Yesterday I was given a lovely apricot coloured patio rose and a ceramic pot to put it in. So this afternoon I planted it. I thought it would be straightforward, just planting a small rose in a pot, but it wasn’t. First of all I couldn’t get the rose out of the plastic pot. It should have come out easily, but it didn’t. I poked around with a trowel, pulled gently, gave it a good shaking, and finally it came out. I put the rose into the pot, and back filled with compost. Then I stood back ready to take a photo to send to the person who gave it to me, and with disappointment I realised the rose was not standing up straight, but had gone in with a rather pronounced tilt. I now had a choice; I could leave it as it was and hope it would straighten as it grew; or I could do something about it. I decided to try to straighten it, so I put a small stake in the pot, but when I stood back I could see the rose was still pulling to the side, and the stake made it look messy. So I removed the stake, and dug up the rose and started again. This time I took more care, making sure I held the rose straight while I slowly put compost in bit by bit. Finally I stood back, and could see that all my effort was worth it – the rose was now standing up straight. I gave it a good watering, took a photo and sent it to my friend.
Forgive the analogy, but I think there are times in our lives when God wants to do a similar thing in us. We may suddenly become aware there is something wrong deep inside us, and we realise we have been growing crookedly in our pots for a long time. It maybe that terrible things have happened to us in the past, or maybe not so terrible things that have still marred and marked us, and caused our growth to be stunted or somehow askew. Over the years we have probably found ways of coping, but there can come a time when God can re-plant us and help us to grow straight. It won’t be comfortable, being uprooted, shaken free of what holds us, our roots bare, and we will probably want some good, experienced friends to help us get through it. But God is a careful gardener, and He will do it as gently as He can. And from my own experience I can tell you it will be well worth the effort.
After weeks of grey skies, or so it seems, we have finally had a few bright days, when the sun has warmed the cold earth, and encouraged some early flowers to open at last. I was beginning to wonder where the snowdrops were, when a couple of days ago I realised that they were hidden under drifts of autumns leaves. Now I have brushed some of the old leaves away from the borders, clumps of snowdrops have opened to the sun, along with a sprinkling of yellow crocuses and a pink blushed hellebore. And this afternoon I was surprised and heartened to see a solitary miniature iris, its vibrant blue petals flung wide like arms to greet the sun.
Spring is on its way.
I walked round Ifield Millpond yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold, crisp, winter morning. The sky was clear and blue, and the sun hung low, so that blinding sunlight bounced off the frozen surface of the millpond, making photography difficult. The grass and undergrowth were rimed with frost, and ice scrunched underfoot. A heron who habitually sits at the waters’ edge, was perched on the branch of a tree. The water birds, usually seen swimming happily, were today skidding and skating precariously on the ice. Three Canada geese one behind the other slowly and carefully plodded towards a patch of open water near the bridge. The first two held their footing reasonable well, but the last one slipped drunkenly on every step – two steps forward and one slip-step backwards. Seagulls coming to land, ran a few slippery steps, wings flapping wildly to keep their balance before coming to a standstill. A solitary duck padded across the ice, webbed feet flapping, but the rest of the ducks seemed to be crowded into a narrow stretch of water between the bank and the boardwalk.
The funniest of all had to be the coots. They looked rather like misshapen, feathered rugby-balls, with ungainly legs and long flat toes that are usually hidden under the water. No doubt the toes with flabby flaps of skin that act rather like webbed feet are ideal for paddling through water, but they are not really designed for walking on ice! The faster the coots tried to go, the more they slipped and slithered. But however much difficulty the birds had staying upright on the ice, I didn’t see any actually fall over; and thankfully neither did I!
I watch as Big Ben solemnly chimes out the old year.
Boom! – so 2016 is finally slipping away.
Boom! – twelve whole months over, never to be recovered.
Boom! – fifty-two weeks expired.
Boom! – days of sun and pleasure relegated to memory.
Boom! – sleepless nights of darkness forgotten.
Boom! – all the hours, minutes and seconds used up.
Boom! – big events relegated to history books,
Boom! – small events stored in my memory.
Boom! – how many births? To me a wonderful Grandson!
Boom! – and how many deaths? Too many.
