The”to-do” list

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I’m sharing some old posts in the run up to Christmas. This was originally published on my first blog, Dappled things, December 2013.

It’s that time of year again and I’m at the mercy of the ‘to do’ list.

Bent low under the oppression of slave driven orders (that I wrote myself), crushed beneath the tyranny of a bitter regime, I’m on a fast track to glory where each rung of the ever onwards ladder of success is a pencil line through the next item, as I strain forwards to accomplish an ever growing list of ‘must do’ tasks. If the the ‘to do’ list is lying I’d like to call out the truth right now. My value and existence are not dependent on what I do, my value is dependent on who I am.

Before this ‘to do’ list lays claim to the whole holiday, I have an announcement to make. Before this calendar is completely full, like the draw under the bed and space on the bottom of the wardrobe, fit to burst with unwrapped gifts. Before the unwritten Christmas cards get up out of the box and wave farewell to the last day of posting and before the amount of home baked goods exceeds the space I have cleared in the deep freeze, I need to pause. For there will be errands to run, for hard-to-come-by herbs to season last minute sausage meat stuffing when Paxo just won’t do. There will be trips in the fading light of the year’s shortest day, into the copse at the back of my house for ivy and rose hips, when a shop bought wreath has failed to bring the Christmas we have dreamed of into the house and at midnight I will be cutting out a last minute quilt or pincushion for a friends who deserves something hand sewn, if I don’t stop myself now.

 

gifts

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This is a Christmas to be more and do less. A time to just be, because that is enough, because God is enough. Put the ‘to do’ list aside because there is something of Christmas that you can not buy and you can not bake. Take some time, slow down and breathe deep. Look around and give thanks. Laugh, smile, hug. Remember Jesus.

God sent His Son Jesus, in the likeness of a man, flesh, blood, skin, bone and beating heart. And unlike other men before Him and since, this man, this God-man did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. This man was not driven in the relentless pursuit of the recognitions and achievements that other men chase, but he took on a humble nature that harnessed the fullness of divine strength without ever taking the upper hand. He died on the cross and there, in a place of punishing shame and degradation, he initiated a miracle of redemption that defied all reasonable possibility. Finally he sealed the work in a breathtaking resurrection that changed the course of history and eternity forever, that changed the course of my history and eternity forever.

Therefore:

Be reconciled

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5.20-21

Be transformed

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12.2

Be loved

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2.20

Be still

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Psalm 37.7

Be holy

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Ephesians 1.4-6

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Advent light

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For anyone looking for more light as we approach the December solstice.

We need more light in the upstairs sitting room but the length of fairy lights I bought are not long enough for the bookshelf.

I’ve been working at my desk since before seven this morning. I didn’t sleep well and got up even though it was still dark. Lucy and I both feel we are suffering a little from the shortness of day light hours, from deep shadows in the house, squinting our eyes to see in the gloom. We need to be outside more, under the sky, breathing fresh air, soaking up what little sun is left. Only a few weeks into winter and we long for spring.

The window behind my desk is darkened by the silhouette of bare trees, but the sky is acid yellow where the sun presses through and the raindrops on the glass have swallowed enough light to burn like candles.

 “The light shined in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.”

John 1.5

I sit down to write from my heart, from the scriptures, from wild imaginings and dreams. And it comes to me again, the measure of His grace and how words can only be used to approximate his love. How we are all debtors to an unconditional attentiveness that will not let us go. That He has shined his light into our world and it has touched every dark place. It has found its way through a hairline crack or a pinprick hole, even the slightest thinning in the fabric of life must give way to light. And in our hearts, brightening and softening, the darkness of our thinking and the bitterness of our hurt are bathed in His light.

Today is the Feast of Saint Lucy in the western and eastern church.  Lucy was a 3rd-century martyr who according to legend took food to ancient Christians who hid from persecution in the catacombs. The stories tells of how she took a candle wreath to light her way. She is remembered for her generosity to the poor and commemorated as a martyr. But this feast day, so close to the shortest day of the year, is all about light. It is all about learning how to live in a turning of the seasons, how this is only possible when we can look ahead. I read of one beautiful St Lucy’s day tradition from Hungary and Croatia: planting wheat grains on December 13th that will be several centimetres high on Christmas, to represent the life and growth that Christ brings us by his nativity.

