Monday, December 24, 2007

Mary's Song

Christmas Eve, a day when I often reflect on this poem by Luci Shaw which never fails to move me:

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest ...
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigour hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove's voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Our local MP, Nadine Dorries, asked me if I would write something for her Blog over Christmas. To say I was nervous is an understatement, but it's now up there. I've reproduced it here:

I can still remember the first vinyl record that I ever received. It was a Christmas present from my uncle and aunt to complement the record player that mum and dad had bought for me: Wizard's 'I wish it could be Christmas every day', a record I still sing along to with gusto whenever it's played!

Sometimes I say to the children at our church, "Do you wish that it could be Christmas every day?" and, invariably, they excitedly answer "YES!" Their eyes widen in anticipation as they consider the possibilities of a daily round of presents, sumptuous dinners (minus the brussels sprouts!), visits by favourite relatives and, in their ideal world, snow falling thickly on the ground outside.

But even the children realise that, in such a world, the excitement would eventually fade, the frisson-filled events taken for granted, the magic dissipated.

And what about the real meaning of Christmas? The author, George MacDonald wrote, 'Nothing is so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things.' I love Christmas: the buzz of crowded shopping centres, the brass bands playing their familiar tunes, watching sentimental films with the family, the lights and decorations, the parties, and both giving and receiving special presents. But these good things can just as easily cauterize me to the beating heart of Christmas. And so, in the midst of the Christmas wrapping, I have to discipline myself to take time to pause and consider what the Apostle Paul calls God's 'indescribable gift'....

'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means, God with us.'

'Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'

'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.'

....and I remember that, bright and colourful as the wrappings are, what makes the real difference, and what makes the heart really dance, is experiencing the gift.

Some years ago I spent Christmas in Nairobi, Kenya. During that time I visited a shanty town near the airport where the dwellings were knocked together out of whatever material was to hand, even cardboard. There, in the midst of the squalor and biting poverty, one positively joyful woman shared with me words that I have never forgotten, and which will always challenge and inspire me: "We've got nothing, but we've got Jesus, and he's everything to us."

I've always thought that here was someone who really did know what it was like to celebrate Christmas every day!

May you experience the blessings of God’s indescribable gift at this special time of year,

Happy Christmas,


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shadow of Death

Light of the World is the painting that most people associate with the pre-Raphaelite, Holman Hunt, but my favourite painting by him is Shadow of Death. We considered it during the message at Ampthill Baptist Church on Sunday morning. Apparently, Hunt travelled to the Holy Land to capture the light and atmosphere. Jesus is pictured as a young man. He pauses from sawing some wood and stretches himself. As he does so his shadow is captured on the back wall of the home, the middle-eastern carpenter's tool rack presaging the crossbeam of the cross. The weight of a plumb-bob hangs in the place of Jesus' heart. The skein of wool reminds us of the crown of thorns. This is dramatic imagery, and none more so than the figure of Jesus' mother, Mary, kneeling on the floor, her right hand holding open the lid of a chest which contains the gifts of the wise men. We cannot see her face but, as she looks to the back wall and sees the vision, we can imagine her catching her breath, and the sword piercing her soul afresh.......

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Food for thought

I've just read a fascinating article by Pete Paphides following his conversation with Paul McCartney. Discussing the home movies on The McCartney Years DVD, he writes:

Particularly affecting is the footage of the McCartneys revelling in anonymity at their Scottish farm retreat. It must have been incredible to raise children who had yet to rumble who exactly their dad was.
"Exactly," he says. "There was one moment where they were riding their little ponies in Scotland and Stella said to me: 'Dad! You're Paul McCartney, aren't you?' 'Yes darling, but I'm Daddy really'."

Friday, December 14, 2007

So, the John Lewis store on Oxford Street is currently holding a Lingerie Buying Academy for men! According to the website, 'You’ll find leather sofas, chilled beer, plasma screen TVs and plenty of lingerie to choose from. A free gift wrap service will be available.'
What do I think about that? Only that I hope they extend it to The Centre:MK next year!

I'll never forget the raised eyebrows (followed by a smile) of my mother-in-law on Christmas Day a few years ago when Carole opened one of my presents to reveal some pretty nifty lingerie! But it came at a price....

A missionary returning home after a number of years service in an overseas country was once presented with a pretty shell, the grateful giver having walked a number of miles from home. When the missionary remonstrated over the length of the journey undertaken to bring this gift to him, the person had replied, "The journey is a part of the gift."

In my experience it's like that with lingerie (What a wonderful onomatopoeic-esque word that is: lingerie is sexy!). The lingerie department of your average department store is a cornucopia of material, colour, style...and price, ranging from the expensive (it's never cheap), to very expensive, to what some might call sous-vetements haut couture with all the frills and personal attention to detail. Buying Carole even a couple of items of lingerie requires setting aside a day and wandering between the racks and mannekins with one eye on the goods, and the other on the almost invariable Mrs Slocum-like assistant who is watching you out of the corner of her eye at the same time!

