Lucy Winkett ended thought for the day this past Tuesday with the challenge to ‘give ourselves away’. Lucy is rector of St. James’ Piccadilly. Had I the chance to be in London over Christmas I would make time to go there to see the art installation by Arabella Dorman. It includes a dingy which arrived on the island of Lesbos with 62 refugees on board. St. James’ Piccadilly is no stranger to controversy. One of it’s previous incumbents, whom I met in Bangor, was Donald Reeves, known for being a nuisance to the CofE. Together with his partner Peter Peltz they founded the peace charity Soul of Europe. Based on the words of Mandela: “You don’t make peace by talking to your friends; you have to make peace with your enemies.” They began bringing people together. So I find myself ill at ease as, unlike the thousands of refugees who will be on the road this December, I have no need to travel and I have a secure home. Today’s Gospel reading tells of Mary journeying to visit Elizabeth, both of them pregnant. Mary makes a second journey with Joseph to Bethlehem. A third journey takes them away into Egypt as refugees fleeing from violence. The first journey was one made out of love, to see a relative. The second out of obligation to the state and the third made in desperation and fear. So little has changed. These journeys will all happen this Christmas. Returning to the words of Lucy Winkett: what does it mean to ‘give ourselves away’? If I suggested to you that Advent was a time for emptying out in order to be ready for Christmas, what might your initial thoughts be? Emptying cluttered shelves and bookcases, in order to fill the house with this year’s must-reads and best-buys? Maybe. Fasting or more probably dieting through advent in order to make room for twelve days feasting? Maybe not so much these days. Perhaps it could mean emptying ourselves of our own needs, wants, desires, pride and expectations in order to be filled with the love that comes from being truly open to receive the gift of God in Jesus? How often do we hear, it is in the giving that we receive? Do we really understand this concept? It is not the reciprocal voucher exchange that I and my cousin used to practice for a number of Christmases past! Giving of ourselves to such an extent that we give ourselves up, give ourselves away. Until we do that, there is little room for Jesus or anyone else to make much of an impression upon our hearts. A Christmas film might help us to unpack this idea a little. The Richard Curtis Christmas comedy Love Actually from 2003. The film begins and ends with a scene of travellers reunited with friends and families at an airport. The voice-over from Hugh Grant suggests, contrary to the popular opinion that we live in a world dominated by violence and hatred, Love actually is all around us. But it is not necessarily news worthy or dignified, but it is there. And so begins the tangled web of stories to make us laugh along the way and prove the point. In fact it appears that Love can be found in a myriad of unexpected, awkward, and you might well suggest if you have seen the film, inappropriate places. As the new prime minister meets his household staff. As someone is caught with his brother’s wife. Being in love with the bride during a wedding, when you are not the groom. Being seven and in love with the most popular girl in school. Or in love with someone with whom you cannot communicate. Love in the darkest places, where a heart’s desire is beyond grasp. But the film begins to turn to those true expressions of love that take an effort to cultivate. Where there is sacrifice, we see a giving away of self to the point where there is nothing left to give. The invitation is then open for love to enter in. Not because of inappropriate desires, but because of the selfless giving of one person to another. And so we see a sister devoted to her brother. The seven year old gives up everything to learn to play the drums for his girl. A writer and his housekeeper who cannot say anything meaningful to each other learn each other’s language in the hope that one day there might be a chance for their unspoken affection. Moments of beauty in a silly Christmas film brings to birth the idea that in order to receive, first we must be prepared not just to give, but to give up our self. Mary gives up her body, her identity, her home and then her freedom. Mary gave herself away. We are asked for the same. Love is given a chance when we are transparent before the other. Love will find a way in, often through pain or suffering. First we must admit that we are broken. When the moment comes that we have nothing left to give; Christ can then enter in, the transformation can begin and we will truly have given ourselves away.
Woodfest again at St. Asaph, don’t miss it! Or try to remember next year… There seem to be a number of different types of people exhibiting or competing. Most working in their field and making a living the way most of us do, wood things being a profitable sideline. There are the commercial firms whose machined products look out of place next to the hand crafted ones. There are also the minority of excellent craftsmen and women making their living solely from their craft, these are the ones one admires the most. Often the craft comes first, financial gain second. They do it for the love of the creating and the pleasure of the wood. I have to say that of all the very good and worthy people showing their skills there is none like the mushroom man, earning a living by turning wooden mushrooms out of Hazel. I imagine one day, he like others, was turning and demonstrating. Made a wooden mushroom and sold it there and then. Then he did another and chatted to those he was making them for as his chisles effortlessly cut away the wood. Where others put up safety screen and sat behind desks, he was stood up outside, nothing to stop the endless waves of wood chippings covering those watching. A few children at the front started to dance in the wood confetti tossing it over their heads in some mock wedding ritual, child meets wood, perhaps touching it for the first time in it’s raw state, ‘feel the wood’ he says ‘it’s wet, isn’t it?’ the youngsters learn this is green wood, straight from the tree, the best for turning, soft and supple it bends to the will of the blade. As the mushroom is finished, complete with ring, furry bits and cone topping, the crowd shifts slightly, those going away clutching a newly carved work of love. For the love of it, and with good humour, is the better path. There are few who can tread the narrow road, but theirs is the path to be travelled!
Rumi said, in the midst of conflict:
“I go into the Muslim mosque, and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church and I see one altar.”
How open, or how big must one’s heart be to allow such a thought? Can such a radical notion of generosity of heart ever take root today? Perhaps not until we give up utterly what it is that we desire most will we come closer to that which is for the most part lost to us and beyond our reach for there is too much in the way.
Such is the heart of St. Dwynwen who gave up everything for the sake of others love.