Advent reassessed

I’m-not sure we’ve got Advent entirely right
In-a-culture where its meaning has slipped out of sight
If it signifies-just chocolate and calendar doors
Then it’s time to revisit it, slow down, and press pause;
We think of this season as cosy and pretty
It’s anything but, it’s surprisingly gritty
Maybe it’ll help us to view it afresh
If we see how its themes with the world are enmeshed
With-what’s going on right now, this moment, right here
A world marked by violence and anguish and fear…
Think of people who-are sinking under spiralling costs
I think of Mary and Joseph, in a census town lost
Price of living, eat or heating, the clamour and din
I picture them struggling, ‘no room at the inn’
And when I see tyrants, their bitter seed sow
I remember God’s promise to-bring the proud ones so low
The only way I can handle the horrors of war
Is remembering that the mercy and grace-of-God are sure
‘Woman, life, freedom’, when I hear that brave cry
I-think how God honoured Mary – and the humble, lifted high
Even the World Cup, stirring frail hopes and dreams
Makes me think of a hope that is greater, and streams…
Of justice, that bubble in the desert, and flow
Cos God’s longing to love us and bless us you know
So don’t imagine Advent is cosy or tame
It’s fierce and it’s fearless – it won’t leave you the same

Image by Amber Clay from Pixabay

A Dream Among the Spires

Glancing up at the Christmas lights and seasonal decorations, Arthur scowled and continued down the cobbled street. He always felt torn at this time of year. He liked the warm glow, but had less time for the origin story, and even less for all the fluffy excess. He drew up his coat collars and pulled his woolly hat further down. The street was thick with holiday shoppers. The growl of buses and their splashing wheels punctuated the city’s late afternoon background hum. His thoughts slipped into a melancholy furrow. Yes, he liked the festive traditions, twelve days of Christmas and all that – but found it next to impossible to believe that a world of angels and miracles might actually exist. First year student philosophy hadn’t helped. Neither did seeing the latest celebrity author title in a bookshop window. Surely any angel worth his salt could magic that away.
He almost tripped over the old homeless man slumped at the street corner – and immediately apologised. “Ach, don’t worry about it” said the tramp, a rosy-faced individual. Arthur offered to buy him a coffee. “That’s kind of you” the fellow replied, “but you look more in need of it than me.” From his coat pocket, he pulled out a small bottle and gave it to Arthur. “Try this. Just a wee dram of something. It’ll do you good. Promise.” “Er, thanks” replied the student, nonplussed. “I’ll take it with me if that’s ok”.
He carried on down the street. He of course had no intention of drinking an unknown liquid from a stranger – but was intrigued all the same. He turned back a moment – the tramp was gone. He scanned the bobbing pedestrians: nowhere to be seen. “Strange”, he thought. The bottle was exquisite. And though he was a sensible chap, his curiosity at that moment got the better of him. Twisting the lid, he put the rim to his lips, and in one quick movement gulped the contents down. It was smooth and fiery like a good malt whisky, with a hint of syrup. He felt it warm his throat, stomach, then limbs, fingers and toes in a delicious unfurling wave. He looked around him. Passers-by still trudged by grim-faced, and the red buses looked as grimy as before; but inside he felt different – though he couldn’t quite put his finger on how.
He turned down a cobbled alleyway. Thick flakes of snow tumbled down in the orange glow of an old street lamp. As he walked, they became larger, and the glow warmer and brighter. Suddenly he found himself lifted off his feet and drawn into their swirling midst. The street scene below became small. “Goodness!” he thought, “that must have been strong stuff”. But he had no time to rationalise further, before being overwhelmed by the wonder of what he saw. The fabled uniqueness of the (now saucer-sized) snowflakes was plain: a fabulous variety of fractal swirls, spokes, branches and crosses. Slowly Arthur became aware that these flakes were like people – which surprised and amazed him very much: each one unique, beautiful. And not just some people, but everyone. Even his landlady Mrs Thorpe, who he didn’t much like at all. Truly a troubling revelation.
The next thing he knew, Arthur felt himself being drawn out of the lamplight and up above the parapets and gargoyles, until a cluster of spires rose into view. Amid the eddying snowflakes, their pointed shapes were transfigured. Pinpricks of light sprang from their tops, and as he watched, one by one these fiery points shot up into the night sky and exploded high above, like huge Roman candles. He hadn’t been to a firework display for a very long time, and this strange sight brought all those childhood memories right back. It was turning out to be a very strange evening indeed, he decided, as remnants of the smoky odour dispersed.
He felt himself floating gently earthwards again. He then became aware of a warm flickering light, and turning, saw the small latticed window of an old pub. What felt like the crest of an invisible wave swept him through the window and into the midst of a raucous ceilidh. He had scarcely got his bearings before he was pulled into a spinning knot of dancers, blazing with a lava-like glow and beaming brightly. Arthur felt his usual social stiffness melt away as they embraced him, their heat enveloping him. It was like sinking into a warm water bed. For the first time in his life, he even found he could dance a few steps. It was the closest he had ever come to experiencing, not mere fun or happiness – but joy.

When he finally came to, Arthur found himself sitting on a coat in the snow, leaning against a cold college wall. In front of him he saw flakes still falling, the glow of a lit window, and a single spire piercing the night. Strange recollections were fading fast. But inside, something had changed. As he watched the people hurrying past, he felt an appreciation and compassion that he hadn’t known before. He saw that the spire was like a finger, pointing toward the possibility of truths ‘out there’ of which he’d been sceptical, or unaware. The window glow held the promise of a celebration that would not end at ‘throwing out time’. Through the chill night air floated the muffled strains of a college evensong. He got up, dug his hands into his pockets, shook his head and smiled to himself, and walked towards the music.

