Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Margaret of the Fox Earth ~ Celtic Advent Day 22

               Painting of Margaret of the Fox Earth by Marie Roberts
         used with the permission of the artist.

In my sharing for Celtic Advent Day 21 I mentioned that I would like to write about the 'Desert Mothers & Fathers' indigenous to these Isles; contemplatives living in solitude, not in deserts, but in woods, valleys, and caves, on mountains, islands, and wild shores. My first, is Margaret of the Fox Earth, who I discovered through artist Marie Roberts, whose beautiful picture of her accompanies this post.

Margaret of the Fox Earth, or Meg O' Fox Holes, was a real person who is reputed to have lived a solitary existence in the cave dwellings of Kinver Edge, on the border between Worcestershire and Staffordshire during the 17th Century.

Whilst others lived there in community (continuing into the 1960s), Margaret's cave, known as Nanny's Cave or Rock, was set apart, obscured by woodland. She may have been a witch, or a Christian hermit, or both; our own Desert Mother, but very little is known about her.

What we do know is that there is an entry in Parish records telling us that a 'Margaret-of-the-Fox-Earth' died there on 8th June, 1617. The Pendle witch trials took place in Lancashire in 1612. We can only imagine the times that Margaret lived through and why she chose to take flight.

This poem is my imagining of who Meg O' Fox Holes was, and is.


Margaret of the Fox Earth (for Marie)


Still whispered within the sound
of the Severn Bore,
where silver salmon sister
shoals & shines.
Still rippled in the ebbs & eddies
of the Tame,
where moon-led elver mother
flows & folds for home.
Still settled in the soil of Shatterford,
where brother badger buries
stories to be mined.
She’s worn into the sandstone of the cave,
has tied her memory to the tides of time.

If it hadn't been for the fox-fire
in her eyes
she might have stayed,
made dry as dust by care,
but the flash of amber
gave her light away,
her feet too sure,
wild thyme between her toes.
Where she's gone to ground
only the nettle knows.

For she has taken flight on heel & paw,
armfuls of yarrow for her company,
with fly agaric blazing in her tracks,
has come to hunt the breath
that rises deep within the tree,
has shifted shape from prose to poetry.

She sniffed the changes coming on the breeze,
her ears, the threat held in Sunday bells,
the witch tree hanging with its rotten fruit,
found shelter in the seam of history.
Her non-conformity; her heresy.
Four-legged, she seeks her immortality
in the wilding hearts of women breaking free.

Briar roses twine the witching of her prayer.
Between her skirts the wilding apples grow,
distasteful to the ken of tamer tongue,
& blackthorn tears her skin to scar her sloe.

From Wyre to wild, Wren's Nest to Wenlock Edge,
From Kinver Fort to Drakelow’s dragon’s mound,
her echo prayer a howl on frost-fire nights,
to light, and life, and land her spirit's bound.

A living landscape shimmers in her wake.
And adders warp & weft her footstep's fall.
A mycelial map mirroring her veins,
that pulse with feral blood to drum her whole.
Four hundred years & still she is not old.

And, still, she's raw and ragged,
rag and hag,
is dancing autumn leaves that
spin the scarp,
Has skittered on the scree,
Her teeth are sharp.
Comes winter-psalmed to will us to re-spark
the amber light that's dimmed in our own eye.

Remember Meg who walked the vixen way,
fox made woman, woman-fox made whole,
She's worn into the sandstone of the cave,
her pawprints leave a track across the soul.

Jacqueline Durban, Autumn 2019

Margaret's/Nanny's cave, Kinver edge. mixedreality.uk


References:

Read more about Marie's painting of Margaret, and see more of her beautiful work here

http://marieroberts.co.uk/product/margaret-of-the-fox-earth/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinver_Edge


The Peace of Wild Things ~ Celtic Advent Day 21

St John the Baptist in the Wilderness by Hieronymous Bosch

I have been thinking a lot today about peace and power. It feels as though it will take a powerful spell to hold us in this week, or those of us in the UK at least as we wait for our General Election to unfold. And, with great serendipity (I love that 'seren' in Welsh means 'star'. I am following it!), the two middle weeks of modern Advent often journey with John the Baptist. John the Baptist is someone I often sit with when reflecting on power. He provides an important, challenging, and counter-cultural, example of a different model than the one we are used to, woven through with the importance of withdrawal into the wilderness and communion with other-than-human allies. This is just what we need as medicine when our human world feels stretched to breaking.

