Merry Christmas!

Blessings and delights to you for Christmas.

In a beautiful wilderness, with a beautiful innocent lamb, John the Baptist is in contemplation.

Jesus here is a pudgy baby, but he has a direct gaze. He can see into your soul.

Mary has her hair uncovered, which is unusual. I read that’s Judas lighting the candles. John the Baptist as a baby is on the right, and Anne, Mary’s mother, reads a book.

Merry Christmas, with Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

Anticipating, slightly: the Epiphany is 6 January. I have not seen this tapestry, but found tapestries of his I have seen gorgeous. This fabulous thing is 3.77×2.58m.

Only his mother, in her maiden bliss
worshipped the Beloved, with a kiss

His Annunciation has the Angel descending from on high
and the woman not abashed

I note it appears to follow the rules of perspective found in the Renaissance, and the vanishing point is a star.

Blessings at Christmas

A woman artist gives a different perspective on the Annunciation. Gabriel kneels to Mary as the Holy Spirit descends, as she bows to him in assent- ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Against the spiritual or even sentimental view of the Holy Family, here is a physical act with the human mother and child. Often in painting, the child turns towards the viewer with hand raised in blessing. Here he is a baby, with a baby’s wants and actions.

Biblical paintings were a mix of authenticity, contemporary references, and symbolism like the flower in Jesus’ right hand. The roses may symbolise Mary’s life, controlled by the imperative of the Saviour’s life journey. Or Love; or her role as the Bride of Christ. Your knowledge and tastes affect your response to the paintings.

Imperfection

I glory in my imperfection, because it is freedom. When do you repent? When you realise you have something to repent of! All that time I was stating repentance weekly- the remembrance of [sins] is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable- I had no particular consciousness of doing anything wrong.

It’s a glorious, sunny Christmas day, well above freezing. It is a Spring day in wintertime. Peter is doing the homeless charity’s Christmas dinner, so drives me to Meeting. I walk from there to the Meeting house, wishing a man and a small girl Merry Christmas. In Meeting, I am moved to minister. I feel Joy. I walked here from the Sunlight centre, and felt Joy. I was tempted to overreach my leading, preaching a little homily, but that was it, so I sit.

The acoustic’s dreadful in here. K is moved to respond to my ministry, but he heard the word “dry” not “joy”. He speaks of Patriarchy: oppressive expectations and coercive control of women and girls, but inability to be really themselves for men and boys too. (Well, it is a man talking.) He is talking at school of patriarchy, which makes Western civilisation dry. I really want to correct him. I said “Joy”, the happy union of delight and contentment, not “dry”. However, that is against the rules. You do not speak more than once in a meeting. I have to allow it. No real damage is done.

I said “I am selfish,” and that delighted me. It was terrifying, then it became alright. It is liberating. I am not worthless when I am not perfect, I am human, and in between.

I am generous
I am courageous
I am perceptive
I am creative
I am truthful
I am cursed

and I am selfish
and I am cowardly
and I am cloddish
except when I am not
and I dissimulate
and I am blessed


Have I no control? That is bearable, because it has to be. Anyway having control, like a child playing with a train set, might pall. Real human beings are far more interesting. I do bad things, including where I cannot say sorry or be forgiven, and scarce know how bad they are: Did that hurt you? Does the fact that I did not realise make it OK, or make it worse?

I mean well. Normally that is enough, sometimes it isn’t, and anyway in the long run we’re all dead. Life is tragic, a matter of loss after loss, and beautiful, with finite discrete moments of joy.

Some people this driven, who must always be perfect, have the talent to manage it; but faced with evidence of my imperfection I have fled and hid. No-one could be as good as I wanted to be. So. Metanoia. You change when you realise you have to, and that it is possible. I will not drive myself so harshly: I will accept my imperfections. Only then can I see them clearly, and bear them; and keep buggering on, and mitigate them.

Another opposite: I had been overweeningly arrogant, seeing myself as the centre of the universe, and self-abasing, seeing myself as worthless. Neither of these views were accurate. Self-acceptance might bring self-knowledge, and a just appraisal of my capacities. Though I will always get things wrong- the world, and all the life in it, is too complex a puzzle for me, to puzzle it out.

botticelli-the-flight-into-egypt

Happy Christmas with the Holy Family

Merry Christmas. Here are the Holy Family, looking happy:

leopoldine-unterberger-the-holy-family

I love the sweetness and unselfconsciousness of Joseph’s love here. He looks at his wife and child in delight. Mary has a small smile as if she has not a care in the world.

jose-de-madrazo-the-holy-family

The contrast here is not just the darkness of the background but the intensity of the look. Here are highly intelligent people, knowing and self-conscious. Initially I thought it a man, on the left, despite the head-covering. It is a strong-looking woman.

edvard-munch-madonna

Munch is always so disturbing. When is the picture, precisely? Mary is in ecstasy, possibly sexual, and the foetal Christ has anger or even resentment.

elizabeth-siddal-the-holy-family

At last, a baby, wrapped as he would be, in a Mediterranean winter. Joseph has a halo, but not the others.

