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Advent 2023 - the Daily Reflections

This is where I'll compile all the daily reflections for Advent 2023!



17 // Led by Love

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


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Good morning!

At the end of something really special, it's a good principle, I believe, to pause for breath, and to give thanks, and to see how far we've come.

And so, for our final morning, I've created a meditation which takes a sentence or two from each of our daily reflections in turn. I've also added in a line from each 'Live at Five', too, in the order they've appeared. It's a distilled reminder of each daily step we've taken, but this also reads as a whole - a meditation for a community led by God's love.

Pleas do take a breath in, and out; and when you are ready, read on - moving gently, quietly, slowly through each line in turn.


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Advent 2023: In the Midst


Imagine if we were to approach these coming days in the way that God, in Jesus, approaches us! A life-light flickers on the far horizon of the human heart. A vigil flame draws closer, carried by a child. Advent's Inmost Dweller.

Turn your face to feel the weak warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s day and there’s a warmth behind the warmth, a light behind the light. 
God of God. You of you. Me of me.

'Calm me into a quietness that heals, and listens, and moulds my longings into a more holy and human shape.'

Gentle Space Maker.
There was no room for you, but you bring the room.

I receive from you this still, present, attentive, centred embrace. 

Not pushed by fear, but led by love:
lead me to the holy and hidden heart of life itself, in You. 

On bended knee, I lift my gaze, and see this picture turn to grace.

Strangers become friends. Enlarge my table, and my heart. 

‘May I kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love my back’

Let the river roll!
We've all the hope we need to make a new start, in God's grace, with love. 

Help me see where angels long to look.

As your Advent Presence edges closer, wild and transcendent, yet so imminent and intimate, may I be quiet enough, still enough and close enough, to hear you whisper “Friend”.

We are ablaze together, collucent.

Even the stars are singing! 
"Carpe noctem!"

Seize the night! -

‘A time to see
What we cannot see
By day,
A time to know
What we will never know
Unless we pray.’

From the Word who was there before the stars were born, to the wordless baby born of stars in straw: God so loves the world, and so much more. 

We may have to look elsewhere for you to lead the Way, in rubble, debris. But heaven is coming down, right into our own Bethlehem.

As you so loved us, so we are now released to love. 

And here, in the midst, at this ‘still’ point:

Speak, Lord.

Your servant is listening.

A baby breathes.

Space opens.



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I've loved sharing this Advent space together. Thank you so much for your presence. It won't be that long until Lent begins, and we gather again!

Until then: You've got this! And on the days you haven't, "It's OK." I hope and pray you have a peace-filled and joyful Christmas.

My thanks to Katharine, guardian angel of this series in so many, many ways.

And to Him, now, 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 the glory'. 



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May you be led by Love, this Christmas.

Go well!

16 // The Final Say

'And you shall find a baby ... ' Luke 2.12

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Good morning!

Here's a Benedictine meditation, to open a space this morning.

Take a breath in, and out; and move gently, quietly through its lines. 

In the stilled silence 
mind, heart and soul 
wait upon God,
reach out to God 
not thinking
not asking
not doing
just waiting 
stilled upon God.

Sense the space as Presence. A prayer, then, for the final days of Advent.


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I've been very struck recently by a reference the contemplative teacher James Finley makes to ego: ‘The ego has to die,' he says. 'To surrender to having the final say.’

There are so many ways the ego wants that final say, too - from the parting shot of a road rage gesture (guilty, I'm afraid) to the “One more thing!” we can offer pointedly in our arguments (guilty, again). They're like rocks in the hand we're ready to cast if we believe we're the one without quite as much sin.

It's funny, but Jesus didn’t seem to answer back. He held his peace. You can almost hear it, if you listen.


*     *     *


There are words, too, which have been spoken at us, or over us, which we've allowed to have the final say within. From the troll on social media, maybe, to someone who perhaps spoke clumsily when we were little, and gave us our de-facto mental loop, whatever it might be for you:

“You can’t draw/catch/dance/sing/cook/...!”
“You’re going to mess this up.”
"You don't have what it takes.”
“You can’t be a real Christian if you ...”

I think of how the risen Jesus speaks the name “Mary” in the Easter garden, when she thinks he's the gardener. He says it with such definitive, healing recognition of who she really is, that she recognises him in the process.

Imagine him speaking your name within, with such knowing.

(This moment is the moment, so please take it.)


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Who has the final say, when all is said and done? 

I've adored our sharing together the echoes and traces that prompt our gentle wonder; the light and life that brims over the ordinary; the darkness and the mystery; the space God makes for us deep, here, in the midst. We could talk all the way to Christmas, as there's always more to explore and express. And yet.

Advent is not, in the end, a great crescendo of ideas or plans, but a diminuendo of the heart. It's time for us to stop. To be still. Drop the weapons, if we need to; open hands, open arms, surrender and embrace. Give the loyal soldier in our restless mind the long-awaited rest. 

Cease striving, the Bible says. At which point - this 'still' point, here in the midst - we really only have just one more thing to say.

“Speak, Lord.”


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Your servant is listening.

A baby breathes.

Space opens.



*     *     *


May it be. 

Go well.


15 // Around His Table

'A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you ...' John 13.34


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Good morning!

When the tectonic plates of culture shift, we can find ourselves on differing sides of opinions and belief. And so much has shifted in the last few years.

Here in the UK we had Brexit; so polarising. Then Covid: are you pro- or anti-mask, vax, lockdown? (Don’t answer!) And with all that’s going on in the world today, from the movement of refugees to the conflict we faced into yesterday, it’s a minefield.

So many of the ‘softer' norms are changing, too, and many people are left wondering where they should stand on social and spiritual issues which once seemed so straight-forward.


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So, a little reminder, which arose from a conversation I had yesterday. In Jesus’ small inner circle of 12 disciples, he invited both Matthew 'the Tax Collector' andSimon 'the Zealot', to lay down their baggage and follow him.