Born at Midsummer, at the height of the sun's power, & so the beginning of its decline, St John has travelled with us into the darkening year as we wait for the rebirth of the Son/Sun at Midwinter. And, in the petals of his flower, St John's Wort, we find the concentration of solar power that we need to lift the depression & anxiety which often comes with the dark.

St John's Wort/Tutsan Photo: Jacqueline Durban 

St John's Wort is one of our most important plants of Midsummer, hinted at by the beautiful bright sunburst of her flowers. People of the land once picked the herb on St John's Eve, 23rd June, & made garlands to hang over the door as a protection against evil spirits & storms. After dark, Midsummer's eve bonfires were lit & St John's Wort was thrown into the flames; a symbol of the sun fallen to earth dispelling the darkness.

There are over 490 species in the genus Hypericum to which St John's Wort belongs. The name may derive from the Greek for 'above icons' for its use over shrines as protection. I believe that the species depicted above is 'Hypericum Androsaemum', also known as Tutsan, which takes its name from the French 'tout sain', or 'all holy', due to its association with St John, or 'toute saine', 'all healthy', for its medicinal properties.

The Solstices, summer and winter; the points of longest dark & light, are times of vulnerability. We need both the light & the dark to be physically & mentally well but our relationship with them has been subverted by electric light & working indoors. Being exposed to regular patterns of light & dark regulates a bodily rhythm which developed over three billion years as life evolved on Earth in tune with the Sun’s day/night cycle. It is built deeply into our genetic makeup, but we are so lost that we need help in reweaving the threads of that relationship. Thank goodness then that we have our plant allies and the wisdom of our saint-ancestors to help us.

Like the Sami sun goddess, Beivve, who was called upon to restore the mental health of those who went insane because of the continual darkness of the long winter, John the Baptist can helps us to stay well by offering us the petals of his namesake sun-carrying flower as a balm. At midsummer we need to gather up every ounce of sunshine we can for the journey ahead. Often it is hard to think about the dark and decline, especially at the height of the sun's power and when we are looking forward to several months of long summer days and balmy nights. But John the Baptist reminds us that we need to make ready. This is Advent work.

Another of St John's plant allies is Mugwort.

Mugwort, Mudsummer 2019

Mrs Maud Grieve tells us in her 1931 'Modern Herbal' that Mugwort was once known as 'Cingulum Sancti Johannis', connected to the belief that St John, the wild, dark twin of Christ, wore a girdle of her flowers & leaves in the wilderness. A protective crown was woven from Mugwort on St John's Eve (June 23rd) & the herb gathered on that night as protection throughout the year. In the Isle of Man, mugwort is known as 'Bollan Bane' & is worn on Tynwald Day, which also has associations with St John.

I love midsummer-born St John for his knowing that, even at the height of our greatest power (the sun on the longest day), the seeds of our decrease have already been sown ~ 'And this was his message: "After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie." (Mark 1:7). This is why John the Baptist is also known as the 'forerunner'; born six months before Christ, he paves the way; 'John said, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord!" (John 1:23)

How many of us feel now that we are voices 'crying in the wilderness' as the vested interests of age-old entrenched power tighten their grip on our world, to the disproportionate detriment of those who have the least? But how much more power might they have without our voices?

Again, Mugwort may be of help here, not only as a herb of dreaming (and we do need to keep our dreams intact), but as a companion to wayfarers, often popped into a shoe to protect the long traveller from fatigue, sunstroke, and wild beasts. May we all have the energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other as we journey through these days.

It matters too to remember that the 'Lord' John makes straight the way for is not a king on high, but a lowly refugee, whose family tree contains whores, outcasts, and immigrants, who will stand up to the power of Imperialism, both religious and secular, in his own land, and will die for it, but who will turn the ways of worldly power upside down; a 'servant king' of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us.