Boom! – more birthdays come and gone.
Boom! – how much was valuable? How much wasted?
One extra second, gone in less than a breath.
Then, out of the ashes of the old year rises the phoenix of the new year, a clean slate, but full of colour, full of promise and expectation.
Please God help me use this new year better than I did the last. Help me waste less, and live more. Help me think more of others, and be the friend I would like myself. Help me be your hands and feet and voice to those around me.
God rest you merry, Gentlemen, is one of the oldest carols, dating back to the 16oo’s, or maybe even earlier, and the first known printing was on a broadsheet in 1760. Although it is still often sung at Christmastime, the language now feels quite archaic, and could do with a little modern translation. The word ‘rest’ in the opening line means ‘to keep or cause to remain’, and ‘merry’ once had a wider meaning including ‘pleasant, bountiful, and prosperous’. So I quite like the idea that the carollers are wishing that we the listeners ‘remain in merriness, with abundant and generous prosperity’. I also love the meaning of the word ‘comfort’ which comes from Middle English, and derives from the Latin ‘com’, ‘ expressing intensive or extreme force, and ‘fort’ from the Latin ‘fortis’ meaning ‘strong, or to strengthen’. (Other words using the root ‘fort’ would be fortress and fortitude.) Later the word comfort came to also mean giving physical ease.
So this Christmas, may I offer you ‘merry tidings of comfort and joy’ – ‘that you remain in merriness, with abundant and generous prosperity, and that you are strengthened and made joyful by the news that Jesus is born’.
Advent for Christians is the season leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This year Advent began on 29th November, the earliest date possible. It’s a time when many traditional churches light candles, and Christians wait expectantly for Christmas Day when we remember the birth of Jesus, and look forwards to his promised return.
So what are we doing this Advent? Is it a special time? or are we absorbed in planning and logistics? Who to invite, who to ignore, and why? How much to spend, and who to buy presents for? What parties to host, and which parties to attend? What to eat and drink, and have we got enough? And above all, how do we get what we want, eat and drink what we want, and get to do what we want?
As a result, what should have been a blessed time for peace and reflection, we have made into a stressed time of soaking ourselves in materialism and over-indulgence. What began in a poor humble shelter has been commercialised and become all about money and corporate or personal gain. And what was a simple birth has become an excuse for gluttony and excess.
So what can we do about this, if indeed we want to do anything at all? How do we bring Advent and Christmas back to basics within all the busyness and responsibilities of modern life?
Well, I suppose I could try to take some time out of my frenetic preparations. Impossible you might say! But time-out doesn’t have to be hours and hours, just a couple of minutes of space and mindful thought can bring focus and rejuvenation. Perhaps I can think outside the box, and every time I go up the stairs, I can ask for His help in what I am doing. When I have that peaceful moment alone in the loo, I can ask God for patience in the turbulence of life. When I’m standing by the kettle, making yet another cup of tea or coffee, I can praise Him for the gift of friends and family. I can begin the habit of looking at things positively and endeavour to bring Jesus right into my busy life by my attitudes and the way I treat others. I can seek out the good, and stop thinking and behaving as if I am the most important person in the universe.
I dropped a shelf on my foot a couple of weeks ago. It hurt! WOW IT HURT! There was no one else in the house to hear, but I yelled out anyway, I couldn’t stop myself. I don’t know where the almost primeval sound came from, but it was from somewhere deep down inside. It didn’t even sound like my own voice; just a roar of extreme physical pain. And even after the shout it still hurt, so I cried a bit too.
We’re allowed to shout out and cry when we are hurt aren’t we? When we are cut or bruised or broken? But what do we do when the hurt itself is inside, when we can’t actually see it, but our innermost being is crushed or injured in some way? I don’t know about you, but I think I usually bite my metaphorical tongue, and shove the hurt down even deeper inside; where it can fester and grow and mutate unseen. Then sometime in the future it will undoubtedly pop up again, seemingly from nowhere, and cause me yet more pain. How much better to let it out, shout it out if necessary, and maybe with a trusted friend or professional, deal with it before it gets to be a problem.
PS Just in case you’re worried, my toe is getting better now, and only hurts a little 🙂