Simon was, most likely, an active supporter of the violent overthrow of the occupying Roman forces, and a tax-hater; Matthew, meanwhile, would have been in the pocket of the Romans, while lining his own pockets, too. There would have been enough fear, suspicion and enmity between those two to last generations.

Yet somehow Jesus brought and held them together within the 12, a unit which became such a collective force for good that its influence reaches all the way here to us, and through us, today. We don't have many details to go on, but we can try to imagine how those two men did more than just learn to put up with each other, or to avoid the awkward topics of conversation. They re-gained true identity, beyond all the labels, as children of God.

And both were sat around the table at the Last Supper, when Jesus issued his new command, to “Love one another as I have loved you.” He knew they were ready for it.


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And the wonder is, this Christmas, that he trusts that we are ready, too. It's a gorgeous time of get-togethers, 'angel visits' and reunions, but we'll most likely be called upon, within it all, to break bread with those whose views are not our own. A time to practice peace, then, ahead of any turbulence next year.

I think of Jesus, the leader, with Matthew and Simon, each of whose ways, on one simple level, he would have 'opposed'. Except he didn't oppose the men, but embraced them, brought them into the circle; so that they, in turn, reached not just to him, but through him, to each other.

Perhaps that’s what happens when know we need God's help, and forgiveness, first. We're released to love, "as I have loved you".


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I think, too, of Jesus the child born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, and how the presence of any tiny baby - evoking, perhaps, a lost innocence in us all - can help to soften even the most entrenched of hearts.

Perhaps it's his innocence, maintained, as it was, from cradle to grave and beyond, which calls to our true identity - as sisters and brothers in that growing family. Gathering around his table, this Christmas, children of the King.


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May we love, as he loved us. 

Go well!

With thanks and love to Rob R

14 // Real Life Advent

'He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.' Isaiah 53.5


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Good morning!

It’s all so hard to talk about. And I admit, when news from the Holy Land comes on TV, I want to look away. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say anything; nor that we should avert our eyes.

I found one Christian expression helpful, this week - in the form of a nativity scene which a Lutheran church in Manger Square has created, with a baby in the midst of the rubble of a destroyed building. You may have seen it. 

The church’s pastor, Munther Isaac, has said this: ‘For us, God is under the rubble in Gaza. He is with the frightened and the refugees. He is in the operating room. This is our consolation. If we want to pray, my prayer is that those who are suffering will feel this healing and comforting presence.’ 

You may, indeed, like to pray before you continue.


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Of course, it goes without saying - but it’s crucial to, nevertheless - that we pray for those on both sides of the divide who have been so terribly affected. Who could bear the agony of a loved one taken hostage?

Jesus was a Jewish baby, facing mortal danger in an occupied land; and the violence that followed his birth as 'king' was no fairy tale. Advent, in case we sometimes wonder, is real-life, and as we wait within it, isn't it always with the weight of knowing that a sword will pierce Mary's heart.


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Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us of Jesus' downward trajectory in a Christmas Eve talk: 'Any of us who have prayed to be transported into God’s presence this Christmas will get our wish,' she says - 'only not, perhaps, in the way we had thought. None of heaven’s escalators are going up tonight. [Heaven] is coming down, right into our own Bethlehem, bringing us the God who decided to make his home in our arms.' You could call it the gravity of love.

This was not the messiah most people expected, at the time, and even now it's easy enough for us to forget: he doesn't seem to come armed with full guns blazing to save the day. We may have to look elsewhere for him to lead the Way - in the rubble, as the pastor says; or in the debris of our own lives, too, perhaps. Blessed are the poor in spirit, after all; the meek; the peacemakers. In our weakness his strength is made perfect. We enter his kingdom as children.


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Rev Isaac reminds us that Advent can't come without Easter, too, and the gift of Jesus' life is one he gives to the full, with the greatest love on earth. ‘We have another comfort,’ he says, ‘which is the resurrection. In our brokenness, pain, and death, let us repeat the gospel of the resurrection: “Christ is risen.”’ And we all get to share in this hope, wherever we may find ourself this Christmas.

I felt awkward, this week, singing of Bethlehem in the carols, and sensing the excitement and wonder of Christmas approaching. But isn't it somehow all the more earthed in heaven's love, when we face the reality of life? As Harry Baker said yesterday, either none of this matters, or all of it does. Advent either means nothing, this year, or it means the world. And what that looks like, as we look afresh for its child king, is for us to pick up and embrace.


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May his home be in our arms, today. 

Go well!

13 // For God So Loves

'For God so loved the world ...’ John 3.16


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Good morning!

Please pause before you continue, at the start of this final week together, to breathe the Ma-ra-na-tha prayer, in and out, joining with generations who have prayed it before us, all the way back to some of the very first followers of Jesus.

"Come, Lord."


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I love how there always seems to be more to life with God! 

Did you know, one of the most oft-quoted verses in the Bible - ‘For God so loved the world’ - in the Greek is really, ‘For God so loved the “cosmos”.’ It's as if there is forever, quietly, a bigger picture unfolding, of Love overflowing.


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We glimpse a bigger picture elsewhere in John's Gospel, too. ‘The Word was made flesh,’ John tells us, in his famous Advent text - which we take to mean God became human. And God did - but the word John for uses for 'flesh', sarx, covers all that is material and finite. Before quantum science, John senses in, Jesus, how everything connects, and what it means for our humanity, too. 

'The flesh that the Word became,' writes the theologian Elizabeth Johnson, 'is part of the vast body of the cosmos. Jesus was a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen and nitrogen cycles. The atoms [of] his body once belonged to other creatures ... Sarx encompasses the whole world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they are composed.’

In an act of sheer poetry, then, the Word becomes the very stardust he created in the beginning, and enters deeply into the midst, to confer dignity upon all. Whether we were born on the right side of the dividing wall or the wrong one; wherever God meets us in matter is holy ground, even in mud, or rubble.


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And there's more (of course). The word ‘cosmos’ in the Greek also implies order - in the sense that God brings order from chaos through Creation, holding all things together, setting the course toward grace and mercy, life and love.

