Christmas Poem, by G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Tuesday, 16th December – A good excuse?

So, I didn’t blog on Sunday or yesterday, and I can’t even plead busy-ness as an excuse. Well, that is not strictly true, I have been busy, but I have also managed to write blog posts on days that I have been just as, if not more, busy than this Sunday and Monday. I suppose end-of-term tiredness has caught up with me. There were moments in the past couple of days when I could have organised my thoughts and written something, but it was easier to sit down and zone out. Last night I fell asleep whilst praying – I woke up at six o’clock in the morning and was very confused to find the light still on. Oops.

So yes, tiredness is my excuse for breaking my blogging resolution, but I am back and intend to make myself recompense for the absent days. (I DO need to write about the Third Sunday of Advent, I love Gaudete Sunday!) But what it made me think of are the excuses I use for putting things off.

Sometimes excuses are legitimate and allowances have to be made. But as someone who is generally healthy and happy, I have a sneaking suspicion that I use the excuses ‘busy’ and ‘tired’ too much. Even when I am busy and tired, a little more organisation and earlier bedtimes could tweak the situation to be far more manageable (she says, typing at gone midnight…).

My real point is that nomatter how busy we get, we always make time for the things that are most important to us – and, conversely, we are all very good at being unavailable when obligations that we’re not too keen on come up.

Advent is a good time to assess our priorities and do some clear and decisive ordering. How much time am I spending watching videos online vs reading those books I’ve been meaning to? How much time do I spend trawling through Facebook vs actually skyping or writing to or visiting my friends when I can? And, of course, how much time do I spend thinking about my own wants and concerns and opinions vs dedicating time to God in prayer?

And by dedicating I mean dedicating; purposefully setting time aside in each day to spend in conversation with Him, and more importantly, listening for Him. This is so important and so valuable, and yet I struggle with it. I pray every day, as I go from task to task generally, trying to gage what God would have me do in each situation, asking for His help, giving thanks, etc., etc. I do believe this is important, making every part of your life a dialogue with God, if you will. But there is a difference between talking to Him as you go about your daily business, and making a conscious decision to pause your daily business and spend time with Him.

It helps me to think of it in terms of human relationships. My close family members and best friends would be happy to help me out if I needed assistance, and we could spend time completing a task together quite merrily. But I wouldn’t only to spend time with me when I have work that I need their help with. It is a given that we plan times together which are solely for enjoying each other’s’ company. If we do this for our friends and family, how much more should we do it with God!

I think about it, too, in terms of spiritual nourishment. A quotation about prayer that I’m rather fond of is the following, from C. S. Lewis:

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.

Prayer isn’t merely a helpful option, it is a universal need. The above quotation perceives and expresses that need wonderfully; the need that is with all of us, whether or not we can see it or feel it ourselves. And we should take that need seriously into consideration when working out how to make prayer a priority in our daily lives.

If a friend said to you, ‘Oh, I haven’t eaten in a week, I’ve been so busy,’ you wouldn’t say ‘Oh, well you’ve had a lot going on at work, that’s totally understandable.’ You would be concerned. You would probably sit them down, give them food, and make them eat there and then, all the while telling them about how they need to be looking after themselves and offering assistance and advice on how to improve the situation.

I’m not saying that if someone tells us that they haven’t prayed in a while we should frogmarch them to the nearest church and sit with them until they’ve prayed an entire rosary with you. (This may not be particularly helpful in some cases… in others, though…) But we should take this seriously. Human beings are both body and soul, and we need to look after both. Don’t let hectic activity – or ‘hectivity’, as I now like to call it – in life cause you to starve your soul and weaken your relationship with God. Take this time of year as an opportunity to turn to Him anew, and ask Him to show you how to spend more time with Him.

Saturday, 13th December

I that I am often and easily preoccupied by the question of whether or not I do enough to show God to others in my life. (Goodness, that was a long-winded sentence.) It’s easy to get caught up in concerns about whether or not I am sharing my faith in my actions and conversations with people; whether or not I reach out to people enough; whether or not I let God work through me as much as He wants me to. There’s a danger in an aim to do God’s will and do good for others becoming a matter of self-absorption.

One way to combat this is to turn matters on their heads. If the thought of how you can let God work in your life to help others has become too you-centric, put it aside for a moment – just to gain some perspective. Instead, spend a moment thinking of the people in your life. Your family and friends; the people who you love and who brighten your every day. Think about how you can see God in them; how their love in your life makes God more tangible to you. Give glory to God for putting these people in your life, and helping you on your way through them!

