Advent 2 – Peace

img_0857

We’re drawing deeper into Advent now, the days are shortening, the cold and wet are creeping closer.  Meanwhile, the shops are full of – beautiful things, and plastic tat, and carols, and cheesy music, all jumbled and clashed together as we go from one to another, and back again.

How to hold on to some kind of centre, some kind of Peace, in the midst of lists and duties and timetables and so many forgotten-to-do-in-time things?  How to hold on to a centre, and to peace, in the midst of loss, and loneliness, and Christmas pasts? This Sunday, the second of Advent, sometimes takes the theme of Peace, and peace is much needed.

IMG_0928

This beautiful Advent ring is from The Chapel in the Fields,  and you can read more about it, and the words on it, here.

 

Once again, readings for this week turn to the prophets.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
….
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the
knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11: 1-2, 9

I am very struck by the image of the tree stump – cut down, presumed dead, or unproductive – springing back into life.  We see again the hope in even the most hopeless situations, the determination of life, and in the promise of Isaiah something or someone, to persist, to keep growing and going, despite how things seem. All is not lost.

Even my beautiful dead cotoneaster, picture above, harbours life.  Although the plant itself hasn’t sprung up from dead roots, other things have.  Birds perched in the branches, dropping seeds, and now the light has reached the ground, things are growing – a holm oak, some sycamores, and the rose I planted to climb up the trunk. I wrote about the tree here.

Trees come up in the reading from the Gospels, too.  John the Baptist, preparing the way for the ministry of his cousin Jesus, speaks of knowing trees by their fruit.  What their lives produce.

Here it is, from my version in The Bible Retold.

Under the white heat of the sun, far from shade, the murmuring crowds gathered.  Some had walked through city streets, others through fields and vineyards, but all had come out into the stony, dusty Desert of Judea to see one person.
It was John, son of Zechariah, who stood by the river Jordan.

John was no polished performer – he looked wild, dressed in rough clothes of camel hair held together by a leather belt.  He was thin, eating only the locusts and wild honey  he could find in the desert.  But his words were full of power, full of life and holiness. He called out in a loud voice “Repent! Turn your lives around and come back to God!  His kingdom is near.  Come and be washed clean!”  And many came forward, full of sorrow for the wrongs they had done, and John baptized them in the River Jordan.

There some among the religious leaders who came and joined the crowds to look holy in front of everyone else – they thought they were good enough already, and had no real need to change.  “You snakes!” the Baptist spat: “We can tell what you are like by what you do – just as you can tell a tree by its fruit.  Don’t think you can fool anyone with show-religion!”

But most who came were hungry for a new beginning.  For John taught them to hope.  In his words, they caught a glimpse of something beyond their everyday lives.  They understood that John the Baptist was preparing the way for something, or someone, astonishing.
“I baptize you with water, for repentance.  But you wait. There is one coming after me who is so much greater.  I am not even fit to carry his sandals for him. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire – a baptism that will wash you inside out.”

In Luke’s Gospel, we get an insight into what this preparation for the one who is to come  might look like in practice

“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” …..

Luke 2:9-11

We remember the Advent traditions of giving – not just to friends and relations, but to others as they have need.  What John the Baptist is calling people to, to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God, looks a lot like sharing, like generosity of spirit, as we are able.  Perhaps this is a way towards Peace.
As our readings take us closer to Christmas, to the birth of the one who we have been waiting for, we will find a clearer focus on the Prince of Peace who is to come, and the way of peace he walked.

IMG_0937.JPG

Hope, and Peace

Perhaps we can make time to keep our eyes open for signs of new growth in the winter gloom, when all seems cold.
Are there shoots appearing? Are there signs of new life?
Can we pursue peace by looking for justice, and by sharing as far as we are able?
We can share kindness, and patience, and perhaps a smile to cheer someone’s day.  Perhaps we can do more than that.  If we have the choice to simplify things for ourselves, we may find we have a little room to share with others.
Might that be a path to a more peaceful Christmas?

Wherever you are in your Christmas preparations today, may you know Peace.

IMG_0864

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Free Pantry in the East Anglian Daily Times!

Our regional newspaper, the East Anglian Daily Times, has picked up the story of Melton St Andrew’s community food project.  This is such good news!

