This poem by Mary Oliver is called The Gift. It is a masterpiece. Here are seventy-one words which reward slow, considered reading:
Be still, my soul, and steadfast. Earth and heaven both are still watching though time is draining from the clock and your walk, that was confident and quick, has become slow. So, be slow if you must, but let the heart still play its true part. Love still as once you loved, deeply and without patience. Let God and the world know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.
For years we have used Boxing Day as the day we do our grand West Midlands tour, going from relative to relative with combinations of soaps, and socks, and spirits. We knew, of course, that we would be constrained to only two homes this year. Now, of course, that isn't going to happen.
I have many faults, and, with the psalmist, I am well aware that my sins are ever before me. But I am generous. I like giving, and trying to find ways to give. So one of many sadnesses for me this year is that opportunities to give to my family are very few. Sending something, and not being there to see it received, is not the same.
The Gift that humanity is given in the Christ-child is not like that. The language of sending and receiving, while utterly biblical, also needs slow, considered reading. The Evangelist tells us that 'to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God'. The Son who is sent is not ours to unwrap, but ours to receive. And this reception is to be performed with love, and gratitude, by souls that are still, even if steadfastness is too much for the present.
Ah, the present. A virus-ridden (and, some would assert, Brexit-bungled, Christmas-cancelled) present. What of the present?
Well: our late and much-loved friend James Atwell wrote a letter the day before he died. In that letter he said
My faith is built on the primary insight that the world is deeply gifted. It comes as a present. Creation is beautiful and Jesus' resurrection invites us all to set out on a journey of discovery searching/seeking for beauty, truth and love. You cannot go wrong!
What a wonderful thing James has done: to remind us of a truth that is sent from above - that the present is a Gift.
So let us, with still souls, and grateful hearts, learn to receive it. And, this Christmas, let us learn afresh how to receive Him.
For when we do, we cannot go wrong.