Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Bill was one of the first members of our little group. Over time we’ve all grown used to his ways, cantankerous at times but always willing to help wherever required. Indeed, he is always the first to volunteer even for those jobs no one wants! He has a heart of gold really. Many have benefited from a quiet word of reassurance, comfort, encouragement or support from him. He is well respected and well liked by us all. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen him for a while as he has been rather unwell. In fact, from the latest news we had of him we entertained doubts as to whether we would ever see him again. He has a cancer.
Imagine our surprise and delight when he walked in to Thursday’s meeting large as life and apparently full of energy! Just like the old days, it seemed. Well, not quite as large as he once was, for he had lost an awful lot of weight, and most of what little hair he had left had departed, too. In fact, his skeletal features showed him to be a shadow of his former self, but it was still Bill. “What do you want me to do?” was his first question, before anyone could ask how he was. We found him a job in which he would not need to exert himself overmuch. He did it with his usual efficiency but that was not enough for him. He crept back into the meeting and took a full part in the proceedings just as he had always done. When we sat down to eat he appeared to tuck into his meal heartily, although he passed on the syrup pudding dessert. I tried to speak to him but as usual he was holding three conversations across the table at once. When I did attract his attention he told me that he had seen the doctor on the previous day and that he was satisfied with Bill’s progress. On Friday he was to go to hospital for a scan, but he dismissed that lightly as if it were of no consequence. The good news, he said, was that he had gained one stone in weight. Maybe he was putting on an act, if so it was deserving of an Oscar, and no doubt he will have been wiped out by the time he got home; but Bill was back with us. For how long no one knows. We pray that he is on the road to a full recovery but his fate, like that of all of us is in God’s hands.
For our cousins in America Thursday was Thanksgiving Day. This Thursday our little group had much to be thankful for; a good meeting in company with friends, some not seen for a while and of course, Bill was back with us. Today remember the reasons you have to be thankful. Praise and thank God for them. As Meister Eckhart once said; “If you only make one prayer in this life let it be Thank You.”
Christmas is only 35 days away!
Are you prepared for it? Many of us make lists so that nothing is forgotten. Have you bought all the cards, the presents, the food, and all the trimmings? Then what about the practical organisation? Who is going to fetch Aunt Maud this year for Christmas dinner? Do we have to invite Uncle George? And what about the latest TV adverts imploring you to part with your hard earned cash. Spend, spend, spend on the very latest hi tech gizmo that you never realised that you always needed (wanted). What about the kids? “Why can’t I have the latest Smartphone? All my friends have one!” “Is it all worth it”, I hear you say? Nowadays it all looks very much as if we are celebrating the pagan mid winter solstice. Yet it seems to me that we are missing the point here. Surely the true meaning of Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour in human form, and there is nothing pagan about that! Of course, God does not just appear on December 25 and then disappear again until brought out with the Nativity scene next year. God is with us today and every day of our lives.
As we need to make our preparations for the festive season, so Advent, like Lent is a time for us as Christians to prepare; at this time for the birth of Christ, the Messiah.
‘The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.’ Romans 13:12 NIV Preparation must include reflection. Much will have happened over the past year, some good but some bad. Let us make a list of all those things, to discover where we have seen God in them; to ask what have we done for God over the past year and what, selfishly for ourselves? Perhaps the more important question we should ask is what ought we to have done, or not done for Him? Yet the past is just that past; it cannot be altered however much we may wish it could.
Our preparations for the celebration of Christ’s birth then must include a resolution for the future; to serve God better than we have done over the past year. Yet the only way to know what is God calling us to do for Him in the next year, the next month, tomorrow is to ask Him. A brand new Smartphone is not necessary since keeping in touch with God is much simpler than that – just ask, speak to Him in prayer and listen to what He says. That way you will be prepared, for He will guide you on the course He has laid out for you. And then, be assured, God will walk with you every step of the way. How’s that for a Christmas present?
