Tag Archives: Christmas

12 August: A friendly process of detachment

This passage from A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson was written in 1888, when he was convalescing in the Adirondack mountains. We’ve put it here because it is his honest look at himself when he was aware of his own fragility, and it follows on from the honest answer given by the trapper in yesterday’s reflection.

To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven and to what small purpose: and how often we have been cowardly and hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness;—it may seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a certain consolation resides.

Life is not designed to minister to a man’s vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is—so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinner-call when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys—this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment.

When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much:—surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed. Nor will he complain at the summons which calls a defeated soldier from the field: defeated, ay, if he were Paul or Marcus Aurelius!—but if there is still one inch of fight in his old spirit, undishonoured.

The faith which sustained him in his life-long blindness and life-long disappointment will scarce even be required in this last formality of laying down his arms. Give him a march with his old bones; there, out of the glorious sun-coloured earth, out of the day and the dust and the ecstasy—there goes another Faithful Failure!

Robert Louis Stevenson, Writers’ Museum, Edinburgh, by Kim Traynorvia Wikipedia

From A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1888

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14 March, Mother’s Day: The Virgin Mary to Christ on the Cross

Winchester Cathedral.

Robert Southwell was a Jesuit missioner to England in the time of Elizabeth I; he was imprisoned, tortured, condemned and hung drawn and quartered. Paul VI canonised him as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Despite his religion, his poetry was respected in his lifetime. Much of it was overtly religious like this exploration of Mary’s feelings at Calvary. My apologies for presenting a less than sunny post today, England’s Mother’s Day, but there are mothers who will be forgotten this year, mothers who have lost children: let’s spare a thought and prayer for them. And give our own mothers a good day.

A sword will pierce your heart.

What mist hath dimm’d that glorious face?
What seas of grief my sun doth toss?
The golden rays of heavenly grace
Lies now eclipsèd on the cross.

Jesus, my love, my Son, my God,
Behold Thy mother wash’d in tears:
Thy bloody wounds be made a rod
To chasten these my later years.

You cruel Jews, come work your ire
Upon this worthless flesh of mine,
And kindle not eternal fire
By wounding Him who is divine.

Thou messenger that didst impart
His first descent into my womb,
Come help me now to cleave my heart,
That there I may my Son entomb.

You angels, all that present were
To show His birth with harmony,
Why are you not now ready here,
To make a mourning symphony?

The cause I know you wail alone,
And shed your tears in secrecy,
Lest I should movèd be to moan,
By force of heavy company.

But wail, my soul, thy comfort dies,
My woful womb, lament thy fruit;
My heart give tears unto mine eyes,
Let sorrow string my heavy lute.

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6 January: So Quiet the Night

Sheila Billingsley understands that the sweetness we need at Christmas is more than soft-centred chocolates or saccharine carols in the Supermarket. Those bring very little joy. But the joy of Christmas is paradoxical …

When Christmas seems like Calvary
And stars concealed by cloud, 
With stable dark
And manger cold, we seek our childhood's needs
Of sweetness and angels' song.

So quiet the night ...

As we,

Rest in the care,
The wondrous care, of a new-born scrap - to be ...
Our King,
     Our Hope,
          Our Strength,
               Our Love.
to be our Joy.

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6 January: Going viral LIX, Epiphany Carol Service.

You might like to attend St Mildred’s Carol Service for Epiphany, especially if you are unable to be present in person under the current Covid arrangements where you are. Follow the link.

Many thanks to Revd Jo and her team: Oh that we were there!
Epiphany carol service from St Mildred’s
.

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5 January: Star of Wonder

Star from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury.

Christopher M Graney of Sacred Space Astronomy has shared his reflections on the Star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. An enlightening extra post for us today, bearing in mind tomorrow’s feast of the Epiphany.

I can still say Happy Christmas till then, so Happy Christmas and a blessed new year to all.

Will.

Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

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2 January: MEDITATION

Rorate Cœli desuper, et nubes pluant Justum.
Aperiatur Terra, et germinet Salvatorem.
*

No sudden thing of glory and fear
   Was the Lord’s coming; but the dear
Slow Nature’s days followed each other
To form the Saviour from his Mother
—One of the children of the year.

The earth, the rain, received the trust,
—The sun and dews, to frame the Just.
   He drew his daily life from these,
   According to his own decrees
Who makes man from the fertile dust.

Sweet summer and the winter wild,
These brought him forth, the Undefiled.
   The happy Springs renewed again
   His daily bread, the growing grain,
The food and raiment of the Child.

From “Poems” by Alice Meynell.

*Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour: Isaiah 45.8

Vechoochira School

Alice Meynell was a mother herself. I’m not sure what she meant by saying he was one of the children of the year, but it brings to mind school uniforms and new friendships between children and perhaps their parents and grandparents too. No longer shunned as the child conceived before marriage, since he is that nice John’s cousin or my Simon’s best friend. Get rid of prejudice and we can begin to see Jesus in each one of the people we find ourselves sharing time and space with.

Happy New Year!

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27 December: Christmas Generosity

“This is no time to save, but spend,
To give for nothing, not to lend.
Let foes make friends: let them forget
The mischief-making dead that fret
The living with complaint like this—
“He wronged us once, hate him and his.”
Christmas has come; let every man
Eat, drink, be merry all he can.
Ale’s my best mark, but if port wine
Or whisky’s yours—let it be mine;
No matter what lies in the bowls,
We’ll make it rich with our own souls.
Farewell to study, books and pen,
And welcome to all kinds of men.”

From Foliage: Various Poems by W. H. Davies. A man who had known poverty, living on the streets, before he was taken up by other writers.

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25 December: Unto us a Son is given.

L’Arche Kent

Unto us a Son is given

      Given, not lent,
   And not withdrawn—once sent—
This Infant of mankind, this One,
Is still the little welcome Son.

      New every year,
   New-born and newly dear,
He comes with tidings and a song,
The ages long, the ages long.

      Even as the cold
   Keen winter grows not old;
As childhood is so fresh, foreseen,
And spring in the familiar green;

      Sudden as sweet
   Come the expected feet.
All joy is young, and new all art,
And He, too, Whom we have by heart.

Alice Meynell, Later Poems, 1902.

By Heart’ does not mean – or should not mean – so well known that we do not appreciate the Infant of Christmas and take His Story for granted. I’d be tempted to say that Childhood is so fresh and unforeseen, after spending time with my grandsons. The feet are expected, but not where the feet take them. Joy is young, in the anticipation and the execution of scaling the climbing frame and whooshing down the slide, of trying out sounds: the Word of God was once Gada, gada, gada!

We don’t have to understand Christmas to enjoy it. Even when times are hard, as they are for so many this year, rejoice, and do not reason why. Just because.

Merry Christmas from us all, Will.

Image from L’Arche.

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24 December: Myrrh


Rather like Saint Francis, Father Andrew, the pioneer Anglican Franciscan, was very attuned to Christmas, and wrote many poems about the feast. I wrote about the gifts a couple of years back.

Kings should offer gold, rich, royal men –
And I am poor and no red gold have I;
Must I stay in the cold, sad shadows then,
While kings in light spread splendours splendidly?

Saints should offer incense, holy men –
My shabby soul is soiled and stained with sin;
Must I wait, shut without the stable then,
While saints join kings to offer gifts within?

Lo, I am not alone, but round me here
In the wan shadows, waiting wistfully
With nothing else to bring but only myrrh,
Stands silent, shy, a grey-glad company.

‘Tis well for us, we of the common crowd,
That we may bring sad symbollings of myrrh,
Where God lies sleeping ‘neath a stable shroud
Of common straw, and leave our offerings there.

We will be glad the incense makes a veil
To hide us somewhat, and the saint’s pure prayer
Goes with the golden gifts where we must fail;
Yet we will dare to bring our meed of myrrh.

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21 December: The night train

I was looking for more poetry (What you might call ‘free verse’!) to read on my Kindle. Since we’ve used Joyce Kilmer a couple of times, I thought I’d look at some of his writing. This poem, The Twelve-forty-five seems appropriate coming up to Christmas. There were no motor cars on the road then, so people depended on the night train to get home late. Let’s pray for all travellers this Christmas, for those who would like to travel but cannot, and for all who will be apart when they would be together if they could; for those who have died and those left behind: the stars – the angels – are watchful over them.

Will.

Upon my crimson cushioned seat,
In manufactured light and heat,
I feel unnatural and mean.
Outside the towns are cool and clean;
Curtained awhile from sound and sight
They take God’s gracious gift of night.
The stars are watchful over them.
On Clifton as on Bethlehem
The angels, leaning down the sky,
Shed peace and gentle dreams. And I —
I ride, I blasphemously ride
Through all the silent countryside.

What Love commands the train fulfills,
And beautiful upon the hills
Are these our feet of burnished steel.
Subtly and certainly I feel
That Glen Rock welcomes us to her
And silent Ridgewood seems to stir
And smile, because she knows the train
Has brought her children back again.
We carry people home — and so
God speeds us, wheresoe’er we go.

The midnight train is slow and old
But of it let this thing be told,
To its high honor be it said
It carries people home to bed.
My cottage lamp shines white and clear.
God bless the train that brought me here.


(The Twelve-forty-five, from “Trees and Other Poems” by Joyce Kilmer)

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