For this I know -- that in my Lord
Wednesday, 31 December 2008
For this I know -- that in my Lord
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
2006: I will not let my boss push me around.
2006: I will go to church every Sunday.
Castletown, Church of Ireland is a small country church situated between Pallaskenry and Ballysteen, a short distance from Margaret’s home place at Ballymartin. On Christmas Eve we decided to attend the Holy Communion service there at 11.30pm. When we arrived there were already a few cars parked on the roadside and people were just beginning to enter the church , we took our place in a pew towards the back. About 40 people eventually made up the little congregation filling about a third of the seats. The interior of the church is very well maintained and looked as if had been recently painted. There is a simple altar at the front with two candles lit at either side and just above where we sat there was a large stone plaque on the wall extolling the virtues of a Cannon Waller who, according to the inscription was ‘ a fine Christian gentleman’. The service was conducted by a visiting English cleric who explained at the outset that he had come to Ireland for health reasons and to rest, but found himself frequently in situations like this, still called on to engage in active ministry. He had a warm distinctive accent with a slight impediment and was very welcoming and friendly. The hymns for the service were prominently displayed by number just to the left of the altar, all three were Christmas carols for the night that was in it. The Communion service was taken from the Book of Common Prayer which with the Hymn book was left on the pew. Almost all the prayers and readings were identical to the Roman Catholic rite of the Mass.
After singing a hymn and several prayers the rector gave a message suitable to the occasion where he spoke of the power of the Christmas story to draw us in to its heart and cause us to reflect on the sublime mystery of God incarnating Himself in our midst. The congregation were attentive and participated in the responses to the prayers and the singing of the hymns accompanied by the loud strains of the organ emanating from the loft upstairs.
The Church of Ireland is a diminishing community on this island no doubt progressed by the notorious Papal ‘Ne Temere’ decree of 1908 which required the Protestant partner in a mixed marriage ( with a catholic) to sign a document that promised that any children from the union would be brought up as Catholics. This of course effectively prevented the the church from any significant growth through marriage or births. The Church of Ireland describes itself as ‘an autonomous province of the Anglican communion’ which of course came out of King Henry V111’s falling out with Rome over his attempts to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. Henry cut off contact with all the ecclesiastical power of Rome and the Anglican church became an autonomous British institution which later would be heavily influenced by leading figures of the reformation. In this country the C of I was always associated with the British occupation and so had little effect on ordinary Irish people. To this day many Protestants are well regarded in their communities as hard working and honest people, but their efforts at sharing the ‘gospel’ with their Catholic neighbours have historically failed. In part this failure can be attributed to their too close association with the ‘old enemy’ but in recent times it is debatable whether there is any ‘gospel’ dynamic remaining within its fold.
I enjoyed our midnight encounter with the members of the Church of Ireland congregation at Castletown this Christmas Eve where the carols and the service certainly focused the mind on the central Christian truth of that first Christmas night. The Book of Common Prayer seems to have replaced the Bible as the book in the pew, as the Missal has in the Roman Catholic tradition. This lack of Bible in both settings means the Word is relegated to chosen excerpts and consequently looses its autonomy and power. I think it was Martin Luther who once compared the Scriptures to a lion, who cannot be ‘tamed’ by man’s traditions or scruples ! A vibrant Christian witness requires the Word to be unfettered and free to do its work as God’s Spirit moves upon it.
Once again I am reminded of the rich Christian tradition that existed in this country and both the inspiration and the limitation of that great legacy. Up to 1871 the Church of Ireland was the official state church here until its disestablishment under Gladstone and the Liberals. Perhaps we need to roll back the pages of history further to a time when this island had the accolade of being a land of saints and scholars. As Patrick and his fellows preached the gospel to a pagan society and broke the old Druidic power system ,the Word was given a pre-eminence throughout the land with powerful and life-changing repercussions. While neither the Church of Ireland or the Roman Catholic Church may reach the dizzy heights of our Celtic spiritual forefathers, my prayer would be that the ‘church’ in Ireland will yet arise and become again that city shining on the hill !
