Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Annunciation - a poem

I heard recently an interesting advent sermon from Andrew Robinson (who once contributed stimulating things over here), about Mary. I won’t blame Andrew for anything I write here, but as protestants we can be hasty to throw Mary out completely, as smelling of Catholicism with a mere mention, and yet she has things to teach us, as an exemplary disciple of the Lord, particularly in her response to what is required of her.

In the course of the sermon, Andrew read a couple of portions of the poem The Annunciation by Denise Levertov (whose father, incidentally, was an Anglican priest, though there might be objections to her notion of choice) in particular the lines “Aren't there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives?”. Love it. So here is an unusual advent poem. (And why is there a book on a lecturn and a lily in most annunciation paintings? Put it in google images and see.)

Annunciation, by Auguste Pichon, from Wikigallery.org.

The Annunciation

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lecturn, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whome she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren't there annunciations
of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, spelt
like any other child - but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumpf.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked

a simple, "How can this be?"
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel's reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power -
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love -

but who was God.

~Denise Levertov (poem taken from here).

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent reading

I did start some advent readings this year, and then bombed, superbly. But I have started to read The Jesus Storybook by Sally Lloyd-Jones again, because I love it, and it is relevant after all. Here is the introduction.

Christmas decorating

Well, once again, despite good intentions, Christmas has rushed up at me for another year, in a flurry of unexpected last-minute freelance editing, extra events, shopping ... and I am heading North tomorrow.

But I managed to put together a rather scrappy Christmas assembly, thanks to my discovery of the Pottery Barn outlet (I love Pottery Barn, and the stores are only Sydney and Melbourne, but for some reason Canberra has an outlet - winning!) selling these nice pine branches and berries for next to nothing.

I think my assembly looked better and less happy before it fell over twice, but here it is.

I bought a couple of new decorations, which mean nothing at all, they just went with my knitted/crocheted granny chic style - cute little Swedish people.

But THEN I went out to my Aunt and Uncle's and my Aunt gave me this amazing gift. I've displayed her craftiness here before, but there is oh so much more.

For starters, she made the box from wrapping paper.

Then I opened it and inside were these wondrous creations.

Crocheted pine cones! Perfect for my pine branch extravaganza.

Then, not one, but three, crochet bells. Love them.

A little red robin, than even has legs!

And then because she knows about my thing for red birds and cardinals in particular, a cardinal.

Very special. My pine branches are now just about filled up with the kind of decorations I like best.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Last time I was in a Lindt cafe

So, it’s a sad and strange day here in Australia. Obviously there are a lot of factors to be considered in the siege situation in Martin Place, but my first thought was that the last time I was in a Lindt cafĂ© was Boxing Day last year in Melbourne CBD for a treat with my two nieces. And to think I could have been sitting there with those two dear girls, taking a break from their merry shopping, relishing their hot chocolates and ice-cream, and suddenly been confronted with such a drama just makes me shudder. So, I feel for and pray for those people caught inside.

(I know it’s got nothing to do with anything, but here’s a recent picture of my two gorgeous nieces. My sister got a new phone, and the first day she had it she found this picture on it. They are so lovely and fun.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

There blooms a rose in Bethlehem

The other day I posted this photo and caption on instagram.
"...and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" - Isaiah 35:1. St Saviour's Rose, blossoming during advent.

Then last night I decided to listen to the Sovereign Grace Christmas Album Prepare Him Room, and came upon this new song called There blooms a rose in Bethlehem. Excellent. You can see the lyrics below. It borrows much from Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming, and adds to it.

There blooms a rose in Bethlehem

There blooms a rose in Bethlehem
From tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse’s line this flower grows
As men of old have sung
Isaiah told us long ago
About this rose we’d find
In virgin arms we shall behold
The Savior of mankind

The glories of the heavens
Surrounded shepherds bright
The angels sang, a sign was shown
The Christ was born that night
What mystery they came upon
The sign the heralds laud
In manger slept the Holy One
In flesh, the Son of God

This flow’r in bloom, a scent so sweet
That greets us in the air
It has dispelled with hopefulness
The sting of death’s despair
Foretold, this rose was born to die
But would not see decay
So those who place their faith in Him
Shall blossom from the grave

Words and Music by Neil DeGraide
© 2014 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

You can listen on youtube here. (Though I confess I don't much like that voice or find that recording particularly fabulous - it sounds too strainingly high.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sehnsucht in LM Montgomery

At our last book club meeting we did a summer reading book club. One girl had brought along The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, calling it her favourite comfort book from childhood. I’d never read this particular L.M. Montgomery, so I grabbed it (not without a promise to pass it on to someone else when I am done). I shouldn’t be reading it yet, because there are things to do and I am technically not summer holidays, but I couldn’t resist starting last night.

