The Coming of Christmas

I know this is probably a bit early to use the “C” word but it is what’s been buzzing in my head. And yesterday was the start of Celtic Advent – in the Celtic Christian calendar there are 40 days of Advent just as there are 40 days of Lent – so here we go.

View across Dublin, sunrise March 2016 taken by me

he days are getting shorter, darker, wetter and colder as they lollop towards the end of the year. It is a time when we should be slowing down and reflecting on the year. If we tapped into our pre-industrialisation roots this was the time when our ancestors in the North would stay home and wait, wait to see if the sun would rise again, if the days would get longer or whether things would just get darker and darker. Sounds a bit familiar that – wondering if it is just going to get darker and darker? Solstice means “sun stands still” and it is almost as if the sun is thinking about whether it will start to climb again. In fact. But 4 days later it appears that the sun decides to stay around for longer, which is why Celtic Christians pick 25th December as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth so show that when there is a fear of darkness fully encroaching over the world the Son of God came to turn back the darkness. It was also a way of showing Jesus to be the fulfilment of a pagan festival.

Our bodies still remember this but we fight against the natural reaction of our bodies with our warm centrally heated, light houses, and the commercial extravaganza that this season has become. Even in Church we make it into a busy time and a buying time.

In “normal” times I would be at my wits end at this time of year planning Christmas plays where I never seemed to get the cast until the day before, planning a nativity skit with 2 or 3 close friends who “got it”, as well as planning trips off to see friends and family down south and who was coming up to visiting us. Much more into my 21st Century busy boots rather than my ancient roots.

I am a planner who doesn’t like plans which means that I start my Christmas planning around October. I make lists that I then leave all over the house[ on the kitchen table, on the notice board, in my study, in my pockets; lists for this Christmas play and the skit and for other things I would have been roped into in church; lists for presents I think I should be buying; lists for the food I wanted to get for the “big day”; a timetabled list of our trip south.

I buy my Advent books, which this year is Christine Sine’s Lean Towards the Light this Advent & Christmas which I bought ages ago, and has been sat on the arm of my sofa so I don’t forgot to use it, looking battered and tired, and I’ve signed up for a couple of Advent writing course. Then because I don’t like plans I’d lie in bed and worry about the play, the shopping, etc but not get things done.

Of course this year we don’t know if we are going to be able to see any friends or family because of Covid rules. The weather is too unpredictable and days so short meeting outside will be difficult. Church can’t have lots of people in it so there’s no Christmas plays. I can’t go rushing round shops or Christmas markets buying things for people who probably don’t want them anyway! [Note gift giver is very low in my love languages!] Should I get lots of food? Will anyone be coming to visit us? I know my kids are hoping to but …

My body is feeling sluggish and unmotivated, which could be to do with covid rules and guideline, or could be because I can’t get out much because my ribs aren’t mending as fast as I would like. I’m sure they are mending as fast as they think best. But I do wonder if this year I am accepting my ancient roots more because of the restrictions, because I have had to slow down, had to spend more time inside just resting and thinking. At this time of year our ancestors would be resting from the busyness of harvesting and the preserving of the harvest; salting, pickling, bottling, making into wines, etc.

Maybe winter is a time to feel a bit low, to hibernate, and to ponder whether this year the sun will forget to shine and things just will get darker and darker. Perhaps this year God is staying that we all need to accept that feeling of lowness, examine its origins, to not try to rush around making it go away and trying to make things like they were last year. Maybe we need to hunker down and pray that the sun will rise again, that the light will return and that in the coming year as the days increase so will our energy, our productivity, our joy. And that the darkness will flee.

Words – and Say What You Mean

Free pixabay image

In 1968 the Bee Gees sang “It’s only words and words are all I have” which made it all sound so simple. But words mean different things to different people. The first holiday my soon-to-be husband I went on showed that. We were in the Peak District and he suggested going for a walk. We had walked before around our home town but those had been to the tea-shop to cake and a long natter. Once in the Peak District his “walk” meant something totally different. What he meant was “all day hike” but myself and my kids were expecting a gentle stroll really.

