Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas walk

Like last year, but along a slightly different trajectory, we looked over the curve of Coldwell Bottom during the course of our Christmas walk. The six of us parked at Pinkham on a beautiful morning, three walking all the way home.

This was after a lateish breakfast: we had been to Midnight Mass - the two of us, plus all four of our (normally non-church-going) children, two with appendages. The experience gave rise to much discussion.

Unlike the Queen's Speech at 3 p.m. We all listened, but some with less than the fullest attention. A pity, as it was good.

PS Lawrence Freeman OSB wrote as follows in The Tablet later:

The Queen knows where she belongs. When she spoke her Christmas message, it resonated from more than a geographical place. It touched the soul of a people she had served for 60 years. She had seen great changes – “many of them for the better”, as she said. She was looking backwards… but… she also looked forwards, not predicting what would come but with a hope born of a personal vision not of statistics or planning. Not many monarchs or other leaders have spoken recently from such a place of faith, rooted in such a defined cultural and geographical identity... It was not a sermon. Perhaps she has heard enough of those. It was more like a teaching, carrying an authority that rested on its ability to clarify and advise without any feeling of imposition. 

His disciples once asked a desert father on his deathbed how they should live. He replied that he had always made up his mind, whenever he had asked any of them to do something, not to be angry if they did not do it. “And so we have always lived in peace.” The Queen’s rather similarly toned message to the people she has served was wrapped in the reflections of a grandmother, the head of the Commonwealth and of the armed forces. We saw a baby being photographed, sportsmen running and soldiers in action. But between these images was the real message – to take time to pause and regain the “balance between action and reflection” that the intense distractedness of our culture has lost us. Temporary retreat from the world allows us to understand the world better, and the essential values of family, friendships and good neighbourliness come back into focus. 

The generic, safely non-religious, word for this in a secular society is the rather neutral “reflection”. The Queen used this, but drew from an older and richer vocabulary too when she spoke of “contemplation, prayer and meditation”. Reflection, she said, did not mean only looking back. Whoever takes time to pause in the midst of activity, to be still in these moments of contemplation, may discover “surprising results”. 

In the light of the Christian mystical tradition, this is, of course, a very English understatement. But who is better able to deliver a powerful message with such a throwaway, inoffensive line? What lay behind it, however, was wrapped in the talk of the new baby who had been inducted into a “joyful faith of duty and service”. The teaching ended in an explicit link between the need for this space for prayer in modern life and the love of God, which we find there and in which we grow. And without blinking, she reminded us of the staggering truth that nothing is beyond the reach of this love. 

It is rare in our culture for a sincere statement of such clarity and depth to be made at all, and especially rare for it to be made so convincingly.

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