *

 

If you have a little time, now:

Bring any fear about Christmas 2020 into prayerful stillness, name it, and 'let go of it in the love of God' (as Maggie Ross advised us this week).

Do one small thing, today, that brings love and light to someone who needs it.

You can read EE Cummings' poem here.



The habit of twilight

Remember to set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk where you are).
Switch out the lights. Allow your eyes to adjust.
Light a candle, and welcome the light behind the light.
Carry it in your heart when you continue on to whatever you're doing next.

 

*     *     *

 

RSVP! Second round of responses open!

I'm loving your creative responses to the series! Thank you! Do send an RSVP (if you want to) with a sentence or short poem ... or an example of your creativity ... by replying to this e-mail.

And please do have a look at an incredibly rich and soulful RSVP page here.

 

*     *     *

May you love, to shine the light of God.
Go well!

...

8 // Where Have You Been?


Good morning!

It was very moving to see 90-year-old Margaret Keenan become the first person to receive a Covid vaccine yesterday. A happy, hopeful and historic day! And a good moment, I think, to allow for a little looking back...

So yesterday, I revisited my regular old ‘lockdown route’ to reflect. You may have had one, too; our short country path kept us sane and led us daily through shock and shutdown, bud-burst and birdsong, fatigue and frustration, waiting and wisdom…

I retraced my steps appreciatively, prayerfully. It’s not always easy to know where God is, in the midst of testing times; sometimes I think it’s easier to see, looking back, where God has been ... walking beside, all along.

“For you are with me …” (Psalm 23.4)
 

*     *     *


(If you were to close your eyes now, and retrace your steps through 2020, where do you think you'd especially, appreciatvely be aware of God’s presence on your path?)


*     *     *


I stood beside some beech trees where, in early spring, we used to pause to feel the brand new, silk-soft leaves, and to savour the hopeful, ‘interfulgent’ sunlight (remember?!) filtering through the thickening foliage. We felt so grateful for Creation.

Today, those trees stand bare - it's their time for letting go - but their bareness lets ‘apricity’ shine through, now, to gently warm the face of cold December, and perhaps to assure us: this, too, will pass.

“To everything there is a season …” (Ecclesiastes 3.1)
 

*     *     *


(What have you learned, from the seasons of this year?)


*     *     *


The fallen beech leaves evoked an image that really helped me, this year - of a tree whose roots reach down into a rich and fertile soil. It came from the author Glennon Doyle, who explains movingly how the soil her roots are planted in consists of:

“every girl and woman I’ve ever been, every face I’ve loved, every love I’ve lost, every place I’ve been, every conversation I’ve had, every book I’ve read and song I’ve sung, everything, everything crumbling and mixing and decomposing underneath. Nothing wasted.” I needed to hear that; maybe you do, too.

“You are standing on holy ground.” Exodus 3.5
 

*     *     *


(What have you let go, which is now part of the very richness you are rooted in?)
 

*     *     *


I've missed the bustle, the people, the places, this year, but in slowing down, I've also learned to see a little better, too. So I didn’t miss a mistle thrush and bull-finch, yesterday, or a charm of goldfinches blurring by, or - best of all! - a gold-crest, hiding in a hedge. Our smallest UK bird, a treasure I could have only glimpsed by really stopping still to watch and wait.
    
“Be still / Cease striving ...” Psalm 46


*     *     *


(What more have you seen of life, this year, which otherwise you'd have missed?)
 

*     *     *


I walked a little further than in lockdown, and found a wooden bench, on which I used to sit during last year's Advent series, when we were all searching for benches on which to wait and watch for God. It made me smile, to think of all the plans I had for the coming year... But I was glad, too, for that Advent preparation, the 'pause to be vigilant, for something is about to be revealed'. Even a simple bench can help us to prepare our heart; to expect the unexpected ...
 

*     *     *


(Where were you, last Advent? What were you preparing for?)
 

*     *     *


As I headed home, I heard a rustling in the hedge, and I stopped, excited to make another nature 'spot'. But this time it was only sparrows. And in that moment, I realised I had thought exactly that, at that exact place, last year - "only sparrows" - and I'd written about it in the series.

A final reminder, then, that we always need reminding …

of how God loves every sparrow, let alone you … and how there’s wonder in the ordinary … and that it’s good to re-trace steps and remember where we've been, and to gather up what's already been forgotten.