For BBC Upload. A seasonal tale of revelation and discovery.

Image by pasja1000 at Pixabay

Narnia Christmas

Christmas once again is near us, do you feel its velvet tread
Through the schmaltz and gaudy trappings, can you trace a different thread
Join me as I ponder now a Narnia story, simple, spare
A frame though which to view the season, see what we’ll uncover there.

Will I have a heart like Lucy, stepping through the wardrobe door
One that’s open to enchantment, forest cones for wardrobe floor
Hungry, ready to discover hidden world of wintry white
A place beyond the ordinary, glimpsed through faith and not by sight?

Will I let the wonder of this Advent season work on me
In the drear of dark December, will I pause, and look, and see?
Lucy, spying glow of lamplight, tracked a path through wintry waste
Will my eyes to Light be open, primed this Christmas wine to taste?

Just as Lucy, trusting, followed after a mysterious faun
Ready to encounter stuff of miracle, of pale doubt shorn
Like the humble shepherds in the gospel, used to muck and mire
Will my heart be ready now to see the angels, hear the choir?

And as Lucy wisely left the portal open, chink of light
So that she could navigate her way back home in dead of night
Or like magi, journeying ‘cross foreign soil to seek the child
Will I seek the One who stills my stormy heart so restless, wild?

For a real Lucy, Lewis wrote this much loved ‘fairy tale’
Making fresh a truth beyond, that might have stayed opaque and pale
Every time I read, I feel my consciousness begin to shift
Again, and so may I be changed by swift approaching Christ-child gift.

Broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds & Premier Christian Radio

Christmas poems

Marvel, mystery, Christmas Eve
Bustling mother, dad on leave
Lamplight flicker, thickening gloom
Magic in a heart finds room
Wondering eyes on chimney flue
Mince pie, brandy, carrot too
Trusting, in the deep of night
Morning will bring gifts so bright…

Bustle, rustle, gifts unwrapped
Surprise, delight when fitting, apt
Turkey trimmings, family feast
Each one welcome, great to least
Queen, then stroll, late afternoon
Sofa, sun has sunk so soon
Quick it passes, yet foretells
A greater Feast, celestial bells.

Image by Mylene2401 at

It’s Difficult this Christmas

It’s difficult this Christmas
Its meaning still to see,
Wondering what kind of end
Of year this one will be.

It’s harder now, when loved ones
We cannot so easily meet,
To trust the deeper Love –
It seems this year a tougher feat.

It’s harder when our wider culture
Yearly holds less dear
The startling news, that in a baby
God himself drew near.

To see beyond the stress –
And press of gaudy TV show,
Hard for the world to see
When it so little wants to know.

Not easy either in the dark
The solitude and space
Of my own heart, to catch a glimpse
Of that shy agent, grace.

Yet even when uncertainty
And fear close in like night
The Christ-child who in secret came
Still sheds abroad his light.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay


Christmas for sceptics

There’s a funny old thing about Christmas,
For many, it’s lost all its clout,
That seems a great pity so in this little ditty
I’ll ask, what’s that all about?

Lots of folk think it’s all superstition
Fairy tale, not science, just belief
Of all I could say, the fact we ALL live by faith
And not certainty is maybe the chief.

Although we are often to it more-or-less blind
We’re all living in some big story
A world view, big picture, I hope you won’t mind
Me saying that (just think Jackanory).

And when we consider the nature of things
It seems that when push comes to shove
At the heart of it all there’s either random blind chance
Or it’s rooted in the personal – and love.

From that reasonable base it’s no whopping sensation
To entertain the notion of God
Still mysterious though, so I need revelation
To be an enlightened smart bod.

That’s what happened at Christmas, the Love in all things
Came to show itself, the best way it could
Not by diktat, decree, but becoming, well human
Right amongst us, down here in the hood.

Not some fringe idea for the deluded or mad
Good news is what Christmas is about
It’s the best, a revelation of ultimate Love
From the rooftops I want it to shout!

Image by Andreas Böhm from Pixabay

Hand upon the Window

Your hand upon the window, and my hand mirrors yours,
In the midst of this year’s tragedy
This image gives us pause.

Your hand upon the window,
We saw but could not touch,
I’m not sure anything could quite prepare us all for such…

Such sadness and confusion,
The longing and the pain,
Fearful whether we could ever hug or touch again.

My strong desire to hold you
The rules would not allow,
Our bodies, such a precious gift
Are dangerous for now.

Hope is slowly taking shape,
The promise that next year
We can once more live and breathe
More freely, without fear.

Like distant glowing train lights,
A vaccine hope that then
We’ll once more have the chance to hold
Each other close again.

And so now, facing you
I to the window press my hand
And hope that of your pain I may
A small part understand.

And as that greater Love
In secret, close to us once drew
I pray you’ll know this love
Now drawing closer still to you.  

For BBC Radio Leeds & other stations.

Image by tatlin from Pixabay


A Different Christmas

It’s gonna be different this Christmas
No matter who you are or where you will be
There’s no way it can be just the usual
Family, friends – and a tree.

It’s gonna be different this Christmas
It may not be normal, or white
Still special if we can remember
In the darkness, it speaks now of light.

You may sing, pray… or you may struggle
To sign up to a God up above
But one thing we all have in common
Is our need for connection and love.

Christmas tells us something amazing
When science and philosophy pall
There’s a mystery and wonder in the universe
A deep love at the heart of it all.

The thing about this love at Christmas
Though it’s huge and encompasses all
Is God chose to reveal it to all of us
By becoming both humble and small.

A baby, and though it’s so long ago
That the miracle of Christmas did start
It’s real and it’s present, I can know this love now
Taking time, making room, in my heart.  

For Riviera Radio & other stations.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay