Ultreia

Dear Friends

Like everyone else we, at Colomba le Roc, have been affected by Covid 19. But I am not thinking here of guests we had hoped to welcome but who didn’t come or of  ways to adapt the run of our retreat house if we want to follow present hygiene and safety rules. Rather, I am thinking of the effect Covid 19 has had on our family life.

In one way 2020 has been a true blessing  as  it brought us two more grandchildren; a great joy to be sure, but as one was born in Austria a week before lockdown and the other in Aberdeen after the introduction of a two week quarantine for  people coming from France, we still haven’t held either of them in our arms.  Hopefully though that will change soon, at least with regard to our Austrian grandson, as we hope to make it to Austria for his baptism next week.

The journey to Austria however is a long one and involves crossing a few countries and therefore needs some serious planning. But how do you plan such a trip in times of such uncertainty when every day rules change?  Will the countries we will need to cross, allow us through? Will we find ourselves stuck somewhere because suddenly the country we come from or are going through is on the red list? Will we have to go into quarantine when we get home? (like so many British holiday makers stuck in France or Spain )

So many uncertainties, so many fears…  for all of us of course.

In the bible there are many people who went on journeys with no idea what to expect, some like Abraham didn’t even know where they were going, others saw the plans of their journey regularly changed, yet  they had one certainty, that whatever happened God was with them. And so they traveled on.

When Ian and I walked on the Camino we learnt a pilgrim song which encourages the pilgrim to walk on. The refrain:  Ultreïa ! Ultreïa ! E sus eia, Deus adjuva nos !  (which translates roughly :  “onward and upward God with us”) is an encouragement telling the pilgrim to move on both physically and spiritually,  God helping.

To me that pilgrim spirit, that not knowing what is ahead and yet walking on in faith, is what we need most in the months and may be even years ahead. We have no idea what lies ahead of us, and life may never be the same again, but let’s not lose hope, for God goes with us wherever our journey will take us.

Which means that despite all the uncertainties we can, and should, still plan for the future  as did the German reformer Martin Luther, who surely lived in uncertain times  and who said in those desperate circumstances: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

May God bless you all with hope and faith in our own uncertain times and encourage you to plant your own “apple tree”.

Ultreïa ! Ultreïa ! E sus eia, Deus adjuva nos !

Joanne

A flowering desert

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As in many other places in Europe it has been rather hot at Colomba le Roc recently and over the last weeks temperatures have reached the upper thirties on a regular basis.

However in the South West of France such heat is not unusual in August. And so though it has affected our energy levels and concentration potential we, like all people who live in hot climes, have just adapted by slowing down, resting in the afternoon when the sun is at its hottest, and doing those things that need to be done as early or late as possible in the day.

Not surprisingly the burning sun and dry air affect the garden and one of our regular tasks is to water the vegetables and pot plants using the water from “our” well.

002Here in the Lot region of France, all farmers used to have access to a well. Ours lies in the valley below  quite a few hundred meters from our own land which in the “olden days” cannot have been very practical. But luckily for us we do not have to go down the hill with our buckets and watering cans as there is a pump which brings the water up to our garden.  All we need to do is switch it on and connect the hosepipe.

That is if/when the pump works… Luckily, thanks to Ian’s regular maintenance it is working fine at the moment. Still, this does not mean we can just water any plants as and when we wish. After all water is a valuable commodity in this part of the world and certainly not to be wasted.

So don’t expect a lush green lawn if you come and visit us in August. And though we water a few potted plants, you can also by now forget about beautiful roses, blooming buddleias, daisies ,  salvias or even sunflowers.

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In fact when you look around you at the moment it may seem  as if “Rebecca’s garden” (a desert garden representing the well where Abraham’s servant went to find a wife for his master’s son Isaac) has expanded to the rest of its surroundings;  stones, sand , dry grass and nothing else.

 

For many people such a dead looking environment may be unworthy of their attention; just a hopeless and lifeless piece of land… And yet if you take time to look you will find that in this desert-like environment  beautiful  flowers do grow. Flowers that would not have grown in greener more fertile ground. Flowers that you only notice because nothing else grows around them. Each with their own beauty, each a sign of life.