To give thanks for every step we’ve walked this year, apart and yet together. And to remember that Immanuel walks too; as we continue on this road that takes us home.


*     *     *

If you have a little time, now:

Have a listen to Martyn Joseph's wonderful song 'I'm On My Way'.
Imagine our Advent community singing the chorus together.

Other ideas -

Visualise your old regular lockdown route.
Where have you been? Ask God to walk you through it.
(Why not draw a creative map?!)
You could physically re-trace your steps as well, if possible.
Find a bench. Wait and watch.

Use my questions, above, but ask yourself some others.
Write a list of questions, and see which seems the most significant to answer.



The habit of twilight

Remember to set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk where you are).

Light a candle for the people or places you have missed or lost this year.
And give thanks for what you have found.

 

*     *     *

 

RSVP! Second round of responses open!

Where have you been, this year? Please respond (if you would like) with another sentence or short poem ... on this, or any other theme. Don't worry about whether it's good enough -  it is, because it's you! - but please do try to write with care and love. I'll start posting, bit by bit, at the RSVP link here.

 

*     *     *

 

We're on our Way.
Go well!

...

7 // More Than We Can Ask


'Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine ...'Ephesians 3.20

 

*     *     *

 

Prayer remains something of a mystery (to me, at least), and I think that's a good thing. It takes many different forms, of course, and personally I don't believe there's any one right or wrong way to 'do' it.

But in times of uncertainty and shock, such as we've known this year, our prayers can, if we're not careful, become so shaped by fear that we limit God, in our minds, to the scope of the problem we're praying about, and the solution we long for.

Conversely, prayer can also, at these pivotal moments, help us to stay daringly open to other possibilities, including the hope that God can, indeed, "do immeasurably more than we can ask for or imagine". We're talking about the Creator, after all.


*     *     *


So I'm looping back to the contemplative writer Maggie Ross for one more insight I've been grateful for this year. 'The difference between prayer and magic,' she says, 'is an attitude toward the future.' When we have a vice-like attachment to oneparticular thing we'd like to happen, especially if it's fuelled by fear, we can end up using prayer as if it's magic, to try to make the future just as we would like.

It's totally understandable, and it's not to say we shouldn't ask for God's help with all we do. But one alternative - which I've found to be hearteningly, powerfully releasing - is, from the stillness of our sanctuary within (and in Maggie's lovely words):

'to gather what needs attention and let go of it in the love of God.'
 

*     *     *


And while the words "Thy will be done" can seem a little risky, counter-intuitive (think of Jesus' great courage in Gethsemane), they remind me, at least, to be open to a world of possibilities beyond the most familiar; or in other words, "Thy kingdom come", as he taught us all to pray.

All of which is pertinent, I think, as we edge gently towards a new, uncertain year.

It doesn't mean that everything will go our way. One of the more poignant aspects of Immanuel, God with us, is that Incarnation is not about escape (as my more fearful prayers can often ask for) - Simeon told Mary that 'a sword will pierce your heart', after all - but the tenderest embrace of here, which, in God's grace, can lovingly transform in ways we might have never planned.

And here's a twist: that as we relinquish our idea of what the future should hold, we may even find ourselves letting go of what we thought the problem was, to begin with. Now, 'to Him then, who is able to do immeasurably more...

'To Him, be glory.'


*     *     *

 

If you have a little time, now:

It's not easy to sit in stillness and settle into the moment with God, let alone to let something go. I find that this lovely piece of music by Olafur Arnalds sometimes helps me. It might ease you into a space in which you're open to possibilities, open to letting go, open to not knowing, open to more than you can ask for or imagine.

You might like to finish a quiet pause today with the words of the Lord's Prayer.

And why not reflect throughout the day on those amazing words from Ephesians: 'Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory ...'


The habit of twilight

Remember to set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk where you are). Twilight is such an evocative moment to face into the darkness of our not knowing, and to loosen our grip on our fear-driven attachments to outcomes. 

So stand or sit in the natural light of dusk, 'gather what needs attention' - name it, hold it - and then, in the quietness of your heart, 'let go of it in the love of God'.

 

*     *     *

 

We'll open another 'window' for your RSVP replies very soon. In the meantime, catch up with the community's response so far at the new RSVP link here.

 

*     *     *

 

Maggie Ross's Writing the Icon of the Heart is published by Cascade.