It’s online now, you can find it here and it’s in today’s print edition, Thursday 5th December 2019.

img_0933.jpg

 

Take a look at the top shelf on those photos.  Do you see the model of St Andrew’s?  That was such a lovely surprise on Thursday, to find that a young person had made us a careful and colourful model of the church, and left it on the shelves for us.  Thank you to you. That was such a generous gift of your time and talents.  It seems very much in the spirit of the Little Free Pantry.

Generosity grows and spreads.
Here’s a close up of the article, although it’s easier to read online.

IMG_0934.JPG

I do want to say that this is a community project.  It’s received a huge amount of encouragement and support from the Church community – someone made the bunting, someone hand drew posters, people come in each day and check all’s well, people notice what goes quickly so we can replace it.  People from the whole neighbourhood contribute by both giving and receiving.

 

litte free pantry 3

Our pantry at Harvest

We started the project at Harvest, which was very appropriate.  What we’re finding is that we’re noticing things in the Advent readings that I, for one, hadn’t paid enough attention to before.

For instance, as we’re thinking about the prophets, and their message of hope in this first week of Advent, there’s this, from Isaiah 58:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

 

These words seem very powerful right now – as do, always, the revolutionary words Mary spoke when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Two women carrying children.  This is my paraphrase of what Mary said:

I’m so full of joy my spirit is dancing
before God, my Lord, my Saviour.
God did not turn away from me
because I am poor, and now
I will be called blessed by all
the generations yet to come.

God, the great, the holy,
has done so much for me.
God brings down the powerful,
but lifts up the weak.
The well fed are empty,
and the table of the hungry
is piled high with good things.

God looks at us with kindness,
giving hope to the hopeless,
caring for those who trust him,
remembering his promises to our people.

 

We know that local community food projects are appearing in many places – and some are long established. We’re the first pin on the map for the UK on the Little Free Pantry website, and it’s a model that’s very simple, very easy to set up. We hope others will be encouraged to do something similar. Wouldn’t it be good if more community food projects sprang up all over the place?  Our hope is for a society where they are not needed, and we can work for that, as Isaiah says.  Change is possible, on the grand scale – the national scale, and on the very small scale too.

We can do both. We can make a difference this Advent.

Perhaps we can find some time for making and sharing, some moments of peace and connection, some moments to hold onto hope in midwinter days.

IMG_0930

 

Advent 1 – Hope

IMG_0928.JPG

Starting a little late, I thought I’d share with you some thoughts as we go through the four weeks of Advent.

This week’s theme is Hope.  Ah, hope. We were talking about that in our Thursday group a few weeks ago, reflecting on how hope feels different when we hold it in difficult, uncertain times.  Not as a glib avoidance strategy that it’s all fine, really, it’s all going to be fine…. but as a deliberate and courageous stance, holding on to a vision of how things could be.  With politics in uproar, and the climate crisis deepening, we need courageous hope, that’s prepared to work to refashion things around us in defiance of what we see.  There is real power in such acts.

During this time of darkening days, we often revisit the words of the prophets.  They often spoke into desperate, unpromising circumstances with a mixture of a vision to hold in our hearts, and actions for our hands to do.  Those actions can be prophetic themselves, speaking out and making plain God’s dream for the world – a beautiful, hopeful vision strong enough to withstand hard times – brave enough to choose to be born to a poor family, who sheltered in a stable, and had to run from a murderous tyrant.  This is how hope was offered to the world, in the infant Jesus.

During this Advent series, I’ll share with you some extracts from my books.  Here’s something from The Bible Retold , as the retelling of the Hebrew scriptures comes to an end, and we look forward..

As the walls were rebuild, so were the people.  For God was building them into a new kind of kingdom.  Isaiah the prophet wrote: “This is how to truly serve me: unbind people who are trapped by injustice, and lift up those who are ground down.  Share your food with the hungry, and clothe the cold – that is how to live in the light!”

The people listened to his words of bright hope.  “There is much darkness in the world, but your light is coming!  All nations will be drawn to you, and they, too, will shine!”
….

“A child is born to us,
a son is given.
Authority will rest
on his shoulders,
and his names will be
Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
His kingdom, his peace,
will roll across the lands,
and he will reign on the
throne of David for ever.”