Waiting for the divine Word to come for her, like the wise virgins Lucy filled the lamp of her soul with oil most rich; for having sold all her property, she bestowed all her substance upon the poor and destitute. Wherefore, feeding the hungry and giving drink to those athirst, clothing the naked and providing shelter for the indigent, she laid up for herself great store of the oil of mercy, wherewith to delight her Master. For this cause, let us sinners entreat her with boldness, that she pour forth of her oil and wine upon our manifold wounds, treating the afflictions of our bodies and curing the passions of our souls, that, restored to full health by her, we also may abide eternally with the heavenly Bridegroom.

Liturgical hymn for Saint Lucy

We have been watching the footage coming out of Yeman and last night there was bad news from Aleppo. Kingdoms rise and Kingdoms fall. Close to home someone you know someone lost sleep through sickness, sadness or deep deep care.

Let us pray.

The season of nativity, a fast in the Orthodox church, where, deprived of the comfort of rich food, we look to the Light of the World for comfort. For the six weeks of advent, Orthodox Christians fast from meat, eggs and dairy.  It is a fast that changes the tone of the season for those who try to keep it. Our modern Christmas time is one of plenty, it is an advertisement of our self made wealth, our man made prosperity. It will come, it will pass. The fast seeks to separate us from the temporary and fleeting pleasures of the season and prepare us long and slow for the coming of Christ, Light of the World, a real and lasting promise in dark times.

 

lucia

 

 

 

Believing impossible things

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Have you ever felt that following Jesus was too hard? Have you ever felt that your faith was making life more complicated than it needed to be? That the gospel they said would set you free had you trapped and you needed to get out?

Jesus said in this world you will have trouble and in this piece of writing we won’t be rushing on to the conclusion of that remark, however reassuring it might be. Cheaply purchased answers are temporary, easy won solutions throw up new worries and concerns. A generation of Christians have become tired of simplified answers to complex questions and have been hurt in places where those questions are all but banned.

But what if we decided to live as if our questions and struggles were as sacred as our moments of spiritual delight? What if we learnt to value and treasure the most troublesome days of our walk with God and speak boldly (not badly) of them as the dear friends that they are?

At the start of my journey towards a healthier spiritual place, a phrase from Alice caught my attention and fuelled my desire for change,

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I had to tell the truth, if only to myself. The Christian things I once held dear were becoming impossible things and the weight of them was breaking me up. I lacked the faith to believe and I lacked the will to pretend. I began to unwind, one impossible thing after another, like a long deep confession. Each new day, I got up, took the children to school, went to the library, cooked dinner, saw friends, passed the time. One day I was sorry for my rebellion, the next indignant. Yet some days, neither sorry or indignant, I felt the Holy Spirit there. He did not separate Himself from this questioning, I almost believed this was His doing and not my own.

What if I dared to believe this process was actually the work of God, the one I had prayed for, many, many times.

In those days I dared to believe Jesus was a good man not a God, that scripture was not without error. I dared to believe that love does not win, that miracles might not be true, that Christians were not the best people on earth, that Jesus is not the only way to God, that the doctrine of the Trinity is ridiculous, that answered prayer is coincidence, that the poor would never inherit the earth and that turning the other cheek was doomed to fail.

It was a quiet and long work. I told few people about it. I didn’t have the words. My only company in those days was books. 2002: I read Brian McClaren, Donald Miller, Dave Tomlinson and I returned to the ancient theologians I had studied as a student, the “Catholic” writers that evangelical pastors had cautioned me against. I shed impossible things like a seabird in eclipse loses feathers. The colours and textures of my faith changed subtly to match the shades of a changing internal landscape.

Many of the abandoned things would return in a different guise. I would turn them carefully in my hands, re-examining a doctrine or a teaching, as if seeing it for the first time.  I found I was free to refuse and free to accept impossible things. I could put it down or I could I could take it with me. I prayed for the sick and saw people healed, my children flourished and my marriage was good. I saw the doctor because I was depressed and then anxious. I had a lingering agoraphobia that made it hard to get out. But God was all new, returning blessings for my un-belief.

