A Moment of Peace

Christmas Eve in most households is anything but peaceful. Even the most organized seem to be full of last-minute activity, from cooking to present-wrapping, to say nothing of the long treks homeward many a son or daughter and family will make in order to celebrate together with other family members. In the monastery there is no present-wrapping or travel to worry about, but the preparation of a complex liturgy which goes on throughout the Octave and a more than usually ample dinner for Christmas Day itself, can be demanding, especially when unexpected visitors turn up or those in distress telephone in search of comfort. How do any of us find peace in all this? The conventional wisdom, to go with the flow, is at best a half-truth. Peace is not to be identified with the absence of struggle or a kind of mental or moral opting-out, nor can we glibly assert that embracing reality, whatever that means in this context, is the answer.

There is only one way to find peace on Christmas Eve and that is to allow the Prince of Peace into our hearts and minds. It means consciously stopping, at least for a few moments, all our frantic activity and saying, ‘Lord, you see how busy I am. If I forget you, please don’t forget me!’ In that acknowledgement of our inability to slow down or halt the Christmas rush, we are being honest; and, instead of turning the Lord away for a time when we think we will be better able to receive him, we are inviting him into our chaotic present, admitting it is far from perfect, but wanting to be with him, and him with us, all the same.

To stop, even for a moment, is not easy, especially if there is no-one else to do whatever it is that we are doing. Most of us need to use our imagination more. Going from one room to another, clearing a table, climbing the stairs, washing-up or loading the dishwasher — all provide moments we can use to turn to the Lord. And if anyone feels self-conscious about doing so, a little lonely in their desire to keep their focus on the Lord when everyone else expects them to be full of a festive spirit that seems to have nothing much to do with the Incarnation, I hope they will find encouragement in this thought. Throughout the world there are monks, nuns and countless others praying the prayer they themselves would pray if they had time. The Communion of Saints is not an abstraction. It is part of the new order ushered in by Christmas, one of the precious gifts our Saviour gives to the world.

May God grant you and those you love a very happy Christmas.

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Christmas Eve 2017

Here in the monastery we are still surrounded by the plainness of Advent. There are flowers waiting to go into the oratory, crib figures to be unpacked, cards to be arranged on window ledges — but not yet. There is a tree in the calefactory, but it stands bare and undecorated. This plainness, this deliberate expectancy, is, for us, an essential part of Christmas. When at last we begin to celebrate the Nativity, we do so not just for the Octave but for all twelve days, culminating in Epiphany (which regular readers will know I regard as the great feast of Christmas). The contrast, the sudden explosion of light and warmth into the darkness of midwinter, is a good analogy for the mystery of the Incarnation.

Today’s responsory at Lauds says, ‘Tomorrow the sins of the whole world will be washed away.’ We await a Saviour whose coming will change everything, including us. We may not be especially conscious of sin as we approach Christmas, but a moment’s reflection on all the sadness and division in the world should convince us of its reality. Christ comes to deal with sin, and He begins by dealing with sin in you and me. He is not ‘just’ the Saviour of the world; He is your Saviour and mine. Today, let’s try to find a moment or two to allow the wonder of that truth to sink in so that we can celebrate Christmas with gladness and rejoicing.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Christmas Eve 2016

Early this morning, during the Vigils of Christmas Eve, a single voice sang out into the darkness the Martyrology or Christmas Proclamation, situating the birth of Jesus Christ in place and time. It is a haunting chant, and its singing is attended with a simple but moving ceremeny as two large gilt candlesticks are placed beside the lectern to mark the solemnity of the moment. After the Martyrology, we kneel in silence, for with the coming of the Word of God, human words are exposed for what they are — inadequate, unnecessary.

Why do we do this? After all, we are a very small community. Couldn’t we just settle for another reading from one of the Fathers of the Church and abandon this ancient tradition which requires some effort to maintain? We could; but if we did, we might lose sight of something important. The birth we celebrate tonight took place two thousand years ago in a troubled country under less than ideal circumstances to a couple who must have been exhausted, both mentally and physically. It wasn’t warm and cosy. I daresay the stable was dirty and smelly and Joseph was terrified at the thought of playing impromptu midwife to Mary, while she was wishing her mother could be with her as she underwent this new and painful experience of giving birth. In other words, the Martyrology reminds us that God works through very imperfect situations, using very imperfect circumstances and people we might think wholly unsuitable. The strange thing is, his purposes are achieved, perfectly.

