Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Wishes and a Belated Pause in Advent

Merry Christmas to you all! We have had a lovely first few days of the holidays, with a flurry of tidying, cooking and dog-walking all culminating in the traditional decoration of our living Christmas tree, fresh in from the garden, to the sounds of Carols from Kings.
The poor tree, already battered from living in a pot in the south of France when it is really an inhabitant of northern climes, also has to contend with a large and adventurous kitten this year. Ben had the idea of decorating it with scented things - dried citrus fruit, chillis and star anise, all of which seem to be quite repellant to Wilson the tree-climber. However, we've had one or two close calls with other decorations already... all breakable ones are on the mantelpiece or tucked away for a year.

With relation to my Last Straw post, below, no, Mags, I never came near to my own last straw, but thanks for asking! We divided up the tasks between us - I took on the house tidying and cleaning, the boys committed themselves to checking, sorting and putting up the decorations, and Ben has very nobly stayed in the kitchen for three days producing seasonal and everyday food. Wonderful man!

Have your own, wonderful, Christmas. God bless you all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A third pause in Advent - the Last Straw

I had a lovely surprise on Friday when a little boy I teach decided to read this Christmas story with me. His brother brought him the book and we began to share the reading between us (because there was rather a lot of writing on the first page, and he felt daunted). I want to share what I took from the story with you, because as far as I can see it is all about Pausing in Advent!

So, here's what I took from the story:
A camel who is slightly past his sell-by date is chosen to take the Wise Men to visit the new baby king. He's tired and rather sore but when the young camels praise him he laps it up and adds to his own legend by boasting that he has the strength of ten camels.
On the way to Bethlehem, ordinary animals and people stop him to ask if he'll carry their own gift to the new baby king. The other camels could have taken a bit of the load, but no, he doesn't want to admit his own weakness, and carries on accepting the charges given and staggering towards Bethlehem.
As he nears the town a little child comes to give him the famous 'last straw' as a gift for the baby king's bed. Of course he knows it's going to finish him, but he accepts it and lurches into the final stage of his journey.
Limping into the stable, his knees give way and he finds himself kneeling in forced humility before the baby king. Others follow his example, thinking he's kneeling out of reverence not exhaustion.
The baby king reaches out and touches him. His pains and his sense of having to carry the whole world on his shoulders disappear and he realises why he was chosen.
Well, of course I was nearly in tears by the time my sweet little pupil had finished this. The author may be a man, but I sure feel that the story is that of millions of mothers around the world as Christmas approaches. We take on what may be ludicrous burdens, without realising that others are ready and available to share them with us, and we may be forced to our knees before we realise that Jesus is waiting to give us the real perspective, and the real healing, which are the centre of Christmas.
Thanks for all your contributions for a Pause in Advent! Your posts mean a lot to me and I have managed to read all of last week's now, I think! Commenting is another matter, and as I'm trying to avoid my own Last Straw I hope you'll forgive me for being a 'lurker' rather than a commenter on your posts again, this week.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Second Pause in Advent - the Grateful City