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Even in the desert flowers can and will grow. And if that is true of natural dry lands, surely it is also true of our spiritual and emotional deserts.

 

May God bless you all

Joanne

 

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Isaiah 35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

Rebuilding the ruins

 

IMG_2797Dear Friends

Though the pictures I have included in my different blogs may give you that impression, Colomba le Roc is not completely in the middle of nowhere, in fact it is situated in a “lieu-dit” or hamlet called le Faurat (a name which according to the specialists means that there has been  a forge here at some time or other).

 

Today three family units live in our hamlet; two at the big farm and one at Colomba le Roc. However, according to an early 19th century map made by order of Napoleon, there would have been at  least six  families living here  two centuries ago. And if you concentrate on our bit of land alone; you will discover there were originally five buildings where now there are only two. Four of those would most certainly have been dwellings and part of what in Scotland are called “small holdings”.

Remnants of bygone times

Two of these former homes are now sadly overgrown ruins but over the years Ian, with the occasional help of other budding archaeologists, has spent quite some time moving stones, scraping and digging the ground in an attempt not only to discover some of the local history but also to  give the old le Faurat a role in the new .

 

 

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As he started clearing one of the ruins he discovered an apparently free standing wall which somehow took his fancy so he decided to rebuild it. Meter by meter he now takes the wall down, get rid of the unsafe and rebuild on the foundation of the original.

IMG_2790Re-using the old discarded stones Ian has designed and built amazing flower beds and new garden partitions. And so again and again he has been building on the old in order to create something new. The work is far from finished and maybe it will never be, but Ian’s new style “walled garden” has been an inspiration for me these days as I wonder what the world will look like after Covid 19. How can we learn from the experience and make our world a better place?

Of course as a minister I extend that question to the Church. What have we learnt in the last months? What have we discovered? What should we keep and what should we discard? How do we rebuild using the good stones, discarding the broken ones, and adding new ones where there are gaps?

IMG_2739In the Bible there is a story about rebuilding a whole city on the ruins of the old, and the man who full of hope made it happen was called Nehemiah.  His vision, his faith and trust in God inspired others to build with him. This is verse 15 from chapter 3:

“And Shallum son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of* Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate; he rebuilt it and covered it and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars; and he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the City of David”

 

Maybe now is the time to ask ourselves “How do we rebuild our church, our world, our daily life so that it is not the ruin it might have become but a strong new home welcoming friend and stranger?”

Blessings to you all

JoanneIMG_2529

More about Patience

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Dear Friends

As I was preparing our short family service for Pentecost (to be shared on line with our children and grandchildren who are spread out all over Europe) I reread Paul’s comments on the fruit of the Spirit and was struck once more by that one o so illusive “fruit”: the gift of patience .

 

IMG_20190928_111345Now I think that until recently patience had not exactly been thought of much by most people in our society. In fact it would seem to me that many have valued impatience a lot more. We are after all of the age where everything needs to happen here and now and any time spent waiting is a waste.  We always need to move on and have no time to linger whether it is to eat, to shop or to travel…

That restlessness affects us all and creates much tension whether we are conscious of it or not. When do any of us take time to do nothing, to listen or just be?  And yet the busier the life the more important it is to set time aside in order to just “wait”. Many people have found that spiritual retreats offer them a way to do this; to stop, unwind and calm down. A way to be patient, look and listen.

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For us at Colomba le Roc, like for many others all over the world, the forced stop due to the Covid-19 lock-down has turned out to include an unexpected gift. Indeed over the last months we learnt, for some time at least, the value of patience. And we learnt that in more ways than one.  Whether baking our own bread, cooking real meals or trying our hand at DIY. Whether listening to those we share our home with or helping our children with school work; each in our own way we have had to learn to be patient. Yet rather than bringing stress many have found that patience brings its own very valuable fruit; like inner peace and a child-like amazement at the mysteries of life and the beauty of God’s creation. Patience turned out to be an amazing life -giving gift!

