Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Poem for Holy Innocents

A Little Boy Lost

Nought loves another as itself,
Nor venerates another so,
Nor is it possible to thought
A greater than itself to know.

'And, father, how can I love you
Or any of my brothers more?
I love you like the little bird
That picks up crumbs around the door.'

The Priest sat by and heard the child;
In trembling zeal he seized his hair,
He led him by his little coat,
And all admired the priestly care.

And standing on the altar high,
'Lo, what a fiend is here! said he:
'One who sets reason up for judge
Of our most holy mystery.'

The weeping child could not be heard,
The weeping parents wept in vain:
They stripped him to his little shirt,
And bound him in an iron chain,

And burned him in a holy place
Where many had been burned before;
The weeping parents wept in vain.
Are such thing done on Albion's shore?

William Blake.  A Little Boy Lost

I have chosen this poem by William Blake for Holy Innocents day because Christmas is a time when we should be challenged. Far from being a sentimental festival, Christmas is followed by the feast of the first martyr and a commemoration of the slaughter - although it is probably not historical fact - of the male children under the age of two. We keep pretty quiet about Holy Innocents nowadays, it's not the sort of thing that can be described as "for the children", although it has to be said that it was a very popular element in the medieval mystery plays, apparently the butchers would often act out this scene and you have to admit that a villain like Herod gave great dramatic potential and the chance to boo and hiss to your heart's content.

And that is the perhaps the problem, it is only too easy to see evil and atrocity in others but we can be blind to our own cruelties and abuse of others. Holy Innocents should not be about booing or hissing Herod, but about recognising the potential for cruelty and evil closer to home, in all our systems of power and control. The Church itself has not been immune from hurting and damaging those entrusted to its care, as has been evident in some of the depressing abuse scandals which have emerged in recent years. In Little Boy Lost, a child questions the commandments to love God and others as himself and asks how can this be possible? The priest's reaction of burning anger and "trembling zeal" at this heresy is vividly conveyed and he does no more than seize the child and burn him to death on the altar while his parents weep and the onlookers approve!

What a shocking and radical poem! The little boy in his vulnerablity and innocence represents anyone small or powerless who dares to question the system, and Blake himself as a dissenter would have known about the prejudice and violence that could be condoned and colluded with in the name of religion - or indeed in the name of any insititution or ideology. Blake ends his poem with a question to make us think - "Are such things done on Albion's shore?" We might ask ourselves today whether injustice, abuse and cruelty are still perpetrated in the name of  power, greed or ideology, whether abroad or closer to home. On Holy Innocents, and at any other time of the year, we only need to look at the headlines to know the answer.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Vader did you know?

I'm not really a Star Wars fan, but I can imagine that this might be quite funny if you are! May the farce be with you this Christmas and always:)

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Reckless Love

A wonderful Christmas video. A reminder that Christians believe that God intervened with a plan that was not sweet or sentimental but rather implausible, unthinkable, bizarre, reckless, extravagant and amazing.

Wishing all readers a very Happy Christmas!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Carolling cats and dogs

Earlier this week we went out to a local (ish) dog friendly pub and - shock, horror- did not take Bessie. The reason for this was that the occasion was a friend's birthday and things might have been a little overwhelming for a small white Westie! Anyhow, while there we were visited by some carol singers, accompanied by a dog (who also Morris dances.) We are going to make things up to Bessie by taking her out for pint of doggie beer in January. I wonder if she would like to take up singing - or morris dancing?

And for those of you who enjoy hearing animals carol singing, we had Deck the Halls last year, but this year's offering is a wonderful rendition of Jingle Bells [ a reasonably high tolerance of cute animals and awwww factor required - I can't be serious all the time - and  it is nearly Christmas! :)]

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Incarnation as Liberation

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens. Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. (Antiphon for today: Clavis David)
The beautiful picture above, which depicts the Incarnation, was taken from a card which I gave to someone this year. Today's antiphon holds forth the prospect of Christ as the Key of David and draws on those promises of hope and liberation from Isaiah 22. In the picture, mankind is shown lying in darkness, curled helplessly, bound hand and foot, like a prisoner or hostage unable to break free. The blue colour of the flesh of mankind is corpse-like, mankind is subject to the powers of death. The coldness and stillness of the figure contrasts with the light and heat of the child descending. It offers a moving visual rendering of some of the ideas in today's  wonderful, meaningful antiphon.
 Today's reflection  from the I-Bendectine blog links the antiphon to the reading from Luke and to the way Mary was open to God. The picture above emphasises the relevance of the Incarnation to all; that  God enters not just Mary but the whole of fallen mankind to free, restore and redeem. Advent requires all to make room for God within us, or in the words of a well known hymn: 
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Snow and Salvation


By what are you saved? And how?
Saved like a bit of string,
tucked away in a drawer?
Saved like a child rushed from
a burning building, already
singed and coughing smoke?
Or are you salvaged
like a car part -- the one good door
when the rest is wrecked?

Do you believe me when I say
you are neither salvaged nor saved,
but salved, anointed by gentle hands
where you are most tender?
Haven't you seen
the way snow curls down
like a fresh sheet, how it
covers everything,
makes everything
beautiful, without exception.

