3rd December 2016
We have had days of frost and sunshine, followed by days of dullness and rain.
I think we, as human beings, are prone to similar changes in our emotions.
Both are needed, but some are pleasanter than others !
This is the season when contact is renewed with our friends of long ago,
and the sending of greetings either by card or email.
My own memories go back to my childhood when
we celebrated Christmas with candles on a real Christmas tree:
our carefully wrapped presents were placed beneath it.
The fragrance of the tree was wonderful.
We first saw the decorated tree on Christmas Eve,
after we had returned from Church, accompanied by our grandmother.
Our grandparents were very kind and somehow managed to provide
some festive food in a time of scarcity.
(This was during the Second World War.)
Some 70 years later war and terror continue to prevail in various parts of the world,
with many refugees risking - and losing - their lives.
Perhaps we should also remember that the Holy Family
had to flee to Egypt during a period of persecution.
We tend to forget this, and even the hymn
"Away in a manger" - despite the clear words of the text -
does not remind us of the poverty that is all around us to this day.
On the Continent the Feast of Saint Nicholas
is celebrated today, 6th December.
Even during the second World War children on the Continent
placed one of their shoes outside the bedroom door,
awaiting his silent coming and his gifts.
In Holland this day is a special day, akin to our Christmas,
It is called the Feast of Saint Nicholas.
In the UK our Christmas, commemorating the Birth of Christ,
features Santa Claus, alias Saint Nicholas, only as a giver of gifts,
and not as a Saint who secretly aided the poor.
And in our increasingly secular society
it is not understood that Christs Mass
celebrates the coming of God into the world
to be with us as a human being, and to teach us how to live.
It is a spiritual feast of love.
The feast of Saint Lucy - "Santa Lucia" -
is, on the Continent, a celebration of light.
Lucia was a martyr, a Christian witness, in a world spiritual darkness.
Our shortest day of the year is on 22nd December,
the winter solstice.
The word SOLSTICE comes from the Latin for sun - SOL
and the Latin word SISTERE to make a stand .
At this time of the year the sun is approaching
its most southern-most point from the earths equator.
Yesterday we began singing the O Antiphons at Vespers.
They have a gracious solemnity, suitable for this dark season
when so many people in the world are longing for peace and light.
The small beautifully carved crib figures are in the silent main hall,
where the Christmas tree has been assembled,
and other crib figures from Talacre Abbey are in the cloister.
Both are simple scenes, evocative in their own way,
and full of memories.
Our friends, relations and benefactors have again
been very generous towards us:
every postal delivery confirms this.
Postage in the UK is now very high - even second-class postage
is, in old terms, more than 10 shillings.
It is not surprising that more people than before use email
as a cheaper form of communication.
However, it is lovely to be remembered by old friends,
some who have been faithful in kindness towards us
for more than 50 years.
Copied card - detail of Animals at the Crib - artist not known
The last week has been overshadowed
by the death of a beloved black cat named Joseph.
He came to us as a stray many years ago.
I found him walking in our garden one afternoon.
He was very thin and Sister Monica and I
fed him for a while in one of our green-houses.
He obviously wanted to stay, and he came indoors.
Our local vet, Ben, checked him for a micro-chip
and we discovered where he came from ...
His previous owners, who lived on a main road,
were happy for us to keep Charlie.
He had a very contented life with us,
sleeping in Sister Monicas room,
sometimes coming in very late at
night after a hunting session.
May he rest in peace.
Joseph one early Spring ...
We celebrated the feast of Saint John the Evangelist today.
The reading came from his first letter:
"Something which has existed since the beginning,
that we have heard, and seen with our own eyes;
that we have watched and touched with our hands:
the Word, who is life - this is our subject.
That life was made visible ...."
Then the reading from Gospel according to John dealt with the end
of Jesus life, when his dead body had been placed in a tomb.
Mary of Magdala went there early the next morning
and found the tomb empty, and reported this to Simon Peter,
who together with John ran to the tomb,
and discovered the linen cloths
which had enfolded the dead body.
Seeing this, they believed that he had risen.
Thus the birth and death of Jesus
were indeed the alpha and the omega,
"The beginning and the end" of his human existence:
he came down among us at his birth
and returned to heaven when his earthly mission was fulfilled.
This is something which we tend to forget.
Some paintings of the Nativity include a distant hill
on which there are three crosses.
Began as a cold frosty morning.
When day dawned the gulls were waiting to be fed.
The moment I appeared they flew shrieking overhead,
waiting for the soft bread to land on the frozen grass.
The dullness is rather depressing ... perhaps because we are tired.
But how fortunate we are: we have food and shelter,
warm clothing and silent companionship.
The cats are restive, perhaps because the days are dark,
and possibly because they miss Joseph ....
One is often told that "Time is a great Healer"
but for some things a long time is needed before this happens.
But I would like to end this years Diary on a more hopeful note:
THE GATE OF THE YEAR
By Minnie Louise Haskins
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."
And he replied:
"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be better than light and safer than a known way."
So I went forth, and finding God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills
and the breaking of day in the lone East.
The Gate to Emmaus