Ambivalent about Hospitality

by Andrew Lunn.

There is an etymological link between ‘hospitality’ and ‘hostility’, linking back to common roots in a variety of Indo-European languages.[1]  Jacques Derrida reflects philosophically on a contradiction he identifies embedded in the idea of hospitality in his lecture titled Hostipitality.[2]

That contradiction, he says, is faced in every situation of hospitality.  It takes shape practically in a conditionality in all hospitality which lies in the host’s power–in the unspoken rules of the household—but also in the guest’s or stranger’s unknown difference—the unexpected values or ways of behaving which they bring with them.  We never know what we are going to get when we invite someone in, or when we turn up as a guest at someone’s door.  The guest, or the host, may be generous and open; but there is always the potential for something other, which could lead to hostility.

Derrida is not arguing against the practice of hospitality.  He sees it as a significant human practice, but one in which we always confront the possibility of its opposite which can paralyse us.[3]  So there is always a need for a ‘going beyond’.  ‘We cannot know’ he says ‘what hospitality is.’ (6)  ‘Hospitality … gives itself to thought beyond knowledge.’ (8) It ‘holds itself out to its chance beyond what it is.’ (14)

That contradiction, or we might say ambivalence, which we face when we consider the possibility of hospitality, requires a leap of faith—a readiness to make ourselves vulnerable, whether as host or as guest.  Often we might find a cheap hospitality, when we limit it to close friends and to those who are like us; in such circumstances we do not allow ourselves to become aware of the ambivalence.  Costly hospitality is different, because it involves that going ‘beyond’ what it is.  (Is there something eschatological about it?)

God-in-Christ’s presence as both host and guest[4] reflects that ‘going beyond’ inherent in hospitality.  As host Christ teaches of God’s banquet.  We are guests in God’s created world, vulnerable before the One we fear, subject to God’s grace, even while we celebrate God’s inclusion of us—and of many who are not like us.

Yet also Christ comes through incarnation to take the role of guest, becoming vulnerable to those who ‘did not accept him’ (John 1:11), even to the point of the hostility of the cross.  His practice was to repeatedly take the role of guest, with Matthew, Simon the Pharisee, Martha and Mary.  Openness to hospitality here becomes a trope through which we can understand the self-giving of Christ.  In this divine interchange[5] God allows hospitality to ‘go beyond what it is’.

This should help us to consider the way we should relate to hospitality as a missiological church.  This understanding of hospitality as costly, and always involving vulnerability—hospitality which ‘goes beyond what it is’—always risks hostility.  It requires of the church two things:

First, a truly radical hospitality, which doesn’t invite people into church just to accept our rules and to become what we are.  The guest to whom we are open in a costly way will change us, and change our practices.  Hospitality of this kind involves inviting people to come, but at the same time this must not be a hospitality ‘paralysed on the threshold’ (as Derrida puts it) which delimits and restricts what the guest can be and bring to us.

Second, that missional reversal in which the church itself comes to be guest.  Emulating Christ in this way means we should recognise that the most potent possibilities for mission lie where we are able to step into the spaces which others own and define.

Both of these take courage, and the second perhaps more than the first.  Would it be true to say that the contemporary church will only grow, spiritually and numerically, when it is able to accept the costliness of hospitality as a nexus of costly grace?

 

[1] If you’re interested in the etymology there’s a good OUP article by Anatoly Liberman here: https://blog.oup.com/2013/02/guest-host-word-origin-etymology/

[2] Jacques Derrida (2000) ‘Hostipitality’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, vol. 5, no. 3, 3-18 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09697250020034706.

[3] Derrida’s hostipitality neologism has been picked up by a number of people writing about Britain’s asylum and immigration practice.

[4] Luke Bretherton has set out the way in which the roles of ‘host’ and ‘guest’ are simultaneously part of Christ’s presence to the world.  Luke Bretherton, Hospitality as Holiness, (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), 135.

[5] ‘Christ is identified with the human condition in order that we might be identified with his.’ Morna Hooker, From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul, (Cambridge: CUP, 1990), 26.

“He’s not naughty, he’s autistic!”

by Ian Howarth.