. Gerard O'Shea
Saturday, 27 December 2008
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
There’s a hidden heart
As each scene of this familiar tale unfolds -
A story of a mother and child,
A compliant husband,
Visitors from hillside sheep farms,
And travellers from exotic Eastern palaces.
The comings and goings
Of that first Nativity
So human, and repeatable
So universally ordinary -
The birth of a child
In a difficult family circumstance.
But then there’s the hidden heart -
Messages from heaven…
Wanderings of a star…
Glorious hosts unveiled to shepherds
And the murderous intent
Of a nervous king.
This birth was new but old_
The man who was the child
Existing long before the manger,
In fact, at the beginning of everything
He called everything into being.
Here’s the hidden heart -
In appearance of baby flesh
The Creator God became, sublimely
One of His creation…
No greater Mystery
To bring us to our knees
With shepherds, kings, and animals
On this familiar Christmas Eve !
I’d like to wish
all visitors to the
Dew of Hermona very
"Expecting someone?" the sweeper asked at last. So Papa Panov told him about his dream."Well, I hope he comes," the sweeper said, "you've given me a bit of Christmas cheer I never expected to have. I'd say you deserve to have your dream come true." And he actually smiled. When he had gone, Papa Panov put on cabbage soup for his dinner, then went to the door again, scanning the street. He saw no one. But he was mistaken. Someone was coming. The girl walked so slowly and quietly, hugging the walls of shops and houses, that it was a while before he noticed her. She looked very tired and she was carrying something. As she drew nearer he could see that it was a baby, wrapped in a thin shawl. There was such sadness in her face and in the pinched little face of the baby, that Papa Panov's heart went out to them. "Won't you come in," he called, stepping outside to meet them. "You both need a warm by the fire and a rest."The young mother let him shepherd her indoors and to the comfort of the armchair. She gave a big sigh of relief."I'll warm some milk for the baby," Papa Panov said, "I've had children of my own- I can feed her for you." He took the milk from the stove and carefully fed the baby from a spoon, warming her tiny feet by the stove at the same time."She needs shoes," the cobbler said. But the girl replied, "I can't afford shoes, I've got no husband to bring home money. I'm on my way to the next village to get work."Sudden thought flashed through Papa Panov's mind. He remembered the little shoes he had looked at last night. But he had been keeping those for Jesus. He looked again at the cold little feet and made up his mind
"Try these on her," he said, handing the baby and the shoes to the mother. The beautiful little shoes were a perfect fit. The girl smiled happily and the baby gurgled with pleasure."You have been so kind to us," the girl said, when she got up with her baby to go. "May all your Christmas wishes come true!"But Papa Panov was beginning to wonder if his very special Christmas wish would come true. Perhaps he had missed his visitor? He looked anxiously up and down the street. There were plenty of people about but they were all faces that he recognized. There were neighbors going to call on their families. They nodded and smiled and wished him Happy Christmas! Or beggars- and Papa Panov hurried indoors to fetch them hot soup and a generous hunk of bread, hurrying out again in case he missed the Important Stranger.All too soon the winter dusk fell. When Papa Panov next went to the door and strained his eyes, he could no longer make out the passers-by. most were home and indoors by now anyway. He walked slowly back into his room at last, put up the shutters, and sat down wearily in his armchair.So it had been just a dream after all. Jesus had not come.Then all at once he knew that he was no longer alone in the room.This was not dream for he was wide awake. At first he seemed to see before his eyes the long stream of people who had come to him that day. He saw again the old road sweeper, the young mother and her baby and the beggars he had fed. As they passed, each whispered, "Didn't you see me, Papa Panov?""Who are you?" he called out, bewildered. Then another voice answered him. It was the voice from his dream- the voice of Jesus. "I was hungry and you fed me," he said. "I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you helped and welcomed."Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking. A great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov's heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with joy."So he did come after all!" was all that he said.