We give thanks for the work that is being done right now, in our communities, to clothe, and feed, and seek justice.  May we have the courageous vision to join with that work of light.

From Prayers and Verses

Scatter the darkness from before our paths.

(Adapted from the Alternative Service Book)

IMG_0930.JPG

The days are dark,
Dear God, give us your true light.

The days are dark,
Dear God, give us your true life.

The days are dark.
Dear God, give us your true love.

 

The Advent Candle Ring is from the good people at The Chapel in the Fields
It gives me great pleasure to know that the oak at the base was one a lectern, and the lighter wood on top a dining table.  The words written around it are from the ancient chants, the  “O” Antiphons.  I am intrigued by the old Advent practice of placing yourself with the prophets in the time before Jesus, not having a name to call your hope by, but knowing what it is you hope for all the same.  The first few centuries of the Christian Era saw these great prayers, the “O” Antiphons, sung during Advent, calling on Christ to come now, and to come again.
You can listen to the old chant, and read Malcolm Guite’s sonnet, and much more, here.

May you hold on to hope.

 

 

 

Christmas Retold – Joy to the World

 

nativity

Caravaggio

Welcome to a Christmas Special from Sunday Retold

In these last few days of preparation, I thought I would share with you a Christmas retelling, and some prayers.  For several years, the “Shepherds and Angels” part of the extract below was read out at All-Age Christmas worship in my church.

If you would like to use any of the material below, please do feel free to do so, saying where it is from.

 

 

From The Bible Retold

The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered a census throughout the whole empire, when all the people would be counted, and taxed.  The orders spread along straight Roman roads, and were proclaimed first in the white marble cities and ports, and then in the towns and villages of the countryside.

Even quiet Nazareth heard the news, and Mary and Joseph began to gather together their belongings, ready to travel to Bethlehem.  That was Joseph’s family home:  he was descended from King David, of Bethlehem. They set off south on the crowded road, for the whole empire was travelling.  But, for Mary, the journey was especially hard, and the road seemed never ending. It was nearly time for her baby to be born.

At last they came to Bethlehem, but it was not the end of their troubles.  The city was noisy, bustling, and heaving with crowds, and Joseph searched anxiously for somewhere quiet for Mary to rest – her pains were beginning, and the baby would be born that night.  The inn was already full of travellers, and the only place for them was a stable.  There, among the animals, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him up tightly in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger full of hay.  Then, she rested next to the manger, smiling at the baby’s tiny face.

There were shepherds who lived out on the hills nearby – the same hills where King David had once watched over the flocks, long ago.  The sheep were sleeping in their fold under the shining stars, while the shepherds kept watch.  Their fire flickered and crackled, and the lambs would bleat for their mothers, but they were the only sounds. All was peaceful.  All was well.

Suddenly, right there in the shepherd’s simple camp, appeared and angel of the Lord, shining with God’s glory and heaven’s brightness.  The shepherds gripped each other in terror, their skin prickling with fright.
“Don’t be afraid, I’m bringing you good news – it will bring joy to all people!”  The shepherds listened, awestruck, their faces glowing with the angel’s light.  “This is the day the good news begins, and this is the place.  In the town of David, a saviour has been born.  He is Christ, the Anointed One, the one you have been waiting for.  And this is the sign that these words are true: you will find a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands, lying in a manger.”

The shepherds watched as light was added to light, voice to voice, until they were surrounded by a dazzling, heavenly host of angels, all praising God and saying
“Glory! Glory to God in the highest,
And on the earth be peace!”

And then, in an instant, the angels were gone, and the shepherds were left in dark night shadows, listening to the sound of a distant wind. But their eyes still shone with heaven’s light.
“Let’s go and see for ourselves!” they called to one another as they raced over the dark, rocky fields to Bethlehem.  There, they found Mary and Joseph, and, just as the angel had said, they found the baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands and lying in a manger.  They saw him with their own eyes, and spread the angel’s message to all they met.
“The Promised One has come! The Christ, the Anointed One, has been born!” The angel’s words were on everyone’s lips that night in Bethlehem.  And, as the shepherds made their way back to their sheep, bursting with good news, Mary kept their words safe, like treasures, in her heart.

And something from Prayers and Verses

Let us remember Mary this Christmas
And may God bless our mothers.