This Christmas we made the usual adjustments to our lifestyle to welcome Mark, our barely verbal adult autistic son to stay with us over the Christmas period. We have to have a clear, written timetable that accounts for every hour of every day to reduce his anxiety, and a written order of service that he can see the day before means that he just about copes with worship on Christmas Day. Predictability, doing things the same every time, no surprises, are all essential to his wellbeing.

Given what I know about Mark’s pathological resistance to change, and the growing realization that autistic traits exist in a greater proportion of the population at large than used to be thought, I wonder if I need to temper my frustration at the unwillingness of so many churches to embrace change.

At a deeper level, we have had to confront the question of what personal responsibility a person like Mark has for their challenging behavior, and to what extent it is the ‘fault’ of his condition.

When he was younger and we took him to the shops, he would frequently lie on the floor screaming when things were not going his own way, and people would look at us, and occasionally call us to task for having such a naughty child, to which our response was: ‘He’s not naughty, he’s autistic.’ [1]

On bad days, even as an adult, the challenging behaviour can return, when expectations are not met, and we recognise again that this is behaviour to be managed and understood, and Mark is not to blame for it.

While the issues are clear for us in regard to our son, they lead to interesting questions about where personal responsibility begins and ends. To what extent is Mark personally responsible for his behaviour, leads to the question, to what extent is anyone personally responsible for their behaviour?

Current thinking on autism is that it is a ‘spectrum condition’, and that people exist on that spectrum from those like Mark, who are non, or barely verbal, with learning difficulties, to people who can be highly-intelligent, very verbal individuals, who display their autism through social awkwardness, but still with the same need for order and pattern in their lives. Some autistic people develop the self-awareness to manage their condition, but others, even some highly able ones, really struggle. Writers who are themselves autistic, talk of the need for the community at large to adapt to those who have autism, not the other way around, and it is important that we hear that, although it is not without its challenges, and the question of personal responsibility for one’s behaviour is never far away.

And where is God in this? In our Protestant/Wesleyan tradition we have emphasised personal responsibility before God, making the personal choice of a commitment to Christ. This month many of us will be remaking that commitment in our Covenant services. ‘I am no longer my own but yours,’ we say, and that personal promise of commitment remains immensely important in my own Christian journey.

But such a commitment would be meaningless to Mark and people like him. I know that the God I try to commit to, the God revealed in Jesus, is also committed to Mark. Any understanding of salvation being conditional on a personal relationship with Jesus as defined by a usual understanding of relationship would exclude Mark, and so is inadequate.

There are no easy answers here. I would like to be able say that it is in and through an accepting, inclusive community that we find a way forward, and I think that is an important starting point. However, many of those with autism struggle with community. In Mark’s supported living six individuals live individual lives, hardly relating to each other, except through their wonderful carers.

However, the questions raised by autism that relate to personality, personal responsibility and relationships can be seen as a gift to challenge us to reflect more widely and deeply on what it truly means to understand and express God’s all-embracing love.

 

 

[1] I know that in some circles, it is frowned on to say someone is autistic, and felt better to say that they have autism, or an autistic spectrum condition. However, the fact that Mark’s autism so defines who he is, and is not something he has in addition to his personality, and that those who are verbal are happy to describe themselves as autistic, means that I feel it appropriate to say, he is autistic. The phrase: ‘I’m not naughty, I’m autistic,’ comes from a badge issued by the National Autistic Society.

 

Go to those who want you most

by Roger Walton.

‘Go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most.’

I laboured for several years under the belief that John Wesley’s 12 Rules for a Helper contained the words ‘Go always, not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most’. [1] I don’t know who first quoted this in my hearing but the word ‘need’ was definitely there and it stuck.  It was a bit of surprise, to discover that the word Wesley used is ‘want’ rather than ‘need’. I had always interpreted the instruction to be about attending to the most extreme needs first, where the needy might mean the disadvantaged, the marginalised, the voiceless, the dying.  In the light of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it also carried the idea that one attends to the most basic needs first – food, shelter, warmth, safety and only later to the ‘higher order’ needs such as meaning and ethical living.

The word ‘want’ gives it a different feel.  Rather than a way of prioritising competing needs, is it really about discerning where the desire for help is most ardent, most open, most eager?

On the surface ‘need’ is a more acceptable word.  If we attend to what people want, are we not just pandering to human whims and desires, which in our consumerist society are relentlessly tickled and stimulated by slick advertising and draw on our base desires to own things, to keep up with Joneses and to be better than others?  What human beings want and what they need, we regularly tell ourselves, are very different things.

On the other hand, deciding what others need and how to help them is a very tricky business, as the history of the poor laws and other ways people have tried to help those ‘in need’ demonstrate.  Well-intentioned interventions have often exacerbated rather than eased conditions.  The mantra that Rachel Lampard drew to our attention last year, ‘nothing about us, without us, is for us’ should, she suggested, guide our approach.  People in need are not objects or problems to be solved but subjects, people made in the image of God, to be respected and able to contribute to finding solutions.   That is why the work of Poverty Truth Commissions always includes the voices of those in need, so that their wants as well as their needs become part of the conversation.  This has been a significant dynamic in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.  Those most affected (most in need) want certain things to be addressed and rightly campaign for their desires.

Wants and needs may not be as easy to separate in human experience as we imagine.  That does not mean that every want must be met, nor every attempt to discern need abandoned but the way forward is surely through dialogue, engagement and genuine encounter.   Rather than a technique for ministerial efficiency, Rule 11 may be an invitation to deeper human relationships.

But there is something more to be said.  The purpose of the 12 Rules is to give instruction to the growing number of itinerants, helping Mr Wesley to spread the good news and to order the societies for the disciplined pursuit of holiness.  The Rules are concerned with character, conduct and responsibility, so that the helpers may be both effective in their work and carry something of the message in their personality. The full text of Rule 11 is somewhat longer. The words above are prefaced with this solemn reminder: ‘You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.’ They are followed by the reminder that it is not about how many sermons you preach or about the number of societies you take care of but rather about calling people to repentance and holiness of life.  In this context, the meaning of those in want (or need) is squarely in the arena of evangelism and discipleship.  Preachers are urged to awaken desire for, and work with those who seek the life of faith.  Within an Arminian framework for evangelism, the instruction ‘to go to those who want you most’ may well mean going to where there are signs of openness and deep yearning for spiritual life. This is a timely word for us as we prioritise evangelism in our Connexion. But Wesley’s instruction also reminds us that we are to form relationships with those to whom we go and discover together with them God’s amazing salvation.

 

[1] This rule was not in the original 1744 version but was added at 1745 Conference and appears as Rule 11 in 1753 version.

Christmas Poetry

by George Bailey.

Christmas Day is a Monday – will we be thinking about theology everywhere? One would hope so… whether or not by reading this blog post. I have been thinking about this for the last few weeks, and finished the final draft on Christmas Eve – but by the time it is posted at 08.30 on Christmas Day, I will be having festive breakfast ahead of the rush to get off to a celebration service.

What are we doing with all this celebrating of Christmas? Why are we generating (manufacturing?) a festival? There’s no scriptural root for Christmas, and it’s not really Jesus’ birthday, but a day to suit the needs of a distant time when Christian relations to the Pagan calendar were of vital importance – and, of course, the incarnation which the Church proclaims at Christmas is the bedrock of our grasp of reality every day, not just on 25th December. I think that what we are about though is proclaiming this good news in a focused way, allowing ourselves to hear it afresh each year, and so, we pray, every day of the coming year, and most of all seeking ways to share it. This is the point of our carol services, midnight communions, nativity plays, dinners, cards, presents, tinsel… and so on. However, the way we use and re-use these means of proclamation which have been handed on to us gives them more than just a utilitarian function – they themselves also become part of the truth and reality they point to.

There is something here akin to the relationship between the language of poetry and the reality it describes.