 

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Today in most countries the process of easing the lockdown has started, and sadly once again many of us are impatient. We need to see our friends and family, we want to go out and eat in our favourite cafe or restaurant, we can’t wait to attend a concert , cheer at a football match and go away on holidays…

And so I wonder: wouldn’t it be sad if having only just discovered the gift of patience and the peace that comes with it, we threw it all away for… for what???

 

May God, who is patient with us, bless you all

Joanne

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Life in times of Covid19

IMG_2129Dear Friends

There are many people who have suffered and are still suffering  in a variety of ways through the present pandemic. The pain, the loss, and the fear some have are unimaginable and I hope we will remember and continue to be there for them and  give them our support and love for as long as necessary.

However  there is one positive thing  you could say about  Covid 19  and that is that it has given us time. In a world where no one has time and we are running from one activity to another, most of us have suddenly been given more time than we ever dreamed of.  Time to contact people we haven’t seen for years, time to listen and to chat, time to read and be creative, time to see and to watch… And though there is much to do here at Colomba le Roc we too have enjoyed having that special gift of time, allowing us to see the world around us with new eyes and rediscover some of the things that really count in life.

Picture3In some ways our past weeks have made me think of our pilgrim days a few years ago. For like that pilgrimage, the lock down has highlighted the fact to me that we have filled our lives with many unnecessary concerns and activities.

Indeed as a pilgrim I discovered that all we really need is a place to rest, something to eat, fresh water to drink, a set of dry clothes,  and people to journey with us. The last point in particular was a real eye-opener for me as somehow I had always thought that true pilgrimage is something you do on your own with God. However I soon discovered that pilgrimage can only be done with, or rather thanks to, other people.  For it is people who encourage you when you are tired, it is your fellow pilgrim who looks out for you when you are lost, it is the stranger who offers you hospitality when you are hungry and need somewhere to sleep.

IMG_2147Speaking of food  not being able to go shopping on a daily basis has meant that our life has become simpler. Not only did I pick the elder flowers to make cordial but  I have also enjoyed baking my own bread. And when the yeast ran out I learnt how to make sour dough, an activity which came with its own freebee in the form of a  lesson in patience as it took 13 days for the sour dough to be ready for use! !!

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As a pilgrim, walking with a packed rucksack full of items you  ”cannot do without” you soon find out what is really life-saving and what turns out to be more of a hindrance than a help. Before you know it you will have disposed of the unnecessary luxuries and to your amazement  you’ll discover that with a lighter backpack there is more opportunity to enjoy the walk and admire the beauty of the world around you.

From the many photographs  of nature people have posted on Facebook  it is obvious that we here in Colomba le Roc are not the only ones who have been able to enjoy creation  more than usual.  And somehow. like many others, we have felt that nature has never been this beautiful.

WFZH8107Personally we have been particularly amazed by all the orchids which grow in our meadows and wood. To such an extent that we downloaded an app to identify them and searched on line to broaden our knowledge. All this to discover that the Lot region in which we live is actually famous among botanists for its abundance in flowers that are on the endangered list elsewhere.

Has nature never seemed so beautiful because Covid19 means less planes, less cars and industry and therefore less pollution? Or is it that we have finally taken the time to open our eyes to see and enjoy the beauty of the world God created?

Whatever the answer and maybe it is a bit of both I hope you too have been able to enjoy the gift of time.

May God bless you all

Joanne

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An Easter like no Other

Easter morning at Colomba le Roc

 

Dear Friends

IMG_1739In his Easter Monday speech President Macron told the people of France that the general lockdown will continue for at least another four weeks  and for many in the “hospitality business” that is a catastrophe as people have had to  cancel their  holidays. So it is only normal that visits to Colomba le Roc have stopped altogether since early March. For us, however,  that is not a big problem after all there is plenty to do; be it creating our third guest room or working on flyers,  liturgies and retreat programmes for 2021. And I haven’t even mentioned  the sowing, pruning , planting in garden and surrounding woods !!!  As for food and other daily necessities, our weekly visit to the supermarket keeps us stocked. So no, unlike so many other people who are really suffering in one way or another, we have nothing to complain about.

