|Our group set off for Conniston Pie ..|
Ironically I have just read a book by a writer friend, who I know claims to be an atheist, yet has spent most of the book explaining the whole business of a village keeping Christmas, including the nativity play. How much this has become part of our culture even when it is not part of our core beliefs!
Tomorrow is Advent Sunday: Advent which traditionally in the lectionary pointed congregations towards doom, gloom, and the ‘four last things’, is now treated by the church more positively as a time of expectant waiting. We wait for the blessing of Christmas which we celebrate as the birth of Christ, bringing light and hope into a dark world. This of course mirrors the very beginning of Genesis, where we read that God began by creating light, and separating light from darkness. So our present winter festival reminds us that just as the light has gone from the days of winter it will come again as the seasons roll around.
This time last year we spent the weekend of the first Sunday in Advent at Scargill House on a craft and retreat program. It was the most blessed and relevant Advent ever. For just a weekend, the retreat group was bathed in the visuals of the wonderful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales, simply meditating on the gift for which we waited, through talks, story, and worship, and working peacefully on Christmas-related crafts. On the Saturday afternoon a group of us walked to Conniston Pie, under a clear sky in bright sunshine. There was snow on the high fells and there were sheep on the lower slopes cropping the grass.
Many of those who read this will have been to Scargill for the ACW writing weekends. If you go there for one of the other programs, you will find that the same atmosphere, the same acceptance, inclusion, hospitality, and beauty is present all year round. As I read their autumn Newsletter today I was struck by how the Scargill community demonstrates its heart for Jesus in such a down-to-earth, uncomplicated and natural way, without jargon, and without apparent anxiety, how everything appears to run smoothly and how much this must depend upon cooperation, prayer, and mutual respect. It is indeed a place of blessing and an example to us all.
Only once a year, Scargill House is closed to visitors, the community sent out to their various families, the chapel empty of worshippers: and that is at Christmas. Otherwise, I would guess, huge numbers of us would compete to celebrate Jesus's birth there, rather than surrounded by all that has come to be associated with Christmas – frantic shopping, crowded travel, crazy cooking and expensive presents. I feel like praying and attempting to keep Advent and Christmas in a spirit as close to the experience of Scargill as possible. I’m not sure how successful we can be, given all the things we have in the diary, family members staying over, and the inevitable pressures particularly when the family members don’t all share faith in Christ. It is at least a hope and a desire. One of the Pathway Promises made by members of the Scargill Community is ‘fun and laughter’: if our family can experience this at Christmas, that will be enough …
Clare's novels - writing as Mari Howard - can be found (and bought from) her website, on Amazon, or ordered through bookshops.