The great Leonard Bernstein once said that music is ‘cosmos in chaos’. It imbues life with meaning, beauty, soul. I'm sure any life-affirming art is - and when we're God's handiwork (Ephesians 2.10), our very lives can help co-create order with God, from our RSVP creative responses through to the radical peace-making ways we might reach across the divide and enlarge our table.


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There’s always more to life with God, even if for now the bigger picture is only glimpsed. I heard a fabulous poem by Harry Baker this weekend, in which he says that as we zoom out to see the bigger picture of the cosmos, we see how small our world is. At which point, 'either none of it matters, or all of it does.’

And surely all that matters is that all of it matters. That's what Advent's telling me, anyway, from the Word who was there before the stars were born, to the wordless baby born of stars in straw: this God so loves the world, and so much more. 


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May every atom in you be loved, and be love, today.

Go well!

12 // Carpe Noctem!

'The morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.’ Job 38.7


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Good morning!

I had one last phrase from Paul Jones’s Cabinet of Calm to share, if I may. We all know of ‘carpe diem’, seize the day. But how about its less familiar cousin, ‘carpe noctem': seize the night!

It’s a perfect motto for the week ahead, as we enter deepest darkness here in the northern hemisphere, and prepare to welcome next Friday's winter solstice with as much of an embrace as we can muster.


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You may, of course, not feel like seizing any kind of night at all. It’s dark when we rise, and dark by mid-afternoon, here. Yet imagine a world without darkness - and thus without campfires or sunsets or candlelight or cosiness.

How could a seed begin to grow, or a baby incubate? How could the Spirit prepare its first Act of Creation, in the moments before 'the morning stars sang together / and all the angels shouted for joy’? How could we see the stars?

And those stars do still sing, scientists have discovered! As Nasa’s Elizabeth Landau says, they’re “performing a concert, one that never stops. The biggest stars make the lowest, deepest sounds, like tubas and double basses. Small stars have high-pitched voices, like celestial flutes. Our own sun has thousands of different sound waves bouncing around inside it at any given moment.’

In the midst of night, we're swathed in Creation's song, it seems.


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The photographer Paul Sanders told me this week that in order to really see what’s before us, we first need to listen. So close your eyes, and let the world in through darkness first. Maybe you’ll hear a bird singing. Maybe you’ll hear the stars, if not with your ears, then deep in your soul.

The darkness is a place of openness, if we’re willing to go there to see what we can’t usually. In the twelve-step recovery programme, ‘the Set Aside Prayer’ asks, “Help me to set aside everything I think I know.” It’s a prayer of new beginnings. I'm struck how Nicodemus comes to see Jesus at night, and is told he must be born again. Unlearn it all, by the grace of God. Grow by subtraction.

The night was always very much about starting over, after all. It’s the start of the day, in the Jewish worldview, which begins 'officially' in that magical twilight realm between sundown and the twinkling of the first three stars. 


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I’m reading A Christmas Carol with my youngest daughter at the moment and the night is definitely a time for transformation, as well as surprise, as Scrooge discovers. We're struck, too, that the Bible's ‘thief in the night’ will come under cover of darkness, when our guard is most positively down.

He came at night that Christmas, under a sky filled with stars and angels heralding the second great Act of Creation. God is born within the midst of all our darkness, to bring us now to birth again. No need to fear the shortest day, when we, with him, can seize the longest night. "Carpe noctem!" as the star-song surely sings.


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May you embrace the season, and be embraced.

Go well!

11 // the Echoes and the Traces

‘The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.’ John 1


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Good morning!

Before you read on, why not pause to listen for the stillness that lies behind all the actions you will take today. Take some breaths, and relax your body, and settle in. Spend as long as you need before continuing. 


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It's so hard sometimes to find words to describe the journey of life and faith we are on, especially as the path takes us beyond words, to a place of rest beyond the restless chatter of ego. We may only be gifted echoes and traces of the soul, but it matters that we try to find and give expression to our quest, for, as we do, we get to help each other homeward.

I was astounded yesterday by how a friend on social media managed to patch a few words together to describe how she was putting up some Christmas lights within the darkness of having lost her daughter last year; never without pain, yet ‘adjusting to the ache’, she wished all those who grieve some ‘quiet, rest … and moments of gentle sparkle’. Wow.


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And yesterday, too, such a gorgeous flow, like a river, of short-form poems via the RSVPs! I have no favourites, because the expression of this community is the whole. But in case you haven't read them, here's a flavour in the form of one from Susan D:

Owls call from far fields;
creaking trees toss winter stars
like earth-flung angels.

The wonder! I loved, too, how Ruth M coined a new word for the title of hers:

'activehope (noun):

A hope of small steps
(envisioned, enacted)
swelling into life.'


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All of which took me, in turn, to an inspiring book I've been reading called The Cabinet of Calm, in which Paul Jones offers unusual or forgotten words which give expression to what's otherwise hard to voice. I'd love to share a few which might enrich our Advent journey, today, as well as our vocabulary.

'Angel-visits' has become one of my firmest favourites, especially after our focus on angels this week! Coined in the 1700s, it describes the kind of catch-ups with very good friends which can become lamentably few and far between - evoking the pain of separation, but much more positively the treasure trove of shared memories, the depths of connection, and the sheer delight of presence when you do, finally, get to meet. 

Perhaps you’ll have an angel-visit this Christmas. I hope so! I’m reminded, too, how John O’Donohue describes the Celtic anam cara or 'soul friend': ‘With the anam cara you [can] share your inner-most self, your mind and your heart,’ he says. Such a friend is ‘a loved one who awakens your life in order to free the wild possibilities within you.’ And because the soul cannot be caged, presence reaches arms of love beyond any physical divide.

You might, for a moment, remember an anam cara. Send them love.


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In a similar vein, I was moved to discover a collection of ‘col’ words, which express a togetherness we don't always think of: ‘collachrymation’ is the act of weeping together; ‘collugency’ is ‘a mutual mourning together’; and ‘collucent’ describes ‘two or more things that are alight or ablaze together’.