Today, if we can, let’s try to find a moment or two of silence in the midst of all our busyness to take in this great fact. Christ must be born in our hearts through faith; and it doesn’t matter if we think our faith weak and wobbly or we are distracted with the arrangements we need to make for our Christmas celebrations. God can cope with all that, just as he coped with the messiness of Christ’s birth. Our salvation matters too much to him to let any obstacles get in the way.

For Bro Duncan PBGV Fans
Last year Bro Duncan wrote the Christmas Eve blog. You can still read it here.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Christmas Eve 2015 by Bro Duncan PBGV

BigSis said I could do today’s blog post because she has nothing left to say. The idea of her being at a loss for words tickles my sense of humour, but I’m old enough and wise enough to keep my own counsel. First rule of survival in community, as in any family, is: don’t say all you think. Or, more poetically, ‘A word let out of the cage cannot be whistled back again.’ (Horace). Good advice at any time, but especially at Christmas, when you human beans tend to eat and drink too much and are relentlessly sociable. That often leads to squabbles among the adults as well as the children, and you don’t want World War III to break out, do you? Which brings me to the serious stuff: Bro Duncan PBGV’s Christmas Wish-List.

  1. Peace on earth
  2. Goodwill to all, especially in Social Media
  3. Dentastix

Peace on earth is not pie-in-the-sky. It is what God intends, but human beans tend to get in the way. They go round lamenting the fact that the world isn’t peaceful, blaming everyone else for the sorry state of affairs but themselves. My advice is to go and look in the mirror and say to yourself, ‘Peace starts here, with me.’ You have twelve days in which to practise being kind and considerate and not letting your temper get the better of you. By the end of that time you will have acquired the habit of patience! When I’m rattled, I go to my basket; or I ask to be let out for a walk round the garden; or I pretend to have a little sleep. Failing that, I just lie there, allowing it all to wash over me. Then, when the time is right, I show I have no hard feelings by going up to the enemy of the moment and looking at them with those large brown eyes of mine. Sympathy always makes friends of others, and it really isn’t all that difficult. Trust me, I’m a dog, I know.

Goodwill to all, especially in Social Media. Hmn. That’s a toughie. Human beans seem to think they can say what they like and it doesn’t matter how cruel or unjust it is. They are merely exercising their right to freedom of speech. But not all speech builds up, and holiday time seems to bring out the worst in them. There are lots of human beans who find Christmas difficult. They may have lost someone dear to them; they may be tired; they may be homesick. I’ve even known human beans in monasteries have a sad moment or two, being away from their families and all that. Remember you don’t have to give your opinion on everything, and you certainly don’t have to make jokes at others’ expense. Think about what we are celebrating: the coming of Christ into our world to be our Saviour. Human beans sometimes  forget that, so busy are they with all the preparations for Christmas Dinner and guests and stuff. (Especially stuff, but let’s not go there just now.)

Dentastix. I’ve heard there are some sad souls who think they should be awfully austere at Christmas because there are so many people in the world who are living in poverty. I’m not convinced. We should celebrate, and we should be generous. BigSis often quotes a Greek phrase which means ‘Nothing in excess’, so I expect I’ll be given some Dentastix but not a whole container-full. Suits me. I know They have done what They can to help others, and some of the Dentastix They bought for me will be going to poor doggies that have none. Share the joy, that’s my motto. Why not make it yours, too?

LittleSis has just read through this and wondered if I shouldn’t be ‘just a bit more explicitly religious’. I thought I was being religious, but let that pass. This afternoon They will set up the crib near the door of the monastery. There will be Mary and Joseph, an ox and a donkey and an empty crib. I shall keep watch beside it all evening and then, when They place the figure of Baby Jesus in it on Christmas morning, I shall lie there, lost in wonder, love and praise (though you might think I was just sleeping). You see, when Jesus came into the world to redeem you lot, everything changed. There was a new creation; and I’m part of it, just like you. Isn’t that reason for us all to rejoice?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Christmas Eve in the Monastery

Christmas Eve in the monastery is, like Holy Saturday, a time out of time. We are still in Advent, but we have half a foot in Christmas as we put up the Christmas decorations and begin to think about sending Christmas greetings. Key to the whole is the singing of the Christmas Martyrology (Proclamation). I shall be thrifty and recycle what I wrote about it last year:

Very early this morning, while it was still dark and everything was silent and still, the nuns sang the Vigils of Christmas Eve. Just before the second lesson, two large gilt candlesticks were placed beside the choir lectern. A short pause, and then a single voice began singing the Christmas Martyrology (also known as the Christmas Proclamation), locating the birth of Christ in time and place.

It is an ancient custom. The chant used has a haunting, plangent quality which becomes urgent and insistent as we reach the words proclaiming the birth of Christ, falling away again with the final phrase, ‘the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.’ The nuns then kneel in silence.  With the coming of the Word, no further words are necessary. But we love words, and we love to fill every moment of every day with the rattle and tattle of human speech, don’t we?

Christmas Eve can be very tiring: all those last-minute preparations, people to see, things to do. The idea of finding a little silence, a moment or two of inner solitude, may be greeted with derisive laughter, but we need to try because, without a moment to register what we are about to celebrate, we may end up missing the whole point of Christmas. Today we look both ways: back on our Advent journey, which showed us how much we need a Saviour; forward to the birth which has changed everything, for ever.

The Christmas Martyrology reminds us that we are celebrating the birth of a baby, not a theological abstraction; and we do so without the syrupy sentimentality which can sometimes mark Christmas Day itself. It is worth thinking about that birth and what it entailed, not just for Mary and Joseph but also for Jesus himself — the mighty Word of God confined to a baby’s body, a baby’s helplessness. The first sound uttered by the Word of God on coming into the world was probably a long wail. I don’t want to press the analogy too far, but we all of us understand a baby’s cry. It is a universal language, one which calls forth kindness and compassion from even the most selfish and self-absorbed. Could that be the response Jesus is looking for from us today? Could that be the gift we are to bring to the crib tonight?

May you have a happy and holy Christmas!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The Christmas Martyrology (Proclamation)

Very early this morning, while it was still dark and everything was silent and still, the nuns sang the Vigils of Christmas Eve. Just before the second lesson, two large gilt candlesticks were placed beside the choir lectern. A short pause, and then a single voice began singing the Christmas Martyrology (also known as the Christmas Proclamation), locating the birth of Christ in time and place.

It is an ancient custom. The chant used has a haunting, plangent quality which becomes urgent and insistent as we reach the words proclaiming the birth of Christ, falling away again with the final phrase, ‘the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.’ The nuns then kneel in silence.  With the coming of the Word, no further words are necessary. But we love words, and we love to fill every moment of every day with the rattle and tattle of human speech, don’t we?

Christmas Eve can be very tiring: all those last-minute preparations, people to see, things to do. The idea of finding a little silence, a moment or two of inner solitude, may be greeted with derisive laughter, but we need to try because, without a moment to register what we are about to celebrate, we may end up missing the whole point of Christmas. Today we look both ways: back on our Advent journey, which showed us how much we need a Saviour; forward to the birth which has changed everything, for ever.

The Christmas Martyrology reminds us that we are celebrating the birth of a baby, not a theological abstraction; and we do so without the syrupy sentimentality which can sometimes mark Christmas Day itself. It is worth thinking about that birth and what it entailed, not just for Mary and Joseph but also for Jesus himself — the mighty Word of God confined to a baby’s body, a baby’s helplessness. The first sound uttered by the Word of God on coming into the world was probably a long wail. I don’t want to press the analogy too far, but we all of us understand a baby’s cry. It is a universal language, one which calls forth kindness and compassion from even the most selfish and self-absorbed. Could that be the response Jesus is looking for from us today? Could that be the gift we are to bring to the crib tonight?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail