Remembering

photo/BarryLewis/Alamy

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

E H Sears

un jour sans pain est un jour sans vie
a day without bread is a day without life

The little one born in a stable (and in other stables) beneath the stars in Bethlehem (which in Hebrew means House of Bread)  arrived in a ‘birthday suit,’ a marvellous and extraordinary strategy adopted by every little one that had come before, and every little one that came after – insofar as instantly recognisable humanity is the only (and the only important) identification. Alpha and Omega. In this Beginning, and in every Beginning, and in the Beginning at the End.

Fleetingly, unaffiliated, unclothed and unbadged, this little one, every little one, belongs only to the One Universal Family.

Fleetingly, unaffiliated, unclothed and unbadged, this little one, every little one, arrives as a sign, an angel, a message, something anointed, something breathed into, Some One to be remembered and celebrated. Like the bread of life itself. Like the milk of human kindness and compassion.

Clear as cold night air the message of the arrival, of all such arrivals, touches humankind.

un jour sans pain est un jour sans vie
a day without bread is a day without life

Let the whole earth give back the song which – all too fleetingly – these little ones sing.

From my heart to your heart, whomsoever and wheresoever you may be: may you have a kind, full and thankful heart. And the Shalom of good bread tonight.

Elements of belonging

Last evening I got lost in a reverie with David Whyte’s poem Working Together: master teacher of the arts of evocation and of invocation, his poems “haunt” me, hovering in and around me, in much the same way Mary Oliver’s do, or May Sarton’s, or William Stafford’s. Poets who become our favourites do so, I guess, because something of their form, heart, precision and soul takes up residency somewhere deep, deep, deep within us.

… may we, in this life
trust

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine

David Whyte
from Working Together
The House of Belonging

Though I knew of the late John O’Donohue’s sublime works (Anam Cara – soul friend; Divine Beauty etc) before I discovered David Whyte, I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised when I learned that the two were the closest of friends. Each, consciously or unconsciously, writes blessing. The poetic voice of each – the sound, the timbre, the vibration – are heard once, never to be forgotten … may we, in this life / trust …

Some lovely video footage of John, writing at home, comfortably seated beside an Irish peat fire, has left me with a burning desire some day to visit The Burren [YouTube], perhaps to encounter the soul of the great man in the vast and ancient open spaces there, and maybe, by some miracle, to bump into his old friend David Whyte who, I like to imagine, still walks and remembers there from time to time … to those elements / we have yet to see …

But the actual going there, to The Burren, will not, I think, be necessary, even if someday achieved and delighted in. For the poetry of life has already done its work, and friendships I delight in – some of whom I’ve set eyes on, and some of whom I haven’t, have already been shown to be gifts and graces of that ultimate Oneness for which we instinctively reach. All that’s necessary each day is for me to meditate, remember or imagine.

Mind your head!

The entrance door to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was among the very many things that touched me deeply when I first visited the Holy Land twenty-one years ago. Why this particular door? Because it’s tiny. Most adults are required to stoop to half-height to gain access and many are the cries of “mind your head” – though the entrance itself seems to suggest precisely the opposite.

The door seemed to be saying “Come down from your lofty heights! Worthy Magi, wisdom-seekers all, get down from your camels. Come, by all means, whoever you are and from wherever you’ve travelled, offer your gifts gladly and quietly. But pay less mind to what goes on in that head of yours! This place is about wisdom of the heart, known only by persons willing to bend the knee, to stoop, to enter in to the cradle of a quite different and very particular kind of “nativity”, an epiphany Now: veritable adoration, wondrous contemplation, most glorious meditation, healing and restoration, Otherness-in-ordinariness.

Some Carol words come to mind: “Do you hear what I hear?”

This nativity is about a baby, and about all babies, about the baby – the promise and potential – at the heart and in the soul of everyone, everywhere, and so about you and me. This is Emmanuel-revelation, a manifestation: something in littleness that all of us need to see, and to be … “Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost [and thereby found] in wonder, love and praise” *

* from Charles Wesley’s hymn: Love divine, all loves excelling

Windows

For twenty-five days we’ve loved opening windows upon a vista of nature through the gift of a perfectly beautiful Advent calendar – and here renew our thanks to the lovely givers.

Bare branches, badgers, berries, cottage in the woods, deer, dogs, festal tree, foxes, hare, hedgehog, jackdaws, mice, owls, robin, snow blanketed fields, sparrows, squirrels, Christmas roses, winter walkers …

And daily mind’s eye transport through it all – to cows and sheep and donkey, and to “oxen lowing”, and a natal celebration, just beyond the window, in an animal shelter, long ago.

This Christmas morning we spoke of how we’ll miss the happy daily ritual – though the artwork itself will remain in honoured place for the forseeable future. And then our talk received an answer.

Just inches beyond the kitchen screen a perfectly splendid pheasant strolled into our own garden and was delicately helping himself to seed mixture – perfectly placed in the feeder so that no more than the gentlest of stretches was required for his convenient reach. We were enchanted.

Iridescent copper-coloured plumage. Head, small ear tufts and neck of green, throat and cheeks in glossed purple. Face and wattle of splendid red. Calendar advent come alive: “great and mighty Wonder” – past, present and future. And praise. Happy Christmas.

Little Icon

Shepherds, wisdom seekers, astrologers, hoteliers, flute players … Everychild, Everywoman, Everyman – any and all of us may find ourselves surprised and touched to the core by the advent of an infant. A tiny little living icon. The contemplation and the meditation come naturally as we take in the miracle: eyes, nose, little mouth, fingers, toes …

The life lessons – for all of us – begin with the the wonder of perfectly proportioned littleness, moving on to the realities of words beginning with every letter of every human alphabet – words like awakened, becoming, crying, dependence, education, feeding, growing, hoping, imagining, joy, knowing, learning, mothering, newness, otherness, purpose, quietness, radiance, simplicity, thankfulness … 

Whosoever and wheresoever we are in the world, with or without faith tradition, with or without much expectation or imagination, we’re never very far from a tiny little living icon of Life present to and with us, a living, breathing wonder of both immanence and transcendence, a reminder of where we’ve all come from and where we’re all heading, encouragement in hope and strength, and in weakness and vulnerability.

Tiny little living icons turn our lives upside down and right side up again, and in each and every one of them, in good times and in bad, theirs and ours, we come face to face with the imprint of the Life-giver, with the Immortal, with the Invisible, and – even if unknowingly – yearn to become Wise. Oh, Shalom, precious little Icon. Shalom.