In his book, 'Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent', Walter Brueggemann describes John the Baptist as the one who, 'prepares us for the newness' that will break our 'tired patterns of fear'. And so it is. Even as the Peasant King turns the tables over, John is in his own way doing the same. Here is a man who could have great power handing that power willingly to another man, preparing the way for that man, even to the cost of his own life. This is not how we are told human beings, especially men, are. We are told that it's natural to be in competition. John the Baptist tells us that this isn't so.

And we can all do this work of 'making straight the way' for change to come, for justice ~ within ourselves, but also in the wider world; by staying informed, being aware, by talking with others, and through our votes. If not for ourselves, then for those who come after us. We too are the forerunners of a hope that will not die.

I hope that I will be forgiven for not remembering the source, but a few days ago I read some fine words on how we might go about deciding on our vote, and I paraphrase; "if you are uncomfortable, vote for a better life for yourself. If you are comfortable, vote for a better life for someone else." Amen!

I think that John the Baptist was often uncomfortable, but still he looked forward, looked forward to something better, he played his part in 'making straight the way'.

At the height of his own power John the Baptist attracted many followers, very many of whom thought him to be the predicted Messiah. But he rejected all suggestion of that; "I baptise you with water for repentence...he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:11). I wonder how many of us, especially in this world where power and status have become our measure of worth, could find it in ourselves to dismiss the determination of others to lift us up?

Not being saints, perhaps in order to resist the lure of worldly power we must find an alternative source of self-worth, a counter-cultural sense of belonging, which is where we return to the 'peace of wild things'.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus spent much time in the wilderness. Often this is interpreted negatively, as a test or as self-denial, but with different eyes and an open, less tamed, heart we might see these times as necessary withdrawals from the centre of worldly power and human interaction to the comfort and potential of the wild edge places. Remember too that 'humble' and 'humus' (or soil) both have their roots in the word for earth. We are told that John lived in the desert, that he dressed in fur, and that 'his food was locusts and wild honey.' (Matthew 3:4).

John the Baptist in the Wilderness, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, 1490

Where would we find the 'wild honey' to speak Spirit on our tongues without making our dives into the wild, just as the selkie does when she reclaims her skin?  The myths and folktales of every culture are threaded through with these stories of departure and return.

As author and musician, Akala writes, "how can we speak with a colonised tongue?" Even our language is a trap, ill-equipped to convey the depths of our love, or our grief, or our rage. No wonder then that so many of our saint-ancestors are said to have lived 'alone' in the wild where another, older language holds sway; wild honey on their tongues.

Around the 3rd Century CE, Early Christianity saw many hermits, monks, and ascetics, both male and female, retreating into the wilderness, mainly into the deserts of Egypt, Israel, and Syria.

westconcordunionchurch.org

There, they lived simple lives of solitude, peace, and prayer, also wrestling with the less beautiful aspects of human nature; those aspects of us which seem so easily to fall prey to manipulation by our media and those in power. These contemplatives were known as the Desert Mothers and Fathers. Many followed their example and these desert communities, necessitating I imagine that  'solitude' became more a state of mind, became the model for Christian monasticism.

But they did, it's said, find a sense of peace, and they believed that they were doing their holy work for us all; imaginal cells. That has led me to ponder who our own 'desert mothers and fathers' might be, whether Christian or otherwise; those who withdrew from the world and sought out the wild in our own lands. This week I will be writing about some of them, beginning with a new poem, Margaret of the Fox Earth', this evening.

It may be that we are much in need of their wisdom of withdrawal and return, and of seeking out other-than-human allies for sanity's sake, as the week goes on. And I have no doubt that it will benefit and comfort us, no matter what the result, to have one foot in the wild, with the reminder that there is more to life than this.

As for John the Baptist, he reminds us that no worldly power is forever & it is in tune with nature for our influence to wax & wane;

"Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now,
Your houses they pull down, stand up now.
Your houses they pull down to fright your men in town,
but the gentry must come down, and the poor shall wear the crown.
Stand up now, Diggers all...

To conquer them by love, come in now, come in now,
To conquer them by love, come in now.
To conquer them by love, as it does you behove,
For he is King above, no power is like to love.
Glory here, Diggers all."