Let us remember Joseph this Christmas
And may God bless our fathers.

Let us remember Elizabeth and Zechariah and
John this Christmas
And may God bless all our relatives.

Let us remember the shepherds this Christmas
And may God bless all those who will be working.

Let us remember the wise men this Christmas
And may God bless all those who will be travelling.

Let us remember Jesus this Christmas
And may God bless us all and make us his children.
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.
Christina Rosetti 1830-1894
Lord Jesus,
The wise men brought you gold:
Let us use our riches to do good.

The wise men brought you frankincense:
Let our prayers rise like smoke to heaven.

The wise men brought you myrrh:
Let us seek to comfort those who are sad and grieving.

 

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Christina Rosetti 1830-1894

May God’s blessing and peace be with you, and with all, this Christmas.
Thank you for joining me here.

A Christmas poem, written in childhood

trees

 

Primary school was not a happy place for me.  I am dyslexic, but hadn’t been diagnosed at that point, and found a fairly traditional education involving spellings, handwriting, and learning tables by heart almost impossible.  I spent much of the time looking out of the window, and imagining.

While I couldn’t copy of the board, I did go home and write – often long epic misspelled poems – and occasionally, when we could write freely at school, I was brave enough to just do that, write freely.

My teacher, unknown to me, entered this poem in the high school Christmas Poetry competition, and it was commended.  That was such an important moment for me.  It was the first time I felt a sense of possibility at school – that I could do something, and maybe do it well. I am so grateful to that teacher for believing in me.  I showed her some of my scribbly notebooks after that.  Words and actions that encourage, that show you believe in someone, can seem such a small thing to the one doing them, but they can change the world of those who receive them.

 

When I was compiling Prayers and Verses I decided to include this Primary School poem, as it meant such a lot to me at the time.  I hope you enjoy it too.

 

The dawn is breaking, the snow is making
everything shimmer and glimmer and white.

The trees are towering, the mist is devouring
all that is in the reaches of sight.

A bell is ringing, the town is beginning
slowly, gradually, to come to life.

A candle is lighted, and all are excited,
for today is the ending of all man’s strife.

 

Let us encourage one another this Christmas, look for the good even in unlikely places.

 

 

The Little Christmas Tree – a few pictures!

It was such a pleasure to visit the Abbey School this week, as judge of their prose reading competition. Such wonderful expressive readers – it was a real treat, and very hard to chose a winner.
They kindly let me show them some of my books, and they did enjoy playing “guess the language” with the foreign editions, and guessed very well!

Andrea Skevington

IMG_0624.JPGimg_0626IMG_0627.JPG
I love the illustrations for my first book by the fabulous Lorna Hussey, so I thought I would take it out on a sunny day and snap a few pictures to share with you.  She draws out the different characters of the trees so well, and the animals are delightful.  I am particularly fond of some of the minor characters, such as this beautiful owl, and the badger who appears later.

Whenever I take the book to schools, I always take the foreign editions.  The children enjoy trying to work out the different languages – and are particularly intrigued by the different scripts.  It’s a wonderful thought that the book has found  homes so far away.

I am very grateful for the way young readers have taken this book to their hearts.

The Little Christmas Tree remains a favourite of mine, too.
It is selling quite fast on Amazon…

View original post 31 more words

Advent – a poem

 

img_0157

 

img_0212

 

As we are close to the darkest time of year, it’s good to go and snatch what moments of light we can find.  Sometimes, I have to sit still, in the face of the cold wind, and allow my eyes to be open, just looking, before I begin to see the hope, the life, the turning of light’s tide.

We need the light now.

 

 

Advent

Now, at the turning of the tide,
when the days shrink small,
and night seeps through shadows,
the river flows with palest light.

Now, when light and life seemed frail,
and failing, the tide turns, water returns,
eddying and rippling the  slow, chilled, flow,
a river new filled with salt, with wide sea.

And the white gulls dive, and lift their heads,
and rise, quicksilver water
pouring off their opening wings,
beaks full of flailing, silver fish.

And here, on these grey banks,
flowers are open again: stems
split and burst with green leaves and
yellow petals, new touched with life.