Merry Christmas with the Holy Family

Merry Christmas. May God bless you and keep you;
May God make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May God lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Here are some pictures of the Holy Family.

jose-monray-aguilera-the-holy-family

Aguilera makes the baby look more like a baby than most- a happy baby, with a smile like a drunkard’s. This baby knows what babies know. His mother’s happiness is fragile, like a woman who knows everything that can go wrong; but it is alright, just for the moment. Joseph, of whom we know little from the Gospels, is barely visible in the darkness, a look of love at the child.

charles-soubre-the-holy-family

Soubre by contrast has the baby like a miniature adult. The only baby-like thing here is the arms outstretched for a hug. Mary is a saint. She knows God’s Plan is going ahead well. Joseph is a huge, strong protective presence, a contrast before which the mother and child shine more brightly.

joseph-paelinck-the-holy-family

In Luke’s gospel we hear the baby was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem- pretty dangerous, if the Wise Men were right and Herod wanted to kill all babies. There was a prophet, Anna, aged 84, who came praising God. Yet another woman who is the prophet of Christ. And Simeon, a righteous man, could die happy after seeing Jesus, and sang:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation;
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

rafael-flores-the-holy-family

Rafael Flores shows an older Jesus, prefiguring the Cross. Mary may have been scared, but her face is watchful, still loving, not showing fear or resistance to what must be; and no denial, either.

Merry Christmas III

With Domenikos the Greek, exiled to Spain.

El Greco, The Nativity

The centre of the Nativity is the Mother and Child. He glows, and she is overcome with Love. There is the darkness of the stable, but always the beauty and the Love. No angels are needed here.

El Greco, The Holy Family

Here Jesus is slightly older, on solids. I love his hair! Her face- she is overwhelmed by Events, but also courageous, able to face all that comes.

El Greco, The Holy Family

And just as there is the darkness of the stable, there is also always the Glory of Heaven.

Motivation

Perhaps I would do exactly the same things, and they would change from a cage to a springboard. I am growing and changing, and it is wonderful. Eliot:

The highest treason

to do the right thing for the wrong reason

Monday, I felt low. Sunday was so good. Monday was just back to the living room. I did not affirm myself, much, on Monday: I could not say it. In the evening, I knelt in my ritual space and affirmed, and my tears flowed. I thought,

When I affirm myself
I am in a space where I am real
If my emotions are too scary
I cannot go to that real space.

I have spent 11 Christmases in a row in Cardiff, and this year neither of us wanted that. I arranged somewhere else with someone else, and on Tuesday we decided to cancel as she was ill. It was not a potential date, just a friend, and we never discussed it, only emailed and messaged, to arrange and then to cancel.

What do I want? is on my mind. Interesting job? Greater income? Not particularly, actually. I do not discern any particular such desire in me.

I want heart-connection, 
real deep human connection.

In the evening I told H Christmas had fallen through, and she said immediately come to Cardiff, and I said No.

On Wednesday, I awoke in a strange place. It is a beautiful day. I could get the bus in to Swanston to get food, or just have what I have in the house. Perhaps if I tidied and cleaned a bit the house would be pleasanter: I have not tidied or cleaned my living room this month. And yet, I don’t actually need to get out of bed today, I don’t need to clean my teeth, I don’t even need to eat.

I have been doing things because they are sensible, or because they are conventionally accounted worthwhile, fun, whatever. It is just a slog. It is misery. If I tidy my room because I am ashamed that others might see it as it is, that is horrible. If I tidy it because I want to-

I decide to do what I want. I will not do anything without a desire for that thing itself, divorced from shame, or what would people think, or anything like that.

In the shower, I consider what to wear- warm old clothes to slob about the house in? Though I am not going out, I decide to wear a dress and put on make up, because I want to.

These are small things, instantly achievable, carrying no risk expense or difficulty. It feels revolutionary. It also feels all or nothing: do I want this? I will not do it unless I want to. I wrote in my diary a new line of affirmation:

I am Abigail.
I am worthy of life.
I know what I want, and I take steps to achieve it.

I WILL NOT DO ANYTHING because

it is sensible
I rationally assent to it
it is conventional, or what people do
it is what my wise loving friend advises

UNLESS I WANT TO.

I want to try things, to see if I like them.
I want Human connection
I value my want.

I was in a state of high excitement writing these things, like a fire with flames leaping up the chimney; now it is quieter, the coals glow, warming me.

This changes the way I see having withdrawn to my living room: part of it has always been shame at giving up and retreating. Now it is pride and quiet satisfaction, as it was the way I saw to look after myself. It was what I wanted. I move on from last week: from the biggest things in my life, I move on to all things.

Veronese, The Wedding at Cana