The Christmas kitty

Lucinda, in boxWe had an early Christmas present a month or so ago, a little tuxedo cat who found her way into the house one frosty night in early December. When I got up in the  morning I heard a mewing that didn’t sound like any of the resident cats, looked for the source, and found her sitting in the corner of the box room next to our bedroom, shy but determined.

She plainly wasn’t a stray; she was glossy and had a blue collar, but when we offered her breakfast she wolfed it down and made short work of a couple of refills. At first we thought she was lost, but there was no identification on her collar and when we took her to the vet to be scanned for a microchip there wasn’t one. We put up advertisements with her photo and looked on lost cat websites, but no one claimed her and no one reported her missing.  In the meantime we observed that she wasn’t too well housetrained (though she soon sorted that out for herself once she got used to using the cat flap) and began to wonder if someone had acquired her, perhaps to please a child, but didn’t really know how to look after a cat – and had got tired of her and dumped her.

Wherever she came from, Lucinda is now part of the family. Apart from making the faux pas of chasing Felicity the Fierce, the next youngest of the cats, she’s settled in nicely, though Felicity now gets nervous at the sight of her and has totally lost her credibility as a Tough Kitty.  Feline dynamics change just as much as human ones when there’s a new arrival.

She came into our lives unsought and unexpected, but we’re delighted that one cold night she somehow negotiated the unfamiliar cat flap and took refuge with us. At the beginning of a new year, who knows what other new things lie in store? God’s gifts sometimes take us by surprise; instead of giving us what we ask, he has a way of dropping the unexpected into our lives and changing them in a way we’d never thought of.  May we all be open in the coming year to the gifts he has waiting for us.

– Margaret Z. Wilkins

The other new year

The first Sunday in Advent begins the new church year, which makes the Saturday before it, effectively, the Christian New Year’s Eve.

I have never heard of anyone staying up late to observe it, or using it as an excuse for overindulgence. Indeed, early on Saturday evening Greenwich Mean Time, my friend Prudy, the Benedictine prioress, wrote on her Facebook wall from England, “We have rung in the new liturgical year, we have sung Vespers and our Vigil Office, and now it’s time to go to bed!”

That’s probably as it should be. Advent is a season of watchful preparation, and hangovers aren’t conducive to that spirit.

But there’s another common New Year’s custom which adapts well to a Christian context: making resolutions. I’m not thinking of the usual “I will go to the gym every day, give up eating anything tasty, clean out all my closets, learn a new language, and lose 20 pounds by Groundhog Day” resolutions here. Those can wait for December 31.

What I have in mind are resolutions to be more prayerful, more mindful, more intentional, to start the day with prayer and end it in the same way, to think before speaking, to act with care. This Advent I want to spend as much time helping others as I do shopping, to put as much of my money into giving to the church and the needy as I do into spending on gifts and self-indulgence.  I want to be kinder and more thoughtful, more helpful, more loving toward those I meet.

I feel about Advent and Christmas as I do about Lent, Holy Week, and Easter: How can we fully appreciate the joy of the holy day if we haven’t also experienced the quiet and discipline of the season that comes before it? Quiet can be hard to come by in the stressful, jangling weeks before Christmas, but if we make the effort to seek it out and find time with God, now and throughout the year, our lives will be far richer for it.

Happy new year.

– Sarah Bryan Miller


The new year

I can think of better ways of starting a new year than sitting here at my computer on a murky grey morning. It’s dark, it’s drizzling, it’s relatively mild but threatens to get colder in the next day or so, and instead of a time for new beginnings it feels more like a time to go back to bed with a cup of tea and a good book.

Until the middle of the eighteenth century the new year in England started on Lady Day, March 25th, the day when the church celebrates the Annunciation. It seems a much better idea, somehow: the days lengthening, the first flowers already blooming, trees getting ready to burst into leaf.

Not surprisingly many societies around the world begin their new year in the spring; the Persians, for example, celebrated No Ruz, the New Year, at the spring equinox, and their descendants still mark it with special ceremonies.

Still, Lady Day marked not just the beginning of the new year but the beginning of our redemption, and when the reform of the calendar took place in 1752 and prosaic January 1st took over as the first day of the year perhaps more was lost that the happy idea of starting the year in the spring.

But even so we have something significant to celebrate today. In the Church of England it’s The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus, which The Episcopal Church more delicately calls The Holy Name – the day, eight days after his birth, when Jesus was received into the covenant of Israel and formally received his name, the name above all names, the name of our salvation.

Sometimes in these bleak days at the turn of the year it’s hard to look forward to spring and the return of light and warmth; but already there are buds on the trees and the days are imperceptibly lengthening. And in the tiny, helpless baby of Bethