Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The time has come

The time has come, fear not.

Well this advent project has come to an end, it is advent no more but the day of the celebration of the incarnation. 

I like this poem by Luci Shaw, it touches on the impact of the incarnation - there is not a big fat Santa or a slice of turkey in sight. Here are the last stanzas:

"...for who can endure the day of his coming?"
Malachi 3:2

In our nights
our complicated modern dreams
rarely flower into visions. No contemporary
Gabriel dumbfounds our worship,
or burning, visits our bedrooms.
No signpost satellite hauls us, earthbound
but star-struck, half around the world
with hope. Are our sensibilities too blunt
to be assaulted with spatial power-plays
and far-out proclamations of peace?
Sterile, skeptics, yet we may be broken
to his slow, silent birth, his beginning
new in us. His big-ness may still burst
our self-containment to tell us, 
without angels' mouths, Fear not.

God knows we need to hear it, now,
when he may shatter, with his most shocking
coming, this proud, cracked place,
and more if, for longer waiting,
he does not.

We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady, 
The air so still, 
Silence more lovely than music 
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves,
We give to your son.

Composer: Bob Chilcott

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Picture the Beauty 24

Day 24 - Silent Night

This evening's beauty is more visceral than visual, the stillness and peace of silence. I am 'stranded' in my uni town due to storm-induced travel chaos and will be picked up by my parents tomorrow morning instead of the journey I had planned for this evening and it is so, so quiet around here. The place I live, which is usually a hive of activity, is almost empty, the roads are basically clear and there was barely a soul in town when I went for a walk earlier - an unexpected but fitting way to bring this reflective advent project to a close.


A glass of wine would have been nice, though; should have thought of that before the shops shut...tsssk.

Update: Co op was open and the situation is rectified; cheers, mi dears!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Picture the Beauty 23

Day 23 - Afternoon tea by candlelight

Today's beauty was a lovely afternoon tea by candlelight (it was dark by 3.50pm) with delightful company and crockery. Seeing as the tea was with my polymath friend Simone, the chat ranged from the nature writer and closet panentheistic theologian Richard Jefferies to hand-knitted sweaters based on a seamless Scottish design from the 19th Century. 

Staying with the Scottish theme I was then treated to haggis at the home of the warden and his family and entertained by a fellow guest from Cuba playing the piano. Some fig, almond and raw chocolate truffles dipped in green and blacks chocolate were made for the two occasions.

Delightful crockery:

...with truffles in the background

Delightful guest:

This day has also involved a bit of delayed gratification in terms of beautiful things. On Saturday evening I was given some wonderful smelling vanilla tea - not sure whether to drink it or just to keep it to be sniffed - and a lovely home-made Christmas pot-pourri. As neither were wrapped I didn't have the dilemma of to open or not to open. Last night, however, I was given a beautifully wrapped gift, many hours have passed and I have still not opened it, it just looks at me tantalisingly... my mother would be amazed at the self-control displayed by yours truly.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Picture the Beauty 22

Day 22 - Fourth Sunday of Advent: 'where our piety anxiously keeps its distance...'

It is now already the fourth Sunday of this project, and in contrast to an eventful couple of weeks it has been a quiet, relaxed, contemplative type of day, punctuated by making lunch for a housemate and helping a friend wrap her Christmas presents whilst listening to this chilled (and somewhat melancholy) music:

I also read a bit of the m-m, D. Bonhoeffer, and was particularly struck by this from one of his advent sermons:

'...God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe. God's path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.

There, where our understanding is outraged, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps its distance - that is exactly where God loves to be. There, though it confounds the understanding of sensible people, though it irritates our nature and our piety, God wills to be and none of us can forbid it. Only the humble believe and rejoice that God is so gloriously free, performing miracles where humanity despairs and glorifying that which is lowly and of no account. For just this is the miracle of all miracles, that God loves the lowly. God "has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant." God in the midst of lowliness - that is the revolutionary, passionate word of Advent.'

Then, finally lighting four advent candles - a brief moment of redeeming my time, space and events.

Picture the Beauty 21

Day 21 - Lady R and little T

These two ladies have a big part of my heart and they also love each other dearly, it is so moving to watch them together. In a couple of her down times over the past year (which heart-breakingly can last for up to 5 1/2 months at a time), there have been moments when the only smile to cross R's lips has been in response to little T. Last night we had a pre-Christmas dinner and these two enjoyed each other's company immensely.

Little T's mum put her in a cute pale pink flowery top for my benefit - she is usually dressed in stripes and trucks. :-)

And these were taken on R's birthday earlier in the year when she smiled for the first time in months whilst gazing at beautiful baby T.

Picture the Beauty 20

Day 20 - Beauty in the Detail

I got to know the work of Belgian painter and botanist Redoute (please supply the acute over the final e) via an exhibition at the local museum. The composition in his paintings is wonderful and the details even more so. 

Final picture taken from here: the others from a poster on my door.

And then, there's this...

