Opening the community chest

la vagabondeuse

I love that tweet @la_vagabondeuse and know the feeling of opening up a box of treasures. There are so many jewels out there. Of course, this has more to do with la_vagabondeuse’s willingness to open her ears and heart to others. Twitter is just the means to that end – one of many social media and other means.

I spent an hour and a half reading through my Twitter feed this morning. Call it a birthday indulgence if you like, but I know it is something I should be doing more of (listening, that is). There are whole boxes of treasure and so many jewels. Here’s some of what dazzled me this morning:

  • John Sutherland’s robust response @policecommander to Daily Mail’s lazy front page report on the nation being hooked on happy pills
  • the recall by Michelle Eyre @MichelleDEyre of the 9th day of Christmas, her true love’s gift of “nine ladies dancing” and her thanksgiving for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • some lines from Hafiz relayed by Ramblings @ramblingsloa: “Ever since happiness heard your name, it’s been running through the streets trying to find you.”
  • a beautiful image of Naomi and Ruth shared by Jacqueline Durban @radicalhoneybee together with a simply three word sentence: “Love made rock”
  • a 50 second video @HSBC_UK with hashtag #togetherwethrive shared by Michael Sadgrove @sadgrovem in praise of the word “together” in the spirit of Bonhoeffer

I do realise that Twitter is a preserve of the chattering classes, but it is one way of listening to others. We can choose our newsfeed and who we listen to. I choose the twitterati who have their ear to the ground, the ones who are sensitive to the rumblings of down to earth living (over, for example, the Daily Mail and its presumption of daily fail). And I discover, through that listening, the huge amount of treasure in the community chest – treasure graphically portrayed in another tweet from Paul Wright @LeanLeft_Wright this morning.ABCD

This shows the energy bubbling under the surface of community making the point that community develops through the appreciation of its members. You have to live there to know that. It is about opening our ears to hear the voices of others, and opening our hearts to the passion of others and celebrating the community bounty – the treasures and jewels of the community chest, just like la vagabondeuse is trying to do. This is loving the voice of our neighbour and discovering our commonwealth. Put technically this is “asset based community development”. But for those who live there, it is simply the love that makes the rock on which community builds (to paraphrase @radicalhoneybee).

Opening Advent Doors

advent-door

Advent is a time for praying for the coming of Emmanuel, that God may be with us, and for each of the evenings of the week before Christmas there is an “O” antiphon. Each of the seven antiphons is prefaced by “O” and addressed to the Messiah according to the names for him found in Isaiah. The “O” expresses our longing. The seven antiphons are addressed to Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King and Emmanuel.

Doors are very much a theme of Advent. Doors are both barriers and openings. We open a “door” a day on our Advent calendar to signify our willingness to open our hearts to the coming of Christ. Many decorate their front doors in a way that invites the stranger, in a way that begs to be opened (as in the door of one of our neighbours pictured above). Some doors are hard to shift and many are locked behind them.

Malcolm Guite has written a beautiful poem in response to the O Clavis antiphon (based on Isaiah 22:22):

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

This is Malcolm’s response (which is set in a beautiful image by Linda Richardson):

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

The poem senses despair but also senses freedom, if only we could find “the key  I threw away”, that “turned and over turned with certain touch and … opened my darkness to the light of day”. I love the sense of freedom because “every lock must answer to its key” and “each dark clasp … must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard”.

There are so many locks to spring. Back in the 14th century, Hafiz wrote about the sort of people who lock others up, and the sort of people who work in the darkness to set people free. They “drop keys all night long”:

The small person
builds cages for everyone
he
sees.

Instead, the sage,
who needs to duck his head,
when the moon is low
can be found dropping keys, all night long
for the beautiful
rowdy,
prisoners.

What are the cages, catches, vices, locks and blocks that bind us? What needs to be undone for peace to be declared on earth?

You may be interested in the Jesus Doors by Cheshire artist Ali Hutchison and the Advent Haikus Jim Bridgman has written for every day of Advent as part of his blog which is Really Nothing but which is in fact, quite something. You might also be interested in The Advent Door by Jan Richardson.

The Bishop of Digne: dropping keys for prisoners

The Bishop of Digne

The Bishop of Digne is a key character of Les MiserablesHe is the one who offers Jean Valjean refuge, who treats him as an “honoured guest” and a shelter from the rules which allows Valjean to change his mind to the question which echoes through the story: the question of “who am I?” Valjean, or, rather, Prisoner 24601 conforms to type when he abuses the hospitality. He runs off with the silver and is captured by the law enforcers. They deliver Prisoner 24601 to the Bishop. The Bishop seizes the moment (what had he done to be prepared to react with such imaginative compassion?) and lyingly claims he had given the silver to Valjean, dismisses the police, commending them for their duty, and gives Valjean his chance.

Digne is in south-eastern France. I don’t know whether the name Digne had significance for Victor Hugo, but surely some association with dignity was intended. The Bishop of Digne was a steward (another word for “bishop”) of dignity. The Bishop is only a marginal character but according to Theresa Malcolm “he is the soul of the novel, he who sowed love where there was hatred, light where there was darkness”. Bishop Myriel (as was the name of the then Bishop of Digne) was also known as “Monseigneur Bienvenu” for his spirit of generosity and welcome.

Victor Hugo dwells on the character of the Bishop of Digne at great length. He describes how he moved out of his episcopal palace so that it could be used as a hospital. He describes how he gave 90% of his stipend to charity, and how he simply lived for the poor. He spent his life for them matching deed to word. He spent time with prisoners. Hugo described how Myriel went with one prisoner, standing side by side with him on the scaffold, having spent the previous day with him, sharing with him “the best truths, which are also the most simple. He was father, brother, friend; he was bishop only to bless.” It was through such a lifestyle that people came to refer to the Bishop as “Monseigneur Bienvenu” – a bishop most welcome and welcoming.

This key character brings freedom. He unlocks Valjean’s soul and “gives him back his life”. Fourteenth century poet Hafiz comments on such great people who “drop keys all night long”:

The small person
builds cages for everyone
he
sees.

Instead, the sage,
who needs to duck his head,
when the moon is low
can be found dropping keys, all night long
for the beautiful
rowdy,
prisoners.

Valjean sums his situation up with these words:

For I had come to hate this world
This world which had always hated me
Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!
One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom,
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit came to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
I am reaching, but I fall
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

The engraving by Gustave Brion shows the Bishop of Digne prepared for the first edition of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in 1886.

Playing chess with God

chess

14th century poet Hafiz suggests two ways of playing God at chess.

What is the difference
Between your Existence
And that of a Saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the beloved
Has just made such a fantastic move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over joy
And bursting out in laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.

Photo from Gabork

Holding hands and climbing

Exploring the habits of the heart crucial for sustaining a democracy Parker J Palmer, in Healing the Heart of Democracyhighlights this poem by Hafez, a 13th century Persian poet . The poem is called Out of a Great Need

Out
of a great need
we are holding hands
and climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
Listen,
the terrain around here
is
far too
dangerous
for
that.