Here in the UK Wales has just come out of lockdown and England has entered it. One of the big controversies is over “non-essentail good” and how people interpret that. Also what do you see as “essential“?

Garden Centres are still open but bookshops are closed. Supermarkets are open but they have closed off their clothes sections. My florist can’t open her shop but can work from hom. I must say I would have included “car screen wash” until Saturday when I needed some. One man’s non-essential is another man’s essential.

Now take it a stage further – I’ve just read “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge in which she talks about “insitutionalised racism“. I am now reading “God of violence yesterday, God of love today” by Helen Paynter in which she calls institutionalised racism “institutionalised violence“, which is much harder hitting, I believe. Both women are talking about the same thing but using different words. The above examples are of using the same words to mean different things.

So often what we say we don’t mean or we think we know what we mean but don’t have to vocabulary to express it. But also we don’t slow things down enough to either explain what we mean or to ask what is meant by. I would have had a much better time that first walk we did together in the Peak District if I had said “when you say ‘walk’ what do you mean by it?” I believe there would have been less upset if the Government had said what they meant when they said “non-essential” but also I think the media when they recieved the story would have been doing a public service if they had asked “why have you picked these things are non-essential?” and “what do you mean by non-essential?” But no one does. The media made a mountain out of a mole hill and the government stayed quiet. I got upset with my soon-to-be-husband and he got upset with me being upset with him! As we all do when people are upset with us!

I wonder too if Helen Paynter can get away with calling racism violence because she is a white middle class woman talking about God but Reni Eddo-Lodge would not have been able to because she is a black woman talking about her experiences? Sometimes it is as much the speaker as it is the words used that we filter what is said though. So maybe next time we think we’ve heard something maybe we need to be bold enough to ask what the speaker meant by that and also to question the cultural lens we are looking through.

Full Moon

A full moon behind clouds in the night sky. Free photo 82951091 © creativecommonsstockphotos – Dreamstime.com

I couldn’t sleep last night. Maybe it was my ribs still hurting (which seem to be working on the “I’m almost better so I can do things today to the following day’s oh no I’m not because I did too much” theory of healing!), or it could have been the wine I drank last night and the very nice pumpkin pie, or it could be listening to the storm outside and then being woken by the full moon peaking through the clouds. In the end I decided I might as well get up and have a cup of sleepytime tea.

We’ve got a couch in the bay window of our living room so I curled up on the couch with my drink, opened the living room curtains and there was the moon looking back at me. Then it went and hide for a bit behind some white cloud. There was an awesome looking cloud up there, a storm cloud, that looked like fingers stretching across the sky which was being lit by the light from the full moon. And as I watched it seemed like the moon burned away those whiter clouds and hung there with a golden ring around it. I wish I had taken a photo but I knew that by the time I switched on my phone, got distracted by the messages on it, and sorted the camera out, that moment would have gone. So I just sat and enjoyed the moment.

The trees across the road from me were being battered by the wind, leaves being ripped from them, street lights twinkling as the branches swept back and forth. But high in the sky that black finger-like cloud was hardly moving, the moon was hanging there. Everything in the upper reaches of the sky was calm and still. It made me think of how often we are only looking at our chaos of the moment, the stuff we are battling through for now. And that is not to dismiss what is going on now. This week a friend’s nephew died in his sleep, another friend’s neighbour’s 5 year old was buried, another friend’s mum is in hospital but she can’t go and visit her because of lockdown restrictions. There is chaos, destruction and a storm raging down here on earth at the moment. But what that sky above was telling was that if we can look up – again to the “where does your hope come from?” – there is strength and calm. As Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said “we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.” I wonder if he meant the Glory of God. [discussion on Oscar Wilde’s faith maybe another time???]

The moon is always there. The moon is always full but often it does not show us it’s fullness. I think God is like that too, always there but not always showing the fullness of God. I am learning that my hope is not always in what God does but in who God is. My trust is not in what God does but in who God is. For too long I’ve been lookng at what God does and been disappointed but if I can look to who God is then I have hope, trust and joy even when there is a storm rampaging through my world. I can reach upwards for the stillness that is always promised which will give me the peace and strength to deal with the storms of here on earth.

