Monday, 18 December 2017

Advent Breathing Space 3: A child is born

During our three Advent Breathing Spaces this year, I’ve been picking up on the theme of birth and babies, which our daily Advent reflections have been exploring, and I’ve been using some of my own poems as a “hook” to hang my thoughts on. In this third and final service, I’d like to begin with a poem I wrote when my children were still in primary school. It was, perhaps, an attempt to remind myself what it was all really supposed to be about, in the midst of the day-to-day realities of family life, the piles of washing, petty squabbles and lego all over the floor. It’s called “Parents should be singers of a song”.

Parents should be singers of a song,
murmuring the ancient lines
like waves into the seashell ears of new-born children,
    "You are beautiful,
      and beloved
      and the best thing in the world."

The whispered tune is tangled through their hearts,
and, humming with the resonance of love,
the contrapuntal melodies turn softly in the pathways of their souls,
to spin the strands of safety with their song of reassurance.
    "You are beautiful,
      and beloved
      and the best thing in the world."

And when they are grown, these love-sung children?
When they are grown they echo still with music.
    "You are beautiful,
      and beloved
      and the best thing in the world."

You’d have to ask my children how much the aspiration matched up to the reality! All I can say is that I am very proud of them both, and that it is a privilege to be their mum, and I hope they know it! But I knew then, and I know now too, that no family is perfect, no parent manages to sing that song all the time. Sooner or later, parents and children are bound to disappoint each other.

I spend a lot of my time dealing with families in the course of my ministry. Weddings, baptisms and funerals give me a privileged glimpse of their inner workings, as well as all the normal ups and downs I get to hear about between those moments. The conclusion I’ve come to after this exhaustive research is that all families are different, but none of them is perfect.   

The series of daily Advent readings I’ve been posting this year, on Biblical birth stories, show us that things were no different in ancient times.  Any attempt to glorify Biblical family values soon founders when we actually read the Bible.

Children in the Bible were born into families that were incestuous, polygamous, or abusive. They were born to slaves who had no choice in the matter, and to free-born women who might as well have been slaves for all the power they had to direct their own lives. They were bereaved of mothers, fathers and siblings. They fought among themselves, locked in bitter rivalries that stretched over lifetimes. They were refugees and economic migrants, oppressed by war and famine and political situations they had no control over.

Sometimes Biblical parents were good and loving. Sometimes they were shockingly bad. Mostly, like all parents, they were a mixture, trying to get it right, but often failing just like modern parents.

When that happens, when parents fail their children, or children their parents, it’s important to know that our families don’t exist in self-contained bubbles, and nor where they meant to. Our first reading spoke of God, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”  Our human families are just a part of his great family. Our love may be limited and fallible, but his is not. We may be pushed to the boundaries of our patience, but his knows no boundary. It is longer and higher and deeper and broader than anything we can ask or imagine. We, and our families, are part of an eternal and limitless family.

The early Christians were very much in tune with this reality. In following Christ , they found they had suddenly acquired brothers and sisters they never imagined they might share kinship with. Rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. For some, this family might be the only family they now had, because they had become estranged from their families of origin, but for all, there was a new sense of identity to be discovered and owned. Whoever else’s sons and daughters they were, they were also  the sons and daughters of God. Whatever other household they belonged to, they also belonged to the household of God. In those famous words of John , “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”.

This is our truest and deepest identity. It isn’t in rivalry with the sense of identity we have in our human families. It is beyond, above and beneath them.  All our human families, with their joys and sorrows, their love, and their failure to love, are held in God’s embrace. He can forgive and heal whatever in them is broken or lacking. Parents don’t have to parent alone – God parents with them. Children can know ultimate safety, even though their human parents can’t always protect them.

“Parents should be singers of a song”, I wrote, and sometimes they are. But whether they are or not, the good news Jesus was born to proclaim is that God, who is Father and Mother to us all, sings within us. And if we learn to listen to him, he can fill our lives with his music.

“You are beautiful
and beloved
and the best thing in the world.”


No comments:

Post a Comment