Thursday, 10 December 2009

Advent Calendar

Last night I went to the Breast Cancer Care carol service at St Paul's cathedral, which was beautifully Christmas-y; and it felt like such a great privilege to sit within that inspiring church. As a Londoner, it's easy to take the city's grandest architecture for granted (head down, rushing through the streets, rarely looking up to the skyline) but whenever I emerge out of the fuggy darkness of the underground station at St Paul's, to be confronted by the graceful outline of the cathedral, I always feel glad to be alive.
I've been involved with the charity since 1998, after my sister died of breast cancer (I co-founded the Lavender Trust that year, which provides Breast Cancer Care's services for younger women); the carol service is one of many fundraising events through the year, and perhaps the loveliest. The cathedral choir sang like angels, and there were some wonderful readings, including this poem by Rowan Williams, read by Jeremy Irons. I hadn't come across it before, but thought it worth sharing with you.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

· From The Poems of Rowan Williams, published by Perpetua Press


blackbird said...

Thank you for sharing this- I would love to visit this service myself one day.

Justine Picardie said...

I like your picture profile; there's a blackbird that sings in my back garden that always makes me feel more hopeful.

jaywalker said...

Lovely photo. I thought you might be interested to know that my professional women's club, Zonta International (which is very well known in most countries except the UK where there is one club in London) make breast care cushions as one of our Australia wide projects. These are prettily coloured, satin covered, curved cushions for use after a mastectomy. We supply them to hospitals and cancer care centres. See link below.


TeresaP said...

I just popped over from Cornflower's blog because I love the poetry of Rowan Williams. Thank you for this wonderfully seasonal blog entry.

Sarah Standalone said...

The evening sounds enchanting. Love Rowan Williams poem. I hope you raised lots of funds for your Lavender Trust.

Lou said...

What a beautiful poem,Justine...and a beautiful way to celebrate christmas and at the same time remember our precious sisters and mothers.This time of year is always bittersweet for so many who have lost so much....another year has passed...another family celebration without the person we loved.

ZDENNY said...

A man named Finite awoke and found himself in a sinkhole full of quick sand. He was sinking very slowly and knew that he would meet certain death.

A man came along who had holes in his hands. The man threw Finite a rope and told him to grab it and he would pull him to safety.

Finite looked at the holes in the man's hands and said, “Your not real.” “It is not scientifically possible for a man to live who has holes in his hands.

The man with the holes in his hands looked at the guy a little puzzled and said, “You are in a sinkhole and about to die. Your response to my help is to say I’m not real?”

Finite said, “Well, I like how warm the sand is and I really don’t want to get out. Second, I know I am having an illusion because it is not possible for a man to have holes in his hands and still help me out.” Therefore, morally I like my plight and scientifically, you don’t exist being a mere projection of my mind.

The man with the holes in his hands said, “Listen, I was sent here by my father to help people out so please let me help you! I will take you to my father’s mansion where you can enjoy life for eternity. Obviously, death was not able to hold me in the grave because the holes in my hands are proof that I overcame death. I now have the power to save you so grab the rope!”

Finite put his fingers in the ears and said, “Now I know I am hearing things because there is no such thing as eternal life…Everyone dies so I am going to take my turn and just enjoy this warm sand until the end.”

The man with the holes in his hand said, “If you won’t grab the rope, then I won’t be able to help you…please, please take the rope and I can pull you out. Have faith my friend.”

A few moments later Finite sunk into the quick sand and out of sight. Finite was surprised that he did not die as expected. He just sat there surrounded by sand, unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to talk with his fingers in his ears. Finite tried to comfort himself by thinking, “I would rather stay here for eternity than believe that the man with the holes in His hand could help me. Faith in that mirage is irrational!!

So Finite sat in the quicksand for eternity. Day in and day out for eternity Finite was always thinking about the man with the holes in his hands. He would comfort himself thinking, “It was better to not have faith than to believe something that didn’t make sense.”

The man with the holes in His hands continued to call him for the rest of eternity; however, Finite could not hear his voice because he had plugged his ears.

The Lesson

If you are not with Christ, you will be thinking about Christ for eternity anyway... so have faith.

Anonymous said...

I heard it was fantastic and am thrilled you enjoyed it. I worked for Breast Cancer Care and took part in their Ribbon Walks and volunteered at their fashion show before my final weeks and I think what they do is utterly wonderful.

kairu said...

Thank you for sharing that wonderful poem. I had not been familiar with the work of Rowan Williams, but I will certainly seek out more.

Somewhere in my files, I think I have a photograph of what must be St. Paul's, taken from the top of a tour bus, the frame of the film tilting at an awkward angle. In my memory it is grey, as grey as the cold winter days I spent in London just after Christmas, through the new year, 1996-97. That was my only trip to London, with a glamorous older friend who was then a flight attendant and who had whisked me - age 16 - off for a brief holiday. I was at an awkward age, at a painful time; my father had been diagnosed with cancer just a few months before (now more than a decade in remission) and was recuperating from surgery and preparing for radiation treatments.

In my mind the trip is all a blur, grey skies and frigid weather, glittering shops. There was a luxurious afternoon tea at the Dorchester and a few hours spent at the National Gallery. On the flight home I flipped through piles of glossy fashion magazines; everything was different, the clothes, the words, the prices. How long ago that all seems.

Sarah Standalone said...

Re: seasonal reads. I have just finished Behind The Wall, Colin Thubron it was wonderful. Written in 1987 a beautiful erudite recounting of the authors travels around China, it gives an insight into a fascinating world that had just started to throw off the tyranny of Mao. Inspiring writing.

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JaneGS said...

The carol service at St. Paul's sounds achingly perfect, as is the poem, which I just shared with my daughter who is coming to love poetry like this.


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Justine Picardie said...

thanks, everyone, for your lovely comments and messages (though could do without the ugg/ugh spam).
Whenever I write about anything to do with Breast Cancer Care or the Lavender Trust, I am always touched by how many people have had similar experiences, and also how strangers can reach out to one another to share their sorrows and hopes, across the water and around the world.

Donna said...

Hi Justine,

What a beautiful and moving poem. I was only thinking about you yesterday and telling my youngest of you and Ruth and schooldays at LHS :~) Christmas always makes me thankful to be alive & sad to think of those we've lost.

Hope you and yours have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas.

Much love and many blessings

Donna (Hill nee Evans)x

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks so much... Can't believe how the years have passed and turned into decades.

enid said...

Justine, thanks for always being such a good sharer.All the best for the festive season and may 2010 be all you wish it to be.I loved the poem and have put a copy in my journal.

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