Listen to what you’re saying!!!

Or analogue from falling off a horse part two!!

Gwytherin churchyard – taken by me April 2019

Since the start of lockdown myself and other prophetic writers have been banging on about resting, reseting, reconnecting, renewing, etc. Lots of “re”‘s in there!! But are we really listening? Or maybe it is just me!

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been led on the couch getting over a fall from a horse (how it came about is mentioned in the previous post) and I am bored. I still ache, still can’t do all the normal things I do round the house, am tired and am having trouble keeping concentration. Why? Well because my bones or muscles, whichever it is, are trying to reset and renew, but I want to get back to doing, but healing takes time.

Here in North Wales in are about to start a two week “firebreak” to try and deal with this coronavirus. Who know if it will work or not but I wonder if it is like me having a long bath with Epsom salts and hoping that means I can put the hoover round later. I will tell you from experience that it doesn’t work. I still need the time. And I need to be imagining my “new normal“. But I, like my country and my church, and like so many others, do not want to put in that time. I’m bored of sitting around doing nothing but reading and thinking and sleeping!

Did God let me fall off my horse so I could have time to rest? Did God send the coronavirus so we could all have time to rethink? Someone I know had a horrid accident and got compensation for it, then 20 years later a member of his family nearly lost their home and he was able to use his compensation to stop that happening. Did God cause him to have the accident so he had that money? I don’t think so but I know God uses everything.

So I need to let God use my time led on the couch here and having to ask people for help so that I can rest, refresh, reset, and renew. And maybe too we to, as a Church, as a nation, need to follow the same example and allow God to help us to reset, refresh and renew and so become all we are meant to be. Perhaps this is a time to humble myself and pray and let God do the healing?

[A great resource I’ve found to help with this is The Prayer Shield]

Analogue from horse riding

It’s my daughter on a horse not me

I started horse riding only about 2 years ago, just before my 57th birthday. I did used to ride when I was in my teens but got more interested in boys and drinking than riding so gave it up 🙂 It was a challenge to restart. When lockdown came, of course things ceased, and then the stable I used to go changed direction and my friends, all women of a similar age, had to look for somewhere else to ride. This new stables is teaching me as much about my relationship with God as it is about riding.

“Let go of the reins and trust” my instructor tells me often. I have a fear of going too fast and not being in control. He keeps telling me that I need to trust the horse, not pull on its mouth so hard as that really does hurt the horse and believe that all will be well. Very much an analogy there of of how we need to trust God and not hold on to control so tightly.

“Sometimes I think you are more of a passenger on that horse” he said the other day when I was too scared to keep my legs on the horse. Keeping legs on keeps the power in the horse and keeps it moving. Without legs on the horse can slow and its front legs can go slower then its back legs and it can trip. Again with God how often are we passengers, just going along for the ride, not really engaged with what He’s up to?

Then here’s the bit you can feel sorry for me for a while but not for long. A week ago I fell off the horse I was riding and I think I’ve cracked a rib. If not cracked then bruised it badly and I’ve also bruised muscles down my right side and my right wrist. All very painful and painkillers are just touching the surface of the pain. Ok that’s the end of being sorry for me because the fall was my fault!!! I was just going into a canter, which I struggle to do because it frightens me. Not sure why but it is probably to do with trusting myself and the horse. So I pulled on the reins, which caused my poor horse to trip. As I started to slide outwards instead of using my body and leaning inwards and letting centrifugal force pull me back on, I reached for the fence that was rushing past me. Why I do not know! So as I fell my hand was at the top of the fence – not holding on I don’t think – but that is how I’ve bruised my wrist which has aggravated an old hitchhiking injury (that’s another story!!). But it also meant that the whole of my right side was stretched out and exposed. So when I hit the ground that was what I landed on. The fall was my fault!