I have been using the book, Haphazard by Starlight by Janet Morley[1] which gives a poem a day during advent; these poems, and others, have featured large in my Christmas. Why is poetry so special? There has been a welcome recovery of poetry in Christian theology as a way of understanding the revelation of truth. It uses language to full effect not only to point to reality, but also itself to become new meanings and depths in our experience. Poetic language delights in multiple meanings and interpretations, ambiguities and paradoxes – these become not a hindrance but the means by which a depth of truth is encountered in poetry that is closed off to attempts at objectivity, precision and unequivocal statements of truth. Bernadette Waterman Ward, writing about Hans Urs von Balthasar’s appreciation of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poetry (both Catholic champions of poetic theology) writes, “Like every other reality, a poem is unified, but multitudinous. The joy of it is in the artistry – that it has been deliberately arranged by a human being to proclaim its own richness, which the poet recognizes.”[2] Poetry is both made by humans and a site of divine revelation; a poem can be particular to the writer, and differently particular to each reader. The poet and theologian, Malcolm Guite, points out: “Poetry may be especially fitted as a medium for helping us apprehend something of the mystery embodied in that phrase ‘the Word made flesh’.”[3]

Enough of my attempt to explain it, which without using poetry is set to fail anyway – this Christmas time, why not seek Christ in one of these:

BC:AD by U.A. Fanthorpe

At the Winter Solstice by Jane Kenyon

Many poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and R. S. Thomas!

or for a contemporary performance poem – The Christmas C(h)ord by Dai Woolridge

These, and others, have led me to think that our celebration of Christmas is somehow like writing a poem – we have a language to work with in the words and practices of the tradition, and we form it into our own poem, which by the work of the Spirit intersects with the experience of Christ in the world, for ourselves and the people around us.

Last week, gathered by the doorway of a supermarket, as we sang,

“Yet, with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long,”

…we watched a teenage girl being apprehended by security guards. As they led her by the arm back into the store, she looked anxious and defeated. Later, as we sang,

“Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns; Let us our songs employ;”

…we watched two police officers stride in from the car park on their way to arrest the girl. In what way was the Saviour reigning? How could we employ our songs to address the power of this consumer society that drives the need to possess more, beyond our means, yet also places production, distribution and profit in the hands of a few wealthy companies? At Christmas we want to help those in need; and do we also need to help those weighed down with wants? Our Christmas poem opened new depths of questioning and prayer.

Last Thursday in the nursing home, a woman, for whom conversation is made difficult by memory loss and confusion, listened to Luke 2:1-7, then was handed a small wood carving of the baby in the manger. She turned it over in her hands, her eyes lit up, and she began the story of how, aged 14, she first responded to Jesus at an evangelistic tent meeting. Our Christmas poem opened new depths of Christian experience and discipleship.

What poem have you been living this Christmas? How has it been heard and experienced by you and by others? How has the Spirit revealed Christ in the rhythms and rhymes of the festival?

 

 

[1] Janet Morley, Haphazard by Starlight: A poem a day from Advent to Epiphany, London: SPCK, 2013.

[2] Bernadette Ward, “Hopkins, Scotus and von Balthasar: Philosophical Theology in Poetry,” in James Fodor (ed.), Theological Aesthetics After Von Balthasar, London: Routledge, 2016, p.74.

[3] Malcom Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry, London: Routledge, 2016 (first published 2008), p2.

A people prepared

by Jill Baker.

In Luke 1 (v 17), the elderly priest, Zechariah, is told by an angel that he is to become a father and that his son, John the Baptist, will ‘make ready a people prepared for the Lord’. With just one week to go before Christmas Day, I wonder what that phrase might mean to us today? The fact that you are finding time to read this may mean that you are indeed ‘prepared’ for Christmas – or it may mean you have given up!

The season of Advent – only 22 days this year as Christmas Day falls on a Monday – is a season of penitence and preparation in the church year. To many this can feel as though we are out of sync with the world around us; far from a season of fasting, Christmas parties are held throughout Advent then, just as the legitimate feasting season of the Twelve Days of Christmas is getting into its stride we hit 1st January, New Year Resolutions kick in and people commit to a “dry January”!  Does it matter?  The liturgical calendar is not something for which I would go to the stake, but the rhythm of feasting and fasting, preparation and celebration, penitence and jubilation is, to me, a helpful and life-giving rhythm.

Nonetheless, despite our best intentions, for many of us Advent preparations may become largely practical preparations; making a cake, buying gifts and cards, decorating the house, stocking up on food and drink.  It is strangely ironic that a consumerist world which has lost sight of the origins of Christmas can become a harsh taskmaster at this time of year, adding more and more requirements to what is deemed essential for a perfect Christmas.