('A Ballad History of England', Roy Palmer)

I am grateful to John, and to his St John's Wort & Mugwort plant allies, for modelling and holding the truth of the World Turned Upside Down, & for protecting us we confront & come to terms with our deepest vulnerabilities and our own hunger for power. None of us are immune. May we, & those who seek to rule us, always walk with their prayer at the very soles of our feet. And may we be humbled to our roots.

Mugwort, 2018

References:

John the Baptist

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_the_Baptist

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_3:4

https://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20101202_1.htm

Mugwort

https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mugwor61.html

https://howtolucid.com/mugwort-for-lucid-dreaming-2/

https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mugwor61.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/flabbywitch.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/mugwort/amp/

St John's Wort

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypericum_perforatum

https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/s/sajohn06.html

Walter Brueggemann, 'Celebrating Abundance'

https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9780664262273?gC=5a105e8b&gclid=CjwKCAiAob3vBRAUEiwAIbs5TpESiMI-or7XhP6W9SXu3LGMayI8leQ52dYLRrOx_OvEx6dpWsyxLBoCcUYQAvD_BwE

Desert Mothers

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Mothers

Desert Fathers

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Fathers

Beivve https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaivi

Three Acres and a Cow/Roy Palmer

https://threeacresandacow.co.uk/2014/05/a-ballad-history-of-england-by-roy-palmer/


Sunday, 8 December 2019

And Now We Turn to Peace ~ Celtic Advent Day 20

The second Advent Candle is lit

Today was the second Sunday in Advent and so two candles are now lit on the Advent Crown at the 1,000 year church. The light is increasing in the midst of winter dark.

Last week I explored Hope. This week's theme is Peace. I must admit that, only a few days away from a General Election here in the UK, I am not feeling very peaceful and haven't got a thought in my head about what I might write. But I will trust.

On the first Sunday in Advent I wrote about an alternative set of themes for the weeks of Advent followed by contemplative Carmelite nuns. The theme of their first week was 'waiting', and for this second week of Advent, 'accepting'. It may be that in holding peace in one hand and acceptance in the other we will find a gentle path through the days to come, whatever they might hold.

As we are following the older, wilder, trackway of Celtic Advent it may be that we will find wisdom and comfort in the old saints. It comes to me that this would be the perfect week to write about St Pega of the Fens and St Caemgen, or Kevin, of the Open Hand. And we will sink into poetry, carrying with us the shining thread of hope already spun. And, next Sunday, the third candle will be lit, of that at least we can be sure.

Often at protest rallies a cry goes up, "No justice, no peace!", and it can feel that those two things are interwoven, that without the former we can never achieve the latter.  I have been inspired by the people of the Grenfell silent walk, who shout only for "justice!" for the victims and families of the horrific Grenfell fire. At the start of the walks we shouted for both but slowly they separated; peace in one hand, acceptance in the other. In this case acceptance that the path to justice is long in the midst of this, it matters to remember that to find peace in a world which seeks to unground us is also Resistance. 

In 1968, in response to the Vietnam War, Anerican novelist, poet, and environmental activist, Wendell Berry said; 


"We seek to preserve peace by fighting a war, or to advance freedom by subsidizing dictatorships, or to 'win the hearts and minds of the people' by poisoning their crops and burning their villages and confining them to concentration camps; we seek to uphold the 'truth' of our cause with lies, or to answer conscientious dissent with threats and slurs and intimidations....I have come to the realization that I can no longer imagine a war that I would believe to be either useful or necessary. I would be against any war."


Nothing has changed. 


And so today I will end with one of Wendell Berry's own poems which always brings me a sense of great peace; 'The Peace of Wild Things'.


When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great
heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

St Blaise holy well

References:

https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/peace-wild-things-0/

https://eu.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wendell_Berry

Writer Sarah Bessey is exploring the Advent themes of the Carmelite nuns on her blog at ~

https://linktr.ee/sarahbessey


Saturday, 7 December 2019

A Generosity of Christmas Cake ~ Celtic Advent Day 19


Look at the beautiful Christmas cake homemade & decorated by my sister-in-law, Rebecca & given to us this week! Last year we didn't get our Christmas cake until June and a big chunk of it made its way to the Church of England General Synod, plus gained a donation for the National Fox Welfare Society. Life weaves in the strangest of ways.

