Skip to main content

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL THING YOU ARE DOING: Christmas 2020

 

This is not Samuel - A striking picture I found online


I drink from your cup
Eat from the bowl
You left behind in the rain
White and pure, soiled

I dip into your absence
Tasting traces of your life
And search for signs
Of you on the street

Remembering how you prayed
Out loud in the church
And slept awhile to ease
Away the harshness of days

You played music
I sang songs

We were bonded there
Where Jesus and Mary
Make their presence felt
Enfolding us in their Tent

Through weather that is

Unkind

Unfair

The above lines were inspired by the departure of Samuel (already posted in a separate blog but fit here) after I had gathered up and washed some of the bits and piece of his time here. Someone asked if he held it against me that I sent him away, if he resented me for it. The answer is below. 

Right now, I’m puzzled and frazzled by the sausages that have just disappeared out of the fridge. Was looking forward to a rare fry. Went through the fridge and freezer several times! Then in the night I laughed out loud when I remembered! And they’re only sausages after all! 

That I was frazzled was a signal, a little alarm bell that I needed to step back a bit and rest. I’m surprised by just how tired I am after Christmas. We put a lot of work into getting it ready so that it could be as good and safe an experience as possible in these exceptional circumstances. 

A huge number of hours and head space went into the booking system that was suggested we undertake, something that went against the grain for me but I did it in obedience. And it proved to have been an unnecessary exercise. We could have gone ahead in faith! When I saw how few were able to come to Christmas Masses I was tempted to think of the preparation as a useless waste of time. Tempted. But all the phone calls meant that I had conversations with many people that would not otherwise have taken place. Typing and printing all the names kept these people in my awareness, the thought of them becoming a prayer. So, I’m happy with that now. 

Christmas Eve when Angela had done all the beautiful flowers, we opened the church at 1pm and put Baby Jesus in the Crib early, as if He were born too soon, so that young families with little children could come to visit, pray, take photos, light candles. Because we could not safely hold the usual Christmas Eve Children’s Mass. 

Candles were lit, Christmas music played, the atmosphere beautiful. And I dressed for the occasion in my Rudolf jumper and Nativity face mask. Someone commented that I looked ridiculous – I think it was my Nativity face covering that drew such a reaction but the children loved it and one lad even said “fabulous!” But however I looked, it was for Jesus and for the children, for love of them. Being a “fool for Christ” has never sat easy with me but it comes more naturally as one gets older. 

Since the beginning of Advent, I have been following St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s ‘True Devotion to Jesus through Mary’ – coinciding again with the arrival and presence of Samuel. 

This morning’s Gospel from the Devotion is Jesus being mocked on the Cross, jeered at, the striking phrase being, “…IF you are the Son of God…” A big IF. The very phrase the devil used in the Temptation in the Desert – “…. if you are the Son of God…”, the insinuation being, “you’re not really the Son of God, not who you claim to be!” The seed of self-doubt planted in a spirit of mockery. A destructive, wicked thing. Anything that questions our true identity in that way is the instrument of the devil, an instrument he uses frequently to great effect. 

Silence is the response of Jesus. It would be my best response too but I haven’t yet arrived at that level of silence. For example, when the “ridiculous” comment was made I attempted to explain myself, to give an adequate reply. But I only felt myself fumbling inside. Fumbling and strangely stung. Of all the comments made that day it is the one that clamours most for my attention, like a stone in my shoe. 

“I keep silence, I speak no more since You yourself have been at work.” (Psalm 39:9) A line that is echoed in the song of Leonard Cohen – “if it be your will that I speak no more, that my voice be still as it was before. I will abide…” 

Samuel came to visit for a while and, sitting near the back of the church watching the children come in, said “it is a beautiful thing you are doing here.” His face wet with tears. “I’m always crying!” he said light-heartedly when I asked him why. 

That afternoon was a child’s time. The sight of little ones approaching the Crib, how they would whisper in innocent astonishment, making comments, asking questions, lighting candles. They spoke of their excitement, glowed with it. Memories of my own childhood visits came back to me. How I longed then to crawl in there to lay myself down with Jesus and sleep with Him in the hay. Still long to do that. Still long to live in a nomadic tent! 

The Christmas Masses were simple. Peaceful is a word people used. We heard the word of the Angel, let go of our fear, came like the shepherds to the stable and were specially blessed simply by being there together. 

For the afternoon of Christmas Day I relaxed, opening the multitude of cards and gifts that came from the abundance of love that is in this parish. Went for a walk before the sun went down. A beautiful sunset. 

