Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 – How was yours?

I love Instagram. The other night as I was snuggled up under a blanket on my aforementioned giant and cosy chair and I was flicking through some of my snaps and saw what a great record it has made of the last year. And not just the big things that we tend to remember but also the little things that really make a day at the time.

Little things like biscotti making. A great day!

2015 saw the founding of the sewing corner!

Things like my ‘Curry Resolution’ last January which has to be one of my only New Year’s Resolutions to be a resounding success. I now wiz up curries like a pro! Or things like my first attempt at baking macarons and biscotti. Little things that you really would forget in the midst of the busyness of life if there weren’t a little record of it to flick back through.

One of my first curries and still one of my favourites

2015 has really been an extraordinary year. A few weeks back I said to my husband, ‘this has been the best and the worst year!’ and it really had been. Insanely tricky at times and very challenging indeed, but absolutely full of the best surprises too. 

A trip to Crete

As I flicked back through my pictures I realised that I have managed to rack up a trip to Paris, Crete and Prague, a graduation, finishing training, moved house, was ordained, learned to dress-make and starting my first church job! Not a bad list really! Starting work at church has had a whole truck load of firsts to add to the list, first baptism, first funerals, first ‘ordained sermon’! I have ended the year in a very different place to where I started but with a sincere sense of gratitude for a year of adventure that will live on its effects for many years to come.

Starting ordained life off right at the summer fair!

In all this I have wondered about the nature of the ‘good year’. That’s what we all hope for as the clock strikes 12, isn’t it? That this year will be better than the one before, that this will be ‘our’ year. There is something nice about that. Always striving to get more out of life, to challenge ourselves and broaden our horizons. 

But the reality is that the good and the bad is so often intertwined. It can be so well laced together that it is impossible to pick apart. The best things rarely come in easy to manage packages. If something is going to make you say ‘Wow, I did that!’ at the end of the year then it is unlikely to come without some struggle and a few tears alone the way. 

Someone I read recently put it like this, in life there is death and is death there is life. As we look back on some of the hardest times in life they can be the place from which new life has sprouted up, the places that have generated real change. Likewise the truly life giving moments are caught up in struggle too.

And ending the year with baubles a plenty!

So perhaps I won’t look for a ‘good’ year this year, as strange as that maybe sounds. Perhaps instead I will look for a year well lived, in whatever comes. And here is wishing you the same for a brand new year about to open up before us. Happy New Year to you all. 

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas - it's time to Hibernate!

Is anyone else in full hibernation mode? I have practically taken up residence in my favourite chair and any reason to leave it I now view as a huge inconvenience. If I could have all my meals delivered to me in this chair then I really would. As it is I have box of Quality Street nestled next to me which, not going to lie, my hand strays into every few minutes, and a husband of work who can be persuaded to bring the occasional cup of tea.

As it is now Christmas Eve I am guessing that most of us are about to finish work for a little while and all the Christmas preparations are done. Hoo-flippin'-ray! It is time my friends to enter hibernation. To enjoy a few days where there is nothing much demanded of you besides eating chocolate for breakfast, sticking a turkey in the oven and flopping on the sofa in front of a Christmas movie.

And don't we all need that? A change to just be. A chance to spend time with the people that mean the most to us, who we pass by like ships in the night in all the busyness of the festive season? I can't wait to realise I haven't left the house in three days and to stay in my pyjamas till noon. And me and this chair...well...we won't be parting company any time soon

Which just leaves me to say, I wish you all a very happy Christmas indeed. Thank you for being wonderful, for stopping by this little blog from time to time and being companions and friends.

Merry Christmas!

30 Second Reflection - Judah's Lion

Where does the lion, Judah's lion walk?
Stealthy under star by winter night his soft paw stalks
Out on lonely hills a cold wind howls and darkness scowls;
Shepherd's shiver – danger in the dark! - some wild beast prowls.
Suddenly up springs a light; a voice rings like a bell;
'Joy, O men of Judah! Come and see! Noel! Noel!
Where lies Judah's longed for lion? 'Come and see the sight!
Fear not – your golden one is couched among the lambs tonight'

- Keith Patman

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Unto Us a Son is Given

Given, not lent,
And not withdrawn – once sent
This infant of mankind, this One,
Is still the little welcome Son.

New every year,
New born and newly dear,
he comes with tidings and a song,
The ages long, the ages long;

Even as the cold
Keen winter grows not old,
As childhood is so fresh, forseen,
And spring in the familiar green.

Sudden as sweet
Come the expected feet.
All joy is young, and new all art,
And he, too, whom we have by heart.

- Alice Meynell

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - The Church, Part 2.

Last week we spoke about what some of the costs and benefits of being part of a Church might be. The opportunity for community, for spiritual and mental growth, space for you and a place to love and be loved. This, is weighed up against how flippin' annoying church can be sometimes and that, like an human institution, it can get it spectacularly wrong sometimes. You don't need examples, I know you have seen it all before. But for me, the vision of what it could be has tipped the balance and I am committed to it (God help me!) but getting to this place has been no easy journey let me tell you!

Because even if that vision of church as community hub and spiritual watering hole sounds fantastic to you then unfortunately the situation in the church today is such that just wandering in might be a rather difficult thing for you to do. I often joke with a friend of mine who also came to church in later life that being an adult coming into the church rather than being raised in it, is like being an alien landing on Planet Christian. You don't speak the same language, for a good proportion of the time you have no idea what is going on and when you do finally get what is going on you are always the one saying 'Do we have to do it like that?' and that can be an interesting person to be!

The Church, in all generations, has been given the task of making God, faith, the whole shebang, make sense to the people of its time. Sometimes the church is really great at that. Sometimes, and I wonder if we are in one of the times, it is a bit rubbish really and the whole thing can get a bit mysterious. In a bad way.

If you have not been raised going to church and therefore have learned the lingo then you will struggle to even decode the service board to know what on earth you should expect of any of these things let alone knowing when you should stand up or sit down or say something in the service itself. This, I must stress, is entirely not your fault and I think is rather unfair really.

A huge part of the responsibility for rectifying this lies with the Church and I am hugely passionate about that. Because underneath those layers of what at times can seem like impenetrable 'Church Culture' is a two thousand year old heritage full of richness and beauty and wealth. Underneath it all is a place where I have discovered life, hope and been changed for the better and I am not the only one. I really, really, really hope that the Church of this generation will do something about making these riches accessible to people today.

But that doesn't mean that Church is a closed door to those of us who come into it with no prior experience. We have many advantages. Not being raised in a tradition or even in a religion means that we are not wedded to a particular way of doing things. This means that you can try out a whole range of styles without prejudice and preconception. I have been part of churches with a stage and a band up front and ones with incense and hundreds of years old services. I loved them both. Us newbies can be intrepid explorers of the spiritual landscape, going into territory that others find it deeply uncomfortable to go.

And as explorers we are also questioners. The church needs people who ask 'Why?' A LOT. Never be afraid to ask why things are as they are, or what things mean. You may uncover for other people the gaps in their own knowledge which may start them off on their own voyage of discovery. Celebrate your role as a challenger and don't be afraid of what you don't know. A lot of people in Church don't really know either, they have just grown too afraid to ask. Be an Asker!

And I also hope this blog can be a place for the spiritual explorer to find support and companions on the way.In the next post I will do a little decoding for you on what some of the Church lingo you might encounter really mean. And if you do have any questions you can contact me with any questions under the 'Want to Chat?' Button above or through Facebook or Twitter. I'd love to run a retreat one day for all of us explorers to come together and support and learn from one another. So wherever you are on your own spiritual journey, take heart and be bold. It really is well worth it!

30 Second Reflection - All we ever loved

Christmas — that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance — a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.

 ~Augusta E. Rundel

Monday, 21 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Words of the Magi

'Shall I bring you wisdom, shall I bring you power?'
The first great stranger said to the child.
Then he noticed something he's never felt before -
A wish in himself to be innocent and mild.

'Shall I bring you glory, shall I bring you peace?'
The second great stranger said when he saw
The star shine down on entire helplessness
The gift that he offered was his sense of awe.