And so, we are doing marvellously well this year as it isn't even Christmas yet and our cake is firmly installed in the hedgehermitage kitchen. I'm still hoping that some gets to Synod though; spreading sweetness in the corridors of power. The cake is beautifully sparkly with icing holly berries and leaves; quite, quite stunning and I know that when we cut it on Christmas Day (it was once thought unlucky to cut the cake until dawn on Christmas Eve) it will be delicious.

The history of our traditional Christmas cake is more fascinating than we might imagine. Often things become so familiar that they just ARE & we don't think about what they may once have been.

The Christmas cake was once porridge! In the 16th Century plum porridge or pottage, first written of in 1573, was eaten on Christmas Eve. This was a way to break the Advent fast before the festivities of Christmas Day. Over time the porridge oats were replaced by butter, flour, and eggs. Originally this new mix would have been boiled and it was only when richer families got home ovens that baking became possible; the boiled version becoming Christmas pudding and the baked version, Christmas cake. Dried fruit was later added, together with marzipan decorations, but this was traditionally eaten at Easter. However, with the increased availability of spices a winter version emerged; the Twelfth Night cake, with the spices symbolic of the gifts brought to the Christ child by the Magi.

Slowly the popularity of Twelfth Night cake declined, no doubt as we were 'encouraged' to make our festivities shorter and shorter and get back to work the day after Boxing Day. By the 1830s many traditions had migrated to Christmas Day and the Christmas cake went with them. By the 1870s, the cake we recognise today had developed. At this time Victorian bakers began decorating the cakes with winter snow scenes, echoing the idealised vision given to us by Charles Dickens. That is certainly a vision that's taken hold of me. In my mind, at Christmas, all children have rosy cheeks and a sprig of holly in their hats. And it always snows.

2016's Christmas cake, which was also our wedding cake!

There are several different types of Christmas cake in the British Isles, but these are generally variations on the fruit cake. One of the most popular is the Scottish style Dundee cake, made with whisky but without marzipan or icing. This gave rise to the tradition of 'feeding the cake', where alcohol is introduced to the already baked cake through small holes over several weeks (the cake having been made in November, often on Stir-up Sunday).

Not all Christmas cakes contain fruit. In Japan, Christmas cakes are covered in whipped cream and decorated with strawberries or other seasonal fruits and Christmas chocolates. In the Philippines, they are bright yellow poundcakes covered with macerated nuts. Traditionally these were fed with civet mysk, but rose or orange flower water is more often used. In Germany, the fruit bread, Stollen, known as Weinachtstollen or Christstollen, is traditional Christmas fare. In Italy, Panetonne, a sweet sourdough bread, is prepared over several days.

And, of course, there is the  Yule Cake, which is traditionally eaten in France, Belgium, French Canada (food can reveal the footsteps of Empire too!), Luxembourg, and Lebanon. The Bûche de Nöel is a light sponge cake covered with buttercream, often flavoured with chocolate, then rolled, covered in further buttercream and then streaked to resemble the bark of a tree. Yumptious scrumptious! This cake represents the wooden Yule log which has been burned for several days over Christmas in hearths across Europe since the Middle Ages. Layer upon layer of meaning and deliciousness.

I will very much look forward to tucking into our own Christmas cake, whose loveliness for me is enhanced by it being a gift created and given by family. Because, even more than food, Christmas is about generosity, sharing, and love.

Mr Radical Honeybee with 2015's Christmas cake
2016's Christmas cake, which was also our wedding cake!

References:

http://www.justlovechristmas.co.uk/history-of-christmas/history-of-christmas-traditions/christmas-cake.html

https://www.bluebellsbynicki.com/1283-2/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_cake

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_cake

https://www.bakingmad.com/baking-tips/cake/how-to-feed-a-christmas-cake

Molecules of Mercy ~ Celtic Advent Day 18

Hogfather stamp

We are coming to the end of the first week of traditional Advent (with the older and wilder Celtic Advent beneath it). This week I have been writing about hope, something which feels in short supply at times. And I have mentioned my feeling that it doesn't really matter if a belief has objective reality as long as it gives us hope, or peace, or joy, and harms no one. It matters so much that we have strength for the journey. Which is why I have never quite stopped believing in Father Christmas, or believing that us believing in him makes him real at least. Because I believe in us.

There is a quote from 'Hogfather' by Terry Pratchett, who I often go to for words of wisdom. It always takes me aback with its raw and honest beauty, only faintly hidden beneath Terry Pratchett's warm and wondrous humour. This quote often makes me cry, because even on my most despairing and cynical days it touches the little spark of hope in me that never goes out, the belief that if we wish for something hard enough it will come true.

In 'Hogfather' Death tries to take the place of the eponymous Hogfather, a mythical being who seems to be a cross between Father Christmas and a Norse God. On Hogswatch Night (December 32nd), the Hogfather grants children wishes and brings them presents, and he is also responsible for the sun rising. But he has gone missing, kidnapped by a group who want to stop children believing in him, or in anything, and there are plenty of people in our own world who would love to do that. Belief is a fragile thing, and Death knows that it matters just as much as the sun rising. Both would mean the light going out. Here, Death explains to his grand-daughter, Susan, why belief matters so very, very much...

"All right," said Susan, "I'm not stupid. You're saying that humans need...fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WERE SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little ---"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same thing at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY.  AND YET -Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point---?"

MY POINT EXACTLY."

(From Terry Pratchett's 'Hogfather')

And this is why it doesn't matter to me whether our belief has an objective reality.  It only matters that we believe in something. Something that tells us that life is worth living and that we can be better than we often reveal ourselves to be. As, the ever wise, Death also tells us, MERE ACCUMULATION OF OBSERVATIONAL EVIDENCE IS NOT PROOF.

A few days ago I mentioned the belief of writer David Southwell, curator & recollector of Hookland that 're-enchantment is Resistance.' I am quite sure that Tery Pratchett would agree.


'Happy Hogswatch' by funkydpression


References:

Hogfather ~

Buy the book from Waterstones

Buy the DVD (I am not familiar with this seller but wanted to find an alternative to Amazon)

Quotes ~

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/583655-hogfather

http://www.chrisjoneswriting.com/hogfather.html

On Hogfather as the best defence of Christmas

https://io9.gizmodo.com/terry-pratchetts-hogfather-is-best-defense-of-christmas-1747414176

Friday, 6 December 2019

Frost at Advent ~ a poem for Celtic Advent Day 17

Image: Jacqueline Durban 

Continuing the theme of hope, here is a beautiful poem written only yesterday by my Kent Christian Peace Activist sister in solidarity, Holly Elsie. Such a tender and fragile-strong poem of finding peace and hope in the smallest, most intricate, and yet most ordinary, of things. This is where we find the Beloved.

Frost at Advent 

Unfurling ferns of frost on the window:
The first sign of you in the morning.
Beyond, hoarfrost on fenceposts and fields -
All exposed things are changed.
And I know that winter
Is yours as much as spring.
If I could wait and watch
the slow growing then thawing
of frost on the window,
I would learn something of peace.
For hope is a perennial shoot rooted deep,
And I believe I shall see the goodness
of the Lord in the land of the living.
If I could sit patiently, faithfully,
Watching your microscopic work
Transform the pane,
I might glimpse that which
Could be...
And shall be.

Holly Elsie, December 2019.

Singing for Hope on a Rainy Roundabout ~ Celtic Advent Day 16

Kent Christian Peace Activist Refugees Welcome signs

I am several days adrift with my sharings for Celtic Advent and so I hope that I will be forgiven for posting several morsels today. There is so much loveliness that I want to share.

Firstly, I want to tell you a little about the Kent Christian Peace Activist 'Refugees Welcome' vigils, which take place from 7.30 to 8.30am on the first Friday of every month in Dover on the roundabout opposite the ferry terminal, which is where we found ourselves this morning.


I have been attending the monthly vigil since October 2018 and it has added so much richness, and reality, to my spiritual life. I won't say that it's always easy. Often there are only two of us and we could so easily fall into believing that our efforts are futile. But even that provokes many conversations on hope and how to sing and pray for better in the face of, what seem to be, overwhelming odds against anything ever changing. As I wrote only a few days ago, we can't say that we truly have hope until we have stood on the bitter edge of despair, and in reality in this country very, very few of us have done that in the same way that refugees are compelled to do.

