#AdventBookClub – day 24 “Christmas Eve”

Again we are with the paradoxes of the season: darkness and light, cold and heat, old and new, high and low. I love the emphasis on the nearness of opposites – the “dazzling darkness”, the Christ who “delights and terrifies us”, the unsettling disruption in which there also great beauty.

Only in the tension of these impossible, nonsensical juxtapositions can we come close to the enormity of the mystery which we celebrate tonight. A dazzling darkness or a chilly heat are nothing compared to a human God who is both eternal and newborn. This, the incarnation, is a mystery too great to fully grasp. We can only hover in the space between such opposites, and wonder at the God who meets us there.

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This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 23 “A Hope Carol”

I love the way the rhythm and structure of this poem bring us around again and again to a sense of hopeful yearning, a longing that will be fulfilled… but not yet.

This is very much my experience of faith. Perhaps it is this that draws me so much to Advent (it is my favourite liturgical season). Watching and waiting and longing and hoping are very much where I know God, even as I long to know God more.

This is not the hopeless yearning of unrequited love. It is love which has been requited since before time itself, and which will – surely will – be brought at last to fulfillment. But not yet. This is the hopeful yearning of a promise that will certainly be kept, that has already been kept, that is even now unfolding.

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This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 22 “Advent (1885/6)”

Here it is again, that strange paradox that is at the heart of Advent, and indeed at the heart of the Christian faith: new and old, life and death, fire and cold… As we prepare to tip over from Advent into Christmas it seems a good moment to keep hold of the paradoxical nature of faith in every season. It is part and parcel of the God who is coming soon yet already with us, whose kingdom is now and yet to come.

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This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 21 “Winter: My Secret”

I love the rhythm of this poem, which feels to me something like the wind, buffeting the poet and the reader in all directions. Which, for me, has a connection to the theme of wearing different masks, picked up in the commentary.

At this time of year I often feel pulled in many directions – church, family, friends, ministry, shopping and cooking, sermon writing, wrapping, laundry, liturgy… I’m sure the feeling is familiar to many. And sometimes that leads to me swapping between different ‘masks’ – of home and church, guest and host, partner, daughter, auntie, cousin, sister, friend… Not that I am trying to hide anything, but I know I am a quite different version of myself with different people. Not only with family vs parishioners, but also with my Mum’s side of the family vs my Dad’s, with my cousins and siblings vs our parents’ generation, with friends and chosen family vs my birth family or in-laws.

All of us have so many different ‘masks’ we wear, and I no longer think (as I once might have) that to do so is any failure or lack of integrity. Rather, it is one of the ways in which we respond to different people and situations with care, attention and sensitivity. But it is so important that we take time to know – and always to remember that God knows – who we are under all the masks.

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This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 20 “Lay Up For Yourselves Treasures In Heaven”

Reading this poem today, of all days, has made me startlingly aware of some of the contradictions within myself. I do not think of myself as a very materialistic person. I am not particularly interested in money or gadgets or clothes or ‘stuff’ and am generally content to hold lightly to earthly treasures. (Although I do have a sneaking sympathy with St Jerome, heading into the desert to live the life of a hermit, taking nothing… except his vast library!) And yet…

Today I received a gift which I will cherish. It is not expensive or valuable in the conventional sense of ‘treasure’. It is a Christmas present from my Mum – a set of 7 metal pastry cutters, the exact double of the ones my Mum inherited from my beloved Granny. And I will cherish them not because of what they are, but what they represent – the sense of being known and loved enough for someone to know this is exactly the right gift for me, and why; the sense of being entrusted with the keeping of family traditions which bind together the people I love most; the sense of standing in a long line of strong women who make good pastry (and everything else that goes with that inheritance).

Perhaps the moral of the story is this: hold lightly to the pastry cutters, but hold tightly to the love they represent, which is the true treasure of heaven, made real and concrete on earth.

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This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 19 “He Cannot Deny Himself”

“Love still is Love.” That’s exactly what I needed to hear today. And every day, to be honest. Come what may, love still is love, God still is God, God still is love. In these troubled times, the steadfast, unchanging love of God is something to cling to. Sometimes it’s the only thing left to cling to. And then we find that this Love is no mere feeling, no ephemeral idea. It is the most real thing there is, the very bedrock of life. And it is enough.

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This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 18 “Of Him That Was Ready To Perish”

The imagery in today’s poem of darkness and light brought to mind a favouite Taize chant: “Our darkness is never darkness in your sight; the deepest night is clear as the daylight”.

Though we may yearn for the clarity of the noonday experience of faith, and long to recapture the brightness, it is not the only, or perhaps in the long term the most rewarding, way to live with God. The God who lurks in the shadows, of whom we catch glimpses, who meets us in the darkest corners of our lives, is the God who will sustain us through all those times when all we can do is cry out “how long, O Lord, how long?” God who is as much (if not more) in silence and darkness, as in answers or in light, will be with us when there are no easy answers, and we can no longer see where we are going.

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This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 17 “Golden Silences”

I love silence. I cultivate it, and seek it out. It is the deepest, most rooted part of my prayer life. And if, for whatever reason, I don’t manage to find any space for silence, I quite quickly become grumpy and snappy. It is the still centre to which I return again and again for refreshment.

And yet, my relationship with silence is not without ambivalence. It is also the place in which I have been confronted with the least likeable bits of myself, wrestled with the hardest decisions of my life, and felt something of the bleak emptiness which St John of the Cross described so well as “the dark night of the soul”.

But for all that, indeed perhaps because of all that, silence remains essential to me. It doesn’t need to be long, or deliberate, or focused (although that type of silence has its place). It doesn’t even have to be quiet. When I was in parish youth ministry, I cultivated the habit, especially at this time of year, of taking a moment of silence before each of the many school carol services. And in the process I discovered the truth that silence is more internal than external. However un-silent my surroundings (and there is nothing less silent than a school orhestra tuning up!) I could find that silence within myself. Conversely, of course, it is possible to sit perfectly quietly for minutes or hours without ever really becoming silent inside myself.

So yes, there are many kinds of silence. But I keep turning back again and again to the deep, still silence on which the rest of my noisy, busy, messy life is built. It is always flowing there beneath the surface – I just need to tune in.


This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 16 “De Profundis”

Perhaps it is because I am not very tall (understatement!) that I can so readily identify with the sense of yearning for something that is just too high to reach. Or perhaps it is that deeper sense of yearning which comes to the surface in Advent, but is always there, yearning to grasp more fully the vision of God set before us.

I am intrigued by the idea of ‘orbit’ in today’s passage. What do I orbit around? What has that central gravitational pull in my life? During some training I did recently, we were asked to identify how we spend our time, energy and money – perhaps the answers to those questions might provide some clue to what is exerting its gravitational pull on us.


This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.

#AdventBookClub – day 15 “Advent (1885)”

This is another poem full of the paradoxes of the Christian life. I was most immediately struck by the verse “Child, parent, bride, companion / Alone, alone, alone.” Rossetti draws out here the terrible alone-ness which can exist even within the inherent related-ness of human beings, and I wondered whether this reflected some aspects of her own, often rather troubled, life.

Then there is the contrast of safety and danger, mystery and revelation, mercy and judgement. All of these, Rossetti manages to hold in tension, and in that tension to express something essential of the often contradictory nature of what it means to be human, and to be in relationship with God.

And then there is that greatest of all Advent paradoxes, the now-and-not-yet of the reality of God’s kingdom, which is both already here and yet to come. It is this paradox which means that we can say in the same act of worship “The Lord is here, God’s spirit is with us” and “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Our liturgy – always, but especially at this season – invites us to inhabit the truth that we are citizens of a kingdom which is both here and still to come, worshiping a God who is both near and far, immanent and transcendent, more vast than the universe and closer than our own breath.


This year for #AdventBookClub a group of us are reading “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Rachel Mann. Join us on Facebook or Twitter for daily reflections and discussions. We are also raising money for the Trussell Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventbookclub2019.