 

*     *     *

 

May you let go, and go in the love of God, today.

Go well.

...

6 // Our Time for Timeless Hope


'May the God of hope fill you with all joy ...' Romans 15.13

 

*     *     *

 

We’ve talked a lot about light during our first week in Advent. A different kind of light burned fiercely 80 years ago this week in our locality, one that could be seen as far as France, as a firestorm engulfed Southampton during a series of air raids in World War Two. One of the worst came on Sunday December 1st, 1940: Advent Sunday.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Among the 45,000 buildings to be damaged or destroyed in the ‘Southampton blitz’ was St Mary’s Church. So it felt strangely moving to sit in that rebuilt sanctuary yesterday, after lockdown (it’s not ‘our’ church, but we have some family there), and to imagine how it felt for its shell-shocked congregation to re-group, amid the ruins.

The anniversary wasn’t specifically touched on yesterday, but we considered the theme of hope, even joy, within the Advent context of a troubled 2020, and it struck me how enduring, and shared, those themes are, in light of all that has gone before. (I couldn’t help thinking, too, of those who gathered in this same church in 1912 to mourn the 687 mainly local crew who had just perished on the stricken Titanic.)

*     *     *

Every church in every land has held open a space in which ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’ can be felt and sung and shared and prayed and ‘met in Thee’ during times of global, local and personal strife. Perhaps we’ll appreciate them a little more, whatever we think of church, since having to leave the building this year.

But what a thing for us to share with those of any troubled era: to look for hope amidst the ruins of our own suffering, and thence to find that joy can rise again.

This year has been a shock. And instead of modestly downplaying it, perhaps we could ask what timeless hope can look like this time around - so that we can pass it onwards, pay it forwards, as previous generations have done for us.

*     *     *

At church, we heard these words from Romans:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Mercifully, the Spirit isn't housed between four walls; it dwells within us.

However, I'm grateful, today, for the enduring refrain contained in all the carols we've ever sung together, the Advent scriptures we’ve read, the stories we’ve shared in, whatever form of faith community we've gathered up from all the broken pieces.

That refrain reminds us, world without end, that even if the roof comes down and life itself is rendered open to the sky, the Spirit longs to overflow this temple of our heart with love, and touch our hurting world, through us, with hope and joy again.


*     *     *

Post Script: "No Fire Can Stop Revolutionary Love" 

Just after completing this reflection, I heard about the iconic Middle Church in New York (which houses the famous Liberty Bell) - ablaze, and burning down. We send love to that community in New York.

You can read an inspiring statement from Revd Jacqui Lewis here.


*     *     *

 

If you have a little time, now:

This is a lovely Advent song to listen to: O Light, by Gungor.

Or meditate on this verse:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

Take it slowly. Breathe between the words and phrases. 


The habit of twilight

Remember to set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk where you are). As you face into the darkness, ask, 'What can timeless hope look like, this time around?'.

*     *     *

Thank you so much for your RSVP responses so far. We'll open another 'window' for your replies shortly. I had a spot of bother posting photos, so have set up a new site. The new RSVP link is this one, and I'll pop up a few more posts up there today.

*     *     *

May you find some timeless hope, today.
Go well!

...

5 // A Moment of Light


'Taste and see that the Lord is good.' Psalm 34.8

 

*     *     *

 

Good morning. Something a little lighter for a Saturday. But before you continue, let's do a short reset. Take your time.

Start by relaxing your body from your head to your toes. (Notice if you have any physical tension.)

Take three deeper breaths in, and settle in to the sanctuary of this present moment.

You are God-breathed: so imagine God is breathing through you. Or for you.

Smile, look around you, and give thanks for where you are.

Welcome God's presence, here.

And now, let God welcome you. Bring yourself with gentleness and openness to this moment, and to God within it.

And imagine bringing yourself to this day before you, and to those you will meet, and to the places you will go, with that same gentleness, openness and presence.

Thank you.

 

*     *     *

 

It’s been a hard year for most of us, in different ways. But goodness can usually be found within it all: and one thing I’ve savoured is a sense of humanity’s softening, even within the hard-nosed news programme Today on BBC Radio 4 ...

Recently, it has invited listeners - some famous, some not - to share what they've coined a personal ‘moment of light’ (what a phrase!): a simple pleasure, or daily ritual, which brings them comfort or joy in these difficult times. And they’re lovely!

