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  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 13th December

    Long train journeys are an opportunity for all sorts of things - from sleeping to gazing out of the windows, to reading, to working and, in this case, writing Christmas cards.

    I send a lot of Christmas cards, and I mean a LOT.  Yesterday I spent around four hours writing cards and still I need to buy and write more.

    Sharing this on social media produced some interesting responses... I am, it seems, inceasingly unusual to send cards at all, or at least to send them in any quantity.  The secret is, for all it's a HUGE undertaking, and that I have streamlined it in recent years so that cards are simply "the next one out of the box" and messages limited to about 20 words maximum, I love the opportunity it gives me to pause, however fleetingly, and remember times spent with those to whom they will be sent.

    This Victorian invention, hence the mushy sentimentality I suppose, is one that is always part of my Advent.  Usually I like to hand out cards at church on Advent 3, this year it didn't happen, but Advent 4 is still a full week before Christmas, so I think I can get away with it.

    Yesterday I ran out of cards (I have more ordered which should soon reach me) and found myself pondering how blessed I am to have so many people in my life to whom I want to send a quick greeting at least once a year.

    I wonder what personal traditions are part of your Advent preparations?

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 12th December

    Beware of practising your piety before people... or of posting pictures of your charitable giving!

    By the wonders of advance posting, this is written on Saturday to appear on Monday.

    This is my gift bag for Refuweegee... I bought a ladies' back-pack handbag thing and started to fill it with the requisite items... and soon it was overflowing.  So I bought a sponge bag into which I placed the toiletries. Then to keep it all together, I placed the two into a sturdy 'bag for life' except that said "Team GB" and was decked out in lions, so that wouldn't really do, and I popped the whole thing into a jolly Christmas gift bag!!

    The shopping for the items I needed proved quite challenging...

    What kind of book so you buy for someone for whom English might be their umpteenth language? I found a beautiful photographic book about Glasgow.

    What might signify 'Scotland'? A teddy bear with a saltire tee-shirt and a mug depicting landmarks in Glasgow.

    What sort of notebook would be a nice gift?  Which brand of shower gel? What foodstuffs would be enjoyed rather than confusing? And so on...

    I spent almost seven hours trekking round shops today - at least three times as much as I would normally do - and in the end I filled my gift bag more or less to my satisfaction.

    I had fun, and I hope the person (female age 14+) who receives it enjoys opening it and using its contents.

    Buying gifts for a stranger.... I suppose that's a bit like the Magi who travel the weeks of Advent along the window cills of 'high' churches bearing exotic and seemignly inappropriate gifts for a child.  Suppose instead that Refuegypt had existed and drawn up a list, I wonder what might have featured on that!

    Choosing and wrapping presents... very much part of Advent as it's lived.  And I will be travelling one of my 1000 mile-ish day trips when this goes live, taking the gifts I chose for my mother and hoping that she, too, will enjoy some surprises as well as some practical things.

    Enjoy your own choosing and wrapping, whatever form it takes.

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 11th December

    Advent 3 - Gaudete Sunday... or Steeleye Span Day for those of a certain age!

    The day of pink candles, the 'day off' from the traditional fast, the day to rejoice...

    A reminder that we all need a few treats, that abstension is OK and temperance good, so long as neither renders us miserable.

    The old practice of counting blessings, and more contemporary ones of finding one thing every day for which to be grateful seem to relate to this gaudete moment, suggesting that it can be found in every day, even the very darkest, if only we take the time to recognise them.

    This gaudete Sunday, I will be meeting a friend from Warrington who is in Glasgow whilst visiting relatives elsewhere in Scotland.  It's very rare we see each other, so it will be a special time of catching up and sharing.

    With two full weeks to go to Christmas, this year we are given out 'rejoice' break with still a long way to go on our journey... but maybe that's no bad thing.

    Many friends and acquaintances have had very challenging times of late, so my prayer has to be that gaudete will not have a hollow ring for them but, rather, will allow them, if only for a moment, to smile, laugh, enjoy and re-joice.

