Blind Noel

Christmas; the themes are exhausted.

Yet there is always room

on the heart for another

snowflake to reveal a pattern.

Love knocks with such frosted fingers.

I look out. In the shadow

of so vast a God I shiver, unable

to detect the child for the whiteness.

Mthr. Carys, in her reflections draws out the way in which Thomas pairs words which are not usually put in juxtaposition can cause unease. We associate “Noel” with positive things; it is not so with blindness. The language is “paradoxical, unstable and dynamic” – it invites us, as Mthr Carys puts it, to “surrender our need to understand” – and nonetheless reflect on our being moved “by what we cannot explain in other terms”. What cannot be spoken can, nonetheless, as the Israelites knew, be experienced.

And yet this poem is peculiarly suited to this covid-ravaged year. If ever there was one in which the “themes” of Christmas were exhausted, it is 2020; if ever there was one in which we needed the joy of Christmas, it is 2020. We know of God only that he is love, and it is fitting that it is the heart, in our poetic imaginings the seat of love, which melts the snowflake. How ever “frozen” we may be, however weary, however dim our sight in the “whiteout” of sin, the birthing has happened.

On this, the shortest day of the year in the Western hemisphere, when the run rose (here) at just after eight o’clock, and will set at four, and when, thanks to the cloud cover and the rain, it is unlikely to make any appearance, it would be easy to suppose it is not here at all. Last night, on the beach, we saw a wonderful sunset, the skies aflame with the setting of the sun. How easy it would be to assume in the grey half-light of this non-day that it is no longer there – that light’s “themes” are exhausted. And yet I know that though the Light came into the world and the world rejected him, nonetheless the darkness did not triumph. Faith, sometimes is not only all, it is all we have.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen

Hebrews 11:1

We speak of “blind faith”, and in that context “blind Noel” may speak to us. When the “themes” of Christmas are as exhausted as we are, when we feel that we can’t go on and want to turn our face to the wall, all we can do it to know that birthing has happened, and that at the end of this Advent journey there is for us a chance to be re-born, or reminded of his love.

Thomas is sometimes called the poet of the absence of God, but I think it is more that he knows and admits what we know but perhaps do not like to admit, that if God seems absent, it is because we, so busy on our journey, make so little time to sit with him. As I look across the room to my other half, I wonder what sort of love it would seem if I spent only a few quarter hours a day and an hour on Sunday with them? I know, from one failed marriage, the effects when one of the partners is away all the time, and when they are back, are so habituated to other routines that they might as well not be there at all. Have we stopped to ask ourselves whether we are like that with God?

As we come closer to the manger, let us make time for our loved ones, and for God. Maranatha!

There is an #adventbookclub using “Frequencies of God” by Carys Walsh and you can support the publisher by buying it here: https://canterburypress.hymnsam.co.uk/books/9781786220882/frequencies-of-god. We’ll be running this club on Twitter and Facebook, and you are welcome to join in with thoughts and comments. Other folk doing this are https://grahart.wordpress.com/ and https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/ so please pop over and read their thoughts too!