Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Single-handed Theology - Baby Talk

I’ve got a little babbler on my hands. Arden is at the stage where she’s stringing syllables together, mostly “ba-ba-ba” or “da-da-da.” At this point they are random sounds, not associated with a particular concept, but they are words in an infant stage. Her favourite “word” by far is dada, and I’m trying to get her to match the sound with the reality of her Daddy.

In any language, a baby’s words for Mother and Father are simple ones – mamma, papa, dada. In Aramaic the word for Daddy is abba. Jesus taught us to speak to God as Father (pater in Greek), but we are also taught to call Him Dad, a tender term of intimacy.

Now I learned this a long time ago, but it was just this past week that I made the connection to baby talk. “Ah-ba” is something Arden says all the time. It’s one of the easiest vowel-consonant combinations there is. Before babies string consonant sounds together like “ba-ba-ba”, they will usually start with some vowel-consonant combo. Arden’s first such combo was “ah-goo”, followed closely by “ah-ba.” There’s a good reason that the Aramaic word for Daddy sounds like it does. Abba is baby talk. Anyone can say it.

The word is used 3 times in the New Testament. Jesus doesn’t use it in the presence of his disciples, at least not that we are aware of. He uses it in Mark 14:36 at a time and place of great loneliness and grief. We hear it first in Gethsemane, as he struggles to accept his Father’s will. It escapes his lips as he falls to the ground in prayer, an instinctual cry, simple syllables uttered in sorrow. It is amazing that when Jesus’ relationship with his Father is at its most strained, he uses the most intimate name he knows. It is a sound that returns to an almost pre-linguistic stage of being. This is the bond between eternal Father and only begotten Son.

We hear it again from Paul in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. It appears as a word we learn from the Spirit of adoption, spoken within us before it is spoken by us. We are born again as sons and daughters of Jesus’ Father, and the first word we learn in this new creation is Abba. This is the basis of our relationship with God. We are His children, sharing by adoption the same bond Jesus enjoyed by nature.

"Ah-ba." Just a simple vowel-consonant combination. It sounds like babble till we associate it with the intimate reality of our Father. In this relationship, we don’t have to learn elaborate titles or complicated means of address. A vowel-less tetragrammaton is well and good for a reverent subject, but not for a child. The Unspeakable Name has been revealed, and we are to speak it with the delight and confidence of a 7 month old in Dada’s arms. When we don’t have any other words, Abba is enough.


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Letters to Arden - December 25, 2010

Dear Arden,

It’s the evening of your first Christmas Day, and you are tucked in bed after a full day of festivities. We woke up to green fields and stuffed stockings. Santa found us in Wheatley River! I’m not sure you really knew what was going on under the tree . . . but you sure loved all the wrapping paper and ribbon! All those presents tired you out, and I’ve never seen you curl up so quickly with your blanket for a nap, thumb in your mouth.

The snow began to fall as we drove to our friends’ house for Christmas dinner. You enjoyed every spoonful – potatoes, gravy, turnip, sweet potato, carrot, green beans, parsnips, and plum pudding sauce. We couldn’t get the food in your mouth fast enough!

Back home we talked with family and friends on Skype who were happy to see you in your darling red dress. There are people who love you spread all over the world. Isn’t that a lovely thought? At the end of the day you sat content, surrounded by a little pile of toys, trying each one to see what it tasted like.

When you were too sleepy to stay up any longer, Daddy read the Christmas story while I held you close. I showed you Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus from our nativity set, and you wanted to eat baby Jesus too! We put both of you to bed, you with your new woolen rabbit and him with his tiny blanket. Baby Jesus is sleeping up in your room tonight. You are both safe and warm. One day you will understand who Jesus is and why he came, but for now all you need to know is that he'll stay by your cradle till morning is nigh.

Quiet night has fallen on the island and the green fields are now covered in wonderful white, a gift from the heavens. And I feel content. Content because we are together as a family in our warm house with too many blessings to count. Content because I don’t need gifts to have Christmas. I just need you, Daddy and baby Jesus.

Oh, I hear a cry coming from upstairs. I guess you wanted Christmas to last just a bit longer! Time for one more lullaby. Away in a manger . . .


Friday, 24 December 2010

The fifth candle

We awake to pure, white light. It streams in through the windows yet seems also to shine from somewhere within the house. Is it morning? Is midnight? All the candles are burning brightly – the beckoning flicker of hope, love’s steady flame, joy’s merry blaze and the comforting glow of peace. Their flames surround us, holding us in their circle, but they pale in comparison to this fifth candle. We see now it is the source of their light.