In fact you could say that for us this crisis has in some way been positive; for it has given us time to discover a whole new world. Indeed, after the initial shock we discovered that confinement for us did not necessarily mean being alone, having no one to discuss things with.  For we realised that we can be with friends, family, and even complete strangers in a new way.   We discovered that we can do things with people who are not physically with us.

Coming together unexpectedly

It all really started with the bible study group of which I am a member. As we didn’t want to stop our Lenten journey together we decided to continue to come together for reflection and meditation  every Thursday morning  at 10.30 AM to read the Bible and be united in prayer even though there would be  many physical kilometres separating us.

 

And then there is Facebook! For a complete novice like me it was an amazing discovery to realise that we can journey together with known and unknown people alike, no matter how far away from us they live. And so it was very special to me to be able to share “My” stations of the cross with others! (if you are interested in seeing these stations created by John Morson , formerly priest of St … Kirkwall, Orkney, just  visit the Colomba le Roc Facebook page)

lentOf course I am not the only one who has turned to social media, in France, like in the rest of the world, members of the clergy have also made use of the internet to continue to lead worship. Some of course are better at it than others but it seems to me that in all denominations ministers, pastors and priests are making a big effort to be there for their congregations. These men and women have been creative in finding ways to stay united with old friends and to reach new ones !

 

klokPersonally, I really take much comfort and pleasure in the fact that all the church bells in each and every parish church in the Lot are now rung at worship time. For as far as I am concerned, hearing our own village church bell on Sunday morning makes me feel connected in a very special way  with brothers and sisters far and near. And so a simple church bell becomes a reminder of the Church universal and of the possibility of praying and worshiping together.

CLYX0068On the family front, we were able to attend our granddaughter’s birthday party joining with children and grandchildren in Scotland, Belgium, France and Austria.  Admittedly, it takes a bit of getting use too and the fact that our internet is not very good at the moment does not help, still, we managed to get together and have a party.

 

But the biggest party we had was on Easter day, when  at dawn  we returned to Colomba le Roc’s  Easter garden and found an empty tomb, a discovery we could share joyfully  there and then with others all over the world just by sending them the pictures of what we had seen. And later that day we, as a family, all went to St Machar’s cathedral in Aberdeen to sing, listen and pray in the church where one of our daughters  sings in the choir. Never before  has Easter united us in such an unexpected way!

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When we’ll finally return to our “normal” lives I hope we, as God’s family, will remember how important it is to stay in touch and to reach out to people we don’t yet know in new and imaginative ways and be creative and flexible in the way we do it.  It’s  potentially a whole new life!

Peace be with you!

Joanne

 

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Caring Hands

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praying hands

Dear friends

 

Some prayers, like some poems or songs, are just popular with all. All-time hits you may call them. Prayers quoted from East to West from North to South in all Christian denominations, from high to low, from Catholic to Free …  But what makes those prayers so universally popular?

My guess is that the words of those prayers are so loved because they express something that touches us deep down in our being, deep down in our soul. They express something about who we are and who we want to be. One of those “existential” prayers is the prayer of St Teresa of Avila which includes the words:

Christ has no hands but your hands

I guess I personally love those words so much not only because they remind me that a Christian’s life is a life of action, but also because they hint at the compassion and the caring, the simple touch of a hand  can express.

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In recent days here in France we have realised the value of that hand put on our shoulder  to tell us we are not alone, that light touch on our face to comfort us, that handshake as a sign of comradeship… We have discovered the value of the touch of a hand because we have to do without.

Indeed in the last few weeks we have been told not only  to wash our hands thoroughly and regularly, but also to stop greeting  or comforting   people using our hands. Through this seemingly trivial instruction our whole life has been changed.  And now that we are no longer able to use our hands we feel clumsy, bereft, useless and alone.

For if eyes are the windows to our soul, hands surely are the expression of who we are.

