Monday, 23 December 2013

Last Pause in Advent

We celebrated the last Sunday in Advent with our annual mince pies and mulled stuff open house. It was also our wedding anniversary. All quite fitting for the Sunday of Love! We thanked the friend from church who chooses the hymns for keeping "Love came down at Christmas" for this week's morning service. It was the second hymn at our wedding. I had made carrot and coriander soup only because I bought lots of carrots this week, having forgotten that we already had lots of carrots. Carrot and coriander soup was the starter at our reception.  Fifteen years of I don't quite know what. But we're still here so far!

Our children's address yesterday was all about being rescued. I'm thankful that Jesus came to rescue, because I need that a lot.

We are falling in to bed here; four pilgrims on the way to Bethlehem, and it's very close now. I hope your journey into Christmas will be calm and fun, quiet and bustling, full of magic. Merry Christmas xx

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Pause in Advent

I was born and bred in Belfast and this is well apparent to anyone who listens to me! I hope it's not as gruesome an accent as the one used by the woeful guy on the Radio 4's Ed Reardon today, but I digress. This is, in short, a city that I love.
Voici St Anne's Square- one of our newest "quarters". It is jam compote full of trendy restaurants and the MAC- our fabulous new theatre/art exhibition space/ restaurant. The square takes its name from the neighbouring cathedral where Black Santa is one of Belfast's cherished traditions. The current Dean of the cathedral wraps himself in a black cape against the frozen north, and collects money from today until Christmas Eve. The money is then distributed to chosen charities and appeals.
This was St Anne's Square on Friday night past. Restaurants and theatre had just been evacuated when the small device in someone's holdall exploded. No-one was hurt, but the estimated cost was put to £5000. Per restaurant. The next day they were open and ready for business.

Political rant over. Now to my Advent thought. I have been trying to have an active Advent. I am trying to use the time to look at this little Belfast life and ask God to incarnate more of Jesus in it. So this week I'm thinking about the family tickets we have for Hatch this Friday night. It's the Christmas show at the MAC in St Anne's Square. Our intention was to have dinner in one of the restaurants beforehand.

Do we cancel our tickets and cower at home and join those who would have us head straight back into the darkness of the 1970s? No. Our intention is still to eat probably in the Potted Hen, the restaurant to the immediate right of the explosion. Then we'll head in to see Hatch. Because maybe Christmas can be about taking a stand. Jesus certainly took a huge one.
Joining Floss and many others more articulate than me!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Pause in Advent

Advent is turning out to be one of desired action this year. Doing something. Doing something right. Living what I profess. This would be badly needed in my life just now! Lots of incarnation desired, please. Then on Thursday night we had our annual Preparing for Advent event, for about-to-be-stressed-by-Christmas women. My job is to be the jolly everyone along person- keep the activities moving and make sure everyone is happy. I also have to do the meditations. This is the harder bit!
I had come up with what I thought was a pretty nifty idea. That present above left is a pass the parcel. As it went around and the music stopped, someone would rip off a layer of Christmas wrapping that would fall discarded to the floor, and a little label would ask them a question about their experiences of Christmas. I had told them that the final box held something very precious. When we got to the little box, it was empty. At Preparing for Advent we try to offer folk an opportunity to take some still, reflective time before the mad rush really starts. This, I said, is tonight's gift.
Then, when we went into the craft room to have a go at willow stars and tie wreaths, I gave everyone boxes to make. They had to have one done by the end of the night. In our last thought for the night I passed around a tin with Hope, Peace, Joy and Love written on pieces of card. Everyone had to choose one, or even more. They could choose randomly or deliberately. The point was that they could put some peace, hope, joy or love into the empty space of their own box, and fill Advent with what was important to them, as well as all the wrapping. This was Catherine's pretty nifty idea!
I had cut out lots of extra cards, so that people could take more than one, and have a proper choice. I was the last person in the circle to choose. When the tin came back to me there were only two cards left. Both said joy.  I can tell you that I was amazed. One week into an Advent of feeling that I need to work harder, try harder, be holier, what does God give me? A double dose of joy for Advent.

So this week what I am doing is trying to smile more. Broadly.

Friday, 6 December 2013

The wise man

The strawberries have only just gone to sleep. I let them stay up late tonight to watch BBC1's documentary on Mandela. They did well. They were educated last Christmas in the politics of protest by the nightmare flag situation here in Northern Ireland. The days and nights of questions and ensuing discussion seem to have produced two boys who understand what it is to be so angry that you take to the streets, and who may have their own ideas on the line between peaceful and violent. Admittedly, they're more likely to have those of their parents. I'm hoping I wasn't the only Northern Irish parent watching, and talking, with young men.

When we finally made it upstairs to be bed we still had tonight's chapter of A Christmas Mystery to read. We all caught the perfection of the introduction of Caspar into the story on the very day when they had heard of Mandela's death. (They were in bed last night when we heard.) This is what we read,

"You see, at the moment I am the only black man in the whole of Denmark, at least the only one who is a King of the Orient besides. That sort of thing attracts attention, my friends, for people find it difficult to get used to something completely different."

Thursday, 5 December 2013

View from the Window

View from the dining room window at five to midnight. It has been stormy, stormy since this time last night. I fell asleep to the sound of howling wind and thrashing trees. I do love weather! It is dark and wet and the year is closing. Everything is ending, and everything is ablaze with lights. Everything is shutting down and shutting up, and everything is filling with great portent. And I still have a tiny, little angel costume to sew for Mattman's (Mummy) homework. Goodnight, wild world, Mandiba, and Jane in the wild woods xx

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Pause in Advent

Mattman did the last of his three big tests on Saturday morning. This was a huge blessing! An end to many months of hard work on everyone's part. He wanted to go to Pizza Express for lunch afterwards, which happily lives in Belfast's very swish and lovely Victoria Square.
 
 
Christmas Starters it said on the menu, though I only realised this after I had taken the picture. It did however strike me as nicely appropriate on the first weekend in Advent. Starting  to think about something that has been hidden from view by many other big issues in our Strawberry land lately.
 
So I am more than usually happy to be Pausing in Advent. I really didn't expect to be thinking positively about Christmas at all this year. Mum so stricken by challenge, Dad needing to be so brave and independent, Mattman studying so hard, life just so busy, the house so chaotic, time so squeezed.
 
Something wholly unexpected occurred though. Burst from the dark sky in the midst of mundane sheep guarding and illuminated the landscape. Not only, to quote the Grinch, "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store." But also maybe Christmas doesn't even mean family. If I believe that Christmas means Jesus, means God incarnated, means peace, hope, joy and love, then maybe that's what I have to try to live. Christmas standing immutable, regardless of everyone's circumstances or my feelings or how many lights we string around the tree. Every day.
 
These thoughts are my Christmas Starters this year. And if I'm going to quote Dr Seuss, then you'll know I have to quote  Jostein Gaarder:
 
 
"I can't see why a little lambkin should be in such a hurry."
The angel helped her to her feet and said confidentially, "It's going to Bethlehem."
Elizabet had stopped crying, "To Bethlehem?"
"Yes. To Bethlehem, to Bethlehem! For that's where Jesus was born."
Elisabet was very surprised at what the angel said...
"Then I want to go to Bethlehem," she said.