The Holy Things for the Holy

prosphora

I made prosphora this week, the bread that is used for the Sunday liturgy.

As I kneaded the four simple ingredients into life I prayed the prayers of the church and named the members of our community one by one. I said each name aloud with the list open before me on the kitchen table. This is how prosphora is made and has always been made.

Kneading bread is hard work. The raw flour and water initially resist all efforts to be combined. It will fight back. You must lean in with the full body of your weight against the kitchen table with the lump of dough caught between it and your hand. The heel of my of  palm is a tool and my fingers are rolled in a fist. For a short moment, in the quiet of my kitchen, I am god of the dough and from it I can bring life. I fold and pummel, beat and stretch. The dough, will gradually soften and yield to the pressure of my hard working hands. Under the weight of this work flour, water, salt and yeast are transformed. Dead things are given life, hard things yield. And prayer is like this too. Participation in the eucharist is like this too. This is how we love one another in the church, working, watching, waiting for the signs of Christ at work in us, at work in the world.

Arms aching and shoulders stinging I sit waiting for the bread to prove: waiting for proof that the dough is alive.  How can I not compare this to the disciples in the upper room? Him three days in the grave, no one understanding why the  Saviour of mankind has succumbed to death. I do not know if the yeast in my loaf will come alive, if it has what it takes to raise a loaf. The stone is rolled over the door of the tomb and the Roman guard marks the place. Inside that grave the silent and invisible work of bringing him alive has begun.

When the loaf is ready for the oven, I seal it with the mark of the cross and I prick it in the places where the priest will cut it up. IC XC NIKA “Jesus Christ Conquers”, this is how we mark the bread. The centre of the loaf that will be consecrated and added to the cup during the proskomedia, the liturgy of preparation. It is from this that the faithful will eat.

Why would you want a wafer or bread from Tesco, wrapped in plastic and made by a stranger, when someone from amongst you can participate in the transformational work of making the bread? They can pray for you by name, and stand with you through the celebration of Christ’s resurrection week by week.

Is it possible for rational people, raised in a secular world to believe that God could change the nature of the cosmos in the single life of Christ who dying on the cross? This is how I pray when I stand in line on Sunday for my crumb and for the wine. How? Why?The choir sing and the priest raises the spoon to our trembling lips and not one of us knows for sure but we all have faith as we share in this food.

A scientist can tell us the chemistry of grain, yeast and water transformed into bread but no priest or theologian will ever be able to explain how this loaf will be raised from the table, body of Christ broken for us. The Holy things for the Holy and from the kitchen, my ordinary life is swept up in salvation’s plan of cosmological size, along with the names of the people I prayed and all the imperfections of this loaf, split from its base and bubbles rising under the crust.

“Let our mouths be filled with your praise, O Lord, that we may sing of your glory, for you have counted us worth to partake of your holy, divine, immortal and life-giving, Mysteries; keep us in your holiness, that we may meditate on your righteousness all the day long, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

prosphora2

If you want to know more about how Orthodox Christians celebrate the eucharist there are some resources below to help, but the best way is to go along to a Sunday morning liturgy and see for yourself.

Our Life in Christ, from Ancient Faith Radio.

Father David Smith explains the Proskomedia, from Youtube.

Article on the eucharist from, Orthodox Church in America.

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Thoughts on loving the liturgy

anastasis

I’d like to say that my first visit to Orthodox liturgy was a homecoming – but it wasn’t.

I had more question that would have allowed me to worship that day. How can something that seems so wrong be so right? The beauty of the gospel I loved was being made holy before my eyes by priests in robes under the eyes of iconised saints. On the surface it looked like some kind of crazy idolatry, but when people asked me all I could say was I found it deeply Christian; deeply Christian in a way I had rarely known.

I felt conflicted; fascinated and conflicted. So I return for more.

The second time I visited, I entered nervously, but ready to listen for God.  At the door of the church is the icon they call the anastasis. It is an icon depicting the resurrection. It captures the whole span of salvation history, from a moment towards the end of the three days in the tomb. In the centre of the icon is Christ, his white robes flowing in a rush of movement as he returns from his descent to hell. He is lifting Adam and Eve in his wake and casting Satan down. As he rises, the broken gates of Hades shatter beneath his feet, and fragments of broken locks and chains crash into the abyss. I know this victory and I want it for myself and I want it for our broken world. I start to pray.

