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Sunday 30 November 2014

Tea Break in the Archangels' Restroom

pause in advent

It was tea break in the archangels’ rest room and it’s no use you telling me that archangels don’t have tea breaks and they don’t have rest rooms.  This is my story and I’m telling you that it was tea break in the archangels’ rest room.  

As always Raphael was there first.  It wasn’t that Raphael was work shy and knocked off first; rather it was that Raphael was the caring sort and he liked to get the kettle on ready for the others to come.  That way he could listen to their problems as they came, soothe their brows and generally do what he was best at - healing.

There was a loud rustling of wings in the corridor, the door was flung open wide and there was Michael.  One glance was enough to tell Raphael that Michael wasn’t having a good day.  Michael had very few very good days.  He was in charge of the winged squadrons and some of those cherubs were enough to try the most patient angel’s patience and no-one could call Michael the most patient angel.  Hot tea with an extra sugar and one of those nice chocolate biscuits wrapped in silver paper was Raphael’s prescription. 

Michael flopped into one of the best armchairs, hugged the cuppa like his life depended on it, gave a deep sigh and closed his eyes.  “Heaven preserve me from cherubs.”  Raphael made suitably sympathetic noises and they settled into a companionable silence.    Nothing needed to be said and they could just contemplate the infinite, which they were quite good at, as you might guess.

After a while Michael asked where Gabriel was and Raphael said that he hadn’t poured his tea as he’d heard that Big G had sent Gabriel on a job and you just never knew how long Big G’s jobs would take.  Michael nodded and once again silence fell on the rest room as they just enjoyed each other’s company – well wouldn’t you enjoy the company of angels? 

And then Gabriel arrived.  He looked so pale that the other two didn’t speak.  Raphael pressed into his hands a cup of strong tea which somehow smelled a bit spiritual, if you get my drift.  He took a huge gulp and then he spoke.  “You’ll never guess what Big G has had me doing today.”  The other two didn’t even try as they knew from long experience that second guessing Big G was beyond anyone, even an archangel.

“He’s only sent me down to earth to tell a slip of a girl called Mary that she’s going to be the mother of his son.  She’s only fifteen.  She lives in first century Palestine.  And she really hasn’t a clue.”

Michael spoke first.  “Is she married?  First century Palestine – that’s occupied by the Romans isn’t it?  And is that creep Herod still on the throne?”

Raphael wasn’t far behind with his questions.  “There won’t be a proper hospital.  And if it’s her first she won’t know how to look after it.  And she won’t have anywhere to live.  Poor little thing.”

Gabriel answered as briefly as he could.  Not married.  Palestine. Roman occupied.  Herod is still the puppet king.  Her first kid.

Michael was the first to recover.  “Not again.  You know what Big G is like.  He dishes out the decrees but leaves us to sort out the details.  You remember when he wanted do part the Red Sea but left it to us to organise the fish tanks or we’d have had a lot of extinct fish that day.  Or sorting the supper for those lions as a thank you for not eating Daniel.  Well, this will give those cherubs something to do at last.  Should put some backbone in them.  I’ll get the winged squadrons in.  Kick the Romans out of Palestine.  Find a better king for Jerusalem.

Raphael had been thinking as well.  “We’d better build a very quick twenty first century hospital.  And organise parent craft classes.  And I’ll get a few cherubs to volunteer to clean a new house for her and set up the best nursery ever.”

By this time Gabriel was beginning to look a bit better.  Not good mind, but better.  “Don’t worry about the unmarried bit.  I’ll leave it for a week or two and then go and see this old man called Joseph and tell him to marry the girl.   He’s a bit old for her but I suppose he’ll take good care of her.  Better that than a toy boy, anyway.  And maybe I should get the kid’s name down for Eton whilst I’m at it”

And so the three archangels started to plan how to improve on Big G’s plan. 

But just then the golden telephone rang.  Gabriel was the nearest so he picked it up.  Immediately he was alert and very respectful.  “Oh yes, your Almightiness.  Yes, sir.  We were just talking.  . . .  Oh, you heard us.  Of course you did.  And we made plans.  Oh you made plans too.  And your plans weren’t like ours.  You want us to . . . . what?  You’re sure.  Well if you’re absolutely sure, sir.  Well, yes sir, you know best.  Thank you, sir.”

