Redecilla del Camino

We took a short walk today. Only 11 kms. We have some aches and niggles in our legs so we thought we would be nice to them. We have stopped in Redecilla del Camino. It is a small town made up of a street of vey old stone buildings and C12th church. Over the busy road are some more modern buildings. But like many small Spanish towns it seems in decline. There are deserted Spanish villages for sale if you are so inclined.

Our devotion this morning was on Eph 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Physically, at present, the handiwork is feeling a little run down and worn. Yet the idea that our eyes and hearts always need to be open and ready for service is very heartening and life enhancing.

Strange observation: as we were walking along the other day there was a cross. Now many Spanish towns and roads have Christian crosses. But this seemed rather simple and not ornate. I asked Hetty if it was a cross or a power pole. She opted for cross. We got closer and there were three of them. On closer inspection they turned to to be redundant power poles. There is a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

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Another day on the Camino – a tale of two chickens

We are currently staying in the town (Santo Domingo de la Calzada) that permanently keeps chickens in the Cathedral because of ‘miracles’ that occurred in the Middle Ages. These involved the returning to life of a German pilgrim and the returning to life of two chickens on the bishop’s plate when he refused to believe the original miracle. Added to this I found a in a local church a sign proudly selling plenary indulgences. If I am right last year was the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 theses against indulgences, by Martin Luther.

The returning thought that comes to me is that for most people the Camino to Santiago is a secular trek. The hostels are handy and cheap for accommodation … and it is handy for meeting the opposite sex.

There are however opportunities to explore one’s spirituality. Some hostels take the Christian discipleship dimension seriously. One such Albergue is in Villamayor de Monjardin where the volunteers at the Albergue Hogar Monjardín see hospitality as a crucial part of their discipleship role. They are planning bigger and better ideas for the future.

I need to see these bright lights as otherwise I would become despondent because the Camino would be just another expression of our slide into secularity. It is wonderful to see Christians take opportunities, like the Camino, and step up to the opportunities.

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Icy start

We crossed the Pyrenees yesterday but not as true pilgrims. We cheated. We took a bus across and passed all these freezing pilgrims trudging through the snow. I felt guilty but not that guilty that I wanted to stop the bus. Our driver told us that he had to pick up a Korean lady who had collapsed on the road from hyperthermia, on the previous day.

We arrived in Villamayor and met the people from a Christian albergue/hostel who make it their business to create a welcoming environment for pilgrims. They are a positive presence in the local villages giving the potential of new life in villages that seem to be dying by degrees.

Now the weather is icy outside. Tomorrow we begin walking the next stage of the Camino. Inside the fire is burning and it is cosy and warm. We are steeling ourselves for the reality to come.

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The first few days

Some brief notes on the first few days of our trip.

We boarded our flight from Melbourne to Bangkok. Orderly and sedate.

However, when we boarded the A380 in Bangkok to go to Paris it was chaotic to say the least. The announcements couldn’t be heard. And everybody was milling around the entry points. All airlines seem to following Ryan air’s cattle class example.

On our way to Paris we flew between Kiev and Moscow. The place names below looked like elements of a Gogol short story.

The trip has been like a 24 hour night. The sun has been chasing us around the globe but we have just been ahead of it. As we approach Paris it is starting to catch up.

We travelled south from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on the TGV. The speed clocks over 300kph on many stretches. It is quite an amazing sensation. Now let’s speed up the Geelong Melbourne railway line. The last party of the journey from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port was on a sedate diesel train winding through the hills.

St Jean PdP is a beautiful town in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The houses have a Swiss/French flavour to them. We attended a Catholic service in the Basque language. The printed order of service our smattering of French and the iPad kept us in the loop. We were concerned that there were no young people in the service but when we walked past later there was a quite a group of young people for another service.

Today we plan to cross the Pyrenees … by bus.

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Children and the Kingdom

A retelling of a Bible story by my wife:

Let me tell you a story that was once told to me. (**see below)
It’s a great tale, but just one among many, so the tellers didn’t embellish their stories with finer details. However I will, and I will reimagine some colours and shades. I believe this is permissible as long as the listeners are open to God’s message in the story.

“The Rabbi’s disciples were walking towards Capernaum with their Messiah. The road was dusty, the sun was hot, and their tempers were fraying. Jesus walked a little way ahead of them and their argument.

Soon they arrived at the house of some friends and were eagerly welcomed and usheredphoto 4 through the house to the shady courtyard beyond. A servant girl came with tall beakers full of cold wine.
Slowly the heat drained from the faces of the guests as they relaxed after the long walk.