We may be aided in our struggle to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ by the plethora of Advent resources now available.  The first book of Advent readings I came across, back in 1983, was Delia Smith’s ‘A Feast for Advent’.  In the introduction she raises precisely this dilemma, comparing our situation to Exodus 5 where, as Moses requests leave for the people to go into the wilderness and ‘celebrate a festival’ (v1), Pharaoh’s response is to force the slaves to collect their own straw for brick-making, to make their burdens heavier so they will forget about God; ‘How significant it is that at Christmas we find ourselves so easily caught up in twice our normal workload, so that we too have no time to listen to the message of freedom.’1

In a similar vein, Walter Brueggemann in ‘Sabbath as Resistance’ talks about the ‘contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety’2 – in which our observance of Sabbath (or we might say, Advent) is an important counter cultural stand.  There is a real danger that even when we do deliberately opt out of ‘being productive’ for a time, we remain almost overwhelmed by the anxiety of the ‘to do’ list.

All this is very far from the experience of the key players in the drama of Incarnation.  Elizabeth and Zechariah would not have Christmas cards, cakes or crackers in mind as they pondered what the angel might mean by ‘A people prepared for the Lord’.   The earlier verses of the chapter give us some pointers; almost the first fact we learn about John the Baptist is that he must drink no wine or strong drink. That might prove rather a surprise to Cosmopolitan magazine whose December editorial begins with the words, ‘As the year reaches its alcohol-saturated finale…’.

Instead John will be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and in this power, will have three key tasks, all concerned with turning hearts and minds. He will ‘turn many people… to the Lord their God’, he will ‘turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous’ and he will ‘turn the hearts of parents to their children’. In this, perhaps, Luke’s record comes closer to the hopes of Cosmopolitan, whose editor continues; ‘…our thoughts turn to loved ones, lack of sleep and things we really want to find at the end  of our beds come 25th December’. Even in the sophisticated world of glossy magazines, it is something of a relief to see that human relationship comes first.   For John the Baptist too, ‘a people prepared’ is about our human relationships above all.

Looking again at the story around which all our preparations (or lack of them) are centred at this time of year, I am heartened to see wide diversity. The magi have been preparing for years, observing celestial movements and patterns on a huge map of time and space and selecting symbolic gifts of great value to take to the Christ Child.  For the shepherds, however, it is definitely a ‘come as you are’ party – an ordinary night becomes extraordinary and they rush into Bethlehem  – maybe snatching up a lamb to keep it safe and then offering it to the Holy Family… but maybe not!

Whether we feel ‘prepared’ or not this year we will be welcome at the manger next Monday. Perhaps too, like John, we are called to be heart-turners in these final days of Advent.

 

1 Delia Smith, A Feast for Advent (1985, Bible Reading Fellowship)

2 Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance (2014, Westminster John Knox Press)

Eating More Peacably

by David Clough.

If you go to church in Advent, you hear lots of Bible passages from the prophets who look forward to a time when the Messiah will come. For Isaiah, the first sign of the new reign of the Messiah is peace. Perhaps that’s not a surprise to you. But had you realized that the first kind of peace he describes is between humans and animals? Isaiah 11 tells us that ‘a shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse’, that the ‘spirit of the lord shall rest upon him’, and that he will just the poor and meek with righteousness (vv. 1–5). And then what?

The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD

as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11.6–9)

This beautiful prophecy suggests that the first sign of the in-breaking reign of God will be peace between humans and other animals, and an end to hurt and destruction of life. For centuries, Christians have been inspired by this vision. Christmas nativity scenes portray the birth of Jesus as bringing this peace, represented in the animals around the manger.

These theological visions of how things will be when God reigns aren’t just about the future. Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of God had come near, and that they needed to respond to it in the way they lived. One way of understanding Christian discipleship is as a witness to what life in this kingdom looks like.