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Back in November 2007 I wrote a tribute to Cocker Spaniel ‘Coco’ who had kept a life-long vigil on the stretch of road that leads to my house and had finally in the summer left his patch forever! At the time I did not have an actual picture of my canine buddy and I had to use a look-a-like to illustrate the poem. While doing a pre-Christmas house clean recently I came upon an unopened letter that had obviously come through my letter box, and which I had cast to one side. Inside was a note and a photograph of the bold Coco from his adopted owners (by the way Coco adopted them !). It gives me great pleasure to belatedly post this photo of my sentinel friend of Iona Drive. You can read the original post here…
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a quiz so here’s one I’ve borrowed from Saturdays Guardian newspaper, I don’t think they’ll mind. Each question covers an aspect of Christmas’ chequered history and every answer begins with the same letter, see how you’ll do out of ten.
1. In the fourth century which Roman ruler lent his support to Christianity, thereby ensuring the legitimacy of Christmas celebrations ?
2. In 1521, Wynkyn produced the first printed collection of what ?
3. Eating mince pies on Christmas day was made illegal in the 17th. Century. Who was England’s political and military leader at the time ?
4. Which British Queen in 1800 introduced Christmas trees to Britain, when decorating a yew tree at Windsor with sweets and candles ?
5. What was the surname of Sir Henry the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, who in 1843 instead of sending out his usual seasonal letters to his family and friends, invented and designed the first Christmas card ?
6. What novelty Christmas item was invented around 1847 by confectioner Tom Smith ?
7. While performing midnight mass at Greccio, in the province of Umbria, Italy in 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have introduced carols into formal worship. In what type of structure did he preach from ?
8. The Twelve days of Christmas is believed to have been written as a clandestine way of teaching children the roman Catholic faith during the period when Catholics were forbidden to openly practise their religion in England. What represented the four gospels ?
9. What were the two Christian names of an American with the surname Moore, a professor of oriental and Greek literature at Columbia college , New York, who in 1822 penned the Christmas classic, ‘A Visit from Saint Nicholas’, better known as ‘Twas the night Before Christmas’
10. In the Church of England, on what principal feast celebrated either on February 2 or on the Sunday occurring between January 28 and February 3, does Christmas officially end ?
Sunday, 21 December 2008
This Christmas story by Leo Tolstoy is really
It was Christmas Eve and although it was still afternoon, lights had begun to appear in the shops and houses of the little Russian village, for the short winter day was nearly over. Excited children scurried indoors and now only muffled sounds of chatter and laughter escaped from closed shutters.Old Papa Panov, the village shoemaker, stepped outside his shop to take one last look around. The sounds of happiness, the bright lights and the faint but delicious smells of Christmas cooking reminded him of past Christmas times when his wife had still been alive and his own children little. Now they had gone. His usually cheerful face, with the little laughter wrinkles behind the round steel spectacles, looked sad now. But he went back indoors with a firm step, put up the shutters and set a pot of coffee to heat on the charcoal stove. Then, with a sigh, he settled in his big armchair.Papa Panov did not often read, but tonight he pulled down the big old family Bible and, slowly tracing the lines with one forefinger, he read again the Christmas story. He read how Mary and Joseph, tired by their journey to Bethlehem, found no room for them at the inn, so that Mary's little baby was born in the cowshed."Oh, dear, oh, dear!" exclaimed Papa Panov, "if only they had come here! I would have given them my bed and I could have covered the baby with my patchwork quilt to keep him warm."He read on about the wise men who had come to see the baby Jesus, bringing him splendid gifts. Papa Panov's face fell. "I have no gift that I could give him," he thought sadly.Then his face brightened. He put down the Bible, got up and stretched his long arms up to the shelf high up in his little room. He took down a small, dusty box and opened it. Inside was a perfect pair of tiny leather shoes. Papa Panov smiled with satisfaction. Yes, they were as good as he had remembered- the best shoes he had ever made. "I should give him those," he decided, as he gently put them away and sat down again.He was feeling tired