I’ve been led here on the couch not able to do much but think (and feel sorry for myself!!) and have wondered how often we fall off on our Christian journey and blame everyone else but ourselves. We blame God, Church, fellow Christians, the mission organisation, the devil, the world, etc. But sometimes it is because we were scared, pulled the reins in too tight, leant the wrong way, grabbed for something we should not have done. And so we are battered, bruised, feeling weepy and tired, and not able to keep going for a while.

So on my journey with God I need to stay engaged, not hold on so tight and trust more in the process. Now I will just have to ponder what that looks like in practical ways for another blog post! 🙂

Unless You Become Like a Child …

My husband celebrating his 45th birthday at Diggerworld – taken by me June 2013

I was reading Christine Sine’s book “The Gift Of Wonder” this morning but had also woken up with the verse “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” which is the first part of Revelation 21:4

Now this verse has always confused me because I am a crier. I can cry at the drop of the hat. In fact I have just been watching a TED talk about restoring old manuscripts and that made me cry. It is a bit of a family joke about me crying. And it has worried me that I could become a different person when I got to heaven and I have grown to quite like me. But then I read as Christine’s book it starts with the story of Jesus in Mark 10 and Luke 9, in which Jesus talks about welcoming the little children and saying how we need to become like a child and about how God wants us to play.

As I was journaling around this it struck me that in the playground children run and jump and play without fear, but this often leads to falls and tears. There are also the “rules of play” and there is often some bossy kid who makes others cry by assertively enforcing those rules. But if you stand on the sidelines and observe those playing times that are fully entered into, the tears come quickly but then they go just as quickly. The good parent or playgroup monitor wipes away those tears, wipes the hurt better, kisses the hurts and tears away and the child goes back to play again. And if handled properly by the adult they go straight back into the game without fear or without holding back. I believe we cannot fully enter into play and joy and wonder without there being a few tears along the way. That’s all part of it.

As we get older we pick up ideas about tears being wrong, that really we shouldn’t cry, shouldn’t show our emotions. So we learn to stop entering in. Oh my, have we stopped giving God an amazing opportunity to wipe those tears away!!!

God says “in heaven I’ll wipe those tears away”. Well if we are to believe that heaven is a now thing as much as an “after we’re dead thing” then those tears, when we let them come, can be wiped away now.

But also if God is going to wipe our tears away in heaven that means that we are going to have tears in heaven too. If heaven is going to be a place of full joy then I am going to cry. I know I am. Joy makes me cry as much as sadness, anger, grief, etc do.

I used to worry about going to heaven because I thought it might be a bit dull, but now that I believe that I can enter into heaven in full childlikeness, running, jumping, falling, getting hurt, getting up again. So in heaven I might fall. No in fact if I am fully childlike then I will rush headlong into things and will fall. But the exciting thing is that if I am living fully in God’s kingdom, fully in heaven on this earth, then I will fall, will trip up, will not get all the rules of the game fully sorted and will get upset when someone reprimands me on them, but the exciting thing is that God will wrap me in his arms, give me a huge hug, wipe away my tears and then I can go back into the game again.

Those short, sharp, deep, painful tears will be wiped away every time by our loving, caring, protective, always there, parent. Wow, now that was too exciting to keep to myself

Where is your hope?

My hope comes from the hills – Psalm 121 (image taken by myself at Gwytherin April 2019)

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope and what it means, especially after sending a text to a friend talking of hope.

She had said that two unexpected things had happened – one that their neighbour had, out of the blue, decided to cut back his trees which would mean they could regain their lovely view, and then that someone had managed, what had seemed the impossible, and had found somewhere to rent. I had responded with Psalm 121 and that the trees being cut back were so that they could see their hope again. She messaged back to say she had shared this with someone else who had responded back to her that they has lost all hope because of not receiving an answer to prayer. I’ve also heard from an older person I know how she has lost hope and wants to die because of all this lockdown stuff. So what is that hope that the Bible talks about?

When my father-in-law died my husband read Habakkuk 3:17-18 at his funeral. His death had come during a long period that my husband and I had endure of unanswered prayer and of searching for God in the midst of it.