'Shall I show you riches' the third one began
The stopped in terror because he had seen
A God grown-up and a tired tempted man.
'Suffering's my gift' he said
'That us what I mean'.

- Elizabeth Jennings

Friday, 18 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - A Child Again

'Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.'

~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thursday, 17 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Open Hearts

'I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.'

- Charles Dickens

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - We, too, are Shepherds

The angel danced and laughed
and touched my eyes
And the world lit like Christmas,
A depth of sparkling lights,
everywhere, the touch of God,
Lightness of Spirit
Shining back to me.

I felt like a child
discovering Christmas is true,
Barely daring to believe,
Hesitant to even move
in case the glory should vanish,
But the angel laughed and danced on
And the world stood new-made.

- Wendy White

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - The Church, Part 1

Ah, Church..... I say that in a similar tone to how you might say 'Ah, extended family gatherings'. We all (or most of us at any rate!) love our families in all their weird and wonderfulness and have all sat through an afternoon with a particular group of relatives that we wouldn't care to repeat in too much of a hurry. That, after all, is what Christmas is for, right?! And why we are all a little bit grateful that it comes but once a year!

Church, like family, has many good things about it. When you are part of a church if you have a baby you suddenly have twenty additional grandparents to coo over your offspring. There are people to talk to about all sorts of things, people to pray for you and listen to your thoughts and feelings. There is a support network for when things get tough.

Church offer you a space to think about the bigger questions of life, a guaranteed space out from the busyness of life each week to recharge, reset and get ready for a new week ahead. If they are doing it right then Church is a place to challenge you, where you can learn and grow and attend to the whole spectrum of who you are spiritually and mentally. Our church even has a dieting group and yoga so they can sort you out physically as well!!

However Churches, like families, are also occasionally a pain in your neck. They squabble, they fall out, the say annoying things to you, they fail you, the do the wrong thing, they let you down. Being in church is not always easy. It takes up time when you could be enjoying a nice hot chocolate and a muffin in a coffee shop with things like finance meetings. You end up going out on evenings you would rather stay in and getting out of bed when you'd rather have a lie in.

It would be out and out lie for me to say that going being part of a church would make your life easier. It more than likely won't. But, as life goes on, I come more and more to realise that the easy things in life are often the least valuable. Everything worth having takes work and perseverance. Everything that means something has the potential to let you down. There is no love without the possibility of heartbreak. There is no Church without the chance of it going wrong and no community without sacrifice.

Church is a very human institution and it has all the failings you would expect from any organization where a whole group of people attempt to work together. But I do believe that it has the potential to be something rather extraordinary in our lives and communities. There is nothing like standing next to your actual, real neighbour and praying 'Forgive me for I have not loved my neighbour as myself.'

And there is nothing like sitting in a Church building, as I regularly do, and see every sector of the community passing through from the Toddlers group for playtime, to the homeless for a meal, to a group from the Mosque popping in for lunch, to someone popping in to light a candle for a lost loved one. Church can be a hub of life, a place for all people in whatever circumstance. Being part of that means you live and work alongside a vastly bigger cross section of people in your area and that is truly wonderful.

So that's the vision, and is what gets me out of bed in the morning. But how, if that takes your fancy, do you even begin to get involved in these often old and mysterious places? How do you even know which church to go to? And what on earth is going on when you actually do brave it and go along to a service? Never fear I've been there and that is where the next post comes in - my insiders guide on how on earth to get to grips with church for the absolute beginner!

30 Second Reflection - The Grinch

"It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!... Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"
 - The Grinch

Monday, 14 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - The Stars Bow Down

From – A Christmas Sequence

He is so small the stars bow down
The fierce winds ease their breath,
And careful shepherds look upon
The one unsullied birth.
They kneel and stare while time seems gone
And goodness rules the earth.

The blight on man is all undone
And there will be no death,
For though this child will be nailed on
A cross, he'll be so since
He is the jewel of untold worth,
For him all stars have shone.

