Saturday, 1 December 2012

Lights in the darkness

Brightening my journey home

On Wednesday evening this week I was walking home past our local Anglican church and saw through the glass doors of the parish hall a Christmas tree blazing with lights. For a few seconds I entertained a few grumpy it's-not-even-Advent thoughts, but then I reverted to my first, instinctive reaction: what a lovely thing to see on a cold, dark evening! I realised I was smiling.

Intellectually I can see the point of the traditional rants about how the world misses the point of Christmas by ignoring Advent and anticipating the "season to be jolly" (and, have you noticed, the rants start earlier each year? It's not right...). But in my un-reconstructed heart I simply love the first appearance of lights and tinsel. I start looking forward to it as soon as the clocks go back.

As my train rumbles its way towards Waterloo through Vauxhall it passes the headquarters of the Pimlico Plumbers, and at the beginning of each November they put up a wonderful display of Christmas decorations - snowmen, reindeer, penguins (?), Father Christmases - yes, all that stuff! - along the roof of the building so it's right alongside the train windows. Some people complain, apparently, but I look forward to it each year. It really cheers me up, particularly on the journey home  when the lights are switched on. And I love the way my friends in the north of Sweden hang wreaths of lights (which we'd regard as Christmas-specific) in their windows at the beginning of the dark time and keep them there till the days lengthen.

When I was making the Spiritual Exercises in daily life, I began the part about the Incarnation in late autumn. I was then working near Oxford Street in London and I can remember going into the John Lewis department store where they had just set up their Christmas department. Not many people were there yet, and it was wonderful to walk around looking at all the baubles and tinsel and thinking, "nobody might realise or remember, but this is for Him!"  I surprised my two colleagues by bringing each of them back a little sparkly star.

I hope you'll excuse a shameless plug, but a couple of years ago I contributed a chapter to a book about urban spirituality (I don't get a penny for this, honestly! Got nothing for writing it, either...) in which I wrote this (it came from a conversation with my spiritual director):

A moment will meet you, perhaps when at dusk you turn a corner into a street of shops and see for the first time that the Christmas lights have been switched on. For the space of a breath you will see through the tawdriness and consumerism to the sheer beauty. And in another breath you know that this is all for the Incarnation of the God whose love pervades the universe, and that you, the lights, the shoppers, the city are utterly dependent on this unconditional love. A moment of ‘radical amazement.’

Does this ring any bells for you? I'd love to know what you think.


  1. I love this, Antonia! Not coming from a liturgical church, Advent isn't a barrier to appreciating the lights and decorations. In recent years, they enhance my experience of Advent - anticipating the coming of THE Light.
    Kathy R.

    1. Welcome Kathy, and thanks for your comment. I do love the liturgy of Advent - and the music - to the extent that I often wish the season were longer. It's one of my favourite times of the Church's year. AND I enjoy the appearance of the lights and decorations. Maybe I'm trying to have it all, but they work together for me. As you say, anticipating the coming of THE Light. Good to see you here!

  2. May His Light shine brighter in our hearts.

    God bless.

  3. YES this rings bells for me! Ding ding ding! I recently posted something on one of my blogs that I THINK makes a similar point (at least, that's what I was going for..).

    I've been reading back through your posts, and I love the way you write.

  4. Thank you, Nancy. You're very welcome here, and I hope you'll be back! I'm going to have a look at your blog...


I'd love to read your comments, and I'll try to reply to each one.