Though the fig tree does not bud

    and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

    and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

    and no cattle in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

It made me wonder how often we are taught in churches, or take on board ourselves, that belief that God answers prayer the way we want it. And that we hitch our hope to getting what we want. We are taught, and teach ourselves, that God is the truly loving father, full of unconditional love. Does unconditional mean that we always get what we want or even need? Is this why we lose faith when things don’t happen as we would like?

One of the big moans of the older generation towards “children of today” is that they are unruly and rude and have no respect for their elders. Some of that reason is that they get everything they want – the best trainers, phones, trips to exciting places on holidays etc. And because of that many of them come with a sense of entitlement – which I think is a lot of what we are seeing with all generations during this season, with not being able to do as they want when they want. We think we’re entitle to things, but are we?

Can we really be joyful in God if we don’t get what we want; our world is gripped by a pandemic, by weak leadership, by selfish world leaders in many fields, by global warming? Can we really rejoice when those we love don’t get healed, don’t get what they want, aren’t fulfilled? (and by rejoice I don’t mean Pollyanna attitude of pretending nothing is wrong, of smiling in adversity but I mean that deep rejoicing in God) How do we do that?

I think we can and I think we should and I think this is what is being asked of us during this period.

Sometimes we can’t see that hope, like my friend with the trees blocking her view of the hills, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Tom Sine talks in 2020 Foresight about how we need to be praying in Psalm 121 as we look towards the changes we need to make in our churches for the future. So let us lift our eyes and remember where our help and hope and support really does come from. As Oscar Wilde said “We’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars“. So let’s look up, remember, take hold and have hope even if nothing turns out as we would like it.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night
.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

FEAST OF ST MICHAEL

Today, September 29th, is the feast of St Michael. Here are my thoughts on him.

This post was also published on https://godspacelight.com/2020/09/29/feast-of-st-michael/

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Photo by Guido Reni – http://www.andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/readArticle/257, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9571452

How do you see St Michael? One of God’s mighty angels? Or, in the UK, a clothing brand by a large department store? [Marks and Spencer’s St Michael’s range] Or as he is depicted in many paintings and church stain-glass windows, the white superhero spearing the brown devil?

Michael, the archangel, Saint Michael, appears all over the place. He’s not just in the Hebrew and Christian Bible, but also in the Quran and in neo-pagan literature, as well as  in countless poems, paintings, statues, music and jewellery. But wherever he appears, he is always strong and invincible.

In the Book of Daniel Michael, the archangel, appears to Daniel and says he is “the protector of Israel” (Daniel 10:13-21) and in Daniel 12:1 saying he will “arise again during the end of time”. In both the Book of Jude (1:9) and in the Book of Revelation (12:7-9), the Archangel Michael is stronger than Satan and defeats and banishes him. In the Quran Sura 2:98 says “Whoever is an enemy to God, and His angels and His messengers, and Jibrail and Mikhail! Then, God (Himself) is an enemy to the disbelievers.” Some Muslims believe that Michael is one of the three angels who visit Abraham (Sura 11:69).

Neo-pagan tradition has leylines, lines of spiritual energy that pass through various points on the land. The most famous one is the St Michael’s leyline; which goes from St Michael’s Mont in Cornwall, through Glastonbury Tor to Bury St Edmunds, Norfolk. There is another St Michael’s leyline from Skelling Michael, Ireland, through St Michael’s Mont, Cornwall to Mount Carmel in Israel.

In Alexander Carmichael’s The Carmina Gadelica, compiled during his travels as in the Scottish Highlands and Islands during the late nineteenth century, 29th September, the Feast of St Michael, was a time for great celebration; with feasting, dancing, visiting the ancestral graves, horse racing, and young people to find a partner. Ray Simpson says in Exploring Celtic Spirituality, every husbandman would give food to the alms-deserving as an offering to “the great God of the elements who gave him cattle and sheep, bread and corn, power and peace, growth and prosperity, that it may be for his abject, contrite soul when it goes thither”. Saint Michael’s feast day was seen as a day of promise to the young and a day of fulfillment for those older, and a day of retrospection to the aged. Carmichael says, “it is a day when pagan cult and Christian doctrine meet and mingle like the lights and shadows on their Highland hills.”