November is traditionally the month of remembrance; a time to remember, not only our loved ones, but all who have passed to their eternal rest. At St Mary Magdalene a service of remembrance for relatives and friends passed was held last Sunday. This Sunday, people up and down the country gathered round their local war memorials to remember and honour those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom. The National Service of Remembrance held at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, ensures that no-one is forgotten as the nation unites to honour all who have suffered or died in war. However, despite the military parades, it is important to emphasise that it is not war that is being celebrated here, but the sacrifice made by those who died or suffered in war. As a symbol of remembrance and hope many people wear a red poppy at this time. It reflects the natural colour of field poppies. It is not a symbol of death or a sign of support for war, a reflection of politics or religion or red to reflect the colour of blood; simply remembrance and hope. Wearing a poppy is, of course a personal choice and reflects individual and personal memories.
But how did the poppy come to be such a powerful symbol? The Royal British Legion website http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/ gives the answer:
‘During the First World War (1914–1918) much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. Previously beautiful countryside was blasted, bombed and fought over, again and again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud: bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow. Bright red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) however, were delicate but resilient flowers and grew in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of chaos and destruction. In early May 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies to write the now famous poem 'In Flanders Fields'. This poem inspired an American academic, Moina Michael, to make and sell red silk poppies which were brought to England by a French woman, Anna Guérin. The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever 'Poppy Appeal' raised over £106,000, (equivalent to £4,888,610.70 in 2017), a considerable amount of money at the time. This was used to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing.’
So whilst a humble, yet tough, little flower has become a symbol of remembrance of those who have died in the service of their country; let us not forget that other simple, though ugly, piece of wood made in the form of a cross which symbolises the greatest sacrifice of all: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16(NIV)
Some nights I don’t sleep well It is then I try to visualise a quiet place, a beach scene or maybe the garden, although that always reminds me of all the jobs I need to do out there!
One night the picture of a forest scene came to mind. There were several tall trees, with bark cracked and peeling, reaching to the heavens whilst the forest floor was covered with small bushes and bracken, some dead, others living. I seemed to hear the thousands, maybe millions of creatures living in the cracks in the tree bark and in the undergrowth, all carrying on their lives oblivious to Man’s everyday problems; his screeching and shouting, threats and insults, abuse and the like. It did not matter to the forest dwellers whether the animal or insect with which they shared the forest was black, white, green or yellow, as long as it didn’t eat him. At dusk an owl swooped silently through the air in search of a small rodent or bird for her evening meal while occasionally a muntjac deer would trample the bracken looking for something to eat; otherwise all was peace and quiet. I wondered how many, different species of animals and insects inhabited the forest. Only God knows the answer to that, for He made and cares for each and every one of them. Here was a reminder of an old hymn we used to sing as children: ‘All things bright and beautiful’. It contains the lines: ‘Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, He made their glowing colours, He made their tiny wings.’ Then in the scene the silence was broken by someone knocking on the door of a deserted house: ‘Is there anybody there said the Traveller knocking on the moonlit door? And his horse in the silence champed the grasses of the forest’s ferny floor.’ the words from a poem, ‘The Listeners’, by Walter de la Mare (1873–1956) learned at school. The Traveller knocks several times but receiving no answer, although it is clear that someone is there, goes away.
As God made the birds, the animals and the insects of the forest He made us, too. He made our ‘glowing colours’, our ‘tiny wings’. He made us in His own image – how wonderful is that? Yet the amazing thing is that God did not need to make us – with all the trouble we cause to His Creation one is tempted to wonder why He bothered! He made us because He wanted to, because He has a purpose for us. And like the Traveller in the poem God knocks on our door yet how many times do we ignore His invitation to take up our cross and walk with Him?
With Our Lord’s words in mind: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28 KJV, a prayer of gratitude for God’s Creation and for His love for me, together with a resolve to answer His invitation to serve His Kingdom, sleep overtook me.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years