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But there is more to it than that for at a time when the spread of the virus affects people in many different ways the question arises for us here at Colomba le Roc  as it does for so many other people  in France and elsewhere in the world  who are confined to their homes ; “how can we help when using our hands to comfort, to welcome and care is no longer allowed? ”

 

I wonder if in this season of Lent it may help to look at Christ’s hands, the hands he used in his ministry. But this time we won’t look at his healing or his caring hands, not at the hands that broke bread and blessed, but at the crucified hands, the hands that were immobilised, the hands that could no longer touch or comfort.

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the 12th station Jesus dies on the cross by John Morson

For when I look at those hands, the hands I never wanted to see before because of the suffering and terrible pain they express,  I notice that they are open hands; hands  which  receive all the pain and all the suffering of the world and offer it to God.

And seeing those hands I realise that our hands still have their use, even today, even in our isolation.  For we can open them, fill them with all the helplessness, the pain, the sadness, the fear and the anger around us today and offer the world’s present brokenness  in prayer to God .

 

 

Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he walks to do good; yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.” 

St Teresa of Avila.

 

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Blessings to you all at these uncertain times

Joanne

It’s washing day

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Dear Friends

 

Last Thursday was a beautiful sunny day so I was delighted when for the first time this year I could hang my washing out to dry. You see for me there is nothing more refreshing than the smell of clean sheets dried in the sun.

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However I also love the look of a washing line with sheets and towels floating in the wind, whether  the laundry in question is drying between trees like here at Colomba le Roc  or on a rooftop like in Swieqi on Malta.

 

To be honest  I don’t know what it is that makes washing which dries in the open air so special to me,  but thinking about it I wonder if it is not a combination of the feeling of freedom  that floating washing evokes and that of  freshness and new beginning  which clean sun bleached  laundry may very well symbolise. Clean white clothes have of course always represented spiritual purity in the Christian faith tradition. Maybe because, as we all know, to get your washing (spiritual or other) really white is hard work.

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However I have to confess that though I like to hang the washing out, though I like to look at it drying in the sun and  bring it in later in one on my many well loved baskets,  I prefer to leave the washing itself to my washing machine; too tiring to do that naturally.  Too time consuming too…

 

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Yet looking in the villages and smaller settlements in our area you can see that washing was not only hard work; it was or at least could be  a social event too. Indeed the “lavoir”, that is the special place where women would do their washing, was central to rural life. Such outdoor water basins were usually covered with a roof  to offer shelter come rain come shine  to those who had   gathered there to lather, brush, scrub, rinse and wring in the cold  while chatting and sharing their worries,  joys and  pains… Hard work? Definitely. But wasn’t it made lighter by the presence  and support of those around?

IMG_20190926_123244Many of these ancient “lavoirs” still exist in this area today as a reminder of those pre-washing machine times when the hard work of scrubbing and cleaning was made more bearable maybe even more enjoyable  by doing it together with others.   Some  of them have been lovingly restored and are ideal places for us to sit around on a hot summer’ s day  to protect yourself from the sun  and relax while listening to the trickling of water and possibly reflecting on the living water that has made us clean once and for all .

 

Blessings to you all  and have a good  Lenten journey

Joanne

 

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14 NRSV)

The beauty of winter

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Dear Friends

 

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We have been very lucky these past few weeks as  after  a couple of rather wet and miserable months, we have finally been able to enjoy  some very sunny wintry days;  ideal weather to get us out and about again after the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

 

IMG_0916As I walked about in garden and woods it struck me that we often think of winter as a boring season; a time when nature lies dormant, and the colours are toned down to say the least, and yet when you take the time to look around there is a lot to see, and some colours stand out stronger because of the overall greyness. Just think of the blueness of the sky against a leafless tree, or the tangy green of a wild Christmas rose.  The winter season enables us to see things differently. It also enables us to see things normally hidden.

 

In our case it means that we can now see  (part) of our neighbours’ traditional farm house. At night we can see the light shining from their windows, and the darkness that surrounds us so early at this time of year doesn’t feel so dark and cold anymore, for we know we are not alone.

the “small house” which now has a better view of the surroundings

As winter enables us to discover different things around us, unexpected beauty and hidden presence I wonder if this often unloved season could also symbolise those times when our own journey (whether spiritual or other) seems to be in hibernation. Times when there doesn’t seem to be anything exciting happening; no message from God, no life shattering events or impressive activities.  And yet it is these times that can reveal the beauty in the unexpected, the presence in the silence and the light in the darkness, if only we are willing to open our eyes and see.

