No Ghosts This Year Concludes, and a Christmas Gift

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Well, today is the last day of Advent, and so it is time for me to wrap up my Advent story for the year. If you’ve been following the story so far, you can read the last instalment below. But, if you’re new to this year’s story you can read the rest of it, plus my two previous Advent Stories, “The Gift” and “Pageant”, in this free downloadable PDF of the three stories, together for the first time. I hope the stories can be a blessing to you and to anyone else you choose to share them with. Have a blessed Christmas, celebrating the goodness of God in coming to live as one of us.

 


 

When the police officer visited him in his hospital room and showed him a photo that he did not recognise – seemingly of the man the police suspected – she said, “I didn’t think he was your man.” And then she had spoken to his parents, who stood at the foot of the bed. “He’s already confessed,” she said. “And there’s not a chance that he was the man your son saw.”

And, while the explanation helped – that the man at 12 Burden Street had been killed by his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, who knew the house well and had no need of directions from a thirteen-year-old in the street – and while the panic had subsided and the ghost-court had gone into recess, it had all only been replaced by a new flurry of unfamiliar action: group therapy sessions, individual therapy sessions, silent and unsteady walks around the hospital grounds, rooms filled with pamphlets and booklets with names like, Understanding OCD and The Way Out of Obsessions and Compulsions. Sometimes, when his parents thought he was asleep, he saw them reading the material together, stony-faced, whispering concerns to one another. But when he was awake they would tauten out their voices, as though stretching tired muscles, and say unnatural things like, “How are you going, big fella?” or, “Can we get you anything, honey?”, calling him names they never normally called him and adopting faces that said, Everything’s okay, which they had never felt the need to say before for never having feared that it wasn’t.

And then there had been Laura’s visit, with a bunch of flowers and a card from his class, her dad awkwardly in tow behind her. She had perched next to him at the end of the couch in his room and together they had tried to find words to say and found none, finding only a silence that was, for that moment, the most comforting thing anyone had said. And then she had leant over to hug him and he had felt her breath in his ear and smelt her shampoo and when she left his heart could not stop pounding and he had no idea where to begin thinking.

And Pa, too, always Pa, with books that he had “found somewhere” (the endless supply of books that man had! how did they all fit in his caravan, 0r in the handful of boxes in the attic?). Pa, with old jokes and hand-me-down stories. Pa, with, “Well, you’ve got your two front teeth, so what else do you want for Christmas this year?” And his dad saying, “You’ll be home by Christmas, the doctors reckon.” And his mum saying, “Greg, they’re not sure.” And Pa saying, “Well, we’ll just have to throw a party for you wherever you are.”

And then silence, a breather in the afternoon when they left him alone, no flurry of action, no therapists, no doctors. And then he would take out the treasury of stories that Pa had given him that night, and he would look again, again, at the strange, bewitching words of the Christina Rossetti poem Pa had found for him to read:

The end of all things is at hand. We all
Stand in the balance trembling as we stand;
Or if not trembling, tottering to a fall.
The end of all things is at hand.

O hearts of men, covet the unending land!
O hearts of men, covet the musical,
Sweet, never-ending waters of that strand!

While Earth shows poor, a slippery rolling ball,
And Hell looms vast, a gulf unplumbed, unspanned 

And Heaven flings wide its gates to great and small,
The end of all things is at hand.

The end of all things? he would wonder. Or only the end of the ghosts, of the fear, of hospital rooms and this newly-named, old familiar thing they called OCD? Hell looms vast, he read. He knew that well. But Heaven flings wide its gates to great and small. Great and small. Which was he? The vacuum was great, and he was small.

The silence always passed before he could complete the thought. Soon there was a parent, or a concerned aunt, or cousin, or a therapist or nurse coming to check something or give some reassuring thought, and the poem would have to wait, expectant somewhere hovering around his bed. He knew he would return to it soon, as soon as he had the chance, and that it promised an answer if only he could listen, and promised something more comforting than sleep, if only he could grasp it beneath the sheets and hold it to him as he lay.

“What do you want for Christmas?” the nurses always asked. Everyone asked that, as though Christmas presents alone could remedy all ills. Every year before this one he had had a wish-list that he’d subtly present to his parents, mostly books. This year, he had no thoughts, except one; and silently each time he would say that same thought, deep in his mind, where only something truly silent and reverberating could be heard. “No ghosts,” he would say, half-statement, half-request. “No more ghosts, please, this year.”

