It's time to take the tinsel down, to throw it in the box with all the failed plans and dreams we had this year. That's ok. Maybe this year will be different?
Maybe it will be swallowed down in grief or swept up in love. Maybe you believe your family is the puzzle God gave you. Maybe you think it’s one of those impossipuzzles like someone poured a skip full of beans across the horizon and you desperately want to make sense of it. Maybe you can’t. Maybe you can keep it safe though, pack it away for another day.
Maybe you need to break up with that thing, maybe you need to walk up to that which scares you and take hold of it without over thinking. It’s all about discerning the time you’re in, 'a time to embrace the time to refrain from embracing' what time is it? Maybe you need to stop and see, maybe you need to ask someone else.
Maybe you need to tune out the other voices to find your own and move from a gagging order to a song. Maybe that song will make someone else's feet tap.
Maybe it's time to stop praying and start planning. Joseph had a dream but he also had a plan.
Maybe it's time to stop planning and start praying. Prayer can make a mountain jump into the ocean! Maybe you've exhausted your arms and chariots and you're ready for grace.
Do something good, great is overrated. Do something good and greatness might come but most likely it won't. Be content, make contentment happen, it'll nourish the deadest of ground and cause it to sprout something living. Maybe your biggest aspiration will be to stop buying things you don't need or to be kind to that hurtful person. Maybe it's time to stop fretting over all the things you think you should have done and remind yourself of the small things you did do, like kept going. Maybe your word for the year will be breath. Maybe you'll let go and just float. Maybe you'll feel in the water for lost oars and start rowing again.
Maybe you need to imagine the slow distant rumble from the busy road is actually the crashing of waves on a distant shore.
Almost a Happy New Year to you all! Here we are in the in-between, that foggy week before the wheels of progress kick back in. We've just returned from a week in Devon over the Christmas period, glorious it was. I recall other Christmases spent in A&E or away on holiday but wiped out with a virus. Christmas doesn't seem to mind our plans sometimes does it? So, whether in rest and ease or trouble and sorrow, we give thanks.
This will be a shorter Beagle but I wanted to touch base with you all and share these beautiful images of North Devon, maybe encourage and stir you up a little for the coming year. I don't have any great advice of pearls of wisdom that might change your life but I do have some encouragement and ideas to refresh you. I'm committed already to a gentle January and invite you into the same if you're in need. I've created a playlist to soundtrack the month.
My meditation in this season is embodiment. Christ has come, the invisible Word has taken on visible flesh, God moved into the neighbourhood. I've spent the last month of Advent looking outward and forward and now I feel an urge to turn inward to my home and personal stewardship of that same Word made flesh in me. What does Christ's embodiment look like in me, in my home, my daily ordinary? God came, in a helpless baby, birthed into the muck and straw. What can I birth into the muck and straw of my world?
This has manifested itself in much baking, togethering, puzzle solving, Uno playing, late talks, movie marathons and feasting around the table. My Christmas wish was as simple as eating around the table, trickier than it sounds, but we made it happen, the weight of compliance to the season outweighing petty differences. I'll take that!
A favourite song right now is Our House by Henry Jamison, original by Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash). I love the domesticity and romantic love in its lyrics. It paints a simple and contented picture of daily life.
I'll light the fire
You place the flowers in the vase
That you bought today
Staring at the fire
For hours and hours while I listen to you
Play your love songs all night long for me
Only for me
Come to me now (Come to me now)
And rest your head for just five minutes
Everything is done
Such a cozy room (Such a cozy room)
The windows are illuminated
By the evening sunshine through them
Fiery gems for you, only for you
Our house is a very, very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy 'cause of you
Another song which walks you slowly through a scene of nature and home is First Light by Down Like Silver. There is something deeply soothing in the gentle unfolding of lyrics which create a picture in the mind, so still, so human. Goodnight Moon is another favourite for this reason. These remind me of Adam naming the animals, slowly working his way through, considering each one's design and place, I think there's a beauty in that.
And this is where my thoughts are running to; the experience of God's presence in the light that falls across a room, the way a loved one sees you, the birds fluttering in the garden, the baking of fresh cookies, playing together. For many years in my church-taught experience God was vertical, off out there somewhere, someone to be chased after, tarried for or pulled down. We always seemed to be trying to get hold of the Holy Spirit's coat tails in order to persuade him to move and do something spectacular. God was silent. It's only been in recent years that my gaze has been turned horizontal as scripture has awakened my senses to the revealing of God's fingerprints all around me. Life has become so much richer, he appears closer and, there is a conversation happening. It doesn't feel spectacular but it does feel wonderous.
I've been enjoying a lovely little book called A Gallery of Reflections, The Nativity of Christ by Richard Harries. The last entry features this beautiful stained glass window by John Piper. In this scene the animals are speaking to each other of the birth of Christ, a back and forth, "Christ is born! Where, when, glory!"
The author draws our attention to the truth that 'Human beings are indeed the crown of God's creation, for we are capable of rational speech and love and prayer. But we are not isolated from the animal world. They too in their own way reflect God's glory. They too in their own way offer praise. We join with them in singing Gloria in Excelsis!
We are not isolated, we are part of the revealing and embodiment of Christ all around us.
You can listen to a really interesting interview with Graham Nash on The Great Creator's podcast with Guy Raz. There are many other riveting and insightful guests on the podcast series.
The ego-driven ambitious are never content.
Those with small goals birthed with great love are happiest,
My daughter Zoe wrote a wonderful word of encouragement last year I thought I'd share it again.
"As we enter the new year it is tempting to put ourselves under a microscope and search for every minute flaw we can in our character or appearance, as if we don't do that in our lowest moments already. I don't know about you but I don't want to enter into the new year scrutinising myself. Sure self-assessment and reflection are good, but as a chronic overthinker I don't necessarily need a special day to do that. The notion that we need to upgrade, rebrand, reboot our system every 364 days does not compute (pardon the pun) well with our human-ness. We are not products. We are not the latest iPhone. Character evolution and human development is a fluid process, and as natural as the very real, fleshly bodies that we inhabit. So may you take this an invitation to not judge yourself harshly this January."
You can read more in last January's Beagle, it has some wonderful thoughts and content. Here is Zoe hunting for sea glass, one of our favourite things to do in Devon.
A little clip I recorded last February about reframing the mid-life crisis, a good reminder for seasons of transitions.
Are you feeling past it? Wondering if God can still use you? Are you fighting your current life stage and feeling side-lined?
▶️ Wendell Berry.
A Timbered Choir, 1994, V, For Maxine Kumin.
The Peace of Wild Things, Sabbath Poems, XXII.
▶️ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea
▶️ Hebrews 13:13
Amish Economy Wendell Berry
We live by mercy if we live. To that we have no fit reply But working well and giving thanks, Loving God, loving one another, To keep Creation’s neighborhood.
And my friend David Kline told me, “It falls strangely on Amish ears, This talk of how you find yourself. We Amish, after all, don’t try To find ourselves. We try to lose Ourselves”-and thus are lost within The found world of sunlight and rain Where fields are green and then are ripe, And the people eat together by The charity of God, who is kind Even to those who give no thanks.
In morning light, men in dark clothes
Go out among the beasts and fields.
Lest the community be lost,
Each day they must work out the bond
Between goods and their price: the garden