Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Nativity - by GK Chesteron

I came upon this nativity poem by Chesterton that I have not seen before. I like it - it romps along in a fashion reminiscent of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. But I am not really sure about the final verse and what he is trying to do with it. It needs more pondering.

The Nativity

The thatch on the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind had a peal as of trumpets,
Though blowing and barren and cold,
The mother's hair was a glory
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming
      A child was born.

Have a myriad children been quickened.
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered
      A child is born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires, like dreams unremembered,
Huge cities for ages laid low?
This at least—that with blight and with blessing
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them,
      "A child is born".

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove,
Still the plumes stir around us, above us
The wings of the shadow of love:
Oh! princes and priests, have ye seen it
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes,
       A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the wise men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened.
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is enthroned; yea, the sternest,
      A child is born.

And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things,
Still feels that high moment unfurling
Red glory of Gabriel's wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, anointed,
      A child is born.

And thou, that art still in thy cradle,
The sun being crown for thy brow.
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer,
Say, whence art thou come—who art thou?
Art thou come back on earth for our teaching
To train or to warn—?
Hush—how may we know?—knowing only
      A child is born.

~G.K. Chesterton (ca. 1902)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Where the love really is at Christmas

I bought this little wooden nativity scene this year. One day I am going to make one, but till then.

So, it was my last day of work for 2016 yesterday. I feel quite chuffed with myself that in the last few weeks I gave myself a hasty crash course in Adobe InDesign (there was a lot of googling!) and made a newspaper. I received the Christmas Message from the Bishop on Wednesday, squeezed it in, took a deep breath and printed a gazillion, then yesterday put mountains of them in the mail, so I can now take rest in peace.

Once again I am flying off by myself over Christmas to do another tour of the relatives and maybe a couple of old friends, as the weird and unloved spinster. I don’t particularly enjoy doing this (though I am keen to see my grandparents in particular), and answering all the questions (can you tell?), but I accept that this is the life God has given me to live.

And I know that, for all the talk about “family” and “loved ones” at Christmas, that’s not what it’s for. And I know that ultimately I am not unloved (and that someone did indeed take the initiative). As dear old Christina Rossetti wrote, love came down at Christmas. Here’s that poem in full:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

And I think this quote from Marilynne Robinson deserves a repost. Even when love seems at its most elusive here on earth, God loves us with this wondrous love. I don’t object to the ‘love narrative’. God didn’t send his Son down here simply to make a penal substitutionary atonement. That would have been completely unnecessary if he didn’t love us enough to consider that worth doing. Higher than the point that God is angry with our sin and too Holy to suffer it, such that he had to send his Son to the cross to reconcile us, is the fact that he cared enough to do it, rather than atomise us in an instant. But here is Marilynne Robinson on the point:
There is a great old American hymn that sounds like astonishment itself, and I mention it here because even its title speaks more powerfully of the meaning of our narrative than whole shelves of books. It is called “Wondrous Love”. “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss / to bear the dreadful cross for my soul?” If we have entertained the questions we moderns must pose to ourselves about the plausability of the incarnation, if we have sometimes paused to consider the other ancient stories of miraculous birth, this is no great matter. But if we let these things distract us, we have lost the main point of the narrative, which is that God is of a kind to love the world extravagantly, wondrously, and the world is of a kind to be worth, which is not to say worthy of, this pained and rapturous love. This is the essence of the story that forever eludes telling. It lives in the world not as myth or history but as a saturating light...
~ When I Was A Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson

I don’t leave till Tuesday, and the urge to post something might strike again before then, but if not I hope anyone still out there reading here has a joyful Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A little Wendell Berry observation

I really need to get back into the swing of blogging. I've had an old childhood friend visiting for the weekend (who was happy to take up her book at any opportunity, which is my sort of house guest! - you know they are happy with a little bit of nothingness). We went to the National Museum and saw the A History of the World in 100 Objects exhibit from the British Museum. The truth is, it was perhaps not quite as amazing as I was expecting it to be, but I am pleased I saw it.

I thought I'd share a little Wendell Berry. There is a character in his novels called Burley Coulter. I have quite a soft spot for Burley, though he is not one one who has walked the straight and narrow. Here is a  passage that shows the beautiful way Berry observes the simple things. He commenting on the tobacco harvesting:
I never caught up with Elton and Nathan and Danny, or came anywhere near it, but at least when the rows were straight I always had them in sight, and I loved to watch them. Though they kept an even, steady pace, it was not a slow one. They drove into the work, maintaining the same pressing rhythm form one end of the row to the other, and yet they worked well, as smoothly and precisely as dancers. To see them moving side by side against the standing crop, leaving it fallen, the field changed, behind them, was maybe like watching Homeric soldiers going into battle. It was momentous and beautiful, and touchingly, touchingly mortal. They were spending themselves as they worked, giving up their time; they would not return by the way they went.

The good crew men among us were Burley and Elton. When the sun was hot and the going hard, it would put heart into us to hear Burley singing out down the row some scrap of human sorry that his flat, exuberant voice both expressed and mocked:

Allll our sins and griefs to bear – oh!

– that much only, raised abruptly out of the silence like the howl of some solitary dog. Or he would sing with a lovelorn quaver in his voice:

Darlin', fool yourself and love me one more time.

And when we were unloading the wagons in the barn, he would start his interminable tale about his life as a circus teamster. It was not meant to be believed, and yet in our misery we listened to his extravagant wonderful lies as if he had been Marco Polo returned from Cathay.
From That Distant Land, a short story in the book of the same title.