Love Life Live Advent – 22nd December – Say Sorry

Today’s action: What do you need to say sorry for, or to let go of before Christmas? Give it to God.

Christmas is a time when we sing of ‘Peace on earth’ but can often experience the opposite – busyness, worry about money, and visits from relatives can all create tension and make tempers run high, just at a time when we most desire peace of heart and mind.

If there’s someone you really need to say sorry to, think about how best to do it.  Sometimes a handwritten letter goes a long way, sometimes a face to face apology is what’s needed.  Giving a gift, especially something home-made that needed some time and effort, can be a powerfully helpful part making peace with someone.

Often, though, it’s just a general sense that time has left us a bit worn and scuffed, or simply need to make peace with ourselves about the past year.  It can help to do something (as well as think it) to let go of any regrets.  Why not try one of these ideas?

  • On a cold day, you can breathe onto a window pane, and then write in the condensation. Try writing something down that you want to leave behind, then as you give your thoughts to God, wipe it off and spend a moment finding something beautiful in what you can see out of the window.
  • Write down your regret on a small piece of paper and (very carefully) burn it in a candle flame as you offer your thoughts to God. Spend a moment enjoying the warmth and light of the candle flame.
  • Take an object that looks as if it doesn’t have much left to offer (a dead twig, a small screwed up ball of paper etc, a dried up leaf), and give it a new lease of life by spraying it gold – attach a loop of thread to it and hang it on your tree – as you do so, offer yourself to God with all your faults and failings as well as all your gifts, and ask him to do something wonderful with you this year.
  • Hold a shiny Christmas tree bauble in your hand, so that you can see your face reflected in it. Think about what you see – the things about yourself that make you happy, and the things you’d like to change. As you look at your own reflection, ask God to help you see yourself as he sees you.

Love Life Live Advent – 15th December – poems & pictures

We had a little time left over after we finished our Jesse Tree at children’s chapel on Sunday morning, so we got ahead and did some work on the task of drawing some pictures for the Christmas story for today’s task. christmas pictures
There were quite a lot of angels (because we’d just made the angel bauble for our Jesse Tree) but also the odd other item from the tree – Noah and his rainbow are there, as is a heart/flower combination representing Mary, and a wonderfully complex set of heart symbols for different ideas about God from one of our six year olds!

2013-03-08 00.29.35I was too busy picking up pens and pairs of scissors to draw a picture at children’s chapel, so here’s one I made earlier. It’s acrylic paint on canvas, and if you squint a little it’s the Holy Family. Mostly the colours are about the love that exists between the three figures, and that seems to me to be at the heart of Christmas.

For completeness’ sake, here is a poem that I wrote for Christmas last year – it’s really a sermon I wrote (which was based on the lovely Christmas collect that talks about heaven touching earth) then condensed into a sonnet!

Prophetic visions since the world began
(so far before salvation’s human birth)
would speak of God’s tremendous loving plan
for heav’n to touch the long-estrangèd earth.
Those ancient words at last began to be
in flesh and skin and bone and blood unfurled
In maiden womb and half-made family –
so heaven stooped to touch a fallen world.
Amongst the stable beasts behind the inn,
the baby’s eyes saw first a loving mother;
even though their world was full of sin,
yet heav’n touched earth for each in one another.
Now we cry for peace, goodwill to men,
and for God’s heaven to touch his earth again.

@OurCofE asked us for our favourite carols, and now the results are in!

With huge thanks to the fabulous Paula Gooder, who was tweeting as @OurCofE this week, for instigating this entirely unofficial vote, and for compiling the results for us, here is the final ranking – a few predictable choices, but some lovely surprise inclusions too.

The voting rules were simple: there were no rules! People could nominate as many carols as they liked, favourited tweets were counted too, and Paula even allowed quite a bit of leeway when it came to defining what could count as a carol. Advent hymns are in, and only ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ failed to meet the not-very-strict criteria! Enjoy…

1. In the top spot was the wonderful In the bleak midwinter, with a whopping 27 nominations. The words are by Christina Rosetti, and this is a Christmas that those of us who live in her native England will recognise: the snow may be unbiblical, but it helps those of us who dream of a white Christmas to become part of the Christmas story, to feel that it is also our story. The survey didn’t specify a particular tune, so although congregations find it easier to sing the tune by Gustav Holst, choral singers will always vote for the setting by Harold Darke.