When faith unwinds and you are the lost person in the community of the found, know this: you are free to walk away and never return if that is what you choose. But you are also free to stay, just as you are, or in different ways. Go find them, the different ways, if that is what you want. For the God who sends his sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous and gives blessing upon blessing to all our unbelief.

 

 

 

 

Homefront (3)

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Reading and knitting news.

Some days at the library or the book shop are like harvest festival, with an abundance of fruitful finds and too many volumes I would love to read. Other visits are like the dead of winter, a shortest day of the year kind of visit where the only books worth reading are the ones I have already read and I come home empty handed.

Happily I’ve plenty to read just now and a pile by my bed that is knee high and threatening to topple any day. I’m currently in the last 100 pages of city saga, Norman Collins, London Belongs to Me. I’d not heard of the author but I picked it up in a charity shop to make up the numbers on a 3 paperbacks for a pound offer.

Norman Collins was a writer and television executive who published several novels in the 30s and 40s before pioneering the first British commercial TV channel, ITV. On checking reviews it would seem that this novel is well loved for its portrayal of a city and the people who live and work there, but I love it most for its portrayal of 1930s Britain and quickly grew nostalgic for a time now past.

London Belongs to Me, is neatly crafted around the residents of 10 Dulcimer Street, a London house owned by the widow Mrs Vizzard who rents rooms to paying guests. A series of their connected stories successfully represent life in London on the eve of the war. There is Percy Boon caught up in a terrible crime, Connie an ageing and light fingered actress, Mr Puddy the night watchman, Mr Squales a failed psychic with ambitions beyond his talent and the rather wonderful Jossers who long for a cottage in the country.

At over 700 pages long, its been a great read as the nights get colder and darker. Thoroughly recommended.

In knitting news I press on with gloves and make slow process on the lace. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to undo the lace scarf but I am quite determined to finish this project at some point.

The lace scarf pattern is 22 Leaves by Lankakomero at Ravelry. I am knitting it in Eden Cottage Yarns Theseus lace, which I purchased using a recent trip to Loop of London.

I’m linking up with Ginny Sheller at Yarn Along today. This is a great place for those of us who love our yarn craft and our reading. Visit her blog for restful thoughts a couple of times a week and the most beautiful homesteading photos.

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Spiritual dissonance

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Spiritual dissonance happens when we feel estranged from the responses we have been taught to make to God, and we grow separate from an authentic spirituality.

Loving God with all our heart, soul and mind creates an appetite for the authentic, and this is always the resting place of our desire to know Him more.

The gospels tell us to seek so that we will find and those who seek so often find themselves looking beyond their received traditions, teachings and practises to find more of God in something surprising outside of the well defined edges and corners of their current box.

Many seekers find that the words of others who are actively seeking God are a mirror and a map in their journey towards authenticity; a mirror because the words of others can reflect back a clear image of the things they already sensed, a map because they offer a route forwards, directions in the next step of the way.

Poetry is valuable in negotiating the deep and strange places of the soul because poetry uses a concentrated form of words to evoke and recreate experiences of the human heart that are often known and rarely spoken.

Advent brings out the best in poets. More so than Christmas. Christmas is over-burdened with meaning, most of it too sentimental to bear the weight of honest spiritual pursuit and the deep pain of the outside world. Spiritual dissonance at this time of year can be overwhelming and we must take all the help we can get to make a way amongst the clutter of the season.

In this poem by Rowan Williams, the imminent birth of Christ is under shadowed by a knowledge of the torture and suffering He will bear. The movement through the stanzas, leaf fall, to frost, to dark days and finally labour and child birth, does not flinch from the painful realities of our waiting for Christ and yet it capture the wonder and beauty of the whole creation’s relief when he is safely come.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.



He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.



He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.



He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

This poem is featured in a selection of poems for advent and epiphany, by Janet Morely, that I have reviewed in a previous post. 

Archbishop Rowan William’s poem was published in his first poetry collection, After Silent Centuries (Oxford, 1994), and is now available in the volume, The Poems of Rowan Williams. The poem was set to music by Peter Maxwell Davies in a collection of anthems in honour of the Queen’s diamond jubilee.