The personal assistant from John Lewis who was interviewed on the news this lunchtime appeared much more approachable - the sort of person from whom you might feel you could ask assistance, if hesitantly and with reddening cheeks. She'd understand. She'd even managed to sort out the man who'd shown her a photo of his topless wife on his mobile phone: "It did help," she said! I guess it must have been more of a help than the shoe size which was all that one husband could give to an M&S assistant (where, apparently, the personal assistants are male and called stocking fellas)!

If you're a husband and you want to live life with an L, then you've got to run the gauntlet of the lingerie department. Don't chicken out and settle for expensive chocolates or something out of a catalogue. Carpe diem.The journey is part of the gift. It will be appreciated!

Now where did I make a note of Carole's sizes!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Inspiring, or what!!

23 years ago I spent Christmas in Kenya, touring with an amazing local choir and visiting various projects. The highpoint was probably the morning spent with a group of Maasai. The lowpoint was Kuwinda, a shanty town in Nairobi where hundreds of people shared one tap. There was an air of hopelessness and helplessness which I've never forgotten.

So I was particularly inspired today to hear of Sammy Gitau's story. Sammy lived in the most notorious shanty town in Nairobi. When he was 13 his father was murdered and he became the family's breadwinner, resorting to dealing drugs and battling addiction. Narrowly escaping death following a drug-induced coma, Sammy decided to turn his life around and help stop other children making the same mistakes that he did. He went on to found a community resource centre that has helped over 20,000 slum children! But the story doesn't end there. For 10 years Sammy had held on to a Manchester University prospectus that he had once found in a rubbish bin. His dream was to study there one day but he had only had a basic primary education and didn't know the first thing about applying. Well, to cut a long story short, today - at Manchester University's graduation ceremony - he was presented with an MSc in Management and Implementation of Development Projects. Wonderful!!

Glorious day

What a glorious day. At dawn this morning I was sitting in the Kramer Hide at Priory Country Park in Bedford looking out over the lake fringed with reed beds and copse. As the sun rose the frost-covered trees were bathed in a golden glow. The orange-red breast of the robins contrasted beautifully with the frost-white rime as they perched on the branches. Sonar 'pings' revealed a small flock of teal sitting on the water under the far bank, the males resplendent in their beautiful livery. In the reeds a water rail squealed like a fractious piglet! I missed the two male peregrines that flew overhead...and I missed the otters I had hoped to see, but take nothing away from this scene - what a wonderful way to start the day!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oh the life of the world

Oh the life of the world is a joy and a treasure,
unfolding in beauty the green-growing tree,
the changing of seasons in mountain and valley
the stars and the bright restless sea.

Oh the life of the world is a fountain of goodness
overflowing in labour and passion and pain,
in the sound of the city and the silence of wisdom,
in the birth of a child once again.

Oh the life of the world is the source of our healing.
It rises in laughter and wells up in song;
it springs from the care of the poor and the broken
and refreshes where justice is strong.

So give thanks for the life and give love to the Maker
and rejoice in the gift of the bright risen Son.
And walk in the peace and power of the Spirit
till the days of our living are done.

Kathy Galloway (Kathy is leader of the Iona Community)

OK Einstein...but what about rats?

In my farming days I was once working in a loft emptying sacks of concentrate cake into the hoppers which fed the cows whilst they were being milked. A big rat suddenly jumped down from the rafters onto my right arm, ran around my neck, and down my left arm before jumping off and scampering away! Woah!
Today I went for a late afternoon walk over Ampthill Park and, for several minutes, watched a large brown rat foraging on the banks of the Rezzy, laughing at the controversial poison pots placed around its perimeter. She knew I was within spitting distance but didn't care, searching every nook & cranny before her long scaly tail finally disappeared into the rank undergrowth.

I'm currently reading Annie Dillard's book, Holy the Firm, where she writes, 'All day long I feel created. I can see the blown dust on the skin on the back of my hand, the tiny trapezoids of chipped clay, moistened and breathed alive. There are some created sheep in the pasture below me, sheep set down here precisely, just touching their blue shadows hoof to hoof on the grass. Created gulls pock the air, rip great curved seams in the settled air: I greet my created meal, amazed.'

Even big brown rats can engender wonder from this perspective!

Quotes for living - 1

“Whoever is devoid of the capacity to wonder, whoever remains unmoved, whoever cannot contemplate or know the deep shudder of the soul in enchantment, might just as well be dead for he has already closed his eyes upon life.”
Albert Einstein