And so we talk about hope; about being imaginal cells, about the promise that God will change everything in an instant ~ how then can we truly despair ~ and today we talked about the feeling that "everything is going backwards"; that the anti-life cult of Empire and patriarchy is increasing its grip, but which might instead be us sensing the death throes of a dying system desperately trying to cling to power. I have believed the latter for many years, and in that time I have watched many deaths. It has always been my experience that just before death a being shines even brighter, a last burst of flame before the light goes out and transformation comes. I am sure that its the same with outworn and outmoded systems.

The root of this thought came when I went to a talk given by author Lynne Sinclair-Wood in London a decade or so ago. She lived in Australia but over the years had spent much time in the British Isles, and particularly in London. During her talk she expressed despair that it felt that money makers and financial institutions had a stronger grip on the city than they ever had before. But I didn't agree. What I felt was that what had been underground; an alternative way of being based in sharing, compassion, love, and justice, had become stronger, was rising up to meet the oppressive systems of greed that we have all lived under for so long. And that it was this sudden clash that she was feeling. When power-over ways of being fully held sway, felt unthreatened, there was no need to stem a rising tide of justice; then we were a river, now we are the sea. The grip of greed might have tightened but, if so, it was out of fear that the systems that fed it were crumbling. The human world turns slowly. It might take a lifetime for change to come. I may never see it but I know in my bones that it's coming, that the arc of the universe is always towards justice, towards Kin-dom.

Some would say that this is wishful thinking and idealism. I say, so what!? In a despairing world it doesn't matter whether this is objectively 'true'. It only matters that it helps us to have hope. This is the work; the work of Advent. It's what we do while we're waiting.

And so, this morning at 7.30am, we were standing on a cold and rainy roundabout in Dover, as we do every month. The police used to stop; sometimes they were nice, sometimes they weren't, but now they rarely stop at all. Perhaps they think us 'safe' or 'irrelevant', but I am mindful of all those who have been thought the same but who have 'turned the tables over' nonetheless. Often we are shouted at by drivers, and quite agressively so. And often, and increasingly, we are given hoots of support. Invariably the person we now call 'sausage roll man' drives past, eating his sausage roll and waving encouragingly. He has a fine beard. He often gives us hope on our most despairing days. Last month, a man who had waved at us from his car emerged from a hotel just near the roundabout as we packed up our things to leave and told us that we were doing a fine thing, that he worked in the hotel, and that if we ever got too cold and wet we should go in for a hot drink. The universe is moving towards justice, but we might not see that from our tiny human perspective. In which case, what we can do is gather up these sweet and fleeting moments into a brew and a balm to keep us standing up for what we believe to be right.

We often say that we are an 'Easter People'; that we are living a 'Resurrection life', and so we are when we must so often be born again from the ashes of despair, and living as we do on a planet of seasons where spring follows winter, summer follows spring. But we are also an Advent People in a constant state of waiting. Holding the tension between these two sacred truths is where we find the Holy One, arms outspread.

We wait until change comes, and that could be at any moment; every breath it's own small resurrection, or it might take forever. What we do while we wait is what matters.

Today it felt that our time on the roundabout was particularly joyous. Perhaps because we are waiting, expectantly and at times impatiently, for better, but we are also close to a point when we can put our waiting aside for just a little while ~ the Peasant King will soon be born and he will Turn the World Upside Down, just as he always has. If the anti-life cult of Empire ever thought that it was safe then it has always been wrong. Here, soon, is a vulnerable child who will break their frozen places into Light.

White Cliffs of Dover

And so, we sang in the cold and the rain; 'Blowing in the Wind' ~ how many times can a man turn his head & pretend that he just doesn't see? ~ 'Jerusalem' ~ I will not cease from mental fight ~ 'O Holy Night' ~ a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices ~ and 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' ~ O come, bright Daystar, come and cheer, our spirits by your advent here...

Singing, like poetry, breaks the world open, and so we did. There is hope in any voice that rises above the wind and the rain. This is the work we do while we wait; we keep our voices strong enough to rise above the storm. Whatever our faith, we find our ways to kindle hope.