Friday, 20 December 2013

Picture the Beauty 19

Day 19 - The chocolate of human kindness

I spent the day with a friend who is paraplegic and as a result of her spine injury is locked-in (unable to speak despite full cognition). She is a beautiful person in every way and also a chocolate fiend. I usually get her a coffee and some kind of treat when we go out. Today, for the first time in over three years I didn't have enough money on me to do that. So, beforehand I gave my apologies and said, let's just get a coffee. We went to a Costa's in town and I ordered R a cappuccino with plenty of froth (because she loves the froth) and plenty of choc sprinkled on top (to compensate for the lack of chocolaty treat that day). The girl serving us was really kind and most unusually started talking to R (most people avoid even eye-contact, sadly, as they are not sure what to do when faced with someone with this condition). She made sure the cappuccino was fully-frothed up and came over to check whether there was enough. She then came back and offered to refill the froth once it had reduced and once again added plenty of choc sprinkles. Then, she came over with a little paper cup, inside the cup were two mini cadbury's chocolate flakes! R grinned from ear to ear, I'm convinced she must have been sending out some strong chocolate vibes...

* photo taken from here:

In the evening after a long day pushing R many miles in her wheelchair, cycling 12 miles to and from her house and doing a kettlebell session in the cold and rain (I felt particularly hardcore), I got home really exhausted and soaking wet only to be greeted by a cooked meal by one of my lovely housemates, Hannah and friend - (can't forget the artful mushroom and onion-chopping, Helen -it's all in the details...), and mulled wine followed by another friend heating up a mince pie for me - human kindness in abundance this day.*  We then had an impromptu jamming session during which it was revealed that mince pie friend plays the guitar rather splendidly and onion-chopping friend has an amazing voice; a beautiful day, indeed.
* very long Germanic sentence...

Today was also the birthday of the most beautiful and kind woman I know - Happy Birthday, Mum. xxx

Picture the Beauty 18

Day 18 - Of Prioresses and Puppies

Today's beauty consisted of attending a formal candlelit dinner in a room that was once the habitation of the Prioress of a Benedictine convent which was on the site from the 12th - 15th Century. The company was great, the food lovely and the room atmospheric with oak-panelled walls, and an open fireplace.

After the meal we went to a nearby pub and spotted a green crate on one of the side bars, at the end of the evening we saw a little head poke out... 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Picture the Beauty 17

Day 17 - Beautiful paintings, beautiful lady.

Today, via a profile pic change I was reminded of the beautiful paintings of a beautiful friend. She is by far my favourite artist. The colours and textures that Becky uses are gorgeous and she has a way of producing art that is both impressionistic (my favourite approach) and yet that hones in on details that others would miss - seeing beauty in the minutiae and the ordinary. I had trouble picking out a few to include here as I love them all and were I wealthy would buy the lot and adorn my house with them (which would obviously need to be extremely large and then I would need a cleaner, gardener etc and it would all get a bit out of hand expensive...).

Anyway, here's a selection and you can see more on her website

And here was the view whilst doing sit ups (ug) at boot camp this morning:

 (not that I took the photo WHILST doing sit ups, that would have just added to the pain)

Monday, 16 December 2013

Picture the Beauty 16

Day 16 - Monastic bark in Cambridge, MA

Three weeks ago today (I was going to just initial that then realised that it spelled 'Twat' and thought better of it ;-) ), I was visiting a much loved friend in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a brief 40 or so hours. Outside the wonderful monastery where he is currently doing an internship, and where I stayed for my fleeting visit, are these stunning trees with the most beautiful bark:

and there's his hand sneaking in to the photo...

and there he is - the provider of the advent candles...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Picture the Beauty 15

Day 15 - Third Sunday of Advent

The third advent Sunday of this project.

A day which saw quiet reflection,  the first Christmas dinner of the season, time with friends, film script material, more reflection, and the lighting of the third advent candle - courtesy again of absent friend, Rapha...

...who gave this lovely card:

Picture the Beauty 14

Day 14 - Strictly gathering

Like many other Saturdays recently, this day was topped off by a gathering of friends to watch Strictly Come Dancing with a little wine and pizza to help the evening along the way. There are no photos of the event, although plenty of beautiful people there, so here are some from the road I was on earlier in the evening which look a little Turner-esque:

Picture the Beauty 13

Day 13 - Party sandwich

The day was sandwiched by celebrations, a Christmas celebration with the residents and readers where I live and study, and a Santa Lucia celebration in the latter part of the evening complete with a flaming head-dress and singing courtesy of a lovely Swedish friend.

Even though I am ideologically uncomfortable with Christmas trees, I decorated this whilst half asleep (ie before my morning cup of tea) for the Christmas brunch:

and lovely Swedish friend came in like this for the Santa Lucia evening in the gorgeous drawing room of her landlords' which is decorated with exquisitely beautiful wall-hanging carpets and replete with grand piano :

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Picture the Beauty 12

Day 12 - Back to beautiful NYC

Back to beautiful things in my life reflection rather than grumpy-sounding monologue about Christmas. :-D

Three weeks ago today (agAIn), I was here looking, or rather 'squinting', at the Statue of Liberty.