now, and the further he read the sleeper he became. The print began to dance before his eyes so that he closed them, just for a minute. In no time at all Papa Panov was fast asleep.And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed that someone was in his room and he know at once, as one does in dreams, who the person was. It was Jesus."You have been wishing that you could see me, Papa Panov." he said kindly, "then look for me tomorrow. It will be Christmas Day and I will visit you. But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am." When at last Papa Panov awoke, the bells were ringing out and a thin light was filtering through the shutters. "Bless my soul!" said Papa Panov. "It's Christmas Day!"He stood up and stretched himself for he was rather stiff. Then his face filled with happiness as he remembered his dream. This would be a very special Christmas after all, for Jesus was coming to visit him. How would he look? Would he be a little baby, as at that first Christmas? Would he be a grown man, a carpenter- or the great King that he is, God's Son? He must watch carefully the whole day through so that he recognized him however he came. Papa Panov put on a special pot of coffee for his Christmas breakfast, took down the shutters and looked out of the window. The street was deserted, no one was stirring yet. No one except the road sweeper. He looked as miserable and dirty as ever, and well he might! Whoever wanted to work on Christmas Day - and in the raw cold and bitter freezing mist of such a morning? Papa Panov opened the shop door, letting in a thin stream of cold air. "Come in!" he shouted across the street cheerily. "Come in and have some hot coffee to keep out the cold!"The sweeper looked up, scarcely able to believe his ears. He was only too glad to put down his broom and come into the warm room. His old clothes steamed gently in the heat of the stove and he clasped both red hands round the comforting warm mug as he drank.Papa Panov watched him with satisfaction, but every now and them his eyes strayed to the window. It would never do to miss his special visitor. ( to be continued...)
Friday, 19 December 2008
I went to see a preview showing of the new cinema version of Brideshead Revisited during the week. Courtesy of local newspaper ‘The Post’ I was part of the audience at the Crescent Omniplex to see the films first Irish outing. The costume designer for the Julian Jarrold directed movie is local girl Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh who attended the screening and gave an insight into her craft during a question and answer session afterwards. She has previously teamed up with Jarrold in ‘Becoming Jane’ (2007) and has also worked with directors Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan. The costumes were hand made and her vibrant pallet of colour and contrasting textures combined to create an authentic 1920’s English look.
Evelyn Waugh’s novel was previously serialised for television in the lavish Granada T.V. production of 1981.My vivid memory of that series was the brilliant music score composed by Geoffrey Burgon, especially the opening theme played on a Baroque trumpet. The Miramax film version condenses into two hours the essence of Waugh’s tale and remains true to the spirit if not the letter of the original. Visually stunning with acting, locations and of course costume design all impeccably executed, the film rolls along at a steady pace keeping the viewer on board throughout. The towering presence is the house itself which in fact is the same one used in the earlier t.v. version, and attached to it is the fate of the Flyte family who live under the iron grip of their staunchly Catholic mother,Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson).Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) narrates the tale from his first meeting at Oxford with Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishlaw) to his romantic involvement with the beautiful Julia (Hayley Atwell) and his recurring obsession with Brideshead.
Beyond the human drama there seems to be a strong emphasis in the early part of the story on the irrationality and indeed hypocrisy of religious faith from Ryder’s point of view. However by the end, that faith seems to be the one constant that has survived all the tumults and twists of the family’s history. The mother dominates every aspect of her children’s lives being obsessed with their religious salvation and their adherence to the catholic faith in particular. She is intent that Julia will only marry a catholic and firmly brushes aside Charles advances towards her daughter as he is not even a believer ! Her other concern is for Sebastians alcoholism and homosexual lifestyle, a consideration which becomes a source of conflict between her and Charles, who holds a liberal view on such things.