2. The second spot fell to Of the Father’s love begotten, with 23 votes (if you’re not familiar with this one, you can hear it as sung on Songs of Praise in 1997!). The words are by the great fifth century Roman poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, and were translated into English by J M Neale in the 19th Century. If hymns were wine and readings were food, this is a good wine that would be recommended with a main course of John 1.1-14.

3. At number 3 was It Came upon the Midnight Clear, with 19 votes. It was written in 1849 by a Unitarian pastor from Massachussetts, Edmund Sears. Many who nominated this carol did so for the hope it brings of an ever-present angelic song in the midst of human sin and conflict.

=4. Hark! The herald angels sing was always going to make the top ten. With harmonies by Mendelssohn, and words by Charles Wesley, what’s not to like? Surprisingly, though, our number four carols only received 11 nominations.

=4. In equal fourth place was O Holy Night. Much recorded, variously arranged, well sung it delivers a well-aimed shiver down all but the hardiest of spines.

The best of the rest… here’s the full list:

With 9 nominations:
Silent Night – always popular, but this year with special significance during the WW1 centenery.

With 8 nominations:
O Come all ye faithful – many people mentioned the glorious last verse that we can only sing on Christmas day!
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

With 6 nominations:
Joy to the World
The Angel Gabriel
O Little Town of Bethlehem

With 5 nominations:
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (we’re assuming it’s the Elizabeth Poston version)

With 4 nomination:
Bethlehem Down (with fabulous music by Peter Warlock)
Coventry Carol

With 3 nominations:
Fairy Tale in New York
God Rest ye merry, Gentlemen
Hills of the North Rejoice
I saw three ships
In Dulci Jubilo
Let all mortal flesh keep silent
Once in Royal David’s City

With 2 nominations:
A spotless Rose
Angels from the realms of glory
Candlelight Carol
Christians awake
The Three Kings (Peter Cornelius)
Whence is this Stupendous Stranger
While Shepherds Watched their Flocks

And finally with just 1 nomination each:
A Great and Mighty Wonder
Away in a Manger

Born in the Night Mary’s Child
Christ Be our Light (Bernadette Farrell)
Glorious Light (Krystyn Getty et al)
Good King Wenceslas
Hee Haw Hee Haw doesn’t anybody care?
Huron Carol
Infant Holy
Lo He comes with Clouds Descending
Make Way for Christmas (Kendrick)
Personent Hodie
Quelle est cette odeur
Ring out the Bells at Christmas time
Shepherds Farewell
Sussex Carol
The First Noel
The Silver Stars
This is the Truth sent from Above
Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy
Wake O Wake with Tidings Thrilling
We Three Kings
What Sweeter Music (Rutter)
When Love Came down to Earth
Come and join the celebration

My take on the list? There are quite a few carols that we sing a lot, that really didn’t get that many nominations (Away in a manger springs to mind), and others that were really well supported but don’t seem to make it into our carol services as often as they deserve (Of the Father’s love begotten). What do you think?  Was your favourite carol missing from the list, or under-appreciated? Tell us in a comment!  And more importantly, tell us why your chosen carol means so much to you, and what it say about the heart of Christmas.

Love Life Live Advent – 4th December – Where did all this stuff come from?

…and more to the point, how can I get it to go away?

In August this year we moved house. But we didn’t just move house, we moved continents. And jobs. Just for a year.  But given that there was no way we could afford to put our whole 4-bedroom vicarage worth of accumulated stuff in storage, we had to downsize. We started downsizing about eight months before we left. We stopped replacing broken items, we ruthlessly combed our wardrobes for clothes we didn’t really wear (enough to populate a whole charity shop, I think!), we gave away the toys that the children had grown out of, and we thought we’d done quite well.