Christ stands strong upon a bridge of rock. I look more intently at him and see that he grasps the man and the woman (Adam and Eve) firmly by the wrist. The heat in my eyes is tears that won’t quite come. I am receiving a truth I love, not as a preached word but directly to my senses, especially my sight. I can see how He grasped me, I did not grasp him. I know for sure he is grasping me now.

“Today salvation has come into the world. Let us sing to him who rose from the tomb, the author of our life. For destroying death by death, he has given us the victory and his great mercy” I am greeted by the choir’s song. The room is flooded with light. The faces of the painted icons shine and their brilliance is reflected in the face of the people there. Candle light softens the room, the sweet smell of incense flood the senses, hymns, prayers, robed-ones moving from the altar and out among the people, as all the saints look on.

The priest announces in a loud voice, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.” This is how the liturgy always begins. This charismatic-evangelical girl wants to raise her hands and jump and dance. The liturgy is welcoming us into a space of saving grace like no other space I have ever known. Here you can see it, hear it, smell it and as the liturgy reaches its climax the faithful will taste it on their tongues, the sweetness of the wine that makes the heart glad, the broken bread spilling abundance.

We stand for the whole of the liturgy. On Sunday’s we never sit or kneel, for no one can rest with so much glory in the house. Every inclination of the heart and all the sense are drawn into worshipping God. Our eyes are on Him and His eyes are on us. “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy”, we repeat the refrain and it isn’t just a plea, it’s a triumphal statement. We stand here because he has had mercy on us. He is having mercy on us. He will have mercy on us.

I cross myself deeply at his name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. My hand moves, nervously the first time, to draw the shape of the cross on my standing self. “As many that have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia,”  the choir sing and the priest sings it back. The bread and the wine are made ready  and the cherubic hymn is sung,  “We, who in a mystery represent the Cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn, to the life-giving trinity, let us now lay aside every care of this life”, and that is what we do. We say the Creed and we pray the Lord’s Prayer in as many languages as are represented amongst us. We share in the bread and the wine.

Later in the church hall where the coffee is really good and the welcome warm, Antonio is telling me about his faith and his upbringing in the Orthodox Church. He is a Reader who has now removed his gold vestments. I am new and have so many questions and he can tell me what is happening behind that altar screen, the prostrations and the prayers, the fragments of Greek, the ceremony and ritual. Then part ways through the conversation, hand on heart (literally), he says, ” Once God is here, there’s no turning back.”

And this is how Orthodoxy speaks my language. Once we’ve tasted that intimacy, that sweetness, we’re spoil for anything but the pursuit of more. We are on course for worshipping in Spirit and in truth in ways more surprising than we ever guessed or imagined.

 

A Seamless Garment

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Transition to the Orthodox Church has been, for me, a seamless garment.

No rough places where two pieces of different cloth are joined, my faith remains intact just like the folded garment at the foot of the cross. Since forever this garment has represented unity to Christians seeking to interpret the gospel events. It represents an against-the-odds wholeness, emerging as it does out of the brokenness of the crucifixion; defeat, failure and death. That garment should have been ripped on the road to Golgotha or torn to shreds by mourners watching the Messiah hung to die like a common thief, but it somehow survived the ordeal.  The soldiers who divide Christ’s processions were unwilling to cut his coat. It was too valuable to divide.

For me this whole cloth garment represents how I made the change without any deep tear in the cloth of my heart, the place where I pray and the place from which I live and love. Leaving behind deep commitment to a charismatic-evangelical church and joining an ancient liturgical church looks like a big change but it hasn’t felt like that to me. It may look like I need to explain my new allegiance to a Orthodox beliefs and practices but talking about icons or Marion theology misses the point because the essence of change in me me will not be found in outward practice. I asked Jesus, “Lord teach me to pray” and this is where that request took me. I told him that I would follow him and this is the place I find myself in.