Waugh was in no doubt as to the theme of his work when he published it in 1945, as he commented that Brideshead Revisited “deals with what is the obliquely termed ‘the operation of the Grace’, that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to himself ”. In the final scene of the film Charles Ryder now an army captain, returns to Brideshead and visit’s the family chapel. A solitary candle is burning before the altar, he cradles the flame between his thumb and forefinger as though to quench it. His fingers never meet,the flame is undisturbed, he walks away. The flicker of the candle flame is like the frail glow of faith, which though apparently weak and fragile is capable of lighting up a dark place! That’s a truth worth remembering and I left the cinema last Monday with that one single image etched in my mind. Not a bad return for a trip to the movies.
…and they will call him Immanuel –
Immanuel! God is with us!” We proclaim this
fact in the sense that God’s love includes the
entire world! One can’t even cross a street
today without meeting people whose ideas and
outlook on life are different. You can’t travel to any
place without mixing and living with people who
are different. If God is with us, then he must also
be with them! If we think we have to wait until they
are converted or changed, we’ll most certainly be
least in God’s kingdom. Jesus died for us because he
died for the entire, godless world. This is the love
of God: he bestows a kiss without waiting until we
have become angels! If God is with me, he is with
all people! God is with us – all of us!
If we are honest it is not easy to identify with this
Immanuel. It would be so much simpler if I could
just stand in a niche near my Savior and be “saved”
and let the world go to hell – that’s not hard. But
to accept Immanuel and proclaim, “God with us,”
and be entirely sure that the world belongs to God,
and get to work, that’s difficult. Much of the world
doesn’t want anything to do with God. Worse still,
even the followers of Jesus hardly understand what
it means that the world belongs to God. Christians
not only take up arms against “unbelievers,” they
fight one another and kill each other and consign
one another to hell – that is sheer torment.
Jesus, the light of the world, Jesus, the love of
God for the world – these must be put into practice!
“Immanuel!” Let it be today, tomorrow, and for
all time: “God with you, with me, with all the
world!” In this way we can be, “people for life”;
and wherever we go, wherever we stay, we can say
“Immanuel.” When things are hard for us, when we
meet enemies, let us remember “Immanuel” and be
joyful that this Savior came into the world!
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
“ This Christmas we'll be swamped with offers, ads and invitations to buy more stuff. But now there's a way to say enough and join a movement dedicated to reviving the original meaning of Christmas giving.
Buy Nothing Christmas is a national initiative started by Canadian Mennonites but open to everyone with a thirst for change and a desire for action.
Buy Nothing Christmas is a stress-reliever, and more people need to hear about it. You can change your world by simply putting up one of the posters (or make your own) in your church, place of worship, home or work. Be sneaky about it if you have to. The point is to get people thinking. It's an idea whose time has come, so get out there and make a difference! .”
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
This coming weekend sees the performance of a wonderful Christmas drama ....
Christmas Re-engineered, directed by Brent Enget, is a season comedy drama showing changes of attitudes about Christmas, as three couples including a Niles Crane and his wife type couple (Frasier Show) work through Christmas.
The setting is Christmas time in a Dining Room with food served.
Christmas Carols, human video and dance also inspire, and tea/coffee is served to the audience during the drama.
Christmas Re-engineered ticks all the right boxes at this time of year. As well as a friendly Christmas atmosphere and welcome, attendees will really enjoy the drama, human video & dance, and they also contribute to a most worthy local Charity ADAPT Services. Having tea/coffee added in for the price of €5 is a bonus. People need a break from the commercialism of Christmas. The pace of life today can often distract us for life's priorities of rest, enjoyment and experiencing the true meaning of this special season. All are welcome to come."
If you're looking to get a glimpse or feel the atmosphere of a real Christmas, Christmas Re-engineered is the drama to see.
You will be touched! You'll enjoy it! So, don't miss it!
Saturday, 20th Dec & Sunday, 21st Dec 2008 @ 7.15pm
All proceeds to ADAPT Services Tickets: €5.00
Contact Kevin at 085-1496846
"Nollaig Shona Daoibh agus Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Daoibh!"
Abundant Life Christian Church
Post Office Lane, Limerick.