I’m so, so grateful for such collucency in the Advent community.

And a final one that touched me personally: ‘symmachy’ (a 17th-century word derived from the Greek sym, ‘together’, and makhe, meaning ‘fight’) which once referred to a military alliance - but can more loosely and happily describe the offering of mutual aid and cooperation. It's a drawing alongside, a standing withsomeone, a commitment to fight for them, and with them.

I think of friends who have done that for me. I think of Jesus, who draws close, stands with and for us. Fights with love to the very end, and will not let us go.


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Of course, in one of the most exquisite passages of writing ever, the prologue to John’s Gospel, we read that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. He gave expression perfectly to that which cannot be contained in words alone. So that even here today, within the echoes and the traces, the Anam Cara reaches us in love, to help us home.


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May you have moments of gentle sparkle.

Go well!

10 // Bless to Me the Friends

‘The wolf shall live with the lamb ... and a little child shall lead them.’ Isaiah 11.6


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Good morning!

Before you read on, spend a few moments with St Columba's 'circling prayer'. If you're able to, turn in a circle while you do so. If not, imagine that you are! Take a breath, and take it slow:

Bless to me the ground that is beneath me.
Bless to me the sky that is above me.
Bless to me the friends who are around me.
Bless to me the love of the Three, 
deep within me, and encircling me.



*     *     *

"Bless to me the ground that is beneath me.
Bless to me the sky that is above me …"

I was finishing off my Advent Compass Prayer in the garden yesterday with the words of St Columba, when a cloud of birds descended exuberantly, head-height, into the tree beside me, just at the perfect moment:

“Bless to me the friends who are around me!”

It was one of those connections that can just seem to happen when you pause to pay attention, and as I stood still, transfixed, I laughed. Friends indeed! I know how much God’s creatures matter not just to me, but to so many of us in this community who find meaning in the midst of nature.


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I’ve another 'natural' association with Columba’s prayer which I was reminded of in that moment, too. This summer our family visited a zoo, in France, which is famed for its conservation work, and I was standing in front of a great glass wall, looking through it into a pool of water.

All was quiet, but as I waited, there was movement from a wooden platform above, and then whoosh! - a Peruvian 'giant otter' entered the water right in front of me, with the smoothest of dives. Followed, to my delight, by another, and then another!

And in the enchantment that followed, this holy trinity of friends twisted and turned in such a mesmerising, playful underwater dance that they seemed to move as three-in-one. Perichoresis, as the theologians call the flow of energy and love within the Godhead. I can picture it, now, and I love the thought of Jesus entering our waters that first Christmas, the Others close behind.

“Bless to me the love of the Three, deep within me, and encircling me.”


*     *     *


The giant otter is, all too predictably, endangered, living as it usually does in the Peruvian Amazon. It was nearly hunted out of existence, and while a fur ban has helped it recover, its habitat is now under severe threat. 

Advent is a time of reintegration not just for humanity, but the whole of Creation. And of the scriptures we quote in this season, I think I get the greatest thrill to hear and hope - on so many different levels - that the ‘wolf will live with the lamb, and a child will lead them'.

It’s a time to recall Richard Rohr’s beautiful assertion, too, that Jesus didn’t come from afar like a kind of spaceman to rescue us from our doomed planet, but arose from within an already Christ-soaked world: ‘The second incarnation flowed out of the first, out of God’s loving union with physical creation,’ he says. The divine, most tender embrace, invites our own.


*     *     *


Creation still groans, of course, lamentably louder, like the sound of a falling tree. Perhaps our call, as we enter in to Advent, is to find that divine flow of energy and love within it - the soul friendship, let's call it - which helps us care like God. Francis of Assisi knew it, and loved to call all God’s creatures friends.

There’s something so transfixing about a wild presence coming close, and closer, even if it’s a humble flock of birds, or the robin I’ve been coaxing with crumbs in my garden. As the Advent Presence edges closer, too, wild and transcendent, yet so imminent and intimate, I pray, today, we find we're quiet enough, still enough and close enough, to hear him whisper “Friend”.


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May the love of the Three encircle you.

Go well!

9 // Where Angels Long to Look

‘Even angels long to look into these things.’ 1 Peter 3


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Good morning!

Before we continue, let’s remember that we need God's help. 

Take some breaths, and imagine that God is doing the breathing for you. Be breathed into life, and sustained by God, within this moment.

Please don't rush on. Take your time ...


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Just what is it about angels? 

From the youngest kids in wings and tinsel halos in the school nativity, to old Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, their presence seems to evoke a sense of magic and mystery we can't usually see until Advent shimmers into view again.

And while our focus remains on the sublime poetic miracle of Immanuel arriving in the midst, it’s perhaps the angels in the story who first help to open the skies of our spiritual imagination, under which we can watch and wait with wonder.


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These awe-inspiring beings certainly can't be pinned down (despite theologians debating how many angels can dance on a pin head!).

Close your eyes and picture an angel, and … well, the Bible doesn’t actually describe them as having wings (the seraphim and cherubim do, but they’re not classed as angels). Sometimes they just blend in; when three men visit Abraham and eat with him, it’s only later we discover two were angels.

It all adds to a kind of frisson echoed by the writer of Hebrews (13.2): “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Life is not all it seems, it seems! If there are angels in our midst, does it shift the way we see the world, today?

Meanwhile, who hasn’t at least wondered if they’ve had a helping hand from a guardian angel? Jesus hints at them himself (Matthew 18.10): “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For ... their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” It's such a tantalising prospect. What can he see, and they see, that we can't, I wonder?


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The one thing most Biblical angels do is bring a message. Luke’s gospel is full of them, to begin with - until Jesus is taken to the Temple as a baby, that is. After which (as the Biblical scholar Paula Gooder suggests), the message is ours to pass on, starting with Simeon and Anna: 'My eyes have seen your salvation!'