 

 

An Advent “O”, and Quiet Spaces

IMG_0765.JPG

 

 

I am making some preparations for Christmas, following on from my previous post on experiencing the darkness, the waiting, of Advent.  As I’ve been doing bits about the place, I have had Malcolm Guite’s “O” sonnets in my mind, and also the ancient songs on which they are based.

I unwrapped my old twig wreath, to see that it is even less of a circle than in previous years.  But, as I turned it round, I saw it as an “O”, which seemed just right for today.  The most famous of the “O”s is O Come O come Emmanuel, which sees good for a wreath, a sign of welcome.  I thought of all the welcomes of Christmas – from Jesus in a manger,  to friends and family who come to the door.

As I was thinking this, Wendy our post person came with a little parcel containing these

IMG_0766.JPG

 

The latest edition of Quiet Spaces   My contribution is some meditations based on Emily Dickinson’s poetry.  I so enjoyed doing that – but I had forgotten that it hadn’t come out yet!
So, there are twelve poems, or extracts of them, by ED, followed by a meditation, a creative response, an application to take into your day.  They work as daily meditations, or combined to form a quiet day or group activity.  I’m quite excited about returning to them, with an

O

 

img_0767

Woodpile – a poem of fires that are to come

IMG_0760.JPG

IMG_0763.JPG

I seem to be having something of a “Dark Advent”.  This year, the early beginning of jollity and glitter have left me rather cold.  The forced expectations of everything  being right with the world are particularly jarring.  I am feeling a bit “Bah! Humbug!”,  for much of it is.

What I have discovered, waiting in the dark, is that I’m not alone here.  In fact, there is a whole rich tradition, a whole season dedicated to such waiting, and what is more, you find that there are other people here, too.

Hope, after all, is  at home in the dark, in places that really need it. Advent is the season of almost unreasonable hope. Whether we feel the sting of expectation over our material provision – the perfect presents, the perfect dinner, the perfect home – or in terms of relationships – it’s all about family, after all, sitting happily together – we seem to be missing the point.

The point, as I seem to be finding, is that we are indeed waiting in the dark.  We are waiting for God with us.  For, astonishingly, God joins us in the dark.  God does not wait for us to clean up.  God does not expect the perfect Christmas.  Jesus was, after all, born in a stable of all places, literally in the poop.  I also remember that they went to Joseph’s family town, and no one opened their doors to the disgraced Mary, except the one who lent them the stable.  Not the perfect family, either, then.   Things are dark indeed, before the light of glory blazes out.  Before we see the light that is coming, that has already come.

The first Sunday of Advent, we went to an evening service at the beautiful Ely Cathedral.  We started in near darkness, and gradually, the light of candles spread.  We sang, and heard sung, songs and readings of longing, of waiting, of expectation.  Songs sung very much in the darkness, but looking for the light. Songs of a long waiting.  It seemed to me to reflect both a great truth, and my own experience of this season.

So, this poem about my pile of wood for the winter is a poem of perhaps unpromising, dry, cold material, that will, in time, spark in our grate, and warm us.  Our local woodman brings us logs that are a mixture of off cuts from his tree surgery, and cleared wood to keep the heaths open.  It’s hard to imagine, looking at it, that it contains so much heat to be released by the lighting of one match.

So Advent, a time of waiting, and of preparation, can seem as hard as stacking wood in the freezing cold.  But once again, we find the work of hope, even unreasonable seeming hope, can bring light, and warmth, into the chill of waiting.  We’re not aiming for perfection here.  We’re certainly not aiming for pretense.  We’re aiming to lift our eyes to see that hope is coming, and we can welcome it, and be warmed by it, even in the coldest  of places.

 

Woodpile

I love building this woodpile,
gloved hands holding frost-rimed logs,
piecing together the structure,
small circles nestled between large –
the colours of the dry wood,
orange, deep yellow, brown bark
mottled grey by lichen,
each one speaks of the years it has known,
the weather it has withstood,
the earth where it grew.

Each tree’s wood has its own
qualities – ease of lighting,
denseness, brightness of flame,
and these I appraise as I build.

Wood bought, wood gathered,
wood cut from our place, piece by piece
the pile grows, our defence against
the cold, the long nights of winter,
the snow that has already begun.

By chill sunset my aching back,
my arms, heavy with the weight of wood,
are glowing with the heat
of fires that are to come.