He turned to the other two.  “That was Big G.  He says we’re to forget organising a coup to get rid of the Romans and replace Herod.  We’re to withdraw the planning application for the hospital and stand down the cherubs from spring cleaning.  He says that his son is to be just as vulnerable as the poorest of them.  To have parents as inadequate as most of them are.  To be born among the poorest and to grow up among the commonest of them.  In fact he’s going to know suffering and grief like them.  That way, no matter what those humans go through they’ll know that God understands and is right there beside them.”

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Donna Nook

Donna Nook!  Not a singer but a nature reserve.  

It’s used by aircraft from some of Lincolnshire’s many RAF stations for bombing practice but from October to December it’s a maternity ward for grey seals.  Hundreds of them.

Yesterday I made my annual visit and it is pure joy.  It must be one of the bleakest places out but these lovely creatures make it their home.  

Over seven hundred of them have been born there already this year and some of them seem to think humans are the best entertainment out.  

There’s a double fence to keep the seals and humans apart but it’s hard to say which species is more fascinated by the other.  Significant numbers of seals gather near the fence to watch the ever changing parade of people.  Humans come with such wonderful costumes on; some push tiny wagons with tiny humans in, others ride little machines but most just walk past for the entertainment of the seals who watch whilst doing very little.  

The seals don’t need to eat (apart from the pups suckling from their mothers) so they don’t need to take time out from the fun to find and eat food.  Life is pretty good when you are a seal - you just wallow in the water or mud or you lie and think.  Not a bad life.

Saturday 15 November 2014

My Sabbath

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Fridays here saying that Friday is the day I get ready for Saturday.  Today has been Saturday and has been my Sabbath.  

It seems odd really that I value a quiet day so much.  I value it more now than ever I did when I was working.  It is the day I renew my spirit and listen to God.  There is no agenda although there are a few rituals. 

The house has to be calm ready for Sabbath.  It starts with a special meal.  Friday night is not the time for a scrabble in the bottom of the fridge.  It’s the time for something carefully chosen which may take more effort than my meals on other days.  Yesterday it was a lovely homemade paella.  The evening was spent quietly – no TV, just an audiobook and my knitting. 

After saying Compline and loading the breadmaker it’s off to bed, and I always turn the bed down early in the evening and leave fresh nightclothes to be enjoyed with my fresh sheets.  Often I put flowers in my bedroom too. 

Saturday I always wake with a smile on my face.  I know it’s going to be a wonderful day.  The house smells of fresh bread and the crust is for breakfast.  There is no question of a to-do list, I just do things which delight my soul. 

My Sabbath has now ended and I still have my smile.  I have no family to delight me, my health is not brilliant but there is much to delight in.  God is indeed good.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

That reindeer looks drunk

Yesterday afternoon I was consumed by a need to get out of the house.  Anywhere!

So I went to a winter wonderland.  Actually it’s a local garden centre but I know they usually have something special for children and the Big Kid inside me needed a bit of childishness.

This particular Garden Centre plays very fair I think, as the wonderland bit isn’t near many things which would provoke a five year old’s “I want”.  There’s a train to ride on and doubtless the elderly bearded gentleman will make an appearance at weekends closer to Christmas but there are no toys etc in the vicinity.

There’s a trio of polar bears playing seasonal music. 

And a bear with a hand at a useful height for a child to have a photo taken.

The reindeer are getting in training for flying

Even if this reindeer seems to have more of a taste for sherry than carrots.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Getting ready for Christmas

Can I share a guilty secret with you?  I love Christmas!  Very unfashionable I know but I love the lead-up, the lights, the children’s excitement, everything.  Now I admit I have no children or grandchildren so I’m not under the same pressures as parents are but I take my hat off to the young parents I know who use this time of the year as a way to educate their children in making choices and a pretty good way of encouraging good behaviour.

