This morning, walking into town, I bumped into dozens of partying chefs, Uni students, on the last day of the semester, off to party with over-sized inflatable spoons in their hands and much merriment shared.
I met more merry makers, reindeer, elves, and even Mary, Joseph and the three wise people of mixed gender ! Oh and a shepherd walking with a brussel sprout, well he had sprouts around his neck, and a cabbage on his head, so I guessed that is what he was….
They were a happy group, wishing anyone who would receive it a happy Christmas, I had a chat with the impromptu nativity scene as they waited for their friends on West Street. Later on I found a couple of angels sharing a bottle of Rose….
I also met a number of homeless people wrapped in sleeping bags against the cold, I stopped to chat to 3 of them and bought coffees as they were what was requested. I am reminded yet again of the value of asking somebody their name and then repeating it when I tell them mine, a sign, a simple sign that they are seen, we all need to be seen.
Heading towards the Cathedral I walked past the queue waiting for the Job Centre to open reflecting that for many this merry time of year holds many shadows. I was thanked for smiling at someone, that touched me deeply, what cost is a smile?
Meeting a friend ( and colleague ) for coffee is always a pleasure, and we talked social justice and dreamed some dreams about offering people dignity and choices, agreeing that food-banks are a sticking plaster over a gaping wound, and wondering together how we might reclaim a prophetic voice and edge to ministry and practice.
Next a walk to 35 Chapel Walk gallery : https://www.35chapelwalk.com/ , where I dropped off a painting for the Dark to Light; hope in a hopeless place exhibition that opens of Friday, and we viewed the amazing art of FAIZA and her “More than my Hijab” exhibition. Her drawings were striking, such strength captured in beautiful determined women, her self portrait, and the portrait of her mum were amazing!
Walking home, I encountered more contrasts among the Christmas Market stalls and decorations, I found glimpses of hope and despair, a young girl bottle in hand weaving thorough the crowd, talking to herself, I wonder what her story is, she didn’t want to stop….
On my way home I chatted with a couple of other homeless men, gave them some money this time, yes it is a risk, and I guess a bit of me ( possibly a dark side) reflects that if they do use it to buy alcohol to numb the pain of a winters night that I have no right to judge! I do not know their stories, but I do now know their names! Doug and Graham.
The afternoon took me across the city to Stanwood church for their Toddler Group Nativity, small children dressed as angels, as shepherds, as Mary and Joseph, they took part in the story, drawing oohs and ahhs from the “audience”. Even here bathed in Christmas light and tinsel there were shadows as some present talked of loved ones lost and days gone by, the toddlers just delighted in their presents!
My final encounter was with a young Muslim couple and their beautiful 6 week old daughter, ( we were in the supermarket queue) she was absolutely beautiful and her dad was very happy to show her off, I offered them congratulations and they shook my hand. I was deeply blessed.
So a wonderfully mixed day, a day of very human contact, of hugs and handshakes, of eyes meeting eyes, of heart longings spoken and acknowledged, a day full of the celebration of incarnation, a reminder that we need God in human flesh, and that we find God with and through one another. A reminder that we also need the vulnerability of that flesh if we are to respond in compassion to our own shadows let alone anyone else’s or the world’s, that we cannot rationalise or hypothesise the pain we see around us for it too comes veiled in flesh, it is real and tangible and very, very human.
As the toddlers gathered around the doll in the manger this afternoon the little boy cast in the role of Joseph gently stroked the dolls face, gazing in wonder, I wonder if he saw beneath/ beyond the plastic face to the truth that it represented, God is with us, with all of us, and we all need to know that. All of us from the reveling students, to the homeless people, the toddlers, their parents, grandparents and carers , and yes the two ministers who shared a coffee and put the world right together, we are all in need, we can all show love, in each of us a divine spark glows, longing to be fanned into flame.
Perhaps on this day, a day of political and national uncertainty we need reminders of our common humanity the most!