December 2011


He is a drunk leaning companionably
Around a lamp post or doing up
With intermittent concentration
Another drunk’s coat.

But close your eyes and it is sunset
At the edge of the world. It is the language
Of dolphins, the growth of tree-roots,
The heart-beat slowing down.


John Fuller

Have you ever looked into the face of a tiny baby and wondered what will be in store for that child – how his or her life will unfold across the years?

There is an exquisite painting which hangs in the great museum of The Louvre, in Paris. It is called ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’, by George de la Tour. It shows the Nativity Scene: a dark stable, with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds gazing on the sleeping child Jesus, wrapped in linen and lying on straw. Joseph holds a lighted candle and a lamb feeds on the straw. Joseph’s frail little light reveals the rapt attention of those shepherds, the loving gaze of Mary and his own fascination with the new-born baby.

Are they all wondering who the child will become as he grows? What life has in store for him? Are they asking themselves ‘Will there be a world in which the child can grow and flourish and become a man?’?

Do you wonder this for your own children and grandchildren, for the children who worship here at Temple Balsall week by week? What kind of world are we bringing them in to? What dangers? What opportunities?

De la Tour’s picture is remarkable because it suggests so poignantly all those very natural human concerns that we might share with the little group gathered around the baby as they look upon the beauty and vulnerability of a tiny child.

But this child, the child of the painting, seems to emit his own strange light – not the light of Joseph’s candle, but a beautiful, searching, spiritual light which shows up the faces of Mary and Joseph and the rough shepherds. The light of the Christ-child shows not only the questions and anxieties in the faces looking down on him, but also their spiritual wonder and prayer and joyful expectation. Somehow this ordinary child casts a light into the darkness which shows the ordinary mother and ordinary husband and ordinary rough old shepherds as extraordinary beautiful, spiritual beings – children of God, reflecting God’s image. The child’s light shows them in God’s light – yes, their flaws and failures and weariness as human beings, but also that they are beloved in God’s eyes, God’s children, vulnerable themselves, in need of love.

De la Tour’s picture, the lovely Crib-scene set up here in church, the Nativity story we celebrate again tonight in word and song, casts us in God’s light. It exposes us: shows up our loss of innocence, our cynicism and selfishness – how taken-up we are in our own concerns, how anxious. And yet that same light of the Christ-child reveals our longing to love and be loved, our capacity for concern and for compassion, the goodness in us which is ours as God’s children.

This child-light has the power to draw us in: it invites us to question, yes, and also to worship and to wonder; to see and search for that which can set us free for grace and love. The Nativity shows the heart of love; the sheer awe and wonder of God’s life. It promises the joy, a deep and lasting joy, which comes from knowing that we are loved by God in Christ.

As you look on the Christ-child tonight, what is your prayer? What do you seek for yourself, your loved-ones, for the world we share?

My prayer is that this story of divine love might throw light on our lives – that we might be enlightened to live for what is good and true. I pray for a deeper sense of wonder and awe and worship in all of our lives – of seeing the goodness that lies at the beating heart of God’s world. I pray that a spirit of awe may shape the picture of our lives.

May the light of Christmas and mystery of God’s love bring you joy. And may that joy uphold you and sustain you.

A happy and blessèd Christmas to each one of you and those you love. Amen


For the central truth, or mystery, of the Christian faith is primarily not a matter of words, and therefore ultimately of ideas or concepts, but a matter of fact, or reality.

The heart of the Christian mystery is the fact of God made man, God with us, in Christ; words, even his words, are secondary to the reality of what he accomplished. To be a Christian is not simply to believe something, to learn something, but to be something, to experience something.

The role of the Church, then, is not simply as the contingent vehicle—in history—of the Christian message, but as the community, through belonging to which we come into touch with the Christian mystery.


An absolute
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.


Denise Levertov, The Breathing


salt rose, topaz, archery, carnations,
the birth of fire. You are none of these.
You are the holy secret darkness, that space
between shadow and soul. There, where love is.

You are the flower that only blooms
within; hidden, but made of light.
A tactile fragrance, an enhancement
deep within the earth, my body.

How or when or where is not
what it’s about, this love; it is direct,
no pride, no problems, and no otherwise.

No me nor you. Your hand’s touch
is my hand; when your eyes close
I sleep.



  • “Playfulness can get you out of a rut more successfully than seriousness,”


  • “Triangles are the plaque in the arteries of communication and stress is the effect of our position in the triangle of our families “


  • “If you are a leader, expect sabotage”


  • “The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assump­tion that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. If you want your child, spouse, client, or boss to shape up, stay connected while changing yourself rather than trying to fix them”

Edwin H.Friedman


And thus our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably: I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well, and I shall make all thing well; and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well.

And thus signifieth He when He saith: THOU SHALT SEE THYSELF if all manner of things shall be well: as if He said: Take now heed faithfully and trustingly, and at the last end thou shalt verily see it in fulness of joy.


From Julian of Norwich (1342 – c.1413), Revelations of Divine Love


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