“… in the human spirit, December is a time of lights, rising over the depths of darkness are the lights of human ideals.” – Carl J. Nelson
We are now into the season of Advent, a season of ‘preparation.’ Traditionally, this would have been preparation for the second coming of Jesus – advent was a time of fasting and reflection. More recently, it may be a season of preparing for Christmas, with decorations, singing and gift-buying.
Well we decorated the chapel on Friday, so we have begun Advent with some preparation. We even transgressed a cardinal rule for some people – we actually sang a carol (or three) before Advent Sunday! Our Anthems for Advent Concert – held on the last Friday of November – has been going for twenty years, and despite preceding Advent by two days, people have not yet complained about carols – though that may be due to the ubiquity of Christmas Carols in November!
That final preparation, gift-buying, even has a place at Cross Street. We have developed a tradition of collecting toys for the Wood Street Mission at the start of Advent; at a time when the city is bursting with shoppers and market stalls, when black Friday deals lead to black eyes and altercations, it is helpful to take hold in our thoughts those who are unable to afford toys at this time of year. The Wood Street Mission has collections throughout the year – for food, for clothing (especially school uniforms), and toys, which will go to struggling families in Manchester.
I sometimes wonder what values we signify by collection toys; for we do not idly choose our charities. Toys are much-needed items for children. Decades of research on play has revealed tangible benefits – increased physical presence and awareness, dexterity, problem-solving. Children who engage in play are often better-equipped at handling and choosing risks. Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child states that ‘every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” So play, in all its forms, is important.
For adults as well – Jim Cunningham, a Baptist Minister, has written on the need for adults to recognise the importance of play in their lives – both structured games and unobstructed imaginative thoughts. Our capacity to grow and learn is dependent not only on times of study and focus, but also ‘diffuse’ learning and day-dreaming. These are not only times where problems might be laid down, or one may recharge their batteries – it is also a time when the sub-conscious tackles the challenges of the day. It is a time when we remind ourselves that the world can be a place of joy and rejoicing.
May this time of preparation include a preparation of our heart, recognising those needing the most care in the night darkness. May we prepare ourselves by providing time of rest, reflection and play. And to quote Kahlil Gibran, may we learn to give “as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”