The day after Christmas is known here as Boxing Day or St Stephen’s Day. I have been browsing through images of mothers and babies (one of those Advent themes that come to me belatedly) while eating too much panettone. This has been a lovely festive time and I am now adept at roasting dozens of smallish chickens to perfection. How odd to think of myself as useful! And I have found the most delightful images of a gingerbread cake made to resemble a Seattle townhouse.
The daughter of neighbours came over to eat crab cakes and complain about her mother last night, weeping into her apple juice. She has managed to break up with her boyfriend, lose her flat mate and her accountancy job in the last week. She is aghast at herself and blames her outbursts on Christmas blues. I am reminded of a telling statement from JG Farrell:
“I’m now fully conscious of this curious anarchy inside me that requires me to smash to pieces any promising relationship. Have you ever had a subconscious drive to start a row which will wreck everything so that one’s emotional landscape in turn becomes barren and tidy once more? I have it all the time.”
The flow of visitors has eased off and the fridge is full of leftovers. My housemate is resting a swollen knee, lying on the sofa with the dogs for company. The house is cool and dark with blinds drawn against the heat, the garden a haze of golden light and scents and colour. I have been reflecting on the life of the Canadian poet Margaret Avision who died recently:
Avison was also well known as a Christian poet, and her conversion at 45, after having drifted away from the faith, is a central point in her story. Anyone who has seriously considered what it means to be a Christian has undoubtedly felt some fear – fear of losing themselves, of having to surrender everything. That was a real fear for Avison too. On the verge of saying yes to faith, she addressed Jesus: “I’ll believe, but oh, don’t take the poetry.” Yet, in the end, she gave in, throwing her Bible across the room with the exclamation, “Okay, take the poetry too!”
The consequence was, as she put it, “a new design” coming into her life, a reorienting of the familiar. She found that her senses were enlivened, poems came thick and fast, and “any minute might bring a new discovery.”
Her experience speaks to another fear some Christians have: the feeling that the only safe art for Christian consumption is art by other Christians. Avison found, on the contrary, that her subject matter was enlarged, not constrained, by her coming to faith. “If God is anywhere, if He is present,” she told an interviewer, “you can study anything.”
‘Any minute might bring a new discovery.’ The difference between holding expectations and living in expectancy.