We are all made in God’s image, and it is easiest to see this in those whom we know and cherish. But it is important to look for God in every person we encounter. To remember that every human being was given freedom of choice and dignity by the Almighty, and that He loves each one of us infinitely. Each one of us.

Reach out to people in Advent; don’t be afraid to share your faith! Invite people to a carol service, to midnight mass. Talk about the real meaning of Christmas. But don’t do it because you feel you ought to; do it because you have seen and felt God at work in your life through other people, and you are thankful for that.

(This post is rather more unfocused and fragmentary than usual; I will aim to return to this subject it at a later date.)

Thursday, 11th December – Advent-calendar musings

I’ve never really got into the yearly habit of buying Advent calendars. My family has a few at home that I really love though. One is a miniature Christmas tree standing on a chest of 24 little drawers, with a tiny decoration inside each. Every day a drawer is opened and an ornament placed on the tree, so that by the time Christmas arrives the tree is splendidly decorated and ready for celebration. The others were the traditional card ones, with a little door to be opened for every day of Advent, to reveal a little picture or Scripture reading inside.

(I can’t find many pictures of religious advent calendars, and that makes me sad! 😦 )

We never really went in for the chocolate Advent calendars, and I never really minded – after all, there were all manner of treats to be enjoyed on Christmas day itself, and I enjoyed them all the more for not having had the run-up of daily chocolates beforehand. It always amuses me when people are outraged on my behalf that I didn’t grow up with chocolate calendars – apparently, they were a standard part of childhood for most. But it makes me sad that the traditions I grew up with are labelled boring and brushed aside so readily by people whose main argument is ‘but, chocolate!’

I don’t believe that there is anything intrinsically immoral about chocolate advent calendars, but they are a mark of the commercialisation of Christmas; a tradition that has been stripped of its original implications and filled in with consumerism. Whatever people may say, I did used to get excited about the little pictures and ornaments; my brothers and I would take it in turns to open the doors and drawers, and each one would reveal a little more of the bigger picture and make the approach of Christmas even more tangible.

It strikes me now, too, that if the true message of Advent is preparing for Christ’s arrival by opening our hearts to Him, then the opening of a little door each day before Christmas is a perfect way of expressing that. Rather than encouraging you to do no more than to satisfy your sweet-tooth, picture-Advent-calendars ask you to take note of something other than yourself; they require you to open yourself a little to each message, so that bit by bit you are ready. Bit by bit you open your heart and furnish it splendidly, like a decorated Christmas tree, to be ready for Jesus’s coming, the King of Kings.

Wednesday, 10th December

Matthew 11: 28-30 – ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest.’

I love this passage of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus speaks with tenderness to all of us, fully understanding our weakness and frailty and subsequent need for comfort. He calls us to accept His love; to make Him our first port of call when we are troubled. He asks us to let Him give us the help He offers.

Looking at it like that, it seems pretty illogical to think of avoiding such a God. But it is, of course, not quite as simple – the comfort that Jesus offers is not a case of letting us off the hook. God comforts us, but He also convicts us of our sins and calls us to repentance. These are not always easy things to reconcile in the mind, and the division of the two can lead to rather unhelpful mentalities.

I am as culpable of this as anyone. On days when I am feeling disheartened about my failings as a human being, sometimes I try to turn to God for relief and one of the following happens:

  • I tell myself that God loves me and understands my human frailty; that I am getting along just fine, and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself because it’s impossible to be perfect this side of Heaven anyway. *cue mental skipping off into the sunlight, round and round in circles and not progressing at all*
  • I tell myself that God loves me and has done so much for me that of course I should be feeling guilty about my failings; in fact, I’m probably not feeling nearly guilty enough. *Further berating about being a Bad Person and not trying hard enough to fight my weaknesses, whilst curling up in despair of ever being perfect*

Both of these approaches are clearly flawed and not exactly helpful. Neither indicate an understanding of what Jesus really offers us. The problem with each of these thoughts is that although they refer to God, they are still very much focused on myself. The first is me trying to avoid feeling guilty, and the latter is me wallowing in guilt – but both are examples of me presuming that I know what God would say to me if I went to Him, rather than actually going to Him, weary and ashamed, to ask for His help.

God does not leave us alone. Not ever. But He does not force Himself upon us. It is our choice to accept the love He offers; our choice to love Him. Our choice to see our helplessness and misery and go running back home, like the Prodigal Son.

I am not fine just as I am, and I must make a constant effort in my everyday life to fight my weaknesses and grow closer in my relationship with God. But at the same time, I can’t save myself – Jesus did that for me, when He took on my sin and died to be the perfect Sacrifice; the offering that I could never give.