Could winter actually be the time of new discoveries, of realising once again what matters in our life, what matters on our journey with Christ?

IMG_1001When all the tinsel and decoration of the Christmas celebrations are taken away  when the magi with their special gifts have gone home when the angels are silent, we are left with the most beautiful and surprising thing of all: a vulnerable baby in a manger,  born to  show us life when all around us seems dead.

 

An  apparently centuries old tradition helps affirm this discovery, this Epiphany, by asking God’s blessing over our homes.  This tradition is called “Chalking the door” which the people present indeed do  as they write down the initials of the three kings (which by the way also stand for the  Latin Christus mantionem benedicat :May Christ bless this house) and the year while the following words are said:

The three Wise Men, [C] Caspar, [M] Melchior, [B] and Balthasar followed the star to Bethlehem and the child Jesus [20] two thousand, and 20 years ago. [ ++] May Christ bless our home [ ++], and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.”

This seemed such a beautiful and meaningful  tradition to me that this year we too chalked our door. Praying that all who come to Colomba le Roc may be, and feel, blessed!

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May God bless you and your home in 2020

Joanne

O come, o come Emmanuel

IMG_20190928_113605Dear Friends

A few months ago I spent a weekend in Tours where I was to co-celebrate for a wedding.  The city of Tours may be known to many not because of the city itself (though it is well worth a visit) but because of  Saint Martin.

Martin’s father was a high ranking soldier in the Roman Empire, and coming from a military family Martin was required to follow in his father’s footsteps. This turned out to be problematic for Martin as he had become a Christian early on in his life.

However by the age of 18 Martin served in Gaul and it was here that the scene depicted in so many paintings and other works of art took place. Indeed as Martin rode into Amiens he encountered a beggar. Touched by the man’s suffering, Martin took his sword and cut his cloak in two, giving half of it to the shivering man.

Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a war horse like Roman officers 

Some time later Martin finally left the army and became as it were the first recorded “contentious objector”.  He founded a monastery where he trained monks into serving Christ. In due course he was called to be the third bishop of Tours.

 

Martin was an inspiration to many of the early Celtic saints; among them St Ninian and St Patrick to name but a few. And it is because of his influence on the Celtic Christians that when the time came to name our chapel bell we named it “Martin”.

Naming and blessing of Martin our chapel bell

All this to explain why during my stay in Tours I visited the church dedicated to Martin, the man of peace.  It was in this Basilica that I saw a low relief representing the nativity. As I studied this work of art I noticed Mary and Joseph, shepherds and kings, soldiers and  ordinary men and women, but to my surprise baby Jesus himself was missing.

Had someone stolen him? Had someone destroyed him in anger?  I have no idea but the cradle was definitely empty.

Now 3 months later as we prepare for the birth of God’s Son, the Prince of Peace, I find that empty manger rather appropriate.

First of all it could symbolise Christmas as so many people celebrate it today: expensive presents, delicious food, evermore glitter, tinsel and incredible decorations. On the outside amazing celebrations, and yet more often than not they can leave us with a feeling of terrible emptiness. But why?

Building a Christmas tree, Valletta

Because on Christmas day the crib remained empty. Because among all those presents given and received we overlooked the one that really matters; God’s unconditional love for us.

 

 

But there is something else this empty crib symbolises for me as I prepare for the birth of the Son of God, and that is that Advent is a time of expectation, of looking forward to what will be.  A time which, with all its excitement and anticipation, enables us to truly rejoice when that long expected baby finally arrives. So like parents to be, let us bend over the empty cradle in anticipation, looking forward in hope to the day we will receive once again that Love that came down at Christmas.

Outdoor nativity, Valletta

 

                       Lord, fill our empty crib;

                       Come o come Emmanuel.

 

 

 

I wish you all God’s Love this Christmas and His Peace for 2020

Joanne

The light that comes into the world and shines on all humankind