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Hallo again to all.

White — red — white — red.

Every year in the church calendar the joy of Christmas day is snatched away too quickly by the red blood of St Stephen's Day on the 26th. And that first protomartyr's death yields to the placid gentle passing of St John on the 27th, which gives way to the brutal slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem, those unnamed and unnumbered holy innocents. We've often thought it strange that the Church ordered the calendar in such an unnerving way. Surely the twelve days of Christmas should be should be ones of unalloyed joy? But no. That wouldn't be true life at all but a phantasy theme park, an Eden we left long ago.

This last week all of us round the world experienced something of that spiritual whiplash, as we moved from rejoicing with our brothers and sisters in London on that city's Olympic 2012 selection to sharing the shock and sorrow of the bombings of the transport system. The commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War today celebrates heroism and sacrifice — red and white blending, as they do in all wars. But the roll call of deaths from great wars is succeeded each day by smaller numbers of those whose lives are blown apart in Baghdad or Kabul or who perish silently in the deserts of the Sudan.

The descant of joy and the fauxbourdon of sadness accompany our lives, even when we mute the one or fail to hear the other. In the everyday pressures of bills and babies, mortgages and meetings, it's easy to forget that these minutes of our lives are unendurably precious: 'Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. ¶ He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. ¶ In the midst of life we are in death...'

These observations can seem academic, sententious, or some tedious combination of both. We try hard to ensure these little essays, which we call letters, are never preachy or pontificating, but when large events of joy and sorrow capture the world's attention, we'd be foolish to write earnestly on sexuality, synods, or surplices. These things have their place in our sublunary world, but just now larger issues remind us again of What This is All About. As Christians, we are citizens of two cities and should always have one eye on earth and one on heaven. This dual vision, alas, isn't often so easily achieved. (Red-and-white-coloured spectacles?) We struggle, as we suspect you do, but we keep carrying on. As Galway Kinnell writes, at the end of his poem The Choir:

Everyone while singing is beautiful.
Even the gloomiest music
Requires utter happiness to sing:
eyes, nostrils, mouth must delight each other in quintal harmony
to sing Joy or Death well.

Keep singing, dear friends. See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 10 July 2005

A thin blue line
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