 - Elizabeth Jennings

Friday, 11 December 2015

Vicar's Craft Corner – Online Sewing Courses

Since completing my 'in person' sewing course I have been looking around for some more tuition as I come across new skills and ways in which I want to expand my repertoire. As great as doing a class locally was it was certainly not cheap. Though it was great to have someone there to put your right if you are struggling with a particular technique I realised that part of what I benefited from was seeing things being done rather than reading about them in a book. Reading sewing techniques for me is akin to reading your washing machine manual. You'd just rather not and most of makes very little sense anyway!

Online sewing courses for me have bridged the best of both worlds. They are cheaper and you get to see things done rather than try and read about them. I've recently signed up to two online sewing course to expand my skills, one to learn to sew with high stretch jersey and the other to use an overlocker and design clothes from scratch. I got both of them on sale and under £50 which is less than what you would pay for most full day courses.

The Agnes Top

Looking at the combined video time on the courses I wondered if I was getting value for money but having been in an 'in person' course recently I know that the amount of time someone is demonstrating skills for you in class is fairly minimal. Most of the class is spent practising what you learn.
The major downside of Online Courses is not being able to ask someone to take a quick look if you feel like you are going wrong but the advantage of having access to these videos forever outweighs this. I can't even count the number of times I wish I had my 'in person' dressmaking teacher on video to watch her carry out a skill she has taught me again.

So here are a couple of my top tips for some great online dressmaking courses that you might like to try out.
The first is Learn to Sew Jersey Tops with Tilly Walnes. I have really enjoyed this course. You get a full downloadable Agnes pattern with instructions as part of your course fee and there are some useful tips in there for dealing with stretch jersey which can be a rather temperamental beast. I wear a huge amount of stretch jersey so I think this course is going to pay dividends in my quest for a handmade wardrobe.

The second course I have recently acquired is The Modern Girl's Guide to Sewing by Merrick and Leanne. I took the Intermediate Course and so far the session on using an Overlocker has been amazing! Leanne and Merrick have totally drool worthy Instagram accounts and make so incredible stuff. They create patterns from existing clothing which is a really useful skill. Their video on that is actually free if you'd like to check out their style.

So there we go, Online Course for your Sewing pleasure! Enjoy!

30 Second Reflection - The Star of the Heart

The star has risen in the heart,
The sweet light flushes every part.
The shepherds of the body know,
The rumour reached them long ago,
Abiding in the field were they
When deity informed the clay.
The wise kings of the mind bow down,
They yield the wiser king his crown;
Before the cradle they unfold
The myrrh and frankincense and gold.

- Susan Mitchell

Thursday, 10 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Christmas Gifts

Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

~Oren Arnold

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - The Shepherd's Carol

We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day's work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
The winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day's work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves
We give to your son.

- Anonymous

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - Are you there God? It's Me, Nicola

As I have progressed through this little series thinking a bit about some questions of faith and spirituality it struck me that the one thing I haven't really spoken about is the existence of God. Quite an oversight! Perhaps this is because the belief in God is something that is such a bedrock in my life.
Like the ground beneath your feet you don't think much about it. It is just there.

But I am also one of these strange people who went from not believing in God on the Friday and changing my mind by the Saturday, literally over night. Since then life has been a bit like God on Surround Sound but I still remember what it was like before I thought what I thought now. I know and understand the questions. I've walked the path.

And so the first thing I want to say on this matter is that no one can tell you for sure whether God does or does not exist. Sounds obvious perhaps but I remember when that dawned on me for the first time and how liberating a thought that was. This means that there is nothing you can read that will tell you, definitively, that God is there and there is nothing that you will read that can tell you, for sure that God isn't there either. No one can answer that question for you conclusively, I'm afraid, but that means the journey, the path and the choice is yours. And that is pretty cool, right?

That is not to say that I think we may as well all come up with whatever we fancy and expect others to merrily take on board whatever we have concocted up. For me the case for God is about plausibility. It is about arguments and experiences that ring true. We each have to weigh up all that we see around us, all that we think and experience, pop it in the scales and see how it comes out.

