From the Archives....First published December 4,2007
A SLIGHT SWEET STING
I think of my father often at this time of year -- when I hear a certain carol, when I see a lot full of Christmas trees waiting to be chosen, when the snow falls from the sky. I hear the solemn cadence of Advent's first collect, and hear it in my father's voice: Now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility -- and the old words seem to veil a warning from somewhere else. You do not have forever. Be awake to what there is now, before it is too late. I saw an advertisement in a catalogue last year for, of all things, Eccles Cake, a raisin-filled crescent of pastry that he used to make. I hadn't thought of it in years. I looked up the recipe and made it. I took a taste and he was there. I will never forget how it tasted with tea; people who think the English make terrible food just don't know what good is.
Do I wish I could go back there? Back to that time? No -- I love this time, the one we're in right now. And I would not wish to live the whole hard pageant of life again: as sweet as it is, life is also a lot of work; I am just not up to being that young and that foolish all over again.
But what a bittersweet pleasure it is, memory. It stings just a bit, to feel the ones who have gone before us, lingering and looking at us from around the edges of the present time. How wistful a happiness it is, and how sweet a loneliness. The light of afternoon begins to slant toward the earth as I sit here; the days are short now, and soon the shortest one of all will be upon us. And then the earth will turn, and the light will grow and grow: a new year will come, and a new spring, all of it new once again. They will not be living in it, as we do. But neither will they be entirely absent from it.
Everything that was, will always have been. Time is a reality only we have; the kingdom of God is not constrained by its sad limits. We may have lost them, for a time. But they have not lost us. And, once in a while, at such times as this, we notice the traces of them.
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.