STORM AND TEMPEST today, both in terms of a too-full day and the prospect of several more in a row, and in the literal sense, with most all of my neighbours’ wheelie bins having taken flight, full or empty, at the behest of “havocs in the sky”. And I need to learn from the trees about which Wendell Berry writes:
What do the tall trees say
To the late havocs in the sky?
The air moves, and they sway.
When the breeze on the hill
Is still, then they stand still.
They have no fear. Their fate
Is faith. Birdsong
Is all they’ve wanted, all along.
POSTADAY2011 draws to a close and I’ve been wondering for a week or two about whether there’ll be, for me, a postaday2012. I think so. Like everything else that’s good for us the discipline has sometimes required a bit of will-power. I know that I’m writing, much as with any personal journal, primarily for my own interest and reflection, even whilst being delighted by the interest and kindness of many readers across my blogging years. But I have discovered that there’s something else important going on in the daily business of even just snippets of remembering. With William Cleary, whom I’ve admired so much throughout 2011, I find myself saying of God on the 31st December:
you accompanied me … each beloved morning and afternoon, each descent into sleep, sweet or troubled. We have a long, small history together, holy God, and you are the very God and Source of truth, of everything that has transpired in this creation since the great explosion at the dawn of time, and eternally before that …
I believe that I want to keep writing about being accompanied in such a way; about a long, small history together. And I’m thankful for the postaday2011 enterprise and the fellowship and friendship thereby engendered. And the close of a year gives me an opportunity to say a substantial thank you to the terrific team at WordPress, too. And to you 🙂
POST-CHRISTMAS Greystoke has facilitated wind-down to stop! It’s vaguely beginning to register that in a day or two I’ll have to start winding-up to go again. But close to the end of another very full year I’m revisiting and renewing the old resolutions to take life just a little more slowly, avoiding the overly-frazzled approach to life and work. The difference between frazzled and fractious loss of vision and “life and health and peace” for me has a great deal to do with whether a day has allowed for a) an even very brief walk in fresh air with nothing particularly on my mind and b) a silent hour or two “beside the fire” (physical, spiritual or plain metaphorical) and opportunity to savour and process my current reading, and imagination, and meditation, and prayer. Ordinand Paul Deakin speaks of the rhythm of life he’s discovered at Mirfield. I’m a gentle rhythm sort of a man, I think. Rather fonder of ebb and flow than of great highs or lows. Quietness, books, fireside, loved ones near in heart and mind if not actually present, then something in and around me glows. And grows.
ULLSWATER is dark and choppy today, the steamer plying the waters only between Glenridding and Howtown as the wind and swell is too great up at Pooley Bridge. Not a day for paddling a canoe! Earlier observation that the road has been whipped clean by wind and rain, and that autumn leaf piles have been scattered to the winds, and that everywhere looks clean albeit grey, leads to grateful acknowledgement that the same wind and rain has swept around and through post-Christmas fresh air seekers who are themselves now feeling clean, and rosy cheeked and not at all grey. Driving home there were “white horses” whipping up the lake surface in Howtown Bay. A windswept, chilly, energising, praise-invoking Ullswater day.
TODAY IS ONE OF THOSE looked-forward-to-days when, after a brief amble round Penrith – to be able to make some pretence at having taking in some fresh air (decidedly chilly fresh air compared to that of the last few days) – one feels able to take root in an armchair at the fireside with a pile of books and a cup of coffee at the side-table. This is what winter days are for. Last evening I heard tell of one Bear Grylls who is probably even now chancing his arm in some dangerous wilderness experience. All good fortune to him. But me? – I’m going to chance my arm at staying awake until the end of my next chapter and am grateful that I’m not a betting man 🙂
TWO THOUSAND YEARS after the stoning of Stephen, deacon and first Christian martyr, (remembered by the Church, the world over, yesterday) the Guardian reports that an Iranian prison has said that it lacks the “necessary facilities” to carry out the sentence to death by stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and that death by hanging is now being considered as an option.
What are the “necessary facilities” with which to make a response? How can humankind in 2011 still be meting out this kind of murderous brutality – and that not only in Iran – but also in places much closer to our own “safe houses”? I don’t have an easy answer. But I do have an account of Stephen’s martyrdom to reflect upon (Acts 7) and will try to do so in the coming year, and in ordinary, everyday prayer, preaching, silence and conversation:
[Stephen] kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Pray for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who has been incarcerated since 2006. Scapegoating in each and every one of its pernicious forms must cease … and there are expressions of “Christianity” that will therefore need to take a good long and hard look at themselves. Whether from the mouth of “God” or the mouth of “Life” itself the same message rings true: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.
Did God design the crucifixion of Jesus, or the stoning of Stephen, or the sentence hanging over the life of Ms Ashtiani? Or did we?
I KNOW THAT OTHERS share the slight sense of shock that I’m feeling today. The image of my standing on a beach, 20 years or more ago, on the isle of Anglesey, near RAF Valley, came back to me this morning. A thunderous low flying military jet flew over my head, and gasping, albeit that it wasn’t a new experience, I can hear myself saying “Wow! What was that?”. For many years I’ve felt that way about Christmas. Maybe that’s why this is “Boxing Day”? My head feels slightly puddled today, and stunned in a similar sort of a way.
And actually, it’s been a Happy Christmas. I’ve shaken hands and exchanged greetings with hundreds and hundreds of people. I’ve been the grateful recipient of a great deal of kindness and warm generosity. And I hope that I’ve been kind and generous. But deep down I’m still left with an uneasy feeling about the enormity of a UK Christmas – for it’s really the celebration, for Christians, of a particular kind of littleness that had absolutely nothing to do with any form of self-interest or acquisition.
Deep down the “still small voice” encourages me not to worry too much about the overwhelming sense of relief I feel when high festival gives way to “ordinary time”. There’s an underwhelming sense of rightness, quietness, human-sized and human-shaped littleness in the stable of Bethlehem. Natural straw instead of wrapping paper. And lying in that straw is the Word that shows us the way back to our senses – whether we pay any attention, or not …