For as long as eternity, only angels could stand before God, but now this old man and woman do, too, in a much more down to earth context. Just as we all do, in a sense: ‘For unto us a child is born,’ Isaiah says, in words echoed by the angels: “Behold, to you is born this day a child.” 

To you, to me, to us. We matter, in this, enough to have to take it personally. Hebrews points out that we are somehow 'higher' than these extraordinary angelic beings; that they are 'sent to serve' (though isn't that heaven's way?). We're also told by Peter that we are now privy to things in Christ which the angels long to look into. Gulp. That's surely enough to re-open the skies of our imagination this Advent!

What on earth can we see, that they, who stand before God in heaven, can't? Well, perhaps, to start with, it's just how good this news is, they bring, to those of us who know we need it most. 


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May you look where angels long to, today!

Go well!

8 // Let the River Roll

'But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!' Amos 5.24


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Good morning!

Please pause, relax, smile, and breathe. And then pray this short Advent poem-prayer to begin your week:

'Gentle Space Maker.
Make space in me
For the space in You.'



*     *     *


On my walking retreats, we tend to finish by standing on a bridge over a fast flowing chalk stream. First, we look downstream, to watch the water flow away, as a prayer to help us let go of what is gone. You might imagine doing so, now.

Then we face upstream, with open hands. The river has a bend, so we can’t see what’s coming round it next, just as in life. But as we stand there, we pray that we can meet our coming unknown moments - the day, week, year - in God’s grace, with God’s love. For if we can, then the very nature of those times will change, for good; they will be graced with love, because we embody it.

As we prepare, then, to say farewell to one year, and turn to face the next, we can do so with an active sense of Advent hope, even when hope seems lost. 


*     *     *


For me it's the starting point from which we might become more actively part of the solution, not the problem, in a world in crisis; and while 'active hope' is often easier said than done, I’ve recently found some helpful advice from the Harvard professor Arthur C Brooks, who defines it as ‘having the will and finding the way’. He offers three steps towards bringing hope to life:

1. Imagine a better future. What makes it so? Be specific: make a detailed list.
2. Envision yourself taking action, helping to make that future, even at the micro level.
3. Act. ’Take your grand vision of improvement and humble ambition to be part of it in a specific way, and execute accordingly,' he says.

We first act to change ourselves, of course. I had a heart-felt chat my with daughter this weekend about how addicted we get to our technology. "Without my phone," she said in despair, "I could read more, write more, play guitar, be present …" But that sounded like a 'better future, imagined', to me! So I’m joining her for a fast from technology, for an hour a day, a day a week, and a week a year - to make space for what we both love. Small changes - ‘atomic habits’ - can add up profoundly like compound interest, after all.


*     *     *


And lest we despair of our ability to ‘be the change’, whether it's in helping tackle the climate crisis or getting fit or writing songs or reaching out across a social divide ... Advent reminds me of three crucial things:

First, that we need God's help (a core principle of the 12-step programme is to submit to a 'higher power', interestingly). We cannot make the inner change, nor express it outwardly, by force of will or habit alone. Maranatha, come Lord!

Second, we are not a lost cause, and never have been. We know this because God stepped in to bring us back to life, and invites us to follow: to see how different the next moment can be when we meet it like He does.

Third, the human spirit, made in God's image, is beautiful. Within so much darkness, Advent can speak of the triumph of the human spirit in harness with the divine, I believe, because Jesus embodied both. He entered in, embraced the worst of us, to show us the very best of what we can be and do.

Why wait until new year, then, to take the steps to active hope? This Advent, we've all the hope we need to make a new start, in God's grace, with love. Let the river roll.


*     *     *


May we have the will, to find the Way, today.

Go well!

7 // Time to Shine

'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Matthew 5.9

*     *     *


Good morning!

You might, like me, be eyeing this weekend as the time to get the decorations down from the loft and up on the tree. We used to delay gratification, but ever since Covid and all its talk of ‘Christmas might be cancelled’, I think most of us have brought the big 'switch on' forward. Let there be fairy-lights!

It’s a magical moment for this grown-up kid, I admit: a rite of passage lit with a warming glow of nostalgia (unless a bulb has gone, of course) and spiced with the smell of the decorations box. To open its lid is to open Christmas. 

We might see it as spiritual practice, too, if we're mindful - invoking the Light of the World, but also holding the compassionate question open in the midst of all our prep: ‘How can we celebrate, when ... a friend is grieving, or the planet is burning, or, so acutely this year, 'the Holy Land' is more akin to hell on earth?


*     *     *

Interestingly, the Methodist Church is encouraging its congregations not to light their second Advent candle (denoting peace) this Sunday - to remember those who have died in Israel and Gaza, and to acknowledge that any celebrations there will be very subdued (no lights in Manger Square). The unlit candle might indeed be a powerful wordless lament for a time when there are no words.

I also read a moving article this week by Richard Sewell, an Anglican vicar in East Jerusalem, saying that the two-per-cent minority of Christians in the Holy Land usually love to get their decorations up at the very start of Advent, and with a flourish, as it’s (in his words) ‘our time to shine’.

This year, he says, ‘The churches have declared that we'll forego unnecessarily festive activities and focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas. But ... Christmas won’t be cancelled. We need the light of Christ, everyone needs it, more than ever.’


*     *     *


Christmas won’t be cancelled.

It has a way of breaking out, anyway, like that brief ceasefire we still marvel at on Christmas Eve in 1914, in Flanders, which started with soldiers simply lighting candles on Christmas trees in the trenches. It then spread with singing. I can’t sing 'Silent Night' myself without thinking of those men sharing that song and their cigarettes and the peace in no man's land. Peace be with them.

As we read last week from Madeleine L’Engle, ‘we cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice’.

*     *     *

Perhaps the challenge for those of us not directly caught in the crossfire of war this Christmas is to wage peace instead. My inspiring activist friend from the Oasis Trust, Jill Rowe, issued a peace-making challenge on social media this week for us to ‘take the first step’ in reaching across a personal divide with the hand of friendship. It sounded like a ‘next right thing’ for Advent, to me.

