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  • 'Haphazard by Starlight' - Day 18

    The Annunciation

    by Edwin Muir

    The angel and the girl are met.
    Earth was the only meeting place.
    For the embodied never yet
    Travelled beyond the shore of space.

    The eternal spirits in freedom go.
    See, they have come together, see,
    While the destroying minutes flow,
    Each reflects the other’s face
    Till heaven in hers and earth in his
    Shine steady there. He’s come to her
    From far beyond the farthest star,
    Feathered through time. Immediacy
    Of strangest strangeness is the bliss
    That from their limbs all movement takes.
    Yet the increasing rapture brings
    So great a wonder that it makes
    Each feather tremble on his wings.

    Outside the window footsteps fall
    Into the ordinary day
    And with the sun along the wall
    Pursue their unreturning way.
    Sound’s perpetual roundabout
    Rolls its numbered octaves out
    And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

    But through the endless afternoon
    These neither speak nor movement make,
    But stare into their deepening trance
    As if their gaze would never break.

  • After Dinner Speaking - Contd.

    Well, I have to confess that I had a very enjoyable time, was well fed and received a very generous hearing this afternoon.  It transpired that two of the audience had professional links with past employers of mine, one was a reader of this nonsense (and had seen my speech before I delivered it!) and several were retired clergy.

    So thank you for your welcome and hospitality, I am now replete and relieved!

  • After dinner speaking!

    Yikes! I am wondering quite why I agreed to be the after dinner speaker at the Christmas Lunch(eon) of a local men-only club whose modus operandum consists in listening to erudite speakers on topics with grandiose titles.  Of course I agreed to it, becuase this year the president is one of the Gatherers, a good friend and someone who trusts me not to speak utter twaddle.  But it all feels very, very scary!

    Anyway, speech is written, and by the wonders of technology I can post it here to appear when I am there, so here goes...



    After Dinner Speech

    Do you believe in Father Christmas? 

    Do you believe in Christmas? 

    And if so, in what do you believe?


    Do we still have the capacity to imagine that it might just be possible that flying reindeer could circumnavigate the globe in one night? 


    Or have we grown so worldly wise and jaded that, were it not for the prospect of some good food and pleasurable company, we would discard the whole thing?


    Can we suspend our disbelief just for a few minutes?

    Can we travel, if only in our imaginations, to times past and discover afresh the wonder and joy this season offers?


    Almost everyone loves a good carol, and well-known words of Christina Rossetti give us a framework to engage in some remembering and reflecting …


    In the bleak mid-winter,

    Frosty wind made moan,

    Earth stood hard as iron,

    Water like a stone;

    Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

    Snow on snow,

    In the bleak mid-winter,

    Long ago.


    Well, not that long ago really – less than fifty years for me, anyway…


    Snow so deep we feared it would overflow our wellingtons on the walk to school

    Little bottles of milk turned to ice, thawed on enormous cast iron radiators

    And the hope that there would still be time to build snowmen and throw snowballs before returning to stuffy classrooms that smelled of drying mittens

    To rehearse songs

    And liberally spread glue and glitter on cockeyed Christmas cards


    Eyes bright with the excitement of it all…


    And as night fell, the surreptitious glance out of the window lest Father Christmas might just be checking up…



    Our God, heaven cannot hold Him,

    Nor earth sustain;

    Heaven and earth shall flee away

    When He comes to reign:

    In the bleak mid-winter

    A stable-place sufficed

    The Lord God Almighty,

    Jesus Christ.


    Now there's a philosophical conundrum to wrestle with!

    A deity whose existence could not be contained or sustained by the entire cosmos

    Found in a small outhouse

    In comparison to this, belief in a jolly man in red (or green) who slides down chimneys (and up again)

    With a huge sack overflowing with gifts is as nothing!


    We sat there, first desk of second violins, scraping away the alto line on the carols

    The vicar – or was it one of the other local clergy – tried to engage

    Sullen rows of teenagers who really had no time for Santa or Jesus…

    Well save for those of us, probably judged a little odd, who studied 'O' level RE

    Dutifully read our Gideon Bibles and refused, refused to conform

    'And it came to pass that in those days…'


    Still the snow fell deep, still we snowballed, still we hung our stockings

    Almost as long ago.



    Angels and archangels

    May have gathered there,

    Cherubim and seraphim

    Throngèd the air;

    But His mother only,

    In her maiden bliss,

    Worshipped the Beloved

    With a kiss.


    Enormous brown eyes peered out from a coffee coloured face

    A blue scarf sat awry on her tight afro-curls

    Mary cradled the plastic baby Jesus in her five year-old hands

    As life-hardened adults surreptitiously reached into their pockets for a tissue

    To wipe away unbidden tears



    In day room, in a care home, the crinkled faces crowned with wisps of white hair

    Came alive with smiles as the familiar strains sounded in the over-heated air

    Weak, ragged, with dubious tuning, voices combined across the decades:

    'Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.'


    And I, minister now, felt the years melt away like snow on a dike

    Recalled the tingle of cold in my toes walking to school,

    The scratchy tinsel of the halo of third angel from the left

    The disbelief of my peers that I still believed, still went to church

    And I knew, as I had first known as a six year-old child that it was so



    What can I give Him,

    Poor as I am?

    If I were a shepherd,

    I would bring a lamb;

    If I were a wise man,

    I would do my part;

    Yet what I can I give Him-

    Give my heart.



    Maybe you believe.

    Maybe you don't.

    Maybe you'd like to believe

    Maybe you can't


    We, of course, are not poor

    We are wealthy, well educated and well fed

    We have access to emporia piled high with consumer goods

    And if that fails to suffice, the internet and gifts cards will cover most eventualities


    But at the end of the day, nothing has changed…

    Squinty cards festooned with glitter

    Stockings hung in hopeful expectation

    The voices of children, the dewy eyes of old age

    Rekindle our belief, our hope,

    And above all remind us that the best gift we can give, or receive, this Christmas is love.


  • Salaam, Shalom, Peace...

    I love this from the Muslim Council of Britain

    I also love this which is clever, creative and evangellically Christian

    Take a look at them, I hope you love them too.

  • 'Haphazard by Starlight' - Day 17


    by Gwyneth Lewis

    When first he painted the Virgin the friar filled

    the apce around her with angels' bright wings,

    scalloped and plated, with skies of gold,


    heavy with matter.  He thought that he knew

    that heaven was everywhere.  He grew

    older, wiser and found that he drew


    more homely rooms with pots and beds,

    but lavished his art on soft furnishings

    and the turn of the waiting angel's wings


    (still gorgeous with colour and precious dust).

    Much later, he sensed that his God had withdrawn,

    was spacious.  On smaller frescoes he painted less,


    let wall be wall, but drew in each lawn

    the finer detail of sorrel and weeds.

    Still later, he found his devotion drawn


    to nothing - shadows hinted at hidden rooms,

    at improbable arches, while angel's news

    shattered the Virgin, who became a view


    As open as virtue, her collapsing planes

    easy and vacant as the evening breeze

    that had brought a plain angel to his grateful knees



    Fra Angelico c. 1437 - 1446

    (the friar of the poem)