Archive for December, 2011

December 23, 2011

The Rose I have in mind … Happy Christmas!

Christmas Rose

As I was trying to take a photo of some roses that we have in a vase, with the Christmas tree lights in the background, somewhere in the back of my mind I was trying to remember the symbolism of the Rose with Christ at Christmas.  Later I did a search online and although not quite what I was looking for it’s close enough (I think) to what I had in mind.  It’s a beautiful 16th Century Carol, translated from the German “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”, which means “A rose has sprung up” and was translated as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”

A very Merry Christmas to you – may it be a time of joy, peace, laughter and happiness.  God be with you and all those whom you love.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Saviour,
When halfspent was the night.

O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.

Link here.

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December 20, 2011

“Upon another shore…”

Gullanes Sunset

The Sun setting yesterday.  

You may recognise the words in the title as part of the ‘bidding prayer’ at the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The full paragraph reads:

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in the Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.

Beautiful words, but do they stand up?  I think that they do, which is all the more amazing because standing up to the the full blast of darkness that is death is some achievement.  The words are of course inspired by Scripture, (from John chapter 1 and Revelation chapter 19 in particular).

Why has this come to my mind?  In the last few days, three people I know have died.  All of them as it were ‘went before their time’, their lives cut short through illness or disease and one, the mother of young children.  It is heartbreaking.

In trying to respond I realise that any words I have to say are wholly insufficient.  I recall some words written by C.S. Lewis in his overwhelming book, ‘A Grief Observed’:

And we think of this as love cut short; like a dance stopped in mid career or a flower with its head unluckily snapped off – something truncated and therefore lacking its due shape…

I suppose that we only have a limited view now, not only of death but even more so of that Life which follows.  The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God wrote:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

One day it will make sense, and this knotted, tangled, painful life of fragility and contradictions will find its shape – even the shape of the Cross, where even God was not free of the pain and anguish of death.  To paraphrase Tony Campolo – ‘Yes it’s Friday now, but Sunday is coming…’

December 19, 2011

December Daisy

December Daisy

Walking around the garden the other day I nearly trod on it, something so tiny and yet in the cold and darkening gloom perhaps of greater significance than its small size would suggest.  A ‘Daisy’  was not something I expected to see.  Of course in the summer the lawn is covered with hundreds of them, but I can never recall seeing one at this time of year before.  In attempting to take the picture (no doubt a funny sight as I tried to avoid getting my knees wet on the damp grass), I smiled because Spring had claimed a momentary beachhead, reminding me that even in the middle of Winter the hope of Spring is not too far away…

December 15, 2011

Saint Nicholas

Santa in Spiller's Lane, Clonakilty

“Santa”, at Spiller’s Lane, Clonakilty

It is hard to imagine Christmas without this jolly looking fellow as an important part of it.  Some well-meaning people, I know, get a bit hot under the collar and think that he gets in the way of what Christmas is really about.  Of course, I have some sympathy with that view, because he seems to be at the heart of all the consumerism that so noisily and brashly competes with the Christ-mas, the celebration of the Story of Christ’s Birth.  Do a little digging though and you unearth not something that is evil and godless but rather someone who was a man after God’s own heart, Nikolaos of Myra, a fourth century Bishop in what is now part of modern day Turkey.

There is naturally a lot of legend and folklore surrounding this man of God, but it’s clear to see that over time the figure of Saint Nicholas, with the Dutch name of Sinterklaas became ‘Santa Claus’, or ‘Santa’ for short.

Perhaps the best known story attributed to Saint Nicholas (from a Wikipedia article) that links him to the modern day version of Santa is the one about a poor man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and could therefore have ended up as prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him, going to his house under the cover of night and throwing three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man’s house.

In another version of the story, the purses are thrown in on three consecutive nights.  Nicholas learns that on the third night the poor man plans to intercept him (to see who the mystery giver is) and so he drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Sound familiar?  Let’s not be too hard on Santa but try instead to rescue him a bit from all the plastic and mayhem, and think of him instead as a godly man who loved to give, especially to those who were in great need – and then with God’s help, let us try to do the same.

Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:8b

December 14, 2011

Reconnect

Beach near Garranefeen, Kilbrittain, Co. Cork

One of the best methods of stress-busting I know is to find a beach, (preferably a deserted one and ideally on a cold windy wintery day) and just walk.   In this place of wind, water and waves, prayer is never too far away…

December 13, 2011

Colour, Color, Dath

Milk Market, Kinsale

The ‘Milk Market’ lane way in Kinsale looked very deserted this morning.  When I have seen it before it has been heaving with tourists enjoying food and drink and the atmosphere, seated on the now absent tables and chairs.  Often there are musicians also, and this combined with children running around, dogs barking and teenagers just ‘hanging’, all add further dimensions of colour to those that brightly adorn the walls, windows and doors.

The ‘bookstór‘ is a great place to drop in and have a look around.  While my better half was finding books for various people’s Christmas presents I was distracted by a book on ‘Banksy‘, the popular Street Artist.  Perhaps it was the name of the book shop that inspired me to look up the word ‘colour’ in Irish, used in the title – and of course I included it in the North American language too ;~)

December 12, 2011

Emigration

Cobh pier

Standing here at the quayside in Cobh, on a cold yet clear evening it is not hard to let one’s imagination start to wander.  This pier was not always in such a regrettable state of repair; once it stood strong and proud, as feet, countless numbers of shuffling feet trod its boards.  From piers such as this, passengers waited for the ferry to take them out to the deeper water to embark on to the giant liners; SS America, the Celtic and of course the Titanic and dozens more.

What must the emotions have been like for those huddled in the cold as they waited?  Sorrow at leaving behind loved ones, fear of the voyage and what lay on the other side, yet excitement too at the possibility of a new beginning and the dream of a life free to make one’s own choices and decisions.   In 1931 James Truslow Adams wrote  a definition of the ‘American Dream’, that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

Of course we have a new context with which to see all this.  History (as is often its want) is repeating itself.  Many, far too many of our young people are emigrating, not from cold quaysides but from shiny, air-conditioned terminals, not across the sea but through the air.  I’m sure though, that for many the emotions are just the same as those of their fellow countrymen in bygone generations.  God be with them.

December 8, 2011

Window to another world

Window on another world...

I drive past this local piece of artwork very often, but the other day I was walking and so had the opportunity to have a good look at it.  I love the concept; here you have an old dark and damp stone wall, all fairly bleak really, but then a window, to a place where the Sun is shining, the sky is blue and the boats are just waiting for you to take them out on the water.  It’s a chance to escape to another time and place where things are better than here (even if it’s only in your imagination and only for a brief moment).

There are many people who would just love to escape right now; to escape from financial hardship, pressures and stresses that are unique to each individual and others that are ubiquitous to us all.  Thank God that there is hope and that there is a way out, and what better time to be reminded of this than in the Christmas season when we celebrate that God in Jesus came to us because He cares for us far beyond even our wildest dreams.

The whole ‘door to another world’ theme reminded me of a verse from the last book in the Bible, ‘Revelation’:

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
(Revelation 4:1 ESV)

December 5, 2011

A burning bush (sort of).

Sugarloaf, Co. Wicklow

Burning Bush?

Earlyish on Saturday morning I left everyone else having breakfast and took a stroll up the road towards the “Great Sugar Loaf“.  I suppose it was a kind of prayer walk and photo walk in one.  The Sun, still quite low in the East was casting an interesting light, though making it difficult to photograph the mountain because of the tricky combination of deep shadows and strong highlights.

On the walk I came across a large bush / small tree, where the golden leaves were wonderfully backlit and glowing brightly as a result.  The ‘burning bush’ came to mind:

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
(Exodus 3:2-5 ESV)

I love reading those Old Testament stories and they are continually inspiring and challenging in many different ways.  The Great Sugar Loaf may not be mount Horeb and the brightly lit bush not an actual burning bush, but it was in its own way a special, sacred and holy time…

December 1, 2011

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand…

Barley Cove 1
and marked off the heavens with a span,
From Old Head of Kinsale
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
Inishmore Farmand weighed the mountains in scales
Cumbriaand the hills in a balance?
Towards Snowdonia
(Isaiah 40:12 ESV)

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Notes:

Photo 1 – at Barleycove Beach, Co. Cork, taken with a Nikon F100, 50mm and Fuji Reala 100 film, June 2010

Photo 2 – From the Old head of Kinsale, January 2007, taken with a Panasonic FZ50

Photo 3 – Inishmore, taken with a Pentax P50 and 70-300mm zoom using Kodak film, possibly in 1995

Photo 4 – From the summit of “Green Gable”, Cumbria, July 2005, taken with an Olympus C-310

Photo 5 – from Shell Island, North Wales, taken with a Panasonic LX1 in July 2009