The Glory of the Lord

Yesterday the snow fell thickly, turning the Black Mountains white and ushering in a wonderful silence that has lasted all night. Into the hushed darkness a voice cries, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord; make his paths straight.’ It is John the Baptist with his burning zeal, urging us to repent, to turn again to the Lord that he may heal us of sin and iniquity. We know that it is in the person of Jesus Christ that we are healed, and that it is his coming that will transform the world. That is the comforting promised by Isaiah, the glory of the Lord that will be revealed to us, but it is far from being the cosy business our common use of the word ‘comfort’ would suggest.

Throughout Advent we are stretched in ways that at other seasons we barely notice or conveniently ignore. We await a Saviour who has already come, and who is to come again at the end of the ages. We thus live in a strange time out of time, difficult to describe but very real to us who are in it. It can be exhausting; it is always demanding. Just as snow makes a familiar landscape fresh and new, so Advent confounds all our old certainties and invites us to set out on a way that is both known and unknown. We know our goal; we know in theory how to achieve it; there is ‘just’ the problem of the journey. And what an arduous journey it often turns out to be!

Today there are many false prophets in the world, with their seductive visions of how to attain personal fulfilment. For a Christian, personal fulfilment means something quite different from that usually presented as such. We are called to holiness, to a selflessness that makes no sense except sub specie aeternitatis. We may not yet have eyes to see it, but the glory of the Lord is all around. It shimmers and shines throughout creation. We must begin by allowing ourselves to be bathed in its light, then follow with joy:

Let every valley be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low.
Let every cliff become a plain,
and the ridges a valley;
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all mankind shall see it;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
Go up on a high mountain,
joyful messenger to Zion.
shout with a loud voice,
joyful messenger to Jerusalem.
Shout without fear,
say to the towns of Judah,
‘Here is your God.’

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Black, White and Grey

For many the word ‘grey’ is now associated with pornography of a peculiarly mind-numbing banality, but for anyone who loves printing and typography, it is a beautiful word, shimmering between black and white. Grey is a soft colour, susceptible of an infinite variety of tints and gradations. It can be warm or cold, light or dark. What it can never be, to the eye that sees it aright, is dull or boring. It is a creative colour, as black and white are creative colours.

I was thinking about that this morning as I looked out of my window. The snowy fields and slopes are black, white and grey with, here and there, a touch of grey-brown where a tree trunk or wall has escaped the snow. It is the world as a printer might see it: all the important shapes sketched in; the blocks of type and margins allocated; the colours of ink and paper chosen; everything waiting for the moment when the book begins to take shape and meaning flows.

When the earth was without form and void, and the Spirit hovered over it, I wonder whether that was how God saw what he was about to create: a world of meaning from black, white and grey. I rather hope so.

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Point Counterpoint

Very few people know any Carthusian monks or nuns at first hand. I know only one, but being a nun myself and a lapsed medievalist, I feel a connectedness, a degree of understanding of his strange and beautiful vocation that can make me sad, at times, that I was not called to such a perfect expression of love for God.

The Carthusian vocation is strange and beautiful — strange in its rarity and intensity, for very few can live the eremitical life fruitfully and generously, as it must be lived; beautiful in its focus upon God alone amidst the beauty and silence of the Alpine snows that were its first home. St Bruno’s gift to the Church was a very great one, but also a much misunderstood one. Today, when the Catholic Church is dismissed by many as a load of paedophiles and perverts, I like to recall the witness of the Carthusians and their solitary prayer. However many failures there are in the Church — and wherever there are human beings, you will get failures — however much sin and shame blackens her face — and how black it has seemed of late! — the Carthusians remind us of the Church’s essential integrity and holiness as the Bride of Christ. They are the wise virgins, keeping their lamps alight throughout the hours of darkness until the Bridegroom comes.

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Snowfall and Silence

Snow is beautiful to look at, but what I love best about it is its silence: great drifts of silence falling from the sky and hushing everything. The world is noisy and we sigh over the necessity of having to cope with incessant clamour, sometimes amazed to discover that the worst din of all is from within. Snow changes our perception of reality, transforming common objects into strange shapes and revealing the mystery hidden within the apparently ordinary. Lying white and still, it quietens the world around us so that our inner noise is heard for what it is: ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

May you be blessed with a day of great interior silence in which to wonder at the beauty of the snow and its Creator.

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