This, I think, involves the insights of the generations that have gone before us and the huge variety of cultures and beliefs in the world today. This choice may be our own but the journey is not a solitary pursuit. It is not enough to sit in a bubble like the 'See No Evil, Hear No Evil' monkeys with your eyes and ears stopped claiming a belief in something that you won't explore and question. That kind of belief is like the house built on sand that washes away when the rains come. And it can be pretty dangerous too.

So what have I got in my scales that has tipped the balance in favour of God? A few things really. Let's start small first. A big factor is people. I find people to be the most fascinating, infuriating and glorious of things. The idea that we are created, that our lives are meaningful and purposeful, that we have the capacity for great good and great evil is all something that just makes an awful lot of sense to me as I look at the world. I believe human life to be infinitely valuable, I know it to be. So it is no great leap for me to see someone, something behind our being here.

The Second things is on a somewhat grander more cosmic scale. When I think about the world, that we are all on this spinning ball of rock, orbiting around a ball of fire, surrounded by other balls of rock in a galaxy amid galaxies more vast that my imagination can hold, then the idea of God suddenly doesn't seem so outlandish.

This might make me sound like a simpleton but I find it hard to believe that we are really all living on that spinning rock in space. I know that my mind struggles anything that isn't right in front of my face. So the idea of 'God', a force so large, something behind it all? Well, that doesn't seem any less plausible or more hard to believe that the things that I know are true about the universe.

On earth itself I also see something in the natural world that hints at God. The way that a drive towards life seems hard wired into how the world is. How, wherever the circumstances allow it, life springs up in its infinite variety. That anywhere, at any time, if the conditions allow it, life will emerge. What is that all about? It is like life itself is an unstoppable force that just pushes on and on. For me, Life = the essence of God. So this powerful impetus towards life in the universe speaks volumes to me.

And then I consider our reaction to all that we see around us. I consider things like beauty. Why do we feel, in the depth of our beings, such a deep contented connection with the natural world? What is this seemingly innate capacity to feel wonder and awe that allows us to say 'Now that is beautiful'?

And while we're at it, where does a sense of love and truth, rightness and justice come from? The way we strive to live our lives, our greatest ideals, makes me believe in God. I know that as I commit to ideals that are often a huge inconvenience to me, like loving others as I love myself and serving without hope of gain, that something inside me is set free and soars. What is that all about?!

And lastly (for this little list at least!) there is experience. There is the comfort I have felt, the steady rock beneath my feet when my whole world has felt like it was crumbling. There are the stirrings in my heart that I have followed, questioning them all the way, that have proved to be exactly the right thing for me to do when I didn't even believe it myself. There is the record of God in my life that now
sits behind me like most whacking great piece of evidence in the world.
What can I say except deep down I feel I know God and that in many ways I always have, even when I didn't even think I believed. There is a joy in me and a hope in me that is not of my own making. There is a drive that I did not create. And all that, to me, just spells God.
And that is why I believe.

30 Second Reflection - Kid Stuff

The wise guys
tell me
that Christmas
is Kid Stuff...
Maybe they've got
something there -
Two thousand years ago
three wise guys chased a star
across a continent
to bring
frankincense and myrrh
to a Kid
born in a manger
with an idea in his head...
And as the bombs
all over the world today
the real wise guys know
that we've all got to go
chasing stars
in the hope
that we can get back
some of that
Kid Stuff
born two thousand years ago.

- Fred Horne

Monday, 7 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

- Rowan Williams

Friday, 4 December 2015

Vicar's Kitchen - Christmas Baking

As soon as December 1st hits out come the Christmas cookbooks. This year I pulled out Nigella Christmas to find a whole load of bookmarks still in it from last year. Turns out my tastes haven't changed much in the last twelve months – Gleaming Maple Cheesecake, yes please!

There are a few things that are always on my to bake list this year, including my Christmas Cake packed with what sounds like a weird combo of prunes and cocoa but it is absolutely delicious, I promise you. I am also temped by this Gin and Tea Christmas Cake from Good Housekeeping but two Christmas Cakes is just gluttony, right?!
My to bake list also includes Christmas muffins made with clementines and cranberries and Cranberry and White chocolate cookies both from my idol, the glorious NIgella. Anything with cranberries in is good in my book, especially at this time of year.