Let not our hearts
Let not our hearts be busy inns,
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Monday, 8 December 2008
JOY TO THE WORLD
As it is the 8 th. of December and as I saw this lady perform in Rathkeale the other night, what better way to launch the Christmas festival than with this spirited version of Isaac Watts timeless classic, 'Joy to the World'.Moya Brennan is known of course as the 'voice of Clannad' the family group who came out of Donegal and became a worldwide phenomenon with their mix of Celtic music and swirling synthesisers. Moya herself went on to publicly announce her Christian commitment and has made several solo albums with songs that reflect her faith. The performance last week at Saint Mary's church in County Limerick was stunning and while I had always enjoyed her music I was struck by her powerful (yet gentle) stage presence which added another layer to the songs. About 3 years ago she released 'An Irish Christmas' from which this particular hymn is taken, if you can get hold of a copy it will enhance your celebration of Christ's birth.
Sunday, 7 December 2008
Hills were our only launching pads
From which tired plane dwellers
Could hope to touch the clouds,
The nearest any Mystic got
To catching ethereal bodies…
Grasping concepts of timelessness,
The pulpit-places for seeking Prophets-
Men burning to talk with holy God…
Hilly peaks of prayer and meditation,
There, on windswept worlds apart
Gathered Seekers of a world beyond,
Those not satisfied with ‘seeing’
Grown tired from ‘hearing’
Jaded with earth’s solid bread
Tip-toeing on mountain tops
For food Celestial
Christmas is really
Friday, 5 December 2008
He wraps himself in light as with a garment;
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes winds his messengers,
He set the earth on its foundations;
The moon marks off the seasons,
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
The lions roar for their prey
The sun rises, and they steal away;
How many are your works, O LORD!
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Sean O’Duinn continued to show similarities between the old Celtic mid-winter traditions which all centred on the diminishing of the sun’s vitality and the impending threat of darkness and extinction. At Brú na Bóinne in County Meath the chamber there is flooded with a stream of sunlight at the dawn of the winter solstice on December 21 st., and it is still uncertain as to why these Neolithic people built such an elaborate stone monument 3,500 years ago to capture this annual event. What is clear is that the solstice was considered a notable event worthy of the Herculean effort that must have gone into the building of this intricate construction ! One theory propounded by O’Duinn is that the penetration of the suns rays into the chamber at the moment of the solstice was a sort of mating ritual between Daghda ( the sun-god) and the earth ,whereby a new rejuvenated sun was birthed and so the earth was secured against the onslaught of universal darkness.
The speculative field of Celtic and pre-Celtic studies is very fertile ground indeed, as in truth the mute stone monuments are the only witnesses remaining from that distant time and place. While he believes that the similarities between the pagan and Christian stories shows how the latter may have borrowed elements of the former and incorporated it into its mythology , there is another view to which I would subscribe. The more plausible explanation might be that even back in pre-historical times God was preparing the world, through its flawed and uncertain mythologies for the ultimate cosmic event of His Incarnation in Christ’s coming to earth. Certainly the Old Testament Scriptures in their prophetic writings clearly foresaw the unfolding of the birth, life , death and resurrection of Jesus, as in this passage from the Prophet Isaiah… ‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ (Isaiah 53:3-6). This plain passage and hundreds of others foretold the coming of the Messiah to His chosen people, the Jews, and served to encourage them by announcing a future time when these tumultuous events would alter forever how man would relate to God. In a more inferential manner could God not have alerted the non Jewish world through their stories and legendary tales to the climactic theme of His redemptive plan for this world through the coming of His Son ?
Whatever the truth of the theories concerning those ceremonies and rituals now veiled by the mists of time, this much is clear, according to O’Duinn, Advent is the season to remember Deity clothing Himself in our human frame. A drawing down of the Divine to our lowly state, and the potential for man to be raised, through Christ’s life, death and resurrection to the glorified heights of fellowship with God himself ! This is the mysterious outworking of God's redeeming strategy for his created world, a message that as Paul stated ‘is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ (1 Corinthians 1:18)