Saturday, 31 December 2011

The hand that made us

A picture from one of my favourite websites, NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, by Masahiro Miyasaka. It was taken in Japan, but I have been looking at similar wintry starscapes in East Anglia this week. As a caption I would choose the following words from Amos:

      Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion; 
      He turns the shadow of death into morning 
      And makes the day dark as night; 
      He calls for the waters of the sea 
      And pours them out on the face of the earth; 
      The LORD is His name. 
(Amos 5:8)

Where we are staying is surrounded by fields, giving space for a huge sky overhead - a real 'bowl of night'. And enough darkness to see many, many stars including our own Milky Way, which I can't see at home. I've been watching Orion striding across the sky each evening, with Sirius at his heels. It evokes childhood memories - I think Orion is one of the first constellations most of us learn to recognise. I've always loved dogs and as a child I was delighted to think there was a dog-star in the heavens; I remember too a story I had read to me about Orion as a sort of Father Christmas figure, bringing gifts and protection to small creatures in the depth of winter. Later I learned about the Pleiades, and was able to identify them too. The weather has been unseasonably mild, and I've found a strange pleasure in feeling cold, my face and fingertips tingling as I gaze at the sky, hearing only the whistling wind and the odd owl. With a warm house to scuttle back to of course!

The papers and television are full of reviews of the year, which mostly seems to amount to vacuous stories about 'celebrities' and memories of war, rioting, shootings, stabbings, and financial hardship; I'm also aware of friends who have much suffering to bear just now. How do I hold the reality of this in my heart and still feel a magical, innocent awe at the sight of the night sky? I wonder if there is some sort of answer in that verse from Amos: seek him...
This week is crammed with saints' days, with stories of brutality that sit grimly at odds with our celebration of the Child in the manger. The Holy Innocents and Stephen, and a fast- forward to Thomas of Canterbury, whose murder shows how Christ's Church was behaving a millennium later. But right there among them is John the Evangelist who wrote Good News and reminds us that 'the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it'.

I believe there is, truly, a 'Love that moves the stars'. At school we used to sing Joseph Addison's hymn 'The Spacious Firmament' which says of the stars:

In Reason's Ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious Voice,
For ever singing, as they shine,
The Hand that made us is Divine.

And I've learned a new word! I had a quick glance at Wikipedia just now to check on the myth of the Pleiades and found the wonderful word Catasterism (no, I didn't think the spellcheck would like it). It means that the seven sisters were, literally, turned into stars. Which reminds me of something C S Lewis wrote, and I'll end with that:

'We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more-something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it.
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words-to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it...
For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth
as prophecy.'

I wish you a new year filled with brightness and hope.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Greetings

St Francis, in Deacon's vestments, places the Child in the crib at Greccio (Giotto, in the upper church, Assisi)

 'I will make myself a poor little unworthy servant and, as though present, look upon them [Jesus, Mary and Joseph], contemplate them and serve them in their needs with all possible homage and reverence.' (Ignatius Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises #114)

'I've taken my place among you as the one who serves' (Luke 22:27, The Message)

Every blessing to you for Christmas, and for 2012 (which will bring the 25th anniversary of my ordination as Deacon)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Long Night

Today's 'O' Antiphon is O Oriens:

'O Dayspring, Brightness of Light everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness, and the shadow of death.'

In this part of our world, we come to the shortest day of the year.Here is part of a Christmas/winter solstice chant from the Isle of Barra:

'This night is the long night,
it will snow and it will drift,
white snow there will be till day,
white moon there will be till morn.
This night is the eve of the Great Nativity,
this night is born Mary Virgin's Son,
this night is born Jesus, Son of the King of Glory...'

As I write the winter Sun is veiled in thick cloud (full of snow?), but the other evening,while walking with our dog, I saw its light reflected by both Jupiter and Venus - like bright lamps against the clear, frosty twilight. Kingship and Love; Power and Beauty. I love the way the physical heavens can teach us the things of God... In  William Blake's words:

'"What," it will be Question'd, "when the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?" O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty."'

Saturday, 17 December 2011

O Sapientia

My first post on my new blog... Welcome, if you've found your way here! These sacred last days of Advent feel like a good time to start. It seems a very 'thin' time, when heaven and earth are close, and I am lucky enough to find myself at the beginning of a quieter week before Christmas. I had my last commute into the City yesterday, for my last supervision group of the year, and coffee and lunch with two good 'soul friends' - a chance for some rich conversations. And my first sight of snow this winter! Today brings us the first of the ancient Advent 'O' antiphons:

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

(O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usage ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae. You'll find out that I like Latin...)

The whole of creation 'sweetly ordered' by Divine Wisdom. My butterfly mind takes me to the sweet feast prepared by Wisdom in Proverbs 91-6 (just before this we read that God’s Wisdom is ‘at play everywhere in his world, delighting to be with the sons of men'). In the Jerusalem Bible this passage has the lovely heading ‘Wisdom as Hostess’. I remember too the phrase my spiritual director gave me to hold on to when life feels hard: at the heart of the universe is consolation.

Savour God's sweet Wisdom. And thanks for stopping by. (Isn't that what bloggers say? Remember, I'm new to this!)