Advent, a time for pondering in expectation before Christmas, is being increasingly challenged by the dominance of shopping! Sales went online for the first time on ‘Black Friday’ last week. The problem is not so much that sales are a bad thing in themselves, but as with anything moderation applies. Sales’ drives are now clogging up the calendar around this time of year. Before Boxing Day sales there are still ‘Cyber Monday’ and ‘Manic Monday’ to come. Perhaps to counter the busyness of it and to make it apparent that there is some room for respite the Church might publicise its Advent Sundays thus: Advent 1: Hopeful Sunday; Advent 2: Peaceful Sunday; Advent 3: Joyful Sunday; Advent 4: Loving Sunday.
November is a month for digging deeper. It might have something to do with the number of services that lead us in this direction – All Souls, All Saints, Days of Remembrance. It might also have something to do with the nights drawing in, the temperature dropping and melancholy setting in. We are also in the middle of the Kingdom season: in the liturgical calendar we become more aware of God’s presence and majesty. Last week I went walking with some friends in the Ardennes in Belgium. In this picture of the town of Dinant famous for jazz we can see friends, a dog, a statue of De Gaulle, restaurants and shops and a clifftop fortress in the background. In the middle stands a distinctive onion-domed church, both a sanctuary and a reminder for digging deeper as social, economic and political activities envelop us.
Every church I have been into in the Uppsala diocese there is attention to detail. Particularly revealing is how everything is made to look beautiful: creative candlesticks, neat blankets draped over wooden chairs in side chapels, variegated heather displays in big pots and delightfully designed altar cloths. They draw you into the spiritual space of the church building.
The words ‘a royal priesthood’ reverberated in my mind as I attended a theological conference at St George’s House in the grounds of Windsor Castle last week. One minute we were talking about the links between the Old and New Testaments the next we were praying in St George’s Chapel where many a monarch since Edward IV is buried. It was good to spend time thinking outside the box and to put everything in historical perspective.
The celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl begin this week in Cardiff. I noticed when I left the house this morning that a special Roald Dahl team – the men dressed in grey suits and brown shoes, the women in pretty dresses, armed with stripy red and yellow umbrellas – were putting up a ‘Roald Dahl was here’ plaque on an adjacent wall. Dahl once went to school next door, but next door is now someone’s house. The Chinese takeaway on the high street here in Llandaff is also now festooned with sweet jars in the front window, reminding us of Mrs Pratchett and her sweetshop and what lighthearted mischief the young Dahl got up to when he popped in to buy gobstoppers. The Dahl stories are a joyful read. They show that joy that can come out of any situation. Our days can be sprinkled with joy.
Charles Bridge lies at the heart of Prague and is the city’s main icon. Millions of people have traversed it – the summer season sees a cramming of tourists upon it. The bridge evokes a strong Christian tradition in the city, what with the statues of the crucifix and other martyrs along this famous overpass. I went to a nearby exhibition on King Charles IV who commissioned the bridge back in the fourteenth century. He was a wise and holy ruler, best personifying the title of Holy Roman Emperor. The Czech king built bridges really, bringing a sense of togetherness to people. He relied on diplomatic tact rather than the tactics of war for advancement in human affairs. The world needs wise leaders.
The United Kingdom is about to make the biggest decision since going to war against Nazi Germany in 1939. This referendum on Thursday is not just about Britain, it is about the whole world. In Llandudno in 1948 Winston Churchill called an Union of Europe a ‘majestic circle’ worth building to secure peace. To this end the EU has been an immense success (even though we did not sign up to it immediately), challenged only more recently by the double external threat of crisis in the Middle East and the 2008 economic meltdown whose origin was in the United States. Despite these threats the 66-year-old EU remains a synonym for peace. Like a good long-term investment it is worth sticking to. I’m in: are EU’in?