Then it came to actually moving. The removal people came and estimated how many boxes we’d need, and we laughed. ‘We haven’t got that much stuff!’ we said. We were wrong. We filled many, many boxes. Dozens. We asked Emmaus to come and take away all the furniture we didn’t have room for, a friend kindly took two van loads (yes, van loads) of stuff to the tip for us, and then on the day we moved out we still ended up with enough for two trips to the charity shop and enough bin bags of absolute rubbish that my poor parents ended up making six more trips to the tip for us after we’d gone…..

Where did it all come from? How and why on earth were we sharing our house with such a huge amount of stuff that we didn’t need?  And if we hadn’t been moving abroad,  would we have simply carried on living with it, accumulating more and more, until we finally couldn’t move at all?

And why, as I sit here in our rented house thousands of miles away, can I see piles of stuff on every surface? We only brought a suitcase each, how can we possibly be creating clutter so quickly and effortlessly?  Especially as come July we know we’ll be packing our lives into one suitcase each again to come home!

I am getting more and more certain that clutter is the only thing now that ever gets created ex nihilo.

I don’t know many people who wouldn’t be nodding their heads at at least some of what I’ve written here. Stuff arrives in most houses most days, and it’s jolly hard to find a way of dealing with it so that it doesn’t take over. Here are some things that I’ve tried, with mixed success:

  • Have a recycling bag/box/container easily accessible so that if you see something that can be recycled, you can put it in there straight away with little or no effort (step two of this is to actually empty the recycling into the wheelie bin, of course, before it overflows….).  You may need recycling bins in every room if you’re anything like us.
  • Have a box/bag/container near the front door marked ‘Charity shop’ and put in it anything that’s finished with but good enough for someone else to want.  When you next go into town or get a genuine charity bag through the door, it’ll be easy to make sure your stuff gets to a new home.
  • On that subject, if you have children, get them into the habit of telling you when they have grown out of clothes or toys and putting them straight into the charity shop container by the door.
  • Whenever you tidy up, think about whether each item you’re putting away is needed (and if you have trouble fitting it in the cupboard or drawer, earmark that cupboard or drawer for next time you have time to do a proper sort out, as in today’s Love Life Live Advent action.

It can be hard to throw things away.  The best advice I got when we were preparing for our big move was rather than trying to decide what to get rid of, I should decide what I absolutely had to keep.  It really concentrated the mind, and was strangely liberating.  It was amazing what we found we could live without.  We no longer have a television.  We do not have any of our CDs.  We only have a small proportion of our books (but yes, the rest are all in storage waiting for us when we get back – there are limits to what I’ll say goodbye to!).  We have one of something instead of ten of them.  We are living less cluttered lives than we were.

But yes, we still have ‘stuff’ and I am still hopeful that by the time we return to the UK next year we’ll have better learned how to live without that, too.

Tidying a shelf or drawer is a microcosm of what you do when you have to downsize. It’s a chance to do some good things:

  • You can make some space in a room that can become beautiful, calm, or useful.
  • You can start to work out what’s rubbish and what’s good, and what’s rubbish to you but gold to someone else, and both you and they will benefit from transferring ownership!
  • You can find things that have long been lost, and enjoy them all over again.
  • You can work out what really matters – what you actually need, not just what’s accumulated around you.

In the Christmas Story, the Holy Family unexpectedly have to up sticks and journey to their ancestral town,and then later had to flee for their lives to Egypt.  They would have had far less luggage than we had when we moved. They would have had to think so carefully about what they really couldn’t live without, and take only those things. Across the world, millions of people live like that every day, displaced by natural disaster and conflict.

So, finally, some prayerful thoughts as you clear your shelf:

Lord Jesus, you came into the world with nothing
save the love of your family
and your love for the world,
help me to cherish the things that matter,
and sit lightly to the rest.

Lord Jesus, across the world
some live in plenty, and some in poverty,
may the goods that I have be shared more justly,
and may the giving bring freedom
to me, to those in need, and to your world.

Lord Jesus, my mind is full
with clutter of all kinds,
speak your peace into the stresses of the season,
and focus my heart on the story of your coming,
so that I will have room for you.

Lord Jesus,
Bless this bin and those who work hard to process my rubbish,
Bless these donations, and all the giving and receiving this Christmas,
Bless this clear space,
in its emptiness, let it bring calm,
and if it is filled, let it be with things
that will bring happiness and wholeness
to all in this house.