I am the proverbial dog with a bone; I can not let it lie; the irreconcilable, the unresolved, the injustice, the imperfection and the unanswered questions. I came to follow Jesus because I had an insatiable curiosity about God and an irresistible longing to know him. I found that as a Christian my curiosity and longing for God only increased. A familiar paradox: the more we know him the more we want to know him more. For as much as he healed, restored and saved me, he also broke me, undid me and turned my whole universe inside out. He refuses to let us stay as we are when staying as we are is not the best. As American pastor and writer Max Lucado says, “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus. ” Our faithfulness is to Jesus alone, not to a denomination or tradition, not to a particular culture or position in that culture. When we are following this Jesus we should not be surprised by unusual twists and turns in the plot.

When I left my church I did not plan to join the Orthodox Church, butI found myself by accident in the Sunday morning liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Leyland. I loved the rich scriptural tradition and the sense of continuity with the life of the first Christian communities. When I tentatively began to participate, standing for the procession of the Gospel or lighting a candle I took my first steps into an alien worship that actually felt strangely familiar. All I could say to those who asked was that I found it deeply Christian. After just three weeks I had the strangest sense that I would be a fool to leave.

I have never been a Christian who heard an audible voice or felt the need to labour hard for a directive word. These Sunday mornings had come to me as a gift and they sounded as loud as any audible voice. The nature of the gift was such that I felt declining it would, be an affront to the God who had so surprisingly lavished it upon me. With no prior effort to invite it, this is the nearest thing to a calling I have experience but it was not without its difficulties. So many Orthodox practises there were alien to my Protestant ways. Things I had long thought of as idolatrous were, it appeared, the main stay of this ancient Christian church. I thought we should visit some other churches, branch out a bit, but when Sunday morning came we had no enthusiasm for the hunt, just a longing for that Orthodox place, praying that liturgy and finding peace amongst the saints.

So we stayed and just before Easter we threw in our lot with the Orthodox Church in a ceremony that is called chrismation. For me it has been a seamless garment and the new place of belonging does not mark a change of religion (as some may see it) but the next step along the way. My new place of worship is a location in a journey I began over thirty years ago. There is only one church.

I’m grateful for the way the image of that seamless garment leapt out from the gospel over Holy Week, helping me interpret and give voice to the change and I will end with a quote from Cyprian of Carthage who, uses the image in his writings on the unity of our faith.

“When someone would be clothed in Christ he receives a perfect suit of clothing and an undamaged tunic. But what comes into his possession is common property … So truly because Christ’s people can not be torn apart, his tunic ‘woven without seam and holding fast together’ reveals the concord that holds together the unity of our people who have put on Christ. By the sign and seal of the tunic Christ has declared the unity of the church.”

Cyprian became Bishop of Carthage in 249 and was a pre-eminent Christian teacher and writer in the days prior to Augustine. He was a strong leader through turbulent times, a defender of Trinitarian orthodoxy and beloved pastor of the people. He was martyred in 258.

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

wreath

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

trees

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

dalia

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)

lace

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.

 

Homefront (2)

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I was very fortunate to have a knitting companion last week. My niece Ezri is eight and a prodigious knitter. She asked me to teach her to cast on and thinking it would be too hard for her I told her that I would teach her when she was older.

But Ezri insisted and after a little trial and error she performed a perfect thumb method cast on. I have to admire her refusal to accept my advice. My mum was still casting on for me well into my twenties! It seems that she who dares wins and we all could learn from her refusal to submit to know-it-alls when it comes to taking on tricky skills in crafting or in life.

Ezri is knitting super chunky squares for a blanket and I’m still working on the 4 ply gloves.

ezri

I have a huge pile of reading by my bed and some advent reading ambitious that are proving fruitful if a little time consuming. I can thoroughly recommend Janet Morley, Haphazard by Starlight for devotional reading and also Ann Voskamps most recent book, The Broken Way.

This week I reviewed some advent reading here and reflected on my weekend here.

Today I am linking up with Ginny Sheller of Small Things on Yarn Along where we share what we are knitting and what we are reading.

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Books for Advent

Recommendations for advent reading.

Until recently I had not been part of a church that followed the liturgical calendar. Sometimes it actively opposed such remembrance, arguing that we should celebrate Christ’s birth, his death and resurrection, everyday, especially as there was no direction to make an occasion of these events in scripture. At other times the attitude was ambivalent. Not knowing quite what to do with the season, independent churches who found their identity in having broken away from the established churches, were unable to decide whether to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the celebrations or to keep a safe distance from the worldliness of it all.

Some time before I moved to a liturgical church I found that I was slipping into a rhythm of Bible reading and contemplation that followed the cycle of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as easily as my heart and writing followed the seasons of the natural world. When my inner winter times seemed to go on forever I took comfort in Lenten practices that followed the pattern of the freshly emerging spring. When resurrection Sunday came, I celebrated more deeply than before. As the last leaves turned and fell in a splendour of autumn glory, mornings were cold but thought of Advent warmed my soul. The rhythms of the church year echoed the patterns of my own spiritual formation and gave me words to pray in the different seasons of life.

Christmas approaches and we rekindle traditions within our own homes, the right date for putting up the tree, recipes we only make at this time of year, trips out to the German markets or to the theatre, a fire in the hearth every night, movies and good books. The tender meanings of incarnation in a broken world are enlivened for us in carol singing and lectionary readings. Counting down to the shortest day of the year we can make time for  extra reading, something devotional or if we are already widely read in devotional works, something more theologically challenging.

The books I am reviewing today are written for advent and offer three different approaches to devotional writing but there common goal is to help us connect more authentically with Christ, the heart of our Christmas faith.

Janet Morely, Haphazard by Starlight: A Poem a Day from Advent to Epiphany.

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This seasonally decorated book offers 37 poems on advent themes, a commentary on each and a question to guide our thoughts and prayers. Morley uses each poem as a stimulus to examine themes of fears and expectations, darkness and light, annunciation, patience, death and hope of resurrection. I have have especially appreciated how her comments on the poem open up the layers of meaning without forcibly dictating the message. The questions at the end of each chapter have been a prompt for my journal notes and help me connect what I have read with how I will respond.

Extract from a chapter one Emily Dickinson’s poem, We grow accustomed to the dark,

“An important dimension of advent is that it moves through a time when the world is becoming increasingly dark. Days are shorter, nights start sooner, and the quality of light is often dulled by poor weather. There is no avoiding having to live quite a large proportion of our waking life during hours of darkness, and for some people this is a physical reality that leads to gloom or even depression … Have you ever experienced the sense of being totally in the dark, either in your prayer life or in life decisions generally? Was it possible for you to risk keeping going in that darkness?”

 

Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

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The Tree of Jesse is a symbol from Medieval art representing the ancestors of Christ as presented in the gospel geneologies. The Jesse tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Voskamp’s book traces the redemptive connections between characters in the Old Testament, Messianic prophesies, and significant events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Those who are familiar with Voskamp’s writing will notice the predominance of her own familiar theme: the overwhelming power of God’s grace to heal the most damaged soul.

An extract from The Greatest Gift, a reflection on Matthew 1

“God can’t stay away. This is the love story that has been coming for you since the beginning. The God. Who walked with us in the garden in the cool of the evening, before the fall shattered our closeness with him, is the God who came after his people in the pillar of cloud, of fire, because he couldn’t bear to let his people wander alone. He is the God who came to grieving job as a whirl wind, a tornado, a hurricane, who covenanted to Abraham as a smoking furnace, who wildly pitched his tent with the holy of holies so somehow, in all the Shekinah glory, he could get close enough to live amid his people.”

 

Paula Gooder, The Meaning is in the Waiting: The Spirit of Advent

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This advent book by Bible Society theologian, Paula Gooder is the most theological orientated of the three book. It involves no scholarly exegesis, but the writing reflects Gooder’s stated intent of bringing the bennefits of modern Biblical Studies to a wider audience of Christian readers. The book has four main chapters, one for each week of advent and they examine stories of waiting in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary. There is an introductory chapter of waiting as a Chrsitan virtue that deals splendidly with the idea of time in Biblical thought.

An extract from the final chapter of, The Meaning is in the Waiting

“Mary’s song of praise, when it comes, is one of the most powerful in the Bible: the idea of reversal (the powerful being made low and the lowly being lifted up), the poetry, and the sheer joy of the song, have made sure that it has remained one of the churches’ favourite expressions of praise for many centuries … Luke portrays Mary as the first poetic theologian of the New Testament : she sees the event of the world around her, makes connections between them, draws deeply on her religious roots and pours this out in a beautiful hymn of praise.”

Well fitting faith

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We skipped church this morning and took a walk in the woods.

Looking out across a frozen lake, shell duck and wigeon collected around the grass-tufted islands and a  cormorant had unfolded its great black wings to dry in the sun. We marched through the oak leaves and the beech mast and we played with our cameras trying to capture the ways in which, even the smallest change in light, can shift the perspective on a familiar scene. We drank our coffee in the hide and counted the swans that arrive everyday from greenland, we scanned the muddy edges for wading birds, ornithological treasures amongst the scores of ducks.

Usually taken amongst the faithful, today’s sabbath rest was taken amongst the reeds, under an open sky, taken in quiet companionship and by (literal) still waters. In a landscape of rest, that felt as if it had been made just for us, we gave ourselves permission to stay away from church and it filled up our souls for the week ahead.

There was a time when we would not have done this, skipped church to walk. In those days we did not neglect meeting together as some were in the habit of doing. Never.

But Jesus said are you tired? and I was. It’s a condition of the soul that must be dealt with. To be tired, all the time, is a sign that things are not well.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In Luke 13 Jesus heals a woman who has been crippled for 18 years, but he did it on the sabbath and incited the disapproval of the synagogue leaders and their well defined ideas. Their business was making sure that the people did the things that would bring them the most blessing. They decided what the blessings were, and they decided how they were achieved. Maybe their intentions were good, but let us be clear; these men would rather the woman remained disabled that see one of their precious rules bent in this way.

Jesus asks them, “Should not this woman ..be set free from what has bound her?” and begs the answer that of course she should. And so must we, be set free from thinking, and acting in ways that stifle the joy, peace and freedom that we saw when we first came to Christ. There is a depth of encounter with Jesus that can set us free from the things that weigh us down. There is also a phenomena where our pursuit of faith and the Christian culture we are part of becomes the burden.

It takes unusual courage to move away from long held beliefs and practices to embrace something new. Dark feelings lurk around such decisions and they often hide our need for approval and fear of disappointing others.

There is no quick fix or instant answer. Freedom is not always found at the altar rail or in the prayer line but it is often made good over a period of time as we work through, talk through and pray through who we are and what we want. This is a holy re-enactment of the promise, seek and you will find.  And I am confident of this: God is at work in us, without exception, completing the work he began and we will recognise well fitting faith like the sheep who know the shepherd voice.

 

 

 

On the homefront

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Did anyone else listen to Garrison Keiller’s, Tales from Lake Wobegon, in the nineties?

Well it has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, AKA home.

Most things here are determined by homeschooling and a pattern of Andy leaving for work on Sunday afternoon and not coming home until Thursday night. It makes for a very short weekend but I’m learning to cherish the feeling of sadness I have when he leaves as a token of love rather than loss. We are making the most of every minute of the shortened weekend as you may have noticed from my social media activity. Nothing fancy, just good home cooked meals, a little baking, a little cinema, trips out to favourite places not far from home and church.

If anyone reading this also suffers from being apart from loved ones, I hope you find some practices that make it a little easier for yourselves.

We like to share Compline*, by phone, several times a week. Andy reads and by the time he arrives at …

“As the night watch looks for the morning, so do we look for you, O Christ.

Come with the dawning of the day and make yourself known in the breaking of the bread.”

… we’re ready for a restful goodnight and some well earned sleep.

In further news, I am knitting mittens and gloves (endlessly). These in the picture are for Lucy. Knitted up in Debbie Bliss merino wool (Rialto) from a sweet vintage pattern I found inside my Grandma’s war time knitting book, I’m really happy with the colours and the stitch definition.

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.

In terms of reading, I might just treat myself to a Garrison Keiller short story. Sadly most of his early books are now out of print but you can still get hold of second hand copies and wonderful recordings of him reading the stories of small town American life for the radio.

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*Compline is a service of evening prayers from  the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, traditionally said (or chanted) before retiring for the night. we use the Anglican order and you can find it here.