I have a professional interest in Christmas too.  When I was in the regular vicars I had innumerable carol services to take – my personal record for one year was thirteen but I know vicars who have taken twice as many as that.  That meant that I had to have my “personal” Christmas sorted by the end of October so that I could be ready for whatever December brought.  One year I had three funerals in the four days before Christmas so I was glad that the decks were clear to allow me to give my full care and attention to the bereaved families.

So cards had to be made and written, presents chosen and as far as possible wrapped and food planned by the end of October.  Christmas sermons were drafted by the end of November, and December was still a hard slog.  At that time I still had my Mother and sister so I wanted to spend time with them.  The vicarage had to be decorated and hospitality offered to the parish as well as shared with family and friends.

So please don’t complain about the stuff which is in the shops so early.  Some people have to prepare their personal festivities early just so they can have a Christmas at all.

Sunday 9 November 2014


We have been remembering today.

I went to a village church as usual.  We remembered.   We read the names of the men from our five villages who went to war and didn’t come back.

We remembered those families where there was (and is) a keenly felt gap

We remembered the many who came back but whose lives were shattered.

We remembered those who still serve in our armed forces, their families and all who love them.

We remembered the areas of the world where there is still conflict.

We expressed our sorrow at the responsibility which religion has for violence.

We gave thanks for the peace which we enjoy in this country.

And we listened while one man made his personal act of remembrance by playing the Last Post on his mouth organ.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

we will remember them.

Thursday 6 November 2014

One hundred and twenty six.

One hundred and twenty six.  That’s how old my Grandma would have been today. 

She was one of a family of thirteen and her Father died whilst she was still young.  Her mother was a very feisty lady and managed to keep the family together. 

Grandma became a pupil teacher, training as she taught at the village school.  She was also organist at the Primitive Methodist Chapel and through her love of music she met my grandfather.  They married and had two boys and two girls.

Grandma had started work when she was twelve (Grandad when he was ten) but they valued education and managed somehow to let all four children go to Grammar School.  Imagine their pride when their younger boy became a professor and was later awarded an OBE for services to agriculture.

Grandad was a tenant farmer in partnership with his brother and continued to farm well into his seventies.  Grandma was an old fashioned farmer’s wife, making butter, baking and running a huge and rather primitive farmhouse.  She had time for her grandchildren and we all used to go for holidays with them.  She was a little stooped woman with a wispy grey bun and she had the twinkliest eyes and the biggest heart I have ever known.

She died over thirty years ago.  And I still miss her.  

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Remember, remember the fifth of November

When I was a child I loved Bonfire Night!  The ‘elf’n safety lot would be appalled but we always had a small box of fireworks at home.   We longed for nightfall and Father’s return from work.  He would have a long and leisurely cup of tea – I think he enjoyed prolonging the agony – and then it was out to the garden for the fun.

First there would be the bonfire to be lit.  It would have been built during the previous few weeks.  I’m sorry to say that I don’t ever remember checking for hedgehogs!  There was a slug of magic stuff, which looking back I think was probably paraffin, a strategically applied match and whoosh!  We’d stand around for a few minutes watching that and then there would be the first fireworks.  Daddy was the only one allowed anywhere near them but we would have told him the order he was allowed to let them off.  First would be the Roman Candles which my sister and I thought were very dull.  Then Catherine wheels – much more exciting as it wasn’t unknown for them to detach themselves from whatever they had been attached to.  My sister, despite being several years older than me, didn’t like Jumping Jacks or Bangers so she’d retire to a safe distance whilst those were let off.  Then the grand finale was rockets.  Aah, rockets.  Just a few seconds of pure pleasure.  Compared to the wonderful displays of today they were very dull but we thought them wonderful.
After that Daddy would rake around the ashes of the fire and pull out the old cocoa tins which had jacket potatoes in them.  As an adult I realise that they must have been cooked in the house because no way was there time for them to cook in the bonfire but we always said that bonfire night spuds were the best potatoes of the year.  There would be chestnuts and cinder toffee and we would retire to bed tired but happy.

We never had a Guy because Mother thought that a waste of “good” old clothes and that was something I envied my friends.  I wonder if this old man will meet his end tonight?