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  • How do you explain Christmas crackers to an overseas student...


    Four little maids from uni are we

    Sitting on the rev's settee

    Sharing food and company

    Four little maids..... are we!


    Actually there were eight of us, seven students and me, gathered together to make Christmas in a fairly C20/C21 traditional British style.  That's British that reflects Northern Irish, Scottish and assorted English expressions thereof.  That's British that catered as best we could for diverse dietary needs.

    And of course there were Christmas crackers, which our two overseas students had never seen or heard of before.  But they entered gamely into the nonsense, sported their golden paper crowns and tucked in to their food. (bother, I threw away the crowns - should have  kept them for Get in the Picture; cannot retrieve them they are buried under food scraps!!)

    My fridge is groaning under the weight of leftovers.  Later today I will be consigning to the freezer enough 'Christmas Dinner ready meals' to last a very long time, and working out how to combine leftover cauliflower and broccoli into flavoursome soup for fressing (as I still have a vat of tomato to eat my way through!)

    A great evening... even if (or maybe evidenced by the fact that) it was actually 2 p.m. when I finally got to bed...

  • First Week of Advent: Thursday


    In a couple of hours I will be hosting a Christmas dinner for some of the students who are part of our community at the Gathering Place.

    I have spent most of my afternoon preparing food - and worrying in case there is anything nasty lurking in any of the meat and how long must I cook it for to be totally sure any bugs are dead...  And wondering if the vegans will be OK with what I've chosen for them and what the overseas students will make of Brussels sprouts or Christmas pudding or mince pies (vegan, gluten free, soy free...) and so on, and so forth...

    It has been fun, and I am looking forward to the evening (and grateful, so grateful, for the dishwasher!)

    It has been a hectic day, a hectic week, and its far from through yet, and so it does me good to stop, if just for a few moments, and allow the fun and the festivity, the anticipation and the merriment to seep into my being, just a little bit more.

    For sure, Advent is a time of preparing.  For sure this blog post has an important message.  But there has to be time for festivity too, doesn't there?

    We will have fun, the students and I, and we will dine royally... and that somehow seems good.


    Generous God,

    There are, it seems, two risks with Advent:

    That we fail to notice it at all and fill our time with decadent frivolity,

    Or that we are zealously penitent to the exclusion of enjoyment.

    Help us find the middle course

    That enjoys feasting with family and friends

    Whilst fasting from negativity and selfishness


  • Another Blog for Advent

    Among the other blogs for Advent is this one by the newly retired Principal of the college where I trained for ministry.  Richard Kidd is using the medium of poetry to express thoughts arising from the lectionary readings.  Worth a look-see.

  • First Week of Advent: Wednesday

    Today's PAYG opened with a beautiful recording of the Kings College Choir (which we all know means Kings Cambridge) singing Thomas Tallis Spem in Alium - which can be loosely translated as 'all my hope on God is founded'.  The reading was one of Isaiah's beautiful visions of restoration - the feast for all nation of food "rich and juicy" and "fine strained wines", of the removal of the veil of mourning, the shroud of death, an end to sorrow and shame (Isaiah 25:6-8).  The focus of the reflection was on shame, which was helpful, but I found myself drawn to hope amidst sadness and death...

    A couple of days ago I had an email from a friend.  In the summer she buried her mother, and now her ftaher has been diagnosed with cancer.

    Yesterday another friend told me that a school friend of theirs had died suddenly over the weekend, at the age of 52.

    This morning I heard that a four year-old child had died after being in an accident on a railway level crossing.

    The sadness and the sorrow are easy to identify, for they are all around us and touch our daily lives.

    So where is hope in all of this?  And what is hope anyway?

    Not wishful thinking, clearly, since it cannot change the reality of frailty and finitude, cannot undo what is irrevocably done.

    Nor can it be other-worldly, an over emphasis on 'better places' or 'altered states' that deny the reality of anguish, sorrow and grief.

    Hope is something other, something not ultimately definable, something tenacious that allows us to cling on, if by our fingertips, to the possibility, the promise that there, is more than just here and now: more than life measured chronologically or by academic or sporting achievement, more than wealth or health, more than pie in the sky when you die...  The possibility, the promise, that one day God will tenderly wipe the tears from our cheeks, kiss us better, and welcome us, with everyone else, in the new creation.

    All my hope on God is founded... In Christ alone my hope is found... Spem in Alium... whatever hymn/song, whatever language, this defiant assertion continues to sustain frail and failing Christians through the inevitable storms of life.


    It makes no snese to me, Lord,

    That babies and children die before they have a chance to live

    There is no rhyme of reason to the sudden end of life by accident or disease

    No hint of justice that same families suffer over and over again


    Yet I choose to hope in you:

    To believe, against all odds that the promises are true

    That you will prepare, are preparing, maybe have prepared

    For all a future free of sadness or shame, regret or remorse, death or disaster


    Lead me onwards, step by faltering step,

    On the upward climb

    That leads to fulfilled hope



  • Advent Memories...

    As I prepared for last night's reflection group I decided to listen to the 'sing-a-long' CD from Merrily to Bethlehem (new edition!).  As I re-read stuff about the emergence of Christmas as a celebration linked to the Roman adaptation of the Persian 'Mithras', with Sol Invicta, just after the winter solstice, I heard a familiar tune, and instinctively started to sing along.  Alas I can't find a sung recording, but the music on an organ, can be heard here:

    "Holy Child, how still you lie, safe the manger, soft the hay, faint across the eastern sky breaks the dawn of Christmas day..."


    In my mind I was the nine-nearly-ten year-old child at a new school after a house move, who learned this song...

    Catriona Age 9.jpg I'm a pretty unsentimental person - or so I like to think - but as I sang along, my voice cracked, tears flowed and I wondered what happened to that little girl...  Life has, on the whole, been good, and I am fortunate to be back in excellent health, with a fulfilling role, and many loving, supportive friends as well as strong family ties.  But forty years... where did they go?

    That little girl was ever-so earnest, a stalwart rule-follower, an embryonic follower of Jesus, a model pupil, a big sister... so much has changed, and nothing has changed.

    If I'm honest, I'm glad she could not know what her future held, both good and bad, happy and sad.  But in a way I almost miss her... she had an innocence now gone, a warm inclusivity that has been compromised, a sense of social justice lost along the way.

    001a.jpgForty years on, I want to care about (in)justice, I try, and fail, with inclusivity, my discipleship is still faltering and less than I would love it to be.  As for innocence, it feels long gone, facing one's own mortality strips away naivety (not the same as innocence) and forces reality and uncertainty and finitude to be accepted for what they are.

    And yet, I still dare hope, still sing the songs, still trust that it is true...

    "Holy child, whose birthday brings, shepherds from their fields and fold, angels choirs and Eastern kings, myrrh and frankincense and gold..."