92-year-old June captured hearts by describing how she pours herself a G&T each night at 5.30pm - the ritual of making it is part of the joy - “then I light a candle, and I sit and sip, and watch the flame, and I count my blessings: family, friends. health ...”

 

*     *     *

 

(Why not count some of your blessings, before you continue. Start really small.)

 

*     *     *

 

The chef Nigel Slater, in another 'moment of light', says he looks forward to winter, not just for the frosts and the chance to light a fire, but for the time, each day, "when I stop what I’m doing, put the kettle on, and make two buttered crumpets”. (Crumpet season for Nigel, rather delightfully, lasts from “first leaf fall to early blossom”.)

And just yesterday, Monty Don, our national gardening treasure, shared how "one of the things that gives me greatest pleasure is the washing up - because the kitchen sink has a window behind it which is where we feed the birds.” He waxes so lyrically about the "visceral and intimate display" the birds provide every day.

Just really simple, soulful stuff. But each of those moments contains so much more than the sum of their parts, of course.

 

*     *     *

 

Advent reminds me that the Incarnation - God becoming human - is about embrace, not escape. Heaven and earth, the physical and 'spiritual' ...  they meet, don't they; break bread together. Jesus talks of "life to the full", and I’m sure that's a life to be savoured, beheld, even when the path is not easy.

I can't imagine our Lord bolting his food, like I can do. I bet he relished tastes and textures. What was it like for him to see and hear and touch and smell the world, as a man? Divine? How deliciously hospitable, and mutual, that God tastes life as one of us, while asking us to taste life as one of God’s …

And when it came to his way of prayerful solitude - for we 'do not live on bread alone' - it wasn't born of religious duty, was it..? But surely from a zestful love for the life which flows directly and abundantly from its Source. Moments of light, of life-light, indeed!

Nigel Slater speaks in hushed tones of the way butter overflows his favourite daily snack, and how perhaps “Only the generous of spirit should be allowed to spread a crumpet.” His Creator might be with him on that. O taste and see! And ... would you pass me another?


*     *     *

 

If you have some time now:

Listen to 'the joy of crumpets' by Nigel Slater here ... (it's just 4 minutes) ...
And Monty Don here (scroll to 2 hours 56 mins and 30 sec) ...
And June here (make sure you put the sound on).

After you've listened, write your own short reflection, about your 'moment of light'.


*     *     *

 

The habit of twilight

Try to earth your twilight pause, today, by incorporating a simple physical pleasure.

 

*     *     *

 

Thank you so much for your gorgeous and care-filled RSVP responses. I'm posting them up bit by bit - do keep your eyes on the Advent RSVP page here.
 

*     *     *

 

I'll be back on Monday with the next reflection.
May you taste and see, today.
Go well!

...

4 // It Runs in the Family


As you lean in, you’ll surely apprehend

the tiny God is wrapped
in something more than swaddle. The God

is tightly bound within
His blesséd mother’s gaze - her face declares
that she is rapt by what

she holds, beholds, reclines beholden to.


Scott Cairns, from ‘Nativity’

 

*     *     *


I love to think of Mary, first beholding the angel Gabriel’s news… then treasuring the mystery of her own, changing form, as the story gathered shape within her ...

 ... perhaps she sang the words of Psalm 139 to her bump:

“For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

 ... and in the fullness of time, gathering the fullness of God, in her arms.

 

*     *     *

 

Behold, the sheer poetry of the Incarnation. It's not we who are laid bare before God, but God who is laid bare before us.

St Anselm once said, “God is greater than which cannot be thought”, which is where the beholding comes in. That such unthinkable greatness arrives in the form of thegreatest humility, too, is a twist we really couldn't ask for, or imagine.

 

*     *     *

 

I wonder what Mary saw, when the inconceivable happened, and the Word became flesh, and she came face to face with him.

Perhaps she looked, as any mother might, for a family likeness. Could she see herself in the eyes of the child she had borne? In his smile, his lips? (“Isn’t this the son of Mary?” some villagers would later scoff in years to come, in Mark’s gospel.)

And did others, more discerning, see her own courage reflected in the way Jesus, too, opened himself so willingly to play his part in the story of heaven-meets-earth? Like mother, like son.

