Behind each mystery a greater lies, The kind soul looks upon us through kind eyes, Yet both are mysteries; And once, beneath the silver of a star, There knelt three Travellers who came from far, And humbly laid great gifts upon the sod, Before a human Babe Who yet was God.
How should we know our God if He should come? Where seek Him if He made this earth His home? The angels knew, the prophets greatly guessed, He should be found among the lowliest; And lo, in stable straw He maketh nest.
Is Father Andrew writing about the hidden God or the revealed God? Both, surely. This is a time to remember the revelation that is Jesus, the kind soul that looks upon us with love, as human babes do to this day.
Here is the Holy Family, hidden away in Egypt, Joseph working away, Mary home-schooling Jesus, who is concentrating hard on the text he is learning. Joseph’s income enables this to happen. How many children today miss out on education because parents cannot afford the fees or other expenses?
Let us keep our eyes and ears open for news of the hidden God, who wants to be found, in the Scriptures, in nature and in other people. The next two posts look at God, hidden but revealed in people at the margins of society.
* The hidden God
Window at The Sacred Heart and Saint William, Saddleworth.
Our church is smallish, homely, as it should be,
A rectangular box
Light-filled by generous windows.
Spirit-filled by generations of plain-speaking villagers.
A second-hand, twice-loved,
No-nonsense northern chapel in the hills
Complete with gallery and organ of course!
No room for side chapels
No nooks and crannies in which to construct an Altar of Repose.
Needing to take over from Saint Joseph
His small shrine to the left of the Sanctuary.
We can move over,
Those who stay on
To keep company with the Lord
On the night road from the room to the garden,
From the garden to the High Priest
In the midst of rabble,
Torches, weapons, noise,
While our church, now stripped,
Leaves us a few hours more
In his presence.
But tomorrow, when all we have remembered
In ritual, prayer and song,
When we have reverenced his image,
Received his Gift …
Then is it empty.
And helpless, what can we do?
In this emptiness
That echoes with the sound of his leaving?
The door left open,
The table bare
The light extinguished,
The fire gone out.
Come and see,
Just come and see!
Remember how it was
Before it became Good Friday.
The comfortable familiarity,
His everpresence …
Withdrawn now into pain,
For in the darkness we have abandoned him.
Oh how is our church empty!
Now … We gather in the darkness,
Knowing our loss
And drawn to the emptiness,
Relight the fire,
Set the table,
Restore the light.
Christ, our light!
Thanks be to God!
Hearts renewed in hope
Reach for the light.
Christ our light!
Our church in the hills!
Sheila writes that this piece is ‘Pre-Covid, by several years – Is this how we will date things in future?’ The previous two poems were new ones. Her little church in the hills is as she describes it, is it not? A light-filled, Spirit-filled box, where the Lord can camp for a while – who are we, even Yorkshire folk, to build Him a house? But he will fill the space when we set the table.
There always seems to be a romantic air to images of the Holy Family, at least when baby Jesus has become a boy. Here He seems to be concentrating hard, learning poetry by heart – a Psalm, perhaps Ps 22/3, since the shepherd and his sheep are within sight, making for quiet waters. The style of this window suggests it was created before 1967, when the building was acquired by the Catholic community from Ebenezer chapel.
There are traditional representations of Mary as a girl with her mother, reading together; since we have no Scriptural reference to Mary before her Annunciation, such an image would not have appeared in a Congregational chapel. Mary surely taught Jesus in many ways. and perhaps the artist was sending a message that parents should be teaching their children to read the Bible and learn some verses.
… That is as far as my thoughts had taken me when I went to a funeral of Theresa, someone I probably knew by sight – Saint Thomas’ in Canterbury has the excellent tradition of holding funerals at the daily noontime Mass, so there is always some silent support for the family. At the end her grandson said a few words, describing how she had taken great pride in her role as home-maker: that was her job, she said. She always had time for her grandchildren, hosting them for the summer holidays, walking through the orchards or into the city. Time and good meals! Love was her way.
We parents and grandparents may need lessons from Scripture and stained glass, but – is not this the carpenter’s son? The Gospel writers suggest that Jesus and his family did not stand out as specially different in Nazareth. As the window suggests, Joseph and Mary both played their part in making a home in Cairo and in Nazareth; we talk about those times as ‘the Hidden Life’. Our families’ lives are, mercifully, hidden most of the time; may they be Holy Families and grow in holiness.
A few thoughts scribbled down after a couple of days in the North West last July. The next picture is of Saddleworth in November, but it shows the stepping stones crossed to seek out the bilberries. On this occasion the stones were not passable… but how have your days been?
It took two hours to negotiate the roadworks and rush hour around Stockport on the way into Manchester. And they say the most disruptive roadworks have not yet started!
Wandering around Saddleworth in the rain, to find a bilberry patch destroyed in favour of a park with lawns, when other parks are reverting to brambles, if not bilberry patches!
A fire in July, and very welcome too.
Sunshine in Manchester, sipping beer in the open air in Albert Square with live music and interesting sandwiches.
A wren outside the window of a holiday cottage in nearby Derbyshire. But will the farmyard cock waken us in the morning?
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:
The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:
The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.
30 June 2018:
Readers in the United Kingdom will know that Saddleworth Moor has been exceptionally dry this summer, with heath fires burning and people forced to leave their homes, ash falling around Manchester. Let us pray for all affected by the fire and for those fighting it, and pray that the lost moorland may be restored.