Around the same time Carmichael was gathering his The Carmina Gadelica, the Catholic church in Rome was under persecution from the King of Italy, and the pope wrote this prayer to St Michael.

St Michael’s prayer “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

So again I ask, how do you see St Michael? End time deliverer, patron saint of the harvest, the defeater of the devil, a great redeemer, a connector of power lines through the earth? Which one of these Saint Michaels do you want him to be? Or maybe, in these turbulent times, we need him to be all of these – to help us take joy in what we have reaped and what will fulfill us during these times (harvest), defeater of the devil/our enemies, one who can redeem the earth to its purpose, and able to connect the power of the earth to help redeem us from global warming, pandemics, etc.

These are times of great trial, times when we need to look above and beyond, times when we need all the help God has, but also time to rejoice in the good of what is being harvested. Perhaps we do need to stop and reflect and see this day as a day of promise to the young. A day of fulfillment for those older, and a day of retrospect to the aged. Let us pray the prayer but also rejoice and remember that St Michael, and God, are all these things.

REFERENCES:

“Celtic Christian Spirituality: An Anthology of Medieval and Modern Sources” by Oliver Davies and Fiona Bowie  for the quotes from Alexander Carmichael’s The Carmina Gadelica

“Exploring Celtic Spirituality” by Ray Simpson

Llyn Anafon

Llyn Anafon taken by me Sunday 27th Sept 2020

Yesterday was the last day of our holiday. It was our first holiday this year due to lockdown. The first 6 days of it were spent in Northumberland in a self-catering cabin, but we had to come home early because we could not stay with friends in the area for the weekend due to the NE of England being in local lockdown. So on Sunday we walked into Snowdonia, away from the tourist crowds and had a picnic Sunday lunch by this beautiful lake where I wrote this poem.

Black mirror broken only by occasional jumping fish trying to catch the last midges of summer.

Blobs of white undefined sheep gather together then drift apart enjoying the last grass of summer. 

Man watches, thinking, pondering, closes eyes & dreams drifting on the last warm rays of summer

Interestingly this could be the last time we see this llyn like this because Welsh Water is draining it and returning it to how it was before it became a reservoir in the 1930s. This will mean they will not have to keep looking after the concrete dam there. But it is interesting how the local people have reacted The extraordinary saga of Snowdonia’s ‘vanishing lake’ that has left people ‘seething’ 

I wish I could find an article that said how the local people reacted when the stream was dammed up in the first place 90 years ago. I wonder if it was with similar outrage? And it got me thinking as to how vehement we can be about change and how it upsets us and yet how quickly we get used to the “new normal”, coin a recent phrase. I wonder if in ten or twenty years we will have got used to local lockdowns and will bemoan them if/when they cease?

You can just see the blobs of sheep across the lake. Taken by me 27th Sept 2020

Pensarn Beach – a prose poem

Pensarn beach Feb 2020 taken by me

The following prose poem can also be found on https://walklistencreate.org/wr_instance/shorelines/ where they are still accepting work.  Shorelines is a collaborative project on writing and reciting, focused on the dividing line between land and water. Check out the line and go from there.

Today the sea speaks to me in tones of deep and grey asking me to follow it on its relentless quest around the globe.
Yesterday its voice was more of a lethargic slap of apologetic wave on languid shingle.
Yet competing with the sea are the constant bass undertones of the A55, always calling the dreamy walker back to the world of activity; of work, industry and commerce.
The traffic’s rumble is frequently enhanced by the scream of siren or buzz of speeding motorbike.
It never listens to the sea or hears its rhythmic call because that thoroughfare believes in the busyness of doing to be the purpose of the human race. .
Though my feet lead me to the shoreline to dance in its shallows or keep a respectful distance from its crashing waves, too often my mind is on the A55 needing to be part of man’s chorus of employment and cloistered individualism.