 

*     *     *

 

For Joseph, it was surely different. Jesus wouldn’t have his nose, his laugh, his walk. But what amazing love is this, to make the child his own, and seek, in turn, to be more like him? Perhaps the absence of his paternal DNA would help both he and Mary see more clearly the fingerprints of the heavenly Father in the way Jesus touched the world.

And of course, though inevitably harder to see, we all have traces of that Father, too, if we dare lean in, to see ourselves, beholden. We are 'fearfully and wonderfully made', as well, as the psalmist knew full well.

 

Not that we need 'recognition' in the way the ego craves it. "God has scattered those who are proud," sings Mary, in the Magnificat, "and he has lifted up the humble." But I’m sure I see him in you, now I'm looking in the half-light of Advent ...

It's the face of love, isn't it? It runs in the family.


*     *     *

 

If you have some time now:

Take some breaths in the stillness.
Do not rush this moment.

You can read the whole of Scott Cairns's 'Nativity' via Malcolm Guite's website here.
Or ponder some of the lines of Psalm 139.
Or use the closing lines of that psalm as a prayer, today:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Or listen, with one of our RSVP contributors, to 'Behold, the Lamb of God' from the Messiah. She writes, 'I love to listen ... imagining John the Baptist watching Jesus approach, starting as a speck in the horizon and getting closer and closer as he moves across the desert towards his cousin.'

 

*     *     *

 

'Twilight Moment Live' - today at 4pm on YouTube.

Do set your alarm for 3.55pm GMT and join me for 10-15 minutes of guided reflection, as we gather up the thoughts of the week, light a candle and say a prayer.

Click the link here to my YouTube channel and look for the 'live' box (it'll be there from about 3.55pm) ... and I will join you at 4!

 

*     *     *

 

RSVP! First 'window' still open!

Thank you so much for your gorgeous and care-filled responses so far. If you haven't yet sent in your RSVP and would like to (no pressure!), feel free to reply to this e-mail with ONE lovingly written sentence (or a short poem!).

I'm posting them up bit by bit for you to see on the Advent RSVP page here.
 

*     *     *

May you see the family likeness, in yourself and those around you, today.
Go well!

...

3 // Behold!

"Behold, you shall conceive ..." (Luke 1.31)

 

*     *     *

 

It's hard to put a name to the connection we can seek, and make, with God and life itself. But something good is happening (even, if we feel it's not) when we pause, intentionally, to take in a sunrise, or to 'be still' within twilight, or to light a candle and breathe the air and wait prayerfully, silently.

And we might call it ... beholding.

In fact, the Anglican 'solitary' (and expert on silence) Maggie Ross believes the word behold is 'arguably the most important in the Bible, and by extension in spiritual life'. It appears nearly 1,300 times in the King James Version, so she may have a point.

Although it's often translated as ‘See!’ or ‘Look!’ or ‘Lo!’, behold means more - it implies an openness and receptivity, wonder, attention, stillness, patience, love ... without us having to over-think or analyse, critique or judge.

Why not behold these verses, as a mini meditation on the beauty and reach of the Advent story itself. Speak each line, slowly, adding a pause after each 'behold':

 

 

Behold, I have seen the suffering of my people … (Ex 3.7)
...
Behold, I am sending my messenger … (Mal 3.1)
...
Behold, a virgin shall ... bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel … (Is 7.14)
...
Behold, you shall conceive ... (Luke 1.31)
...
Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy ... (Luke 2.10)
...
Behold, the Lamb of God … (John 1.29)
...
Behold, the Man ... (John 19.5)
...
Behold, I will be with you always ... (Matthew 28.20)
...
Behold, he is coming with the clouds … (Rev 1.7)
...
Behold, I am making all things new. (Rev 21.5)
 

 

*     *     *

 

Behold is ultimately a 'pause to be vigilant,' says Maggie Ross, 'because something ... is about to be revealed'.

I love that phrase! It feels like the very essence - or we could say the posture - of Advent itself, doesn't it?! When Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive, I doubt he rushed the word "Behold!".

And Mary, doubtless, heeded him.

 

*     *     *

 

Not that it's always about angels and miracles, as we 'pause to be vigilant'. It may be that what's revealed to us is simply what was there, all along, had we stopped to see. An epiphany of the ordinary, if you like, through gently opening eyes. Behold, your local patch, your neighbour, your work, your art, your friends, your day!

Returned to you, this day, with love. And part of this unfolding Advent story still.

