Advent, day twenty one.
Giles Fraser wrote a lovely piece for The Guardian yesterday, reflecting on preparing for the funeral of a friend, whilst Christmas unfolded around him.
Michael made a request to me when we were planning his funeral: he asked me to preach on the subject of glory. He remembered me speaking about that extraordinary Dennis Potter interview with Melvyn Bragg in which the TV dramatist – in the final stages of cancer himself – talked about his impending death enabling him to see things more clearly, including the beauty of the plum blossom outside his window: “The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance … not that I’m interested in reassuring people – bugger that.”…
We live in a world where experience is only valid if it can be digitised, but the process of digitisation mostly strips out the humanity, the brokenness, the inevitability of pain, replacing it with photographs and status updates selected to display the life we wished we were leading. The very opposite of the nowness that Potter was referring to. Bugger that.
Joy is not the absence of pain. It is not something that can be constructed or bought. Rather I think it is what happens when we connect with the beauty within one single moment. Mostly, in my experience, these moments are ones born in that part of our humanity where we are most vulnerable.
We joy in our children.
We joy at our smallness before a vast sparkling sky.
We joy as music breaks past our defences and thrills us to the soul.
We joy when we feel ourselves to be at the centre of a beautiful bigger story.
Joy ambushes us and reduces us to… tears.
Because the thing about joy is that it is a fleeting fickle thing and sometimes, despite our surroundings, it is absent…
‘Joy to the world’ always sounds
ridiculously over-inclusive, from my
lowered down in these city streets
obfuscated by all that is ordinary.
How about some joy more localised?
to the state I’m in?
What currency is joy counted in anyway?
What presents will it buy?
Will it float me far away on free air miles?
Will it sprinkle fairy dust on these small days of winter?
Or is just a celestial scratch card
Always scratched by
Like a shepherd, I fear I would not recognise it
even if the Angel Gabriel visited me on some lonely hillside
Even if it fizzed in the mountain brooks
like victory Champagne.
Let alone glimpsed in bloody froth
as it slapped down on a filthy stable floor
at the furthest reach of a distant empire.
No choir, just the cries of a too-young mother
And a fart from the odd ruminant.
Joy to the world indeed.