Like all the best people, I’m prone to self-pity. “Why me…?” I might say, or maybe “Everyone else has it better than me…” or “They never have problems, unlike me…” and sometimes “Why can’t I just get a break?” etc. It feels quite good, but it’s really just a way of saying, “Life isn’t treating me the way that I’m entitled to be treated”, and as such self-pity is nothing more than cleverly disguised pride. Well, for me, at least. I’m sure that for you your whining is entirely justified. Read more
The end of a year is a natural time to look back and count your blessings, right? Except sometimes I think that I’m not sure what is a blessing and what isn’t. Sometimes I read these end-of-year letters that people send round and when they say, “God has blessed us in 2015” what they really mean is, “No-one had to go to hospital, the kids are doing well in school and we’re a year closer to paying off the mortgage.”
When Gabriel appeared to Mary he met her with the words, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” In other words, he proclaims Mary to be blessed, but her response is to be ‘greatly troubled’. When I was at university I had to read Fear and Trembling by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard makes the observation that after this meeting, Gabriel did not then pop next door to the neighbours and say, “Do not despise Mary, something extraordinary is happening to her.” Instead Mary had to bear the stigma of pregnancy outside of marriage, and all the shame and misunderstanding that went with it. “Greetings, you who are highly favoured…” said the angel, and then he left. That is why Kierkegaard writes, ‘And is it not also true here that the one whom God blesses he curses in the same breath?’ Mary knew what was going on. Greatly troubled. She understood.
God is gracious to us in our needs and in our wants. Being well-fed and at peace is something to be thankful for, but do we understand that true blessing comes with pain, because true blessing is always about being used by God, furthering the Kingdom and becoming more like Christ? These things carry with them a sharp edge and a responsibility. This is what was in my mind when I wrote ‘Gifts’, a story that appears in The Listening Book. It is also, no doubt, what was in C.S. Lewis’s mind when he wrote the following: ‘We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.’
Here’s to a blessed 2016.
For no reason other than because it’s Christmas, I’m going to post here one of my favourite Christmas poems, by a former Poet Laureate:
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.
Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.