I mentioned that we'd be away for the weekend, but I didn't tell you where - the boys and I took the train to Lyon, to stay with Ben (he usually comes home to us at the weekend). It was the boys' first visit to see their dad's flat and his university, and the large and very beautiful city of Lyon.
Lyon is one of France's biggest cities, and to me seems very elegant. I feel a bit of a country bumpkin wandering round it, but I'm prepared to put up with that!
We decided to vist Lyon on December 7th and 8th because every year the city holds a huge Festival of Light, which combines lighting effects, film, music and tehchnology to light up the whole city.
The boys were fascinated by how the lights changed on both the Law Courts and the underground river-front carpark below it!
Watchers on the many bridges or on the opposite bank could see the lights dance,
to the music from the film Lawrence of Arabia!
The wonderful Basilica on the hill to the right was also part of the same show, and the lights changed constantly and majestically.
Other parts of the town had more 'classical' lighting, with two long avenues like this one down the main shopping streets.
We stopped by this reflecting pool to munch on hot chestnuts.
To the left of the basilica you can see the original reason for all this light,
and to the right, in between the light shows, you could see it clearly stated: "Mercie Marie."
The Festival of Light stems from an occasion when Lyon was threatened by the plague, which was affecting towns, villages and the countryside around. The faithful citizens lit candles in their windows and prayed to Mary, and the city was spared. Now, as a Protestand, praying to Mary is fairly alien to me, but it's impossible not to be impressed that, centuries later, people are still remembering to say a grateful 'thank you' for their deliverance. Answered prayers are something we are prone to ignore or forget, and centuries of gratitude for one big answer seems very appropriate to me.
France is a secular country, both legally and psychologically, these days. The opportunity to draw in tourists and patronise the arts is (perfectly reasonably) a big part of the festival these days. The huge ferris wheel which stands in the main square is designed as a working ride but also as a cinema screen!
This year's film, which was mainly shown on the revolving ride but also moved to the large balls, the horseman statue and various nearby roofs, made great use of the circular nature of the screen!
The pierrot-figure comes to life and has a series of misadventures,
arrgh, it's beginning to turn too fast!
Out of control!
Ker-splooey! (as Calvin would say...)
The constantly repeated shows used fireworks, lazers, flames and music to tell their stories or display their effects.
Yesterday night, after we'd gone home, Ben went back into the city and sent me some live footage on my phone of yet more shows!
So my weekend has been filled with family time, light, and a reminder of the value of gratitude. How about you?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Normal service will resume on Monday- we're off for the weekend! Apologies that not all the 'Pausers' are on the list yet- please check my 'Sign Up' post, below, for a few more contributers.

Note to aspiring robbers: a friend will be sleeping over to mind the animals!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A First Pause in Advent 2013 - Refinding Faith

My sidebar is full of pictures of my old Advent Wreath! That's a funny feeling... I took the photo years ago! Welcome to all the Pause in Advent bloggers, old and new. It's great to have so many of you (see the sidebar for details) and I hope to come and visit your posts over the course of my busy week. My apologies to new and occasional readers that this post, below, is pretty heavy and personal. I promise you something light, pretty and festive next week!
This old wreath is still in our Advent box, but rather battered, especially after one or two candles were allowed to burn down too low over the years.

To my surprise, my theme for Advent this year sounds rather like last year's. I wouldn't have expected that - I certainly don't feel 'in the same place' as last year. Last year I was thinking about the Essence of Christmas. This year, I've been feeling rather unsure about the whole thing. My faith took a battering earlier in the year, something which has never happened before. Over the past decade we've made a difficult (though ultimately delightful) move to a new country, had problems in a church, my mum has died, my dad has remarried, and through all this my faith remained real and certain. This year nothing to shock you happened at all, and yet, perhaps due to cumulative effects and one little trigger in May, it feels like the foundations of my faith have been shaken.

Over the difficult months I held on to one thing only - forgiveness. This is because my friends without particular faith live good, kind, meaningful lives, really not so different to the Christians I know and the Christian I have been. However (and you can disagree with me) it seems just about impossible, without Jesus,  to offer true forgiveness. I'm not even sure if forgiveness is a particularly high priority to my non-Christian friends. After decades of living with forgiveness as both something received and given, this forgiveness-free (or forgiveness-reduced) life was the one thing that didn't seem at all attractive.

My faith was dented, shaken, and at times apparantly gone. It's still a very tentative thing - maybe it's going to grow back in strength or maybe it will always be a bit weak now, who can say? I realise that this period of doubt may help me to be more understanding and respectful of other people who question and doubt. I've seen both sides, now.

There's lots more to say and maybe some of you want to hear it. Maybe some feel that my faith or lack of it is a matter for me alone. I'm sure others are really concerned to hear what I've been through. For some it would be possible to assume that I never really had a true, saving faith in Jesus, because how otherwise could it just disappear? This article has been a lot of help to me on this subject and others - please read it if you have any questions about the whole theme of refinding faith.

But for now, the theme of my Advent pauses has been decided by some very powerful words I heard in church this morning:

'Discern the essential. Discern real life'.

I can't tell you the impact those words had on me during our communion service. I need to send an appreciative email (in French, drat...) to our pastor and the guy who was preaching this morning, as their emphasis on the Essential and on Real Life had a real turn-around effect on me. I hope that in some way the emphasis on discernment, on the essential, and on the real, gives you pause for thought in whatever you'll be doing in this first week of Advent. See you next week!