Meantime, the Hebrew word for 'behold’ is hinneh, which is very close to the wonderful hineni, “Here I am”. So when the Bible says behold, perhaps God whispers, “Here I am”, within it all ... and we might learn to sense God here, and there, and even in the inconceivable.

In the gently opening eyes of a baby, maybe, looking up; Immanuel, beholding me and you.


*     *     *

 

If you have some time now:

Why not go back over the verses above, and behold the Advent story.
As you sit quietly, be aware that you, too, are beheld, even as you behold.
If you meet someone today, try to behold them, as Jesus might.
 

*     *     *

 

'The Habit of Twilight'

Don't forget to set your alarm for 4pm again (or dusk, if you are somewhere else in the world). And pause, to continue cultivating your own 'habit' today.

When you light your candle, why not count your blessings? Give thanks for the simple gifts of life that you might see afresh, this Advent, as you behold them.

 

*     *     *

 

RSVP! First 'window' to respond!

What are you noticing, as you begin this Advent journey? What's your 'habit of twilight'? What do you behold?

Feel free to RSVP by replying to this e-mail with ONE lovingly written sentence for the rest of the community to read! (I may edit for the sake of clarity or brevity.)

Don't feel under pressure to respond. Some people like to, some prefer not to. But it is wonderful to behold what's happening in our community, in hearts and lives.

I'll post them up bit by bit for you to see on the Advent RSVP page here.
 

*     *     *

 

For further reading on 'beholding', see Maggie Ross, Silence: A User's Guide (Vols 1&2) published by DLT.

*     *     *

May you pause to be vigilant, today.

Go well!

...

2 // A Light So Lovely

"In him was life, and that life was the light of all people ..." John 1.4-5

 

*     *     *

 

Wow! After sending yesterday's reflection, I stepped outside to ‘breathe the Advent air’, and was greeted first with the sight of Venus sparkling in the dawn sky, then the full moon setting in the west, and then a sunrise awash with Advent blues and pinks.

At moments like this, I recall the words of the theologian Thomas Berry, who says that when Creation is just too lovely for our minds to take in, we're released simply to participate in “the intimacy of all things with each other”. (Just that.) Sun and moon, light and dark, sky and earth; us, and the Creator, who shares so generously with all.

 

*     *     *

 

And while dawn turns, all too quickly, to dusk here in the northern hemisphere at the moment, nevertheless, there's a soulful quality to twilight, too, which can draw us back into the rhythm of such intimacy within Creation. Even as darkness gathers.

Indeed, in his poem ‘For One Who Is Exhausted’, the Irish writer John O’Donohue counsels us, poignantly, to:

'Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.'

 

*     *     *

 

We won't always have the soul-stirring benefit of sunsets to inspire and comfort us, of course, but even (or perhaps especially) within the often monochrome grey of this time of year, I think an Advent 'habit of twilight' could prepare us, in a couple of ways in particular, for the challenging days that may still lie ahead.

First, we can practice facing darkness, literally: watching from a window, or stepping into the garden, or going for a walk. As Parker Palmer says about the harsh winters in the American Mid-West: "the way to get through them is to get into them." (And you never know what you'll find when you do; yesterday I disturbed a kestrel and a deer in the same thrilling moment on a dusk walk around our local nature reserve.)

 

Second, the 'habit of twilight' could mean kindling an inner source of light that's more wondrous yet than the celestial palette of sun, moon and stars. Could you imagine?

 

*     *     *

 

But it's hard, as we know, to get our minds around the magnificence of Creation, let alone the Creator, the very Life-Light who comes at Christmas to flood us from the inside out!

So here's a humbler thing to picture, first. There's a rare and delightful seasonal word, apricity, which describes 'the warmth of the sun on a chilly, winter day'. Just imagine receiving that gentle touch of sunlight, for a moment, as you shelter by a tree, or in the lea of a stone wall.

Perhaps we can practice welcoming the apricity of Love within us, so that we, in turn, may radiate its gentle warmth.

It may just be as simple as speaking that prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus." Or lighting a candle, as we take some breaths and settle. But as the luminous Madeleine L'Engle once wrote, “We draw people to Christ ... by showing them a light so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

And when it's cold and dark out there, wouldn't that be quite the loveliest light to shine of all.


*     *     *

 

If you have some time now:

Why not read John O'Donohue's 'For One Who Is Exhausted'.
Meditate on light. Watch the way the light falls upon your room, or outside your window. If the sun peeps through at all today, feel its warmth on your face.
You could listen to this lovely song, 'Light of the World' by Lauren Daigle.
You might like to journal or artistically render the verse, 'In him was life, and that life was the light of all people ..." John 1.4-5

 

*     *     *

 

'The Habit of Twilight'

Set your alarm for 4pm again (or dusk, if you are somewhere else in the world).
And pause, to cultivate your own 'habit' today.

 

*     *     *

 

Fridays in Advent:
the 'Twilight Moment Live' on YouTube! 4pm


Join me for a few minutes each Friday on YouTube, as we observe the 'habit of twilight' together! We'll light a candle, have a few minutes of soulfully guided reflection, and gather the thoughts of the week so far.

I'll send the link on Friday, but you can sign up to my YouTube channel here, which means you'll also get an alert when I'm going live.

 

*     *     *

May you be a light so lovely, today.
Go well!

...

1 // To Breathe the Advent Air

"Even so, come Lord Jesus!" Revelation 22.20

 

*     *     *

 

And so, here we are!

It’s so good to gather again, as we seek to end this unforgettable year well. As it’s been said before, ‘We’re not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm,’ and our shared sense of travel through 2020 will surely lend potency and vibrancy to the always evocative season of Advent ...

Let's pray that we can make the most of these next few weeks, wherever we find ourselves. (I wonder, whereabouts are you? You might like to pause, for a moment, to look around you, and within you.)

I’m sure many of us are not quite where we'd have planned to be, 12 months ago. A bit like Mary and Joseph, perhaps. But what better place from which to start, than from where we are - for we are, at least, here - as we watch together in darkness for glimmers of Advent light.

 

*     *     *

Don’t worry about what you can get out of this season. Goodness will flow! Let’s try, instead, to bring ourselves gently and openly to it. After all, you are, potentially, as much a gift to each new day, as each new day is a gift to you.

 

*     *     *

I remember Rob Bell saying, so helpfully, in the spring lockdown, that there’s no right or wrong way to ‘be’ this year, because we’ve never been here before.

In the same way, there’s no right or wrong way to ‘be’, this Advent: it’ll feel emotional at times, undoubtedly; painful, joyous, exhilarating, frustrating … Often, all at once.

Yet even when it all feels beyond our control, we can still choose to act with some intent. Even just by taking one slow, deeper breath in, for example:

in,
then out ...


(please try it now, with a smile) ...

we can find ourselves coming alive to, and entering more fully into, the fullness of this very moment.

I like to think it's as if we're invited to step through a doorway into a still and welcome space; like the sanctuary of a stable in Bethlehem, when there's no place else you can find.

 

*     *     *

 

And the most wonderful mystery is, that as we find this 'stable space' within, we're asked to extend the welcome out. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," says Jesus (though Mary and Joseph were possibly tempted to hammer it down, on the holy night itself!). As the Christian contemplative Evelyn Underhill prayed in Advent:

'O Lord Jesus Christ, when You came to this earth, there was no room in the inn; grant to us, Your children, that you may never be crowded out of our lives, but that you may find in us a dwelling prepared for Yourself. Even so, Come Lord Jesus!'

 

*     *     *

And thus, as we take our first breaths of Advent air afresh in 2020, and step with reverence into the sanctuary of this most precious moment, we share the air and space with God; whose first infant breaths brought him - and bring him still! - alive, and well, to us.

Who knows how on earth this humbled, growing Presence within will lift and lead us out of darkness once again? But isn't that part of the mystery, too; the wonder that fills a room with rejoicing angels and knee-bent shepherds and the softening light of a newborn love, and the electrifying thrill of hope.


*     *     *

 

If you have some time, now:

Breathe the air.
And imagine stepping into the sanctuary of this present moment.
(Be still enough to imagine you can hearing a baby breathing, too.)
Pray Evelyn Underhill's prayer.
Wait, in stillness.
 

*     *     *

 

The twilight moment

I'll write more about this tomorrow, but for now, please set your alarm for 4pm (or dusk, if you are somewhere else in the world). I'd love us to observe a few moments together every day, as the light fades. Today:

Look from a window, or step outside.
Breathe the air, slowly.
Say "Come, Lord Jesus", on your exhale, several times over.
Light a candle.
Be still.

 

*     *     *

May we breathe the Advent air afresh, today.
Go well!

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