I have been revisiting some of the books that enchanted me as a young girl, ostensibly as research for my own writing, but in fact more truly because in my middle age I am hankering for the simpler joys. Having read all the Anne of Green Gables books my county library had to offer (I should be receiving the next one today if my husband took any notice of my Christmas list) I started on another series written by the same wonderful Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, about Emily of New Moon.
Emily is a little girl with a sensitive soul, and every so often, she senses something she calls “the flash.” It is a glimpse into eternity, into the essence of beauty, and it comes unbidden at various moments:
“It always seemed to Emily… that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside – but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it, and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond – only a glimpse- and heard a note of unearthly music….. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow-wave over a ripe field… with the singing of “Holy, holy, holy,” in church, with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a “description” of something. And always when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.” (page 8, Emily of New Moon, Virago Press 2013, originally published in 1923)
Montgomery is a wonderful writer with a great gift for vivid “descriptions” herself, and for delicious characterisation and dialogue. In Emily’s ability, she has captured, for me, something about the existence of holy magic; that truly awe-inspiring hint of heaven we can be privy to now and again, as we see a rip in the fabric of the ordinariness of things, or maybe even the divine essence reflected to be almost incarnate in that very ordinariness.
We have been looking on Godspace during this season of Advent with an eye for where this glimpse of the otherworldly might be found in the hectic and commercialised run up to Christmas. We have been exploring whether it is possible to reclaim the peace and joy only Jesus can give us from the midst of the chaos. I know that we can. More importantly, perhaps, I know that those who don’t know the Lord yet can catch that reality that is so much deeper than our existence out of the corner of their eyes, or on the edge of their senses: from hearing a carol, from sitting in a crowded church watching children fluff their angelic lines, from contemplating the glow of a candle. These “flashes” really do have a chance to shine through at this time of feasting and gifts, because something in us is searching for them. Christmas is when we know we are supposed to find the magic. And all too often it seems beyond our grasp, and we are disappointed. Santa didn’t visit, we think, he never brought me what I really wanted.
But one year, if we are ready and hungry for more than mince pies and turkey, and never mind whether we have been naughty or nice, if there is that moment of wanting something more, we may well be granted a glimpse of the star of wonder, and nothing will ever be the same again.
For that wonder is never more obvious to us than at Christmas, when the ordinary and the heavenly co-exist with a daring unknown on other feast days. The King of Kings, wrapped up and lying in the livestock’s food trough. A weary young unmarried mother, who is also the virgin handmaiden of God, destined to be Queen of heaven. A worried, unsure step-father to God’s flesh, skilled woodworker, yet unable to provide decent refuge for his family just when it was needed most, his carefully crafted world turned upside down. A small town lit up by a majestic star, and the brightness of angels, that will soon be grief-stricken by the murderous actions of a jealous Herod.
The glory and the guttural mixed and held together, the curtain fluttering that in thirty-three years will be ripped in two. The contradictions contained in this nativity scene are stretched as far as the east is from the west, and yet, in the centre, right where I might sometimes just catch my breath at a glimpse of its golden beauty caught on the edge of cheap tinsel, is an unearthly sense of wonder, just like the flash in Emily’s sight, that cuts through to my very core through all the commercial, plastic nonsense, and shows me the Christ child, and such beautiful, holy mystery, that my heart leaps with the joy of it, deep and fleeting at the same time, in perfect paradox.
Merry Christmas to all, and may God bless us, every one.
This post is part of our 2016 Advent series.