So how could we witness to the peace that the Messiah brings between humans and animals? It’s not complicated. We could choose to eat foods that mean fewer of them need to suffer and be killed for our sake. We could eat more peaceably, as a practical daily act connected to our Christian beliefs about God’s care for all creatures, and the peace that the reign of God will bring for them and us. It’s striking that this small act of witness is also good for global human food and water security, good for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, good for reducing cruelty towards animals, and good for reducing a range of human disease risks. Methodists have particular reasons for recognizing the link between their faith and animals.

Many Christians I talk to warm to this idea that their faith could make a difference for what they eat, but get stuck in imagining how they could make a change. One good way is to do it together. Why not make a New Year’s resolution to run the CreatureKind course as a Lent group at your church next year? If you can’t wait that long, think about some first steps, such as substituting soy or almond milk for breakfast (there are now lots of choices in the supermarket), choosing plant-based options for lunch, or having one plant-based dinner each week. If you decide that you’d like to explore ways of eating that don’t depend on killing animals at all, there’s lots of advice around.

Most Christians have lost touch with traditions of eating that reminded us that what we eat connects us to a wider world. Paying attention to the links between what’s on our plate with the world of God’s creatures around us is not just an ethical practice, it’s a spiritual practice, too.

Give us a rest

by Peter Hancock.

Over the years I’ve increasingly fought shy of the bland condemnation of the way society celebrates Christmas – materialism etc. This may be because I’m only too aware that I am very much part of that society and I do enjoy many aspects of the Christmas celebrations which could not easily be labelled “spiritual”. It may also be because I have a suspicion that many people in our society aren’t as far away from some “spiritual” desires in their approach to the festive season as we might like lazily to think.

It hit me last December whilst shopping in a crowded city centre – everyone is running around trying to finish the shopping by the deadline, many are affording themselves a little patisserie treat during a brief pit-stop from the merry-go-round, bags and bags are being carried off over rain-bespattered streets to dimly-lit car parks and nerves are often at a stretch. But there’s something else going on, something which we all share whether we profess faith or not, something that is communicated through the not-so-cheery-as- the-adverts-would-wish-us-to-believe looks on people’s faces, something in the almost formulaic, metronomic doing of the shopping, the very joylessness of participants in the supposed season of good cheer……..WE ALL JUST WANT A REST.

And we’re looking to Christmas to provide us with the one big moment of permission to have it.

Of course, this won’t be possible for some in the emergency services, health service, hospitality industry etc. and there will only be a brief respite for those in the retail sector but that doesn’t take away from the fact that all crave it and will look forward to getting it at some time during the season.

The writer to the Hebrews reassures his readers that there still remains “a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4 v 9). They need not think that their faithless forebears had forfeited it for every succeeding generation but, on the other hand, they did need to listen to and obey the voice of the Lord “today” in order to enter in to it. The Sabbath rest is conceived of as a thing of the future. For Israel it may have been thought to be arrival in Canaan, dropping the baggage and dangling the feet in cooling streams. Massively welcome but only earthly and temporary. For the Jesus people of the new age, for whom the promise is blended with faith, it is more appropriately seen as the heavenly home-coming, eternal and final. The writer knows they crave this. He sees the Christian life of committed discipleship as a struggle of a pilgrimage which needs the promise of heaven as a spur to the continued making of the necessary sacrifices to which we are called. Life as a Christian is not easy and we all yearn for rest. But, for one reason or another, so do those with whom we share space in shopping malls at this time of year.

The Sabbath rest is also, of course, a thing of the past, from when the foundations of life were laid. A thing which God did and gave us to do, not on a whim but as a matter of necessity. This is how life is and if Sabbath is not part of it, life will not be life as it can be. When paradise is lost, the humans are sent outside the garden to earn their living by the sweat of their brow and that state of affairs has continued until now. We may have swapped the tilling of the soil for the computer screen, the steering wheel, the incessant telephone or the building site but we still sweat and we want a rest.

That craving for a Sabbath is hard-wired in to every human being despite, or maybe because of, the fact that we over-play our hands in working too many hours and crossing the natural rhythms of life. That’s what we have in our shopping centres at this time of year – people just like us who are wanting just what we want. And whilst some may be steadfastly non-Christ-recognising, the majority do have a bit of room in the inn of their lives. There will be those around us for whom this Christmas will be a “today” and who might respond very well to the invitation to come and have a rest courtesy of the one who invented rest in the first place.