“So,” Jesus asked them, “what were you arguing about on the road?”

Before they could answer a ball skittered across the courtyard, rolled under the table and between the legs of the disciples, and was followed by a bevy of little boys. Mayhem ensued while the ball, the legs, and the children battled together.
And then peace again, as the boys skipped back to the lane with their prize.

“The argument?” Jesus reminded them.
But no one wanted to say. They squirmed in their seats, they blushed.

Finally one of them spoke. “We were discussing who of us is the greatest.”
It sounded so lame now, when it was spoken out loud to the Rabbi. Not an hour ago they had been in hot contention, firing Scripture missiles at each other, cutting one another down to size, tearing at each other’s egos. It had been as if their place in Eternity mattered on who was crowned greatest of all.

Jesus let the disciple’s words hang in the air for a moment. Then he called out to one of the boys.
“Here, come here son.” The lad came over.
Jesus beckoned to the servant girl. “Please bring the boy a drink.”
She went away and returned with a beaker of lemonade. She handed it to the boy who took it in his dusty hands. Then she gave him a straw.
Immediately he began slurping noisily.

“I tell you, unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven. Unless you lower yourself to the position of the least, you will have no position in Eternity.”

“Really?” The disciples thought. “Were their ears deceiving them? What could Jesus be saying?”

But Jesus hadn’t finished the lesson.
“Whoever welcomes one of these little ones, welcomes me. But whoever rejects them, it would be better if that man were thrown into the sea with a lump of concrete around his neck!”

The boy looked up from his now-empty beaker. He smiled at Jesus as if they shared the best secret. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

And then he belched.

**the original can be found in Matthew 18, Mark 9, and Luke 9

 

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A Hospital Virgin

gerrit

One can just see the attic window at the top of this building (Google Streetview)

I have spent the last 67 and half years trying my utmost to stay out of hospitals. I was born in an attic 4 floors up (home/attic births were all the rage in 1950) and apart from visiting people, I have been able to escape the hospital’s welcome all these years. However, all being well, that record will finish next week. I say “all being well” because, ironically, one needs to be healthy to have a ‘procedure’.

Last year I had an ultrasound and it was discovered that I was pregnant … with bouncing baby(or not so baby) gallstones.

So there are a couple of things for me to reflect on. One has been the rare privilege of not having had to use these facilities up to now when many, from a young age, have known hospital as a second home. I need to thank God for that. Another is that I live in a country that when it is needed these facilities are available. I or my family do not live in Syria where they become a special target for the enemy.

There is another reflection. I don’t like drunkenness or liked things like hypnotism as I argued that it was a poor choice as a Christian to have one’s body under the control of another person or substance. Next week I will be put under so someone else and can cut into me. What do I think about that? The way my gut feels at present it is cheering, “Bring it on!”

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Parents and Education

I originally wrote this 5 years ago but as I reflect on another parent/teacher interview day, it is still relevant.

Yesterday we had our first Parent Teacher interviews for the year. One of the outstanding characteristics of these interviews is that these parents are passionately concerned about their children’s success. They want to partner with the teachers to enable their son or daughter to achieve their best.

That school/family partnership is a crucial element for a child’s success. This liaison enables the discovery of learning styles and intelligence areas. Weaknesses can be worked on and strengths developed. For the student he or she is aware that there is a solid support team upholding their education.

The examples parents set for their children is also important. Do children see their parents as life long learners? Do they see mum and dad expanding their horizons through the books read, films watched and courses taken? Does this “learning” inform the family and meal time conversations? The family atmosphere can have a huge impact on whether a child has a positive or negative view of learning.

When I was teaching in the UK I came across the phrase, “Second generation disaffection with school.” It refers to parents who had a poor experience of school which in turn impacts  their lack of encouragement or negativity with regard to their own children’s education. For the teacher the consequences are obvious – unmotivated students who disrupt classes and the education of their peers. It can become a disastrous downward spiral.

The most prominent influence I have observed over the years is a dad’s influence on his son(s). As a general rule, if the dad doesn’t read, his son will not read. Or to put it positively, a dad who reads, gives his son(s) a powerful example that will radically influence his child’s education. All the encouragement from mum can be outweighed by dad’s attitude – positive or negative.

Our children are no longer competing for jobs with their peers in a school (I must stress that education is not just about jobs!), but in the global economy, with students in schools all across the world. The support, encouragement and example of parents is, consequently, also important. Many of the jobs that our children will enter into have not even been invented yet. So the best example a parent can give is an attitude of life long, on going learning. Personal growth becomes an attribute of how we live life.