When we repent of our sins, we should do so with remorse for our failings and conviction to change, but also joy that Jesus has made it possible for us to turn away from sin. His love freed us from the slavery of sin. The ‘Walk With Me’ booklet that I’m following this Advent put it thus: ‘The Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin and urges us to give our lives to Christ so that we may know the love and mercy of the Father.’

Now, Catholic that I am, I cannot go any further without talking about the Sacrament of Confession – or Reconciliation, which I am trying to remember to call it. For referring to it as ‘Confession’ increases the likelihood of mistakenly making it all about the self, as seen previously, rather than the self and God. It is not the examination of conscience or the listing of those sins that frees us from them, but the Absolution spoken by Jesus through the priest.

The relief that comes after those words have been said is what I think of when contemplating the ‘rest’ that Jesus promises in the Gospels. That liberation, feeling the weight of my sins lifted from my heart, and my soul a clean slate again. I have been picked up, embraced, dusted down, and given encouragement to carry on. To try again, knowing that I am not alone in my efforts.

Going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the practical ways that we can prepare ourselves for Christmas. The humility and repentance it requires open our hearts to Christ so that He can clean them, heal them, and thus make them ready dwelling-places for Him.

Go to Him. He is longing to give you the help that you so desperately need. And with Him you will find rest.

Tuesday, 9th December – A Wonder-Full Life

Matthew 18: 12-14 – ‘Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.’

Its-A-Wonderful-Life

This evening I had the very great pleasure of re-watching It’s A Wonderful Life, which happens to be one of my favourite films, even if it does reduce me to tears every time. It’s been voted the best Christmas film of all time, but can be enjoyed in all seasons for the message of hope it brings: that the lives of each of us are wonder-full. Each of our lives is precious, for we are irreplaceable; each of us was made for a purpose that can be fulfilled by no other.

It reminded me of this quotation by Blessed John Henry Newman, who puts it far more eloquently than me:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.

While I’ve never been in a place of desolation that has led me to think the world would have been better off if I’d never been born, I have certainly had times of doubting that my life has any significance in the grand scheme of things. So often, especially in my teenage years (dark times indeed), I felt that it would make no difference whether I was there or not. There was nothing extraordinary about me, certainly. Any talents I had were easily overshadowed by the accomplishments of others. My friends would always have someone else whose company they preferred to mine. I could more easily describe myself with things I was not than things I was.

And where was God in all of this? Looking back, I am not quite sure. I never really had a crisis of faith, as such, but I am really not quite sure of all that I believed at this point. Didn’t I believe in God’s love for me?

I think the answer is that I did, but I never gave it much thought. It was as though God’s love for me was arbitrary: I believed that God loves everyone, so of course I fitted under the category of ‘everyone’, but I’m not sure I believed fully that He loved me for me.

The truth is, of course, that love can’t be arbitrary. Love is a decision, an act. God willed me into being, and were He to stop thinking about me I would cease to exist. He knew me before I was formed; chose me, designed me for a specific purpose. I am unique. There never has been one of me before, and there never will be again. That is a precious, precious thing. Again, I don’t have the words – have some of Psalm 139:

You created my inmost self,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
For so many marvels I thank you;
a wonder am I, and all your works are wonders.

You knew me through and through,
my being held no secrets from you…

I think I’ve mentioned before that this time of year is when I tend to make paper snowflakes, which is a craft I thoroughly enjoy. But snowflakes have always fascinated me – I think partly because of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy-tale The Snow Queen, but also because of the micro-photography that has been taken of individual snowflakes. Each one is not only unique, but incredibly, complexly, beautifully unique. Calling someone a ‘special snowflake’ is often used as a somewhat patronising term, but it is in fact a marvellous comparison when you take into account the intricacy of those tiny ice stars.

And we are more marvellous even than the snowflakes. We were not existed to fall and melt away, but to live and interact with one another; to love each other and to love God as only we can. God calls each of us home to Him; He ‘is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.’ But He does not call us in any indiscriminate, haphazard measure; His call comes to each of us in different ways throughout our different lives, and we answer His call in a voice that is ours, not any other’s. But at the same time, He did not make us isolated beings, required to look after ourselves and fulfil a self-sufficient purpose; His plan for us connects us with all those whose lives our lives touch – both those we see and those we do not. His scope of vision is far greater than ours!

God loves you, and He does not leave unattended those that He loves. You were made for a purpose, that only you can fulfil. Yours is a wonder-full life. Let that show in how you choose to live it.

P. S. This post was heavily inspired by this article, which in turn was inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life. Thank you mother for sending me the link to it! ❤