'Enlarge your table' she says, beautifully, by inviting someone you might not otherwise spend time with, let alone drink or eat with - to join you for a cuppa or a meal. I'm sure our hearts enlarge, too. ‘Because peace comes when we build relationships across divides and when strangers become friends.’ God, in Jesus, certainly crosses the divide for us, enlarges the table, welcomes all.

The compassionate question remains, but with a subtly different emphasis: 'How can we celebrate this year..?’ And maybe this indeed is one answer: to raise a glass together around that bigger table. Extend the hand of friendship. Make it our time to shine, like the lights we'll switch on this weekend, for those who can't. And all in the name of the Prince of Peace. 



*     *     *


May peace be yours, and theirs.

Go well!

6 // The Picture Turns to Grace

'Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven ...' Matthew 18.4

*     *     *


Good morning!

I love the story Pete Greig tells (in The Vision and the Vow) of the 15th-century painting by Filippino Lippi, 'The Virgin and Child With Saints Jerome and Dominic'. 

It had always troubled the critics: coming from such a great artist, this painting seemed subtly off ...

The perspective was odd; the hills in the background were strangely angled, the figures awkwardly proportioned. It just all seemed slightly askew.

It troubled the art critic Robert Cumming too, standing as he did one day before the picture at the National Gallery - when he began to wonder: if it had originally been painted to hang above an altar, was it not meant, all along, for people on their knees? So in that public place, he knelt down, and looked up. 

As Pete writes, ‘He suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed. From his new vantage point, Cumming found himself gazing up at a perfectly proportioned piece. The foreground had moved naturally to the background, while the saints seemed settled - their awkwardness, like the painting itself, having turned to grace. Mary now looked intently and kindly directly at him as he knelt at her feet between saints Dominic and Jerome.’


*     *     *


It’s a lovely story that can gently remind us of so much, this Advent, about shifting our perspective, and approaching life reverently, humbly, and from a posture of adoration and wonder, not critical judgement.

You may even like to break, for a few moments, to kneel, now, and to become present to God's presence, and to see how the view in your room shifts.


*     *     *


The story makes me think, too, how God, in Jesus, was willing to get down low with us. He did so as a child, of course, first.

The writer Rebecca Stott said (in a lovely radio reflection on childhood this week) that "a child whose curiosity has been nurtured keeps us all in touch with the joy of discovery". Jesus, fully 'child' as well as fully human, made the joyful discovery himself that we enter the kingdom of God as ‘a child like this’.


*     *     *


And by the end of his epic journey, the baby in the painting who brought heaven to earth as God was ready to take earth back to heaven, as one of us, having taught us, on the Way, how to keep perspective. 

He knelt before God in prayer, and before us in service. He would kneel to wash feet, or to draw a line in the sand, just as he surely knelt to play in the sand as the boy who first found the keys to the kingdom. 

He didn’t just observe life from our angle, he lived it, lowly; so that we, on bended knees of love, might lift our gaze, and see the picture turn to grace.


*     *     *


May we kneel, today.

Go well!

5 // The Next Right Thing

'Do not worry about tomorrow ...' Matthew 6.34


*     *     *


Good morning!

A friend of mine used to fly helicopters for a hobby, and one day he asked if I’d like to go up with him. “Yes please!” I said without hesitation.

What I didn’t realise was how small his two-seater would seem. We squeezed into the little glass bubble up front, our legs and elbows wedged against each other. And as we took off, I gained a profound spiritual insight: that no matter how tightly I clung to my seat with bone-white knuckles, I was not in control. I had to trust my friend.


*     *     *


How often do we hold on for dear life like that, I wonder? And with a new year on the way, it can’t just be me who’s inclined to grip too hard again, metaphorically, as we prepare to take off into its uncertainties, unsure of how it'll all pan out, or where we'll end up.

So I’m grateful for a reminder, from the US writer Emily Freeman, that while we can’t ever fully control the trajectory of our life, we can plot a simple yet soulful course towards its centre, if we focus on what she calls doing ‘the next right thing’.

In particular, to focus on the next decision - and the way we make and enact it - can both simplify matters for us and help to shape who we become. Especially if we believe that our optimal direction lies in who we are, most fully, 'in God'. 

Emily offers inspiring ideas, from making 'a most important list’ to 'picturing God' as the companion who never tricks, shames, trips or terrorises us. But her guiding question throughout is clear: 'Am I being pushed by fear, or led by love?'


*     *     *


We all have plans we need to make, and roofs to maintain, and mouths to feed. But there’s scriptural precedent, as we know, for not living fearfully in an imagined future, or being held back by the fear of getting it wrong. ‘Do not worry about tomorrow’ is not just a challenge, I'm sure, but an invitation into a whole new way of being.

After all, life, or God, may have different plans for us anyway, as Mary and Joseph knew all too well. I wonder what they passed on to Jesus, as he grew up. In his ministry, he seems to give people one thing to do, not a five-year plan. 'Show yourself to the priest' ... 'Pick up your mat and go home' ... 'Give her something to eat'. There must be method in his focus on today and its next step.


*     *     *


As I practised trusting my friend, we hovered over a hill in Winchester, on which there lies a gorgeous turf labyrinth. In fact, I walked it as a prayer on the very day we moved here, 15 years or so ago, unsure (as we were) of where our own path would lead us. It was so moving to see it, now, from above, laid out, as if with a God’s-eye view.

I’ve since walked that labyrinth with many people on retreat, most of whom seem genuinely lifted to remember that we can only put one foot in front of the other, as we trust the path to lead us to the centre. It takes us not, necessarily, to the place where all our best laid plans will come to pass, but to the holy and hidden heart of life itself, in God. The Advent God, that is - who gave up the aerial view, learned to walk himself, and each step led by Love.


*     *     *


May you be led by Love, today.

Go well!