Is it a candle or is it the sun? We rise in wonder to behold this glory. Truly, we have never seen light till this moment. This is true Light, the Light that gives life to all. The Dayspring from on high has visited us, and our eyes are open for the first time to the infinite spectrum of grace.

We search for the centre of this light, but at every turn it is just as bright. And then we are aware of a pulsing warmth, and it is radiating out of us. We look down at our chests and see that our hearts are on fire. It is the Christ-candle.

We have been led to this place, not merely to find a refuge from the weather, but so that God might make his home in us. This overwhelming dawn will be with us always. We need not fear the cold. As we step out into a world of dazzling white, we carry the Light with us.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

An Advent prayer from the Northumbria Community

An evening prayer for blessing during Advent

God of the watching ones,
give us Your benediction.

God of the waiting ones,
give us Your good word for our souls.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,

and of the angels in heaven,

and of the child in the womb,

give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest and rise
in the kindness of Your company.

~ from Celtic Daily Prayer From the Northumbria Community

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

winter solstice

A nor’easter blows across our island this winter solstice as the heavens converge in a full moon eclipse. We cannot see the blood moon for the raging storm, and if we went out, we might get blown over by banshee winds. By morning the heavy rains and surging sea have overpowered our little river and forced it backwards, past its banks and almost over the bridge. The willows wave, waist high in surrender, but the water keeps rising. We are drawn to our windows all day, to watch and wonder, glad to be looking down from our hillside situation. When night falls again the tide tugs the water back toward the ocean, and we go to bed hoping our neighbours’ basement has seen the worst of the flooding. The seasons are at a turning point, and it is as if all the dark forces of nature are fighting against the return of light. But they will not, they can not win. The sea may be falling from the sky, the shadow may gobble up the moon, but all will be put to right. The darkness will not overpower us.


The Wexford Carol

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The fourth candle

Lift up your eyes and see the fourth candle. Peace is the moon, gentle and bright. When the carols fade and we fall contented into bed, its countenance shines full upon us, a steady nightlight over the whole earth. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, it whispers. It whispers to those who are far off, drawing them nigh, into this snug house. It settles over our hearts like falling snow, blanketing us with a comfort beyond comprehension.

Peace is what remains when the party is over, guiding us all through the silent night. Sleep my child and peace attend thee . . .


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

down at the pond

On this green December day, a warm wind blows a blue hole in the clouds. Down at the pond, the water runs swift and brown, rushing with yesterday’s rain. A blue jay darts across the pond and into the secrecy of the trees, winking as he goes by. A crow is practicing his solo for the Christmas choir, trying to smooth out the squawks. We sit on the dock, listening, watching. The sun spreads a golden tint on the rippling waves. It’s not the usual winter scene. The ground is fragrant with new clover, taking advantage of the warmth to poke smiling leaves out into the open. It’s all a little strange, but I can’t help but smile back.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

The third candle

The third candle is lit, now twinkling merrily on the mantle. Joy is a diamond, refracting and reflecting a sparkling pink light. It spreads over the room like stardust, glittering in every corner.

How is it possible for light to have the quality of music? All the colours of dawn are dancing, drawing me up out of the chair with a lightness my feet have never felt, right into some divine kitchen party. Invisible hands whirl me around the bright flame, and I am surprised to hear my own laughter after so long.

A flash of the aurora borealis answers through the window, joy calling to joy, and I am struck by the beauty of the winter night. The heavens are telling an inexpressible and glorious joy, and I am lit from within.


Friday, 10 December 2010


Be born in us today,” we sing

What is birth?
love and risk and pain
demands my body and soul
turns me inside out till there is nothing left hidden

This is birth
love made flesh
and in a miracle of creation
I am reborn


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

C.S. Lewis on the Incarnation

Here is a passage from C.S. Lewis' Miracles. The stunning imagery of this, the grand miracle, has stuck with me over the years and is fitting for our Advent consideration.

"In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature he has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders. Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too."


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The second candle

A second candle now bursts into flame. The winds may howl, the breakers may roar, many waters may threaten to overwhelm, but this light is unquenchable. This blazing fire, this mighty flame – love is its name.

By its light we are welcomed in, beckoned to the overstuffed chair by the hearth, and given a place by the fire. By its light the stains of midnight are banished from our souls. By its light we see that we are home.

Outside, the storm may rage and rattle the window panes, but we are safe within love's glowing radius. Yes, we are home.


Friday, 3 December 2010

green December

Green December hills
So eager when you should be sleeping
Stop your striving and let your pigment sink into the earth

I will cover you with a downy blanket
And sing you the Snow Queen’s lullaby
You will find your peace hidden beneath

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