And turning back into High Street I saw Samuel sitting by the Convenience Store, playing his guitar. Chatted for a while and told him there were clothes and a card left for him by a kind parishioner. He said he would come up later after he had busked and made a bit of money. 

At home, Tom brought me the beautiful dinner that Kerry had cooked for me and then I went to the church where night had fallen. The Crib glowed, many candles flickered and a woman in the shadows said, “thank you for leaving the church open!” She was in need of its solace. 

And Samuel came again, to be my Christmas companion. Well, he came to collect the gifts left for him but stayed for a time, a long time. I left him in the church while I went to make him a coffee and when I returned, he was on his knees in the middle aisle, bowed with his head touching the floor. We talked, he strummed his guitar and was pleased when I praised his touch on the strings. He spoke of the difficulty of the past few days, the cold of night and the pressure he feels from having too many people, people he feels obliged to help. And I feel a pang of guilt that I have pushed him in that direction. If I knew he would be alone again so soon, I might have let him stay where he was. He stretched out on a pew and slept away some of the weariness until a friend of his arrived with dinner for him, a good and kind young man. Samuel has quite a few friends who look out for him in that way. He has a lovely way of drawing you in. 

He may or may not return but I’m sure that in God’s time we will meet again, the same Providence that gave us this Advent and Nativity together. 

I leave you with a poem by Jessica Powers (Carmelite Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit) that Derry mentioned to me in a text: 

The Master Beggar

Worse than the poorest mendicant alive,
the pencil man, the blind man with his breath
of music shaming all who do not give,
are You to me, Jesus of Nazareth.

Must You take up Your post on every block
of every street? Do I have no release?
Is there no room of earth that I can lock
to Your sad face, Your pitiful whisper “Please”?

I seek the counters of time’s gleaming store
but make no purchases, for You are there.
How can I waste one coin while You implore
with tear-soiled cheeks and dark blood-matted hair?

And when I offer You in charity
pennies minted by love, still, still You stand
fixing Your sorrowful eyes on me.
Must all my purse be emptied in Your hand?

Jesus, my beggar, what would You have of me?
Father and mother? the lover I long to know?
The child I would have cherished tenderly?
Even the blood that through my heart’s valves flow?

I too would be a beggar. Long tormented,
I dream to grant You all and stand apart
with You on some bleak corner, tear-frequented,
and trouble mankind for its' human heart.

(Jessica Powers)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

WILD HEART: A Brooding Beauty

'Wild at Heart' is the book I came upon in the sitting room at home. Wild is the unmanaged beauty of Ballyloughán, the beach where we swam and played as children, getting roasted by the sun. A brooding beauty. The sombre grey of the sea beneath a vibrant Western sky.  Dark and pale blue, brown and orange with a blazing white setting sun at its centre. The song of curlews echoing. I have gone there every day of my quarantine. Mostly in the early morning. 

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY: In Loving memory of Father John O’Brien SCA

  Meditation in the Sahara Desert Through a glass darkly. A phrase from 1 Corinthians 13 which was the last piece of Scripture I read to John the day before he died. The same phrase came to me separately and independently from Derry and Tom yesterday so it seems an appropriate place from which to start. In his unconsciousness John’s eyes remained open and, though he could not see us or anything around him in this world, it seemed to me that he was gazing into the Beyond, perceiving dim reflections of the reality towards which he was travelling, the God whom he loved all his life, the God by whom he was touched. "He touched me" was a phrase he liked to use. The Father was uncovering His face to His child and like a new-born baby learning to see, John sometimes looked a bit puzzled as if he was trying to work something out, trying to understand. But the end of that gazing is this, “…we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been

SAMUEL: By Whom God Is Heard

  He used to live in the shelter at the end of the seafront near the old bathing pool, the shelter in which the Name of Jesus is inscribed. You could see him cycling in that direction, looking happy with himself and he might glance in your direction as he did with me a few days ago. He smiled, I smiled and something within me said, “this man is going to come into your life!” And I wasn’t sure that I wanted him in my life at all. This beautiful Saturday morning, awake early I decide to open the church in case anyone might want to come in for a candle and a prayer, as Maria sometimes does on her way down to the shop. Today she doesn’t arrive but as I am pottering around the sanctuary getting ready for Advent and listening to Advent music, I notice a man come in. He kneels to pray in the half light and I leave him to it for a while. Then I decide to go to the church door in case he needs something and, sure enough he follows me out into the sunshine. The first thing I notice is that s