It is time to break out my winter music, which always starts with this sublime offering from Over the Rhine, which almost always reduces me to tears, so much so that I save it for soft days when I need something to help me get deeper into this season.
I listened to it with a friend today, through snot and tears, at the same time trying to explain why this was a good thing. Music of this kind breaks through to something that matters, which I can only describe using the words of Jean Vanier;
“The quest for the eternal, all-beautiful, all-true and all-pure, and the quest to be close to the poor and most broken people appear to be so contradictory. And yet, in the broken heart of Christ, these two quests are united. Jesus reveals to us that he loves his Father, and is intimately linked to him; at the same time, he is himself in love with each person and in a particular way with the most broken, the most suffering and the most rejected.”
Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
We worked away over the weekend, at a ‘Winter market’, selling the ceramic art that pays our bills. This meant a couple of days in the middle of Glasgow, along with our daughter and son in law who were there for the same reason. After a busy Saturday, we walked towards a chip shop that served safe gluten free grub, through the massed saturday night revellers.
The shop was predictably busy, so we queued to be served then waited for our order, at which point I noticed a girl sitting on the floor, leaning on an overflowing dustbin. She was young, obviously freezing despite the thin blanket she was wrapped up in and appeared to be from a middle-eastern country. Smiling as if to reassure people that she was OK really, she held out a polystyrene cup towards the mass of moving humanity and from time to time gently utter the word ‘please’.
Something inside me broke. I find myself standing on the pavement openly weeping, this time not in a good way.
All the same questions I have asked a hundred times. How is this possible? How can we have become a country in which this is regarded as acceptable? Surely she is not safe? Where is she sleeping tonight? What can I do? Who in power can I shout at right now?
In the end, we bought her chips and she ate them ravinously as if it was the first meal of the day. She assured us she had a bed for the night at a local shelter and I hope this was true, but still, she was on the street, trying to scape money together for the next meal. The system of support we have carved out from the wealth of those who have too much in this country has shrunken down to this.
Today, I wait for the god who comes first to all that is beautiful and all that is broken.
Last year, pondering some similar matters, I re-wrote these words to a famous carol. I am sure you will recognise it.
What can I give him, wealthy as I am?
Does he need an i-phone or a well-aged Parma ham?
Should I bring him trainers, a pair of brand-new jeans?
Or Halo for the X-box (whatever the hell that means)
In a tower block in Camden, a woman breaks her heart
Her credit score is hopeless, her marriage fell apart
Her cupboards all lie empty, her clothes are wafer thin
Her kids can thank the food bank for turkey from a tin
If I were a kind man, I would bring good cheer
I would house the homeless, if for only once a year
I’d buy my cards from Oxfam, for virtue is no sin
I’d send some Christmas pudding to poor old Tiny Tim
In the bleak midwinter, frosty winds still moan
And Mr Wilson’s waited ages to get the council on the phone
He’s worried cos his boiler has given up the ghost
And since Mabel got dementia, she feels cold more than most
If I were a wise man, I would do my part
I’d sell that gold and incense and invest it for a start
In gilt-edged annuities and solid pension schemes
For without good fiscal planning, what can ever be redeemed?
In a lock-up by the roadside a bastard-child is born
To another teenage mother whose future looks forlorn
A host of heavenly angels up high in star-strewn sky
Sing blue-scale hallelujahs as lorries thunder by