When I was about eight my Brownie pack performed the Tiger Tiger poem with sillhouettes – we had a big white sheet with a floodlight behind it and spent weeks cutting out the tiger and palm fronds and long grass to stick on long sticks and to use as puppets of sorts. I was a little Brownie and so the ‘big girls’ did most of the performing and I didn’t really follow what happened and why, but it is a very distinct memory for me because I think it introduced me to the notion of creating illusion and how powerful and convincing that can be.
This Christmas Eve (one of my favourite anticipatory days of Christmas) and in the last day of the Advent season and #adventwithme movement for 2012 I’ve spent the day sitting on the fence of tension between excitement and pleasure and sadness and pain.
We had a party last night which was great fun, full of brilliant people, our house full of lovely food and drink and plans for walks and runs outdoors, cleaning up, wrapping gifts, not going anywhere and anticipating the stocking preparations for Father Christmas are what I love about this day. All this has been overshadowed with a heaviness after my early experience of the day at the local social services family centre witnessing the crowds of family members and children ‘visiting’ with one another in institutionalised, supervised rooms, overcompensating with gifts, gifts that don’t necessarily relate to the personality of the child or adult receiving and a sense of fracture both in family make up, ritual and experience. Accompanying this is the knowledge that close friends are grieving the absence of family members, the noise of them, the disruption to a christmas routine which may have been established over a lifetime and a sense of not-rightness in their absence. Two little people that we are loving and looking after who are caught up in the middle of this had a blast in icy December air yesterday, a welcome distraction to their loss and half the time you really can forget about the absence stuff – until Christmas comes along…
I am not sure what it is about Christmas, and I assume it’s Christmas in the West, that creates the buzz and ‘magic’ of Christmas being a ‘family’ time. Every homeless charity, older person’s staff member, police officer, social worker, doctor, nurse or suicide counsellor will tell you that Christmas is a difficult, tense and lonely time for many people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life. Being aware of this burden of sadness today I’ve been discussing with my partner that way that Christmas is like the big spotlight behind the white sheet highlighting the brokeness of people and relationships and the illusion we are all living under that peace, stability and meaning can be bought with things and maintained by appearance.
I love the divinity stories and ritual we have in the Christian tradition, I think I’m privileged to have recovered them enough to be meaningful and whilst there’s intonation and image of ‘good news’ ‘do not be afraid’ ‘good tidings’ I find there is still drama, mess, brokeness and trembling wrapped up in the nativity tale and because of that I find it revelatory not despite it. We hear in some of the most ancient words in scripture and the echoes of carols through the centuries this complexitiy in reflection and of mystery that I’ve tried to draw upon during the #adventwithme movement and season.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given-
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O Little Town Of Bethlehem – 1868
I’ve been earnestly pursuing an advent that has a more embodied experience this year and as the season closes I’m provoked and challenged to figure out how to embody Christmas better, I don’t quite know how it could go without swinging between pleasure and guilt. Right now family is a good and peaceful place to be, being at home is enjoyable, exciting and creative for me; I know this is not so for many and indeed, we invite those with broken stuff in to experience something not broken (yet I check myself from being too naive or too pessimistic with regard to how this may change). Guilt moves us to volunteer, to give things away, to not enjoy our joy too much, but embodying the brokeness and joy? the preciousness and the heaviness? how do we do this? How does Christmas and some of the specialness and contemplation that nourishes us stay meaningful without being disembodied and disconnected? how do we stop Christmas from becoming smug, cheesy and irrelevant? This isn’t a call to discover or remember the ‘real meaning’ at all, I guess I’d frame it more as a call to do Christmas well, holistically and with both promise and breakage.
Before I sign off the #adventwithme series I will leave you with some other words and thoughts from contemplators who’ve been part of my inspiration and/or consciousness this last week:
‘Flannel pajamas, soot-stained script
Candles in the kitchen,
I remember always watching that wax drip
As we sing songs of the one coming, and to the one who came
And it’s all sorts of awkward, the highs and lows that we sang’
‘The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?’
‘Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder…
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.’
Thank you to everyone who has participated in this: Sarah Milne and the Anything But Ordinary show/podcast, the followers and commenters, check out the Belfast One, Belfast Two and London bloggers which are just a sample , thanks to the tweeters, facebookers and emailers as well as those who have pressed copied poems into my hands, taken turns at childcare in order to read quietly in their evenings, walked or run a little more and raised a glass to toast advent and/or #adventwithme.
We took it back – some time, some energy, our bodies and our peace, where we could and when we could.
Being people, small people, trying and failing all at the same time – G-d with us.