2o Contemplations #17:

Silent Harmony Painting by Wassily Kandinsky; Silent Harmony Art Print for sale
Wassily Kandinsky, “Silent Harmony”

…the music seems to come out of the silence like the colors come out of the night…
(Olivier Messiaen)

After such a climax, what reflection?
Light refracts from His glory; sun and moon
bow. Let all mortal flesh keep silent. Soon,
very soon, we shall see His intention
erupt in purposed rapture. Explosion
of brightness dancing will colour His tune:
now mauve, now gold, now rose, now violet-bloom,
more radiant than mind’s widest conception.
So stop. Silence best befits a king
when all our lips are broken, our tongues split.
Let the Word be our only word. Let Light
illuminate the dark of our speaking.
What crowns we weave for Him can never fit;
all space dances around Him, bursting, bright.

 

20 Contemplations #14: Wonder

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Marc Chagall, “Falling Angel”

…the astonishment of the Angels: for it is not in them (pure spirits), but in the human race, that God unites himself, and the Son of God incarnate “is not ashamed to call us his brothers.”
(Olivier Messiaen)

Flames of fire, yet only servants. They long
to look into what we hold as child:
God-made-flesh. Not all the heavenly throng
are called “brothers”, but we are: reconciled,
dust transformed, while they only herald.
Do they marvel, or rival? One envied,
and fell beneath us. Unparalleled,
the Son chooses depths, yet uplifts, died
yet gives life. Let the angels adore Him;
let them fall before His throne ablaze in
the glory of Him and Father Elohim.
Yet how should something so glorious begin
so small, so timid? No fire, no thunder,
just angels and shepherds gazing in wonder.

 

Catechism 49

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Detail from "Christ ascends to heaven before his disciples", Melchior Küssell

Where is Christ now?
Christ rose bodily from the grave on the third day after his death and is seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling his kingdom and interceding for us, until he returns to judge and renew the whole world.
(New City Catechism)

And where
if the body stands
is the head?
And where
if the family follows
is the leader?

No bad faith. Though we wait,
this is active:
for I have felt the hands,
though never touching skin, hold on,
and I have heard the voice (no sound)
speak my name and plead.
And I have seen these foes gather as one
united by a merciful head.

And I have heard heaven’s call say, Come up.
Though it tarry,
it won’t delay.

Catechism 47

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"Communion" by Alphonse Legros, Wikimedia Commons

Does the Lord’s Supper add anything to Christ’s atoning work?
No, Christ died once for all. The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal celebrating Christ’s atoning work; as it is also a means of strengthening our faith as we look to him, and a foretaste of the future feast. But those who take part with unrepentant hearts eat and drink judgment on themselves.
(New City Catechism)

The feast awaits.
Now symbols and nutrients are divided,
vying for space in our minds.
The stomach craves what cannot sate spirit;
vine recalls dirt, bread anticipates yeast –
the work is done, the meal yet to be.
Take and eat. Eat and drink.
Bread cannot do what Spirit’s not done;
what bakes without yeast cannot rise.
Eat, recall; drink and trust:
what’s done has been done
and will prove true
when symbol and food can be one.

Lent: Enough 4

Praise Him that all our rags have failed:
      more longing then for Heaven’s clothes.
And praise Him too that faces fall
      so that we seek His more.

Enough that we now dimly see,
      and in ourselves feel death’s sentence.
Enough that we have glimpsed this sight
       and die to know its light.

The Lord’s Prayer (Cornucopia of Heaven)

Lords_prayer_-_geograph.org.uk_-_958221

The Lord’s Prayer

After Otto Nicolai, “Pater noster, Op. 33” 

Our Father –

the heavens are Your home,
       earth Your tent,          and yet

           You are a Father.           Teach
our fickle hearts,       our yelling hearts,
           to still, to stop
to look upon               Your glory, high
                               and lifted up.
Our Father who         our Father in
            Our Father, You who are in heaven
                   hallowed be
              Your name, Your will
      be done in us,    be done in dust.
This broken, fickle dust proclaims
            Your high, exalted, heaven name.

Our Father – You who are
            in heaven – lift
       our      broken            prayers.
       Hallowed be Your name, Your throne
            be known on earth
                today,  as in

            Your heavenglory     home.