4 // Sacred S*P*A*C*E

'Be still and know that I am God.' Psalm 46.10

*     *     *


Good morning!

Today I'm following up 'the Gentle Space Maker' with a few thoughts on the nature of the space we make. It's Part 2, really.

But first, please take a breath, and repeat the ‘Ma-ra-na-tha’ prayer we practiced last week. Breathe in the 'Ma', out the 'ra', in the 'na', and out the 'tha'. It means ‘Come, Lord’. Keep it going for as long as you'd like, to help you enter the Advent space, before you read on.


*     *     *


I’m sure you’ll have a favourite space, whether it’s inside (like the tiny church I visit here in Winchester above our city walls) or outdoors - a set-apart, 'sacred' space to you, which brings you to life. You might like to go there in your mind, for a moment.

I love to think that the space within us can be just as evocative. So I'm trying to become intentional about cultivating that inner space; one that can open outward, in turn, through the door of my presence. 

It’s work in progress, but with the help of a simple (and I hope memorable!) acronym, S*P*A*C*E for me represents a ‘Still, Present, Attentive, Centred Embrace’. And I'd love it if the elements below could help us each in our gentle space-making, today!

S is for Still

I still catch myself unloading the dishwasher in a butter-fingered frenzy - dashing through this to get through that. I'm sure our outer turbulence flows from within, which is why the spiritual life invites us to change from the inside out.

That crucial verse in Psalm 46 reminds us that the best way to start is to stop: 'Be still and know that I am God.’ Of course, we all know about this verse and its principle - maybe too well! - but it's only when we practice it that we get to know the knowing too.

So don’t rush on, for a second (or two). If it helps, imagine you’re a tree in winter, standing rooted, poised and beautiful. Be still. Be.

P is for Present

Henri Nouwen puts it so well: ‘This moment is the moment.’ 

We often wait impatiently for something beyond our control - for the rain to stop or the late train to finally arrive. The challenge, he says, is to be present - to ‘taste the here and now, and to be where we are'.

When I manage to show up to 'what is', I find it easier to be present to God’s Presence, too. The shift from 'nowhere' to 'now here' can just take that little bit of space. A conscious breath before you enter a meeting can do it; or turning off the phone. Small steps go a long way on our journey home to the present. 

A is for Attentive

When we’re still, and present, we’re so much better placed to pay attention. Or let's say, to give it. For attention is 'the rarest and purest form of generosity,' according to Simone Weil. 'And unmixed attention is prayer.'

We can practice anywhere, of course. When that final Beatles' song was released to the world a few weeks back, I closed the door, put on my headphones, shut the world out, and listened like I hadn’t for years. I gave myself to the process, and I was moved to tears.

C is for Centre

Life pulls us in so many directions at once that we can end up in pieces. But when we centre ourselves on God, we seem to move back ‘in’ toward our centre, too - drawn perhaps with the gravity of love to our inmost place where God loves to dwell; and the place from which our actions then flow out, most lovingly.

The practice of ‘centering prayer’ really helps me. It invites me to sit, quietly, in openness to God; not trying to get anything or to make spiritual stuff happen. Just being. You could try it now. And when your mind wants to wander off in different directions, speak a word (keep with the same one) - ‘peace’, ‘still’, or ‘Jesus’, for example - to return to the centre. Or, as Frederick Buechner calls it, 'the holy and hidden heart of life'.

Practice at the checkout queue, in the traffic jam, or just deep in the midst of 'what is'.

E is for Embrace

And at the centre, we know what matters most. I heard it said that if you need to raise your arms in surrender, you have to drop your weapons first. When we surrender to God's love, our emptied arms are opened for the embrace. This story starts with love, ends with love, and will start, indeed, all over again with love.

So what might all this look like, in practice? We can only know for sure when we try. But I’ve a feeling, this Advent, it looks a lot like Mary cradling her baby in the still, present, attentive, centred embrace of that first Christmas night.

And if you just feel way too tired and helpless to act on this today, don't worry. Let the Gentle Space Maker reach, instead, for you, with open newborn arms.


*     *     *

May this moment be the moment.

Go well!

3 // The Gentle Space Maker

'Christ Jesus ... made himself nothing...' Philippians 2.7

*     *     *


Good morning!

It's so good to be entering this first full week of Advent with you. Please take a few slower, deeper breaths now in the quiet. Relax your body, and smile. Why not whisper the words "Here I am", and bring yourself humbly to this moment, and to God within it. Take as long as you need, before reading on.


*     *     *

Every now and again a phrase, image or idea comes along that invites you in. It happened to me recently, when the theologian Stephen Backhouse shared with me a sublime description of Jesus: 'the Gentle Space Maker'.

It flows from 'kenosis' - the Greek word contained in that verse above from Philippians, in which 'Christ Jesus ... made himself nothing.' Stephen used an analogy which I'll put in my own words here.

A powerful person steps into a room at a gathering, and immediately you feel their presence, but not in the best way. They seem so full of themselves that they fill the room, too, with their ego.

Jesus, meanwhile, with the most powerful presence, chooses the opposite. As he steps in to our midst, he holds his power back, and makes space for us - with a presence which draws us out from the cover of ego, I'm sure, deeper into who we've been created to become.

As Stephen explained to me, it's a fellow theologian, Sarah Coakley, who specifically describes this kenotic way as 'gentle space-making'. Ever since, I've found it so expansive to meet Jesus as the Gentle Space Maker.


*     *     *

I'm reminded of the time he walked through Jericho en route to Jerusalem for the Passion. He must have had so much on his mind, and heart, and the crowd was pressing in around him.

Yet within the jostle, he hears a cry from 'Blind Bartimaeus'. The book of Mark says: “And Jesus stood still.” He opens a space in the crowd for love itself, into which Bartimaeus can step. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.

What a space that must have been, right there in the midst! You might imagine yourself on the edge of it, looking in. Or close your eyes, and sense what God’s Presence is like, face to face, for a man who cannot yet see.