 And of course I will be eating plenty of mince pies, by the box load, and washing it down with generous servings of mulled wine. I will also be cracking out the edible glitter with abandon. No one gets to leave my house without a smattering of glitter on them at this time of year. Seriously, get yourself a pot. My favourite is gold hologram rainbow dust. With a name like that, how can you go wrong!?
So what are your favourite Christmas bakes?

30 Second Reflection - The Advent Virus

Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:
  • A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  • A loss of interest in judging other people.
  • A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
  • A loss of interest in conflict.
  • A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
  • Frequent attacks of smiling.
  • An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
  • An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - Miracle and Magic

you could have come
with miracle and magic
in a flash of light
in a hurricane of judgement
so that the earth shook
and the earth trembled
but you chose to come
in a baby's newborn cry
you chose to make your coming known
to working men in a cold hillside
to wandering scholars
to an innkeeper
and to the beasts of the field.

Because you came, a baby,
born to a young girl
you brought miracle and magic and mystery
into ordinary things
and the whole creation sings at your coming
and is blessed.

-  Heather Pencavel

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

30 Second Reflection - The Door

The door to every heart lies within.
The door to the earth lies within.
The door to the mystery lies within.
The door to everywhere lies within.
For the way of God lies within.

 - W.L Wallace

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Vicar's Sofa - Curate's First Christmas

Well deck the halls with boughs of holly and shower me with glitter, how exciting is it that Advent is here? I am particularly excited because this is my first ordained Christmas. And I LOVE Christmas. No, seriously, I really, really LOVE Christmas!

There is something about this time of year that is so completely magical. It's not just that spending inordinate amounts of time snuggled up under a blanket with a tub of Celebrations is seen as perfectly normal. Or that such culinary wonderments as mince pies and mulled wine emerge (here is my top recipe for Christmas cake too btw!), but it is also the sheer hopefulness of the season that gets me.

I've written before about how much of my own story is tied to Christmas. It was during Advent that I first explored faith for the first time and it was on Christmas eve that I prayed my first tentative prayer. It really was a time where the world felt different to me. And for that to happen when you are surrounded by glitter and tinsel and outdoor ice rinks, well, it was magical.
Over the years Advent has retained this magical feeling for me. It has remained a time where I feel renewed and hopeful. When the world is getting busy and frantic Advent for me has been a time to slow down. It has often been a time of exploration and that exploration has brought new beginnings. It has also been a time, even in difficult years, of finding (as one of my favourite bible readings says) 'that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.'

Of course Christmas is the perfect time for a crafter and this year I will be putting my new found sewing skills to use by making the dress I am going to wear to deliver the Christmas Day sermon at Church. I can't tell you how happy this makes me. To be standing up there doing the thing that I love most in the world and doing it wearing a tartan shift dress put together (however dodgily!) by me.

So this year is one special Christmas for me. I've got my Knitivity all set up to remind me every day of the reason for the season and I'm shamelessly working my way through that tub of Celebrations. And I am also sending up a prayer for all of you, my lovely blog readers and Twitter friends. May Advent bring you all you hope for and your Christmas be full of joy.

30 Second Reflection - Christmas Rush

Ready for Christmas?
You're joking!
With all
I've got to do,
I'll be lucky if
I'm ready by
This time next year.

Stir-up Sunday
Found me without even
The ingredients,
Let alone the time to
Stir them....

The cards -
I was going to write
More than
'Hope all is well'
This year
But I haven't....

Shopping's a nightmare,
With all those people
Intent on spending

Working out who's
Visiting who, and
Who'll be offended
If we don't...

The tree, the decorations,
Enough food for the cat,
Not to mention us,
I'll never be ready.

But I'm certainly ready for
Christmas - that moment when
The world seems hushed
In silent expectation,
The light in the stable
Draws us from chaos
To the stillness of
God at the centre,
And love is born.

I'm longing for that.

- Ann Lewis