By Lynne Ungar

H/T to Blue Eyed Ennis for this lovely poem. The Advent before last I was particularly taken with a beautiful post from the Colophon blog (now the i-Benedictine blog) written by the nuns of East Hendred  in which they liken the snow to Advent, something that descends softly and gently into our hearts and souls, silencing and transforming the world with its impossible purity.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Iconoclastic Christmas

The controversial street artist, Banksy, today unveiled what is described as a piece of "anti-Christian artwork" - Cardinal Sin is a replica of an 18th century bust with the face replaced by a series of tiles which are apparently meant to represent the pixellation effect used to conceal the identities of victims of child abuse. The statue is considered to be a statement on the child abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic church. Banksy says it is a sort of Christmas present ...

I have to say that I find modern art interesting although I am dubious about some of it. I rather like Banksy's statue with its representation of new media superimposed upon old stonework. Perhaps he is intending to juxtapose old attitudes to the Church hierarchy, shown through the reverential bust, alongside our modern contempt and anger at corruption in the Church, shown by the obscured and vandalised face. I don't have any problems with artists condemning corruption in the Church or exposing its flaws. What I am more concerned about is the comment from the artist, 'At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity - the lies, the corruption, the abuse.'

So, corruption, lies and abuse constitute the true meaning of Christianity ? I don't think so! Christ was a an iconoclast, someone who had a vivid turn of phrase, describing religious authorities as "whited sepulchres"and not hesitating to overturn the tables when he saw lies, corruption and abuse. The Christian Church throughout the ages may have often traded on lies and abuse, but Jesus himself spoke up against power and corruption. The Incarnation should also strike us as iconoclastic because it smashes to pieces some of our ideas about the nature of God.  It also challenges our human ideas about power and hierarchy; Mary tells us that it is the work of a God who "hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts and the rich he hath sent empty away."

So, what is the true meaning of Christianity - and isn't it time to reclaim it?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Nativity scenes

I was quite amused by this post on Bosco Peter's Liturgy blog with some bizarre depictions of the Nativity. It is weird enough depicting Mary, Joseph and Jesus as cats or ducks, but who came up with the idea for the Nativity below, and were they taking a leaf out of Lady Gaga's book?

I know the word became flesh and dwelt among us - but I don't think that means the word became bacon and sausage...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Repentance and hope

The call to repentance is an integral part of the penitential season of Advent because without the willingness to change and to be changed we cannot be said to have prepared ourselves for the coming of Christ. John the Baptist, with his outspoken message, can be seen an embodiment of the mad sage, a figure found throughout myth and literature, representing someone who lives on the margins of society yet who has a message for mainstream society, often confronting it with uncomfortable truths about prevailing attitudes and behaviour. People tend either to heed such voices or completely dismiss them, rarely is their reaction lukewarm.
When John says that he is a voice crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, he is echoing the words of Isaiah which foretell the coming of the Messiah. In 1963, in his speech to members of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King also drew on the words spoken by Isaiah and John to call people to a radical attitude of repentance. He said he had a dream that, " one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together"  and that his words would help to transform the “desert state of Mississippi” into an “oasis of freedom and hope”. King’s allusion to these two prophets was clear, he too was a voice crying out in a wilderness, and he too is drawing a comparison between inhospitable landscapes and the desert of our hearts. Our attitudes to God, ourselves and each other need to change in order to usher in the Kingdom of God and allow the glory of the Lord to be revealed.
     This Advent message of changing our attitudes to others truly needs to be heard. A study just recently suggested that our current economic downturn does not seem to have brought out a spirit of compassion or empathy. In marked contrast to previous recessions we seem more willing to blame others, in particular the poor. Rather than all being in it together, we seem much more interested in getting out of it unscathed, in the meantime feeling resentful about everyone and everything that “caused” the problems – except, of course, ourselves.
     The Advent message of changing our attitudes to ourselves also needs to be heard. Advent is often described as an “emptying “- as John says, “I must become less, he must become more.” We’ve lived for too long in a culture that tells we should take everything we can. We’ve been told to aspire to have and buy the best we can - because we’re worth it. No wonder we feel aggrieved, perhaps we might not be worth it after all? I suspect that at the root of a lot of our human anguish is the fear that we might be worthless. It sounds paradoxical, but emptying of the self allows us to find worth. I am really, really bad at the whole emptying lark by the way, but I know it is only when we make room within our hearts that we grow.
 Repentance opens up the potential for change and that paves the way to hope.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Joseph - a Nativity poem

They say there are signs.
Not with her.
I’m no professor
but neither am I stupid.
I asked her who she’d been seeing.
She sat there murmuring ‘Angel’.

She went north a few days
- change’ll do you good.
The solicitors said to forget it.
‘Without proof…’ they smiled.
If anything she started to brighten:
‘They’ll be cousins, same age!’
(I can’t be sure,
but I think I saw him, too.)

We left it too late, of course.
The traffic was solid,
some pop idol on the hire car radio
massacring ‘Hallelujah’.
We stopped at a Little Chef
on a B-road somewhere in the hills.

Crystal midnight it was,
good as daylight.
Then she grew wild-eyed.
Her bawling, a blunt saw,
cut through me.
It wasn’t like in the songs.

Anthony Wilson

I love this modern day version of the events leading up to the Nativity told from Joseph's perspective. H/t to Phil's Treehouse.

Monday, 5 December 2011