On page nine I came across this paragraph, which is the main character describing why she reads certain nature books (with a mother who has banned fiction and spending time alone in her room – what cruelty!). It went straight to the Sehnsucht collection, with "faint, elusive echo of lovely forgotten things".
Valancy didn’t know whether she cared much for bugs either. It was not John Foster’s uncanny knowledge of wild creatures and insect life that enthralled her. She could hardly say what it was—some tantalising lure of a mystery revealed—some hint of a great secret just a little further on—some faint, elusive echo of lovely, forgotten things—John Foster’s magic was indefinable.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Further musings on the mess of relationships

I did finish Relationships a Mess Worth Making, by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp, and decided in conclusion, re the difficult situation that I alluded to, that what I need to do is nothing at all. See my way has well and truly “blown up in my face” many times, and I need to give up on my own attempts and leave it to God. And as they say in the book “the vertical aspect of forgiveness is never optional, but [you] can’t single-handedly bring about reconciliation”. There are only so many ways and times you can ask a person if they are willing to have a conversation, and I have tried them all, repeatedly. The last time I exchanged words with the person in question they said “I don’t want to talk about it”, and they haven’t clearly communicated anything to the contrary to me since, and the situation is now such that unless I get an unambiguous yes that they are willing to have a conversation, I simply can’t do anything, and can’t trust that they want me to. All of my trust has proved ill-founded in the past, and I’d be foolish to put any trust in the same things again (and have removed those things that were giving me false reasons to trust so as not to be fooled again). The sad thing is that sometimes I feel that this person behaves the way they do because they don’t actually trust me (which I have tried and tried to fix, only to make it worse), but ultimately that means that I can’t trust them either – because I don’t know what they are going to do out of their mistrust and their reactions are unpredictable, usually hurtful and often damaging.

It’s one of those relational dynamics that became apparent in Lila, by Marilynne Robinson. Because Lila, at least initially, didn’t trust John Ames, or believe in who he was and that he cared for her, she kept hurting and frightening him. Added to that, her assumption that what she said or did didn’t matter to, or affect, others meant that she often hurt those others. The same was true in Coal Creek by Alex Miller: because Daniel, the sheriff, didn’t trust the stockmen, he literally shot at them and caused a whole world of damage. Of course they couldn’t trust him either, because they didn’t know what sort of ill-judged move he was going to make next, and because he was in the position of authority it was him who was believed, and it was always going to go badly for the stockmen.

And so, unless this person is willing to communicate to me that they will have a conversation, then I need to stay well away. And I think I can rest knowing that I did everything that was humanely possible towards a restoration. As Lane and Tripp write “at some point, every relationship brings you to the end of yourself, and with God there is no healthier place to be”. I might actually be there.

Friday, December 05, 2014

For reasons that are hidden from us

Here's a little more of Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Unlike Gilead, this is really the only place in the book where you get one of John Ames's written musings, in answer to one of Lila's questions. I miss those. There is perhaps nothing all that novel here for a contemplative person who has lived and reflected their way through life's losses, but it's good all the same. I particularly liked the point that experience does not accumulate.
One morning he read to her at breakfast, something he had written during the night. “Very rough,” he said. “Half of it I’ve crossed out. And this was supposed to be the clean copy.” He cleared his throat. “So. ‘Things happen for reasons that are hidden from us, utterly hidden for as long as we think they must proceed from what has come before, our guilt or our deserving, rather than coming to us from a future that God in his freedom offers to us.’ My meaning here is that you really can’t account for what happens by what has happened in the past, as you understand it anyway, which may be very different from the past itself. If there is such a thing. ‘The only true knowledge of God is born of obedience,’ that’s Calvin, ‘and obedience has to be constantly attentive to the demands that are made of it, to a circumstance that is always new and particular to its moment.’ Yes. ‘Then the reasons that things happen are still hidden, but they are hidden in the mystery of God.’ I can’t read my own writing. No matter. ‘Of course misfortunes have opened the way to blessings you would never have thought to hope for, that you would not have been ready to understand as blessings if they had come to you in your youth, when you were uninjured, innocent. The future always finds us changed.’ So then it is part of the providence of God, as I see it, that blessings or happiness can have very different meanings from one time to another. ‘This is not to say that joy is a compensation for loss, but that each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognized for what it is. Sorrow is very real, and loss feels very final to us. Life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvelous. Our experience is fragmentary. Its parts don’t add up. They don’t even belong in the same calculation. Sometimes it is hard to believe they are all parts of one thing. Nothing makes sense until we understand that experience does not accumulate like money, or memory, or like years and frailties. Instead, it is presented to us by a God who is not under any obligation to the past except to His eternal, freely given constancy.’ Because I don’t mean to suggest that experience is random or accidental, you see. ‘When I say that much the greater part of our existence is unknowable by us because it rests with God, who is unknowable, I acknowledge His grace in allowing us to feel that we know any slightest part of it. Therefore we have no way to reconcile its elements, because they are what we are given out of no necessity at all except God’s grace in sustaining us as creatures we can recognize as ourselves.’ That’s always seemed remarkable to me, that we can do that. That we can’t help but do it. ‘So joy can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other.’”

Monday, December 01, 2014

Sunday (on Monday)

There is a lot of singing of liturgy involved in my church, but my favourite part has to be the Agnus Dei, sung after the congregation takes their seats, before going forward to communion. The melancholic in me loves this part. I was trying to find a recording or the name of the tune and composer online the other day, and couldn't, so yesterday I ran off with a hymn book.

Also, I was in a majestic Cathedral for an ordination service on Saturday, seated in the beams from lofty stained glass windows, and we sung this. I was moved, I have to say.