This attitude also mitigates against boredom and complacency. It make life exciting and positive.  Learning and discovery becomes part of who we are as complete people.  It will also stop us from being passive consumers of entertainment, but that is a topic for another day.

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He is in every room of our life.

The following was written by my wife, a Christmas fanatic!

“There’s a Nativity scene in every room of my home,” I tell people at this time of the year.

I am a lover of Christmas. Unashamedly I celebrate the coming of Christ as a babe in Bethlehem. While others complain that putting decorations up in November is too early, I am thinking it’s not early enough. If eating mince pies is a reminder that Jesus came to redeem sinners, then what’s wrong with having them in the shops a week after Easter?

And so I put a Nativity scene in every room.
There are two, side by side, in the front window. They were fashioned in Peru; very simple creations that reflect the people of South America in their look and dress. One sits in a hand shape. On the stable roof of the other a little angel is curled up, asleep, while Mary watches her precious Baby and the wise men clutch their gifts.
I stop to look while I’m rummaging in my bag for the front door key.
Jesus came.

Inside in the hallway there are three wise men standing to attention on the dresser.

nativity

The Nativity

They are candle holders with small candles sticking up out of their crowns.
Surely these visitors to Jesus were always destined to be bearers of the Light. They made their way to Jesus’ side by following a star. They found the Light, did a u-turn, and carried that Light back to the East from where they’d come.
Jesus illuminates.

A few steps further, into the kitchen. Here is my best Nativity scene. It’s a beauty!
A cross-stitched triptych depicting the shepherds, the Holy family, and the Magi, is the backdrop for the corresponding figurines in front. It’s a rich scene. The deep hues of the clothes worn by the characters, the ornate rugs carried by the camel, and the opulent gifts held out to the Newborn are contrasted with the straw I’ve strewn around their legs. I have collected extras for this scene – several animals, an odd assortment of angels – from around the world.
The centre of their attention is Jesus. He lies in the lowly manger with arms outstretched.
Jesus gathers.

In our family room there is another Nativity on the piano. It’s carved from a piece of soapstone. It sits beneath another framed cross-stitch which says “Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”.
The scene is simple. Three characters. One small, small Infant. Yet He is all that the quote from Isaiah declares.
Jesus fulfils.

I go into our bedroom, and there on the mirror hangs another Nativity scene. It comes from Belgium. It is made of lace.
I often notice it while I’m glancing in the mirror before dashing off for the day. “Is my hair okay? Collar straight?”
“Oh look, there’s Jesus…..”
In this scene it’s hard to see all the details unless you come close. Then you see the ox and the donkey, the shape of the manger and the tilt of Joseph’s head. Then you notice the haloes around the faces.
It’s delicate and intricate.
Jesus cares.

Finally the bathroom and yes, there is a Nativity scene in here too. A plain wooden one; one piece. Joseph stands, Mary holds Jesus close to her breast.
It’s on the bench above the washing machine. Today there is a pile of washing in front of it so it’s not easy to spot. A toothbrush, laundry powder and a bottle of moisturiser stand around it like bizarre wise men.

The Holy family are witnesses to the business of a bathroom. It’s not pretty. It’s not clean. But it is the business of cleansing and beautifying. The Son is there in the midst of our muck.
Jesus cleanses.

In January I will move through my home to collect my Nativity scenes. They’ll be carefully wrapped and stored away for the 9 months until early November. Jesus’ life will be compressed into our period of time between then and Easter. His birth, and then His death and Resurrection. Next December we will begin the Advent season again, waiting for Jesus.
But in God’s reality of time, which is ‘time-less’, Jesus never leaves. He never arrives, because He always was. We don’t have to wait, because He is.

He is in every room of our life.

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Christina Rossetti – Christmas

We often think of “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” when we think of Christina Rossetti’s Christmas poems. In fact she wrote many others. The following was written years before “In the Bleak Mid-Winter”.

 

A Christmas Carol

Source: The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, with a Memoir and Notes by William Michael Rossetti (1904)

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,rossetti
Before the earliest cockcrow
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His Hands had made
Born a Stranger.

Priest and King lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem,
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem:
Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
Kept a watch together,
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on His Mother’s breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Shepherd of the Fold:
Let us kneel with Mary Maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
To hail the King of Glory.

26 August 1859

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Past Advent Poems 11- 16

What Lord?

So You Think …

mary crop

The Shepherds – A Narrative

 

The Inn Keeper – Correcting the Record.

The Magi

Immanuel

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