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 10th December

    Apologies to anyone who might have been looking for this earlier - I've spent most of today trekking round shops looking for things to put in my Refuweegee gift bag tomorrow, and to wrap up for my Mum and take south on Monday.

    After an early trip out to a big out of town centre, I ventured into the city centre which was, as the saying goes in these parts "hoaching"... busy, mobbed, whatever word you may like.  Walking along the streets, I found all sorts of people trying to attract my attention - giving out flyers for restaurants and shops, chuggers for oodles of charities, beggars, Big Issue vendors, street entertainers, charity tin shakers, side-stall holders, buskers and bands.

    It was the buskers and bands that drew my attention.  Small boys of varying experience playing bagpips.  Small girls singing pop songs.  Music students with trombone trios, string quartets and vocal groups.  An amazing contemporary pipe and guitar group (similar to the Red Hot Chilli Pipers in style) and then, finally, the Sally Army band.

    There may have been two Sally Army bands, not sure, this photo is of a smaller group who were playing carols in Sauchiehall Street. I later saw a bigger group in Buchanan Street.

    Maybe I'm old fashioned, but hearing the Sally Army band is part of my preparations, part of what makes Advent special.  The pipers and balloon modellers and jugglers were fun.  The atmosphere was vibrant and joyful.  But it was the familiar tones of Victorian carols played by a brass band whose aim is to raise funds for the poorest of the poor that felt like Advent to me.

    Lots of charities were being supported today, from hospices to animal shelters, medical research to mental health support groups.  All of them are important and valuable and I'm glad people were giving to them. perhaps that's one of the good things about Advent that transcends religious and cultural boundaries.

    It's been a long day, but I have my gift ready to take to church tomorrow, and have done some other gift shopping too.  I wonder what the band members are doing now, and who will be blessed by the loose change offerings of today's busy shoppers...

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 9th December

    (Picture stolen from t'internet)

    I've been something of a rat-bag of late (no, don't be nice if you know me, and say otherwise, I have) which has given me cause to pause and think, which is no bad thing.  That so much of how I feel is related, implicitly or explicitly to choices I or others have made is hardly rocket science - all emotions are linked to experience, and all experience arises from choices. 

    Choosing to be obedient to what I understand to be the call of God on my life has in turn led to many significant, binary (I think most choices probably are binary in the end) choices, and those choices have consequences.

    On Tuesday I was at a training day where we spoke about call and its testing or affirmation.  One wise person rightly, in my view, noted that the robustness or resilence of a call to ordained ministry needs to be examined to ensure that it will survive the day when, for two pins, you'd walk away.  At age thirteen since ordination, and nineteen since call, I wholeheartedly agree... there have been, and always will be, days on which I have to consciously remind myself of that call; days when, as I noted just three days ago, the importance and signficance of those ordination vows is very acute.

    For the most part, I love what I do.  I get tired and ratty because I love it too much, and try too hard, and get frustrated because I can't do and be everything I'd like to do and be.  So it's good to pause for a bit, name all of that and remind myself that in December 1997 I made a choice to step along a 'road less travelled' and that has made all the difference.


    The poem "The Road not Taken" by Robert Frost is one I first heard when I was 8 or 9 yeras old - I can still see myself sitting alone in the very back desk of a Victorian classroom with fold down benches attached to the desks (it had never been modernised!) and listening with rapt attention as our teacher read it to us.  At various times I have, and still do, wonder how life might have turned out had I made different choices, taken other roads... but of course return is never possible, life is always moving forward.

    Somewhere in all of that is something Advent-ish.  About people who said 'yes' or 'no' when faced with startling life-choices.  About what might have been and what what was. About real emotions and questions and doubts and hope and fears. About doing what you trust to be right, even when it's costly or lonely or scary or frustrating or disappointing.  About a journey along a road less travelled...


    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;
    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,
    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.
    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.