Tuesday, December 25, 2018

No Matter Where You Are

No Matter Where You Are

The first time I boarded a plane my Father looked me straight in the eye and told me, "If you need me, all you have to do is call.  I'll come and get you.  No matter where you are".  This vow - and it was a vow, I can tell you - was even more significant because it was coming from a man utterly terrified of flying.  Having served on an aircraft carrier during the Second World War, he had witnessed far too many pilots fail in their attempts to land squarely on the deck, and that spoiled his faith in air travel for the rest of his life.  It was another testament to his great love for his daughter that I never once doubted his sincerity.  If I was in trouble, if I needed him, I knew beyond question he would surmount anything to reach me.

Over the past year I have thought a lot about the comfort afforded me by Daddy's promise.  As my heart broke night after night thinking of the children separated from their parents at our southern borders - in cells and, God help us, in cages - at the hand of our own government, my mind would inevitably return to those words of my father's.  I know what a gift it is to have security in childhood.  I can only imagine the damage done when it is so cruelly taken away.  It is an awful feeling to know that something so despicable is being done by your country, essentially in your name, and you are powerless to stop it.

This horror was but one of many in this unique year.  Sometimes it was overwhelming. I have seen and heard things that were unthinkable a decade ago.  I have lost respect and trust in people and institutions that once seemed unassailable and true.  I have heard truth denied and lies applauded.  I have begun the process of raking up the ashes of what has burned away, and using them to fashion a shelter that can withstand a harsh wind.  I have learned the value of listening to the murmurs and whispers of my soul and have discovered the need, the vital need, of trusting the still, small voice of my heart rather than the tinkling brass and sounding cymbals of those who have placed their faith in the arrogance of certainty.

Writer Anne Lamott tell us that "these are holy days".  At first glance this statement seems at the very least contradictory to what we read in the papers and see on the news, but I think I know what she means.  We have only to look at Christ to see what is truly holy and we need that holiness today more than ever before.  The warmth of friendship, the balm of forgiveness, the covenant of acceptance.  Tolerance, humility, compassion, loving kindness.  These all may seem small in the face of so much ugliness we cannot control, but a little light shines brightest when there's darkness all around.   In this age when so many claim to speak for God, these holy qualities from Christ's life and words are more valuable than gold, and they are what I cling to.  They stand in direct contrast to the hatred, pride, indifference and greed of our present day.  In these holy days we are called to build bridges, not to hide behind walls.

Tonight as we celebrate the birth of Christ I am reminded that, much like my Dad, He has promised to "be with us always, even to the end of the world".  The past couple of years have often felt like the end of a world I thought I knew.  Maybe it's felt like that for you as well.  If so, it is my prayer and hope that all of us can sift through the wreckage to find the truth in this promise and know that when we need Him, no matter where we are, He will come and get us.

A very Happy and Hopeful Christmas to All.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Books At Christmas

Books At Christmas

In recent years Americans have become inundated with television ads for new cars during the festive season.  We'll see at least three in any one-hour program.  In these colourful little ads, delighted flannel-clad family members rush to their kitchen windows on Christmas morning to gape at a brand-new car, shiny and beribboned, parked in their snow-covered drive.  A lot of grinning and jumping up and down with glee then ensues.  The car companies seem bent on convincing the public that giving people expensive new cars at Christmas is a holiday tradition not to be ignored.  Frankly, I don't buy it.  And yes, the pun was intended.

There are all sorts of gift-givers during holiday time, from those who decry materialism and refuse to participate in any sort of festivity that requires legal tender to those who lavish the best of everything on offer for their friends and family.  Personally, the practice of following the Magi's lead and giving gifts to those we love is one I hold dear.  But I'm not a person who stands in the cold outside the local big box store on the morning after Thanksgiving, pawing the ground with the rest of the herd as I wait for the doors to open.  No, I prefer quieter gifts.  I make things, I bake things.  And best of all, I give books.  Lots of books.

When you tie a ribbon round a book at Christmas you are giving so much more than words printed on paper.  You are giving a ticket to other worlds.  You are giving magic.  You are setting a spark to imagination and encouraging empathy to bloom.  Inside that rectangular box is travel and knowledge, laughter and tears.  It's my belief that every book we read changes us, just a little bit.  We see a bit clearer, we feel a bit deeper.  Our hearts, and sometimes even our minds, open just a crack wider.  Now seriously, what new car can do that?

So in the spirit of the season, here are some book ideas for this year.  I do hope you find one you'll want to wrap up for somebody else.  And maybe one, or two, for yourself. 
As usual, just click on the picture and you'll be whisked away to read more about each book.  And though these links take you to Amazon, I would encourage you to purchase from your local bookshops.  You'll find even more wondrous ideas there, I promise!
Merry Christmas to all of you.

Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens

Carnival of the Animals
by Elizabeth Varadan

After the Party
by Cressida Connolly

All the Queen's Corgis
by Penny Junor

The Secret Gardeners
Britain's Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries
by Frances Lincoln

Ocean Meets Sky
by The Fan Brothers

A Place For Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza

The Faber Book of Christmas
from Liberty of London

The Ghost Stories of M.R. James

The Light in the Dark
A Winter Journal
by Horatio Clare

Buckingham Palace
The Interiors
by Ashley Hicks

Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue
by Grace Coddington

Good Rosie!
by Kate Dicamillo
pictures by Harry Bliss