Standing on Tiptoe

Of course the first thing to do was to make a grand survey of the country she was going to travel through. “It’s something very like learning geography,” thought Alice, as she stood on tiptoe in hopes of being able to see a little further.

Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Caroll

I remember as child standing on tiptoe at this time of year to reach the items on the toy shop shelves that Santa might just bring.  I remember needing help to reach the things on higher shelves, sometimes it was a lower shelf to lean upon, sometimes my father would lift me up.

The toy shop was the old-fashioned kind full of wooden toys and incredible automatons.  I remember one particular year – when I was going through my wooden pendelfin puppet phase – being mesmerised by a puppet stage complete with different back drops and curtains.  I remember thinking how much better life would be with that stage, how much better I would instantly become at operating my existing puppets.  Especially I remember quite vividly, that as if by magic that stage would mean I could suddenly work the strings of my dutch girl and poodle at the same time and they could dance across the stage in total harmony.  That was but a childhood dream I never got the stage and I never really managed to work two puppets at the same time.

Now I dream of different things, not a puppet world but a world of flesh and bone where equality, justice, peace and respect rule. What has that to do with Advent you might be thinking, well it reminds me that I need to take the time to be like Alice and stand on my tiptoes to see the little further to survey the geography once more and make sure I haven’t missed anything, haven’t ended up going the wrong way, to see the things that could be achieved, to reach for the hopes that lie just out of reach, to seek out the ones who can give a helping hand so that together we can make the paths at least a little straighter for God’s Kingdom to come.  The difference between my childhood dreams and Advent dreams is that Gaudete, rejoice Advent dreams will in God’s time be realised, while my childhood dreams have all fizzled and died never to be re-born.

Standing on tiptoes can be such fun, and Advent should be a season of hopeful joy.  Sometimes, however, we might need help to reach that joy through the demands of the next season pressing into the joyful anticipation of this one.  So here’s a helping hand for today.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:14

Advent Is

Advent should admonish us to discover
in each brother or sister that we greet,
in each friend whose hand we shake,
in each beggar who asks for bread,
in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union,
in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves,
the face of Christ.
Then it would not be possible to rob them,
to cheat them,
to deny them their rights.
They are Christ,
and whatever is done to them
Christ will take as done to him.
This is what Advent is:
Christ living among us.

Oscar Romero

Light and darkness.

The Orthodox Troparion of the Nativity:

Your birth, O Christ our God, dawned the light of knowledge upon the earth.  For by your birth those who adored stars were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of Justice and to know You, Orient from on High.  O Lord, glory to you.

In the Orthodox tradition, the Star of Bethlehem is not seen as a physical astronomical event, but as a supernatural one.  In Orthodox Iconography, the Star of Bethlehem is often not painted golden, but  is a dark semicircle at the top of the icon, symbolising the Uncreated Light of Divine Grace, with a ray pointing to the manger.

I find the idea of a “dark light” pointing the way intriguing.  Darkness is something we are suspicious of.  It’s not good.  Spiritual darkness has connotations of evil.  But the darkness of which the great Carmelites wrote was positive.  St John of the Cross wrote it out brilliantly in verse in his poem “The Dark Night of the Soul”.

The Dark Night Of The Soul by Saint John of the Cross
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Songs of the soul rejoicing at having achieved the high state of perfection, the Union with God, by way of spiritual negation.

Once in a dark of night,
Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose
(O coming of delight!)
And went, as no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose

All in the dark went right,
Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes,
(O coming of delight!)
In dark when no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose.

And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.

It guided me and shone
Surer than noonday sunlight over me,
And lead me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.

O guiding dark of night!
O dark of night more darling than the dawn!
O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
A lover and loved one moved in unison.

And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own,
Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.

And from the castle wall
The wind came down to winnow through his hair
Bidding his fingers fall,
Searing my throat with air
And all my senses were suspended there.

I stayed there to forget.
There on my lover, face to face, I lay.
All ended, and I let
My cares all fall away
Forgotten in the lilies on that day.

That perfect union is what we are promised, what we look towards in Advent. O, come quickly.

Getting Organised.

Organising your own nuptials give you a scary insight into what “preparation” really means.  Who gets the invite?  How many can we fit in the hall?  Wedding list? (Thank God for Jenner’s!).

And how did God prepare for the Incarnation?  Invites?  All humanity – including dodgy gangsters like shepherds.  How many can we fit in?  The lot – infinite love is a big space.  Suitable gifts?  Oh, the whole of your humanity, warts and all.  Jim Cotter has a good Advent canticle in his Prayer at Day’s Dawning:

Pilgrims to Jerusalem, to Mecca and to Rome:
faithful of Canterbury, of Geneva and Byzantium:
Gatherers to the rivers, to the Naranjara and the Ganges:
Markers of the journey through the deserts and the mountains:
They celebrate in gratitude, in wonder and rejoicing.
No room for the aloof and arrogant,
for the divisive and superior spirit:
God is greater than the idols of the nations,
deeper in mystery than any faith.
Like a people of old, small, obscure,
stretched beyond fear to a wider belief,
so are God’s people today challenged
by a love that is awesome,
drawn to the gates of a City of God,
whose name is yet to be known.

Advent – get ready to think big!

Living God,
greater than the human heart,
greater than all the people’s of the world,
greater than the religions that try to cage you,
shatter the idols which we make to keep us safe
to claim us for yourself.
Humble us Living God,
and draw us by the magnet of your love
into the glory of your presence
and the harmony of the new Jerusalem.  Amen

Frail Sanctuary

From ‘Agnus Dei’

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . God then,
. . . . . . . . . . encompassing all things, is
. . . . . . . . . . defenseless? Omnipotence
. . . . . . . . . . has been tossed away, reduced
. . . . . . . . . . to a wisp of damp wool?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . And we
. . . . . . . . . . frightened, bored, wanting
only to sleep till catastrophe
has raged, clashed, seethed and gone by without us,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . wanting then
to awaken in quietude without remembrance of agony,

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . we who in shamefaced private hope
. . . . . . . . . . had looked to be plucked from fire and given
. . . . . . . . . . a bliss we deserved for having imagined it,

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . is it implied that we
. . . . . . . . . . . . must protect this perversely weak
. . . . . . . . . . . . animal, whose muzzle’s nudging
. . . . . . . . . . . . suppose there is milk to be found in us?
. . . . . . . . . . . . Must hold to our icy hearts
. . . . . . . . . . . . a shivering God?

So be it.
. . . . . Come, rage of pungent
. . . . . quivering,
. . . . . . . . . . . . dim star.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Let’s try
. . . . . . . . . . if something human still
. . . . . . . . . . can shield you,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . spark
. . . . . . . . . . of remote light.

Denise Levertov, from The Stream and the Sapphire