*     *     *

Once we're there in God’s space, I'm sure a space opens in us, too, for God - which in turn makes space for others. It's the ever-flowing overflow of God.

Try to picture a scene, today, in which you enter a room, or a conversation, and instead of filling it, you make space with your presence for another to grow.

It’s a great time to practice, too. We’re reminded in Advent that Jesus enters the room, so to speak, as a baby. He 'made himself nothing', indeed. 

Of course, there was no room for him, in the inn - but that's the sheer poetry of it, isn't it? The Gentle Space Maker brings the room; so that we, through his all-powerful humility, may too, most humbly, enter in.


*     *     *

May you find the gentle space, today.

Go well!

2 // To Brim With Holy Light

'In Him was life, and that life was the light of all ...' John 1


*     *     *


Good morning!

As darkness begins to shroud this time of year again, how captivating the light becomes!

The moon has peeped fulsomely this week from behind the clouds, and Jupiter has kept close company with her in the evenings. On one gorgeous night (did you see?) the two were encircled by a giant lunar halo. Meanwhile solitary Venus is set like a jewel in the southerly morning skies!

I’m sure, when we really stop, intentionally, to ‘see the light’, we reconnect with so much more. Turn your face to feel the weak warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s day - the delightful word is ‘apricity’ - and there’s a warmth behind the warmth, a light behind the light: you could call it a kiss of life-light from your Creator. That’s what it feels like to me.

*     *     *


Of course, we rely powerfully on metaphor to describe, or flesh out, our experience of the otherwise indescribable God - “God of God, Light of light,” we sing in the carol’s simple yet mysterious lines. Yet the wonder is that the One who made the stars reached out beyond metaphor - “now in flesh appearing” - to dwell among us, too.

The Light showed up, to light the Way: stretched out splintered carpenter’s hands toward the most ordinary of us all, lived with a luminous Presence in the everyday, and showed us what life looks like in the light of Love.

And I love to think that as he turned his face to shine upon us, in person, with such divine attention, the ‘God of God’ and ‘Light of Light’ beheld what we so often miss of ourselves - the ‘me of me’, the ‘you of you’, the more of who we were created to be. We were gifted, after all, with a holiness from back in the beginning, when God saw that we were good.

That we struggle to see it in ourselves, and thus each other, doesn’t mean that God’s glory isn’t there, within us and around us and shared between us, because we are His. And because we are His, we can surely practice seeing life differently, even and perhaps especially in the midst of our most mundane or difficult days. ‘When we bless the ordinary with the gift of our full attention,’ says the author Mirabai Starr, ‘it brims over with holy light.’

*     *     *


Perhaps you can pause for long enough to see the ordinary, today, in a whole new light - from the face of a child who lights up a room, to the shop assistant quietly radiating goodness, to the brilliance of rain-drops hanging from the branches of a bare winter tree, lit like stars by the sun. Your soul might even catch some rays of apricity.

Recently, I’ve been listening to a favourite old song by the Northern Irish singer Foy Vance. ‘When I need to get home,’ he sings, ‘You are my guiding light.’ 

I realised that it doesn’t matter so much for me whether he’s singing about a friend or God, when the light of the Creator’s love shines through us, in a community such as this. For even as we look for God to guide us home, this Advent, we start to see it all around: how the Life-Light loves to come home in us.


*     *     *

May we brim with holy light!

Go well!

1 // He Came With Love

'Even so, come Lord.' Rev 22.20


*     *     *


Good morning!

And here we are, gathered, once more! Welcome to Advent 2023. Before you continue, relax your shoulders, smile, take some slower breaths - and why not whisper the Aramaic word (and Advent refrain) Maranatha, 'Come, Lord.'

Slowly breathe in "Ma", breathe out "ra", breathe in "na", and breathe out "tha". Repeat, and take as long as you need.


*     *     *


As I reflected on the theme for this series, with so much going on in the world again (especially in the Middle East, a theatre not just of war but of our Advent drama too, of course), a poem-prayer began to emerge. Sometimes a prayer is all we can offer, in the face of tragedy, or beauty, or so often both. I offer it humbly!

In the Midst

Amid so much uncertainty, 
yet so many all-too-certain voices
in the juggle of distractions,
and the struggle of addictions;
in the to-do lists, the to-be
or not-to-be social-media dramas -
the unfollows and all the hits;
in touches of tenderness,
in thanks for what just is,
and soul-deep longings for
what might yet be, stirring, crying 
like a voice in the wilderness;
in the hopes and fears
of all the years -
where fear has won and hope is missed:
be born, O Advent's Inmost Dweller, 
here, again, within our midst.

*     *     *

Well, that’s my prayer as we keep watch together for the flame of God’s presence kindling in our darkness; a life-light flickering on the far horizon of the human heart. A vigil flame drawing closer, and carried, of all people, by a child.

What a season of wonder awaits! And when all our words fail us, we are gifted the sheer poetry of Immanuel, the Word made flesh, who chooses not just to dwell with us, but within us, as he first did in Mary, at the start of his journey here. 

Advent’s Inmost Dweller.



*     *     *

I'm sure you'll be in the midst of all sorts of stuff, at the start of your journey this Advent - and it may feel like an unholy huddle of things to do and places to be. I sometimes wonder how it was for Jesus when a crowd pressed in around him, jostling for attention and recognition.

He made space, of course, for God, by withdrawing in silence and solitude, but always to re-enter the fray with Love for the unloved people and places and moments that he came to meet.

Imagine if we approached these next few weeks as God, in Jesus, approaches us.

*     *     *


You may, or may not, feel ready for the season. We seem to arrive back here quicker each year, and there's always so much to do.

But how can we ever be fully ready for such a mystery as Advent, anyway? After all, God did not wait for humanity to be 'ready' before coming. That's part of the wonder, the mercy. As Madeleine L'Engle puts it so gorgeously in her poem 'First Coming':

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

*     *     *


Here we are, then, ready or not! And I, for one, cannot wait.

May we meet this Advent moment, as God meets us, within it all. 

With Love.

Go well!



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