Christmas meditations, kindness, Gabriel, forgiveness, tolerance, the sanctity of law and coathangers

27 December 2020

In many countries, many people celebrated Christmas last week and, in many countries, many people didn’t.

December 25th (although the calendar was different back then) was chosen at random as the birthday of a baby about whom much has since been written and in whose name many kindnesses have been done and many people killed.

When I was young, Christmas started in our house with Kings College’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve.  My mother loved it, especially ‘Once in Royal’, and there was a special place in her heart for the chorister who read the first lesson one year, who probably got the Brian Blessed Award for over-acting later in life, as he read with well-practised shock and horror:  “Who told thee that thou wast naked?”

As an adult, I’ve always tried to listen to ‘Once in Royal’ each year and it still makes me think of my mother almost 50 years after her death.

It’s also made me wonder about the oral transmission of the stories from ageing priests to younger ears, and the various languages in which it was later written down and copied and translated.  Even in my lifetime, the words have changed as more translations, retellings and theses have appeared but I’m still waiting for a simplified version of the middle section of the first chapter of the Luke’s Gospel that will say:

“An angel yclept* Gabriel sailed down a sunbeam on shining white wings, and bowed down before Mary, a young woman who was married to Joseph but still a virgin because he was much older.  “You’re pregnant, milady” said the angel “and Jehovah** has said that your son will inherit his forefather David’s throne” – and Mary said “OK then.  Will you have a cup of tea?” but Gabriel said he had to go and rose up as silently as an owl.”

I also wonder about the omissions from Jesus’s story, like what he did during the first 30 or so years of his life, apart from sharpening chisels, sweeping up sawdust, debating theology with priests in the temple and building a bridge of rainbows for his friends to play on.  Did he ever laugh? 

Many of Jesus’s teachings included Aesop’s conclusion 600 years earlier that “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”, a sentiment that was qualified slightly more than a century after Jesus’s death in Marcus Aurelius’s ‘Meditations’ in which he said “kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere”.

Another word for which we remember him is ‘forgiveness’.  Remember that (again according to Luke) some his last words were “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”;  he didn’t say “I forgive you”, he asked God to forgive them.  The interesting thing is that, much as we think we ought to, we can’t (well, I can’t anyway) forgive anybody who hasn’t first shown some sort of regret or repentance for what they did or said, but Jesus didn’t need that.

And, above all, we remember him for ‘love’ and his instruction “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. (He obviously hadn’t met our neighbour.)

Of course none of this is exclusive to Christianity and most the world’s major religions have similar foundations. 

Having praised the UK’s Chief Rabbi last week for his tolerance of Islam, I was encouraged to see that somebody from Israel had visited this site and I was flattered that David Bogomolny, who posts as ‘ben Alexander’, had offered his own kindness by ‘liking’ my offering. 

New Zealand’s wonderfully human prime minister, Jacinda Arden, who was re-elected by a landslide in the autumn has admitted to suffering from “imposter syndrome” despite her successes.

If only our own prime minister suffered from it.  He has just, exactly as Polly Toynbee predicted about a month ago, given up almost everything at the last moment to agree a Brexit deal with the EU.  The opposition parties now have no choice but to support it because there isn’t time to do anything else and, if it’s not approved, the UK will crash out next week without any deal, which would arguably be even worse than the deal he accepted.

What I’m not yet clear about is what will happen in Ireland.  Will I be able to go to Belfast, nip across the soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to buy stuff that’s cheaper in the EU, then avoid any border controls on my return from NI because I’m returning from the UK?

Anyway, Boris Johnson is now jumping up and down in his cot and praising his negotiating skills while the fishing industry, and other businesses, 7,000 lorry drivers and a lot of the rest of us feel betrayed and will have to pick up the pieces.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is pardoning all his criminal buddies while executing more people given a federal death penalty.  Even though his pardon doesn’t reverse the guilty verdicts and they’re still criminals, I do wonder if muddled the paperwork and meant to pardon those under a federal death sentence …

Amy Coney Barrett’s not having a good time either.  People with controversial cases they think would appeal to her personal social and religious prejudices (same sex parents, abortion, gun control etc) are now trying to present them in such a way that they’ll end up in the supreme court where her hang-ups will override her legal duty and she’ll decide in their favour.

So much for an independent judiciary that leaves the judges’ political views out of the courtroom and just considers the law.

Rather than end up in front of Coney Barrett, Ghislaine Maxwell will probably make a plea bargain in a lower court.  Having been hiding for 9 months, Maxwell was finally arrested in the summer and her exact whereabouts are now known at all times – she’s inmate 02879-509 at the Metropolitan Detention Centre, Brooklyn.

Cynics believe she’s pessimistic about her future because she recently married and transferred assets to her new husband but, of course, it could just be love and/or coincidence.

In 2021, I’ll be working on a theory about the first known form of mineral life:  metal coat hangers.  If you leave them in a cupboard, they huddle up together and, when you try to take one, all the others rush after it and fall to the floor.  Some of them have also perfected the art of clinging together to form chains. 

Even two left together on a bed can metamorphose into one of those Christmas cracker puzzles that take 10 minutes to separate two twisted bits of metal;  and they can teleport:  they disappear into wormholes in hotel wardrobes and reappear in your wardrobe as if they’d never been anywhere else, and a bagful of the things taken to a charity shop will be back within the week.

Their reproductive processes are unclear but two coat hangers will turn into three if you shut them in a dark cupboard and at least one will fledge when you next open the door, falling to the floor and attempting to bounce out of the house before you can catch it, often holding hands with another fledgling that jumped at the same time.

I have to admit I’ve not yet proved any intelligence or motives behind their movements but their actions are indisputable and, of course, I might be wrong.  In any event, with some wire-cutters and a couple of used biro tubes, they make wonderful dowsing rods.

*     Well, OK, it’s anachronistic but it’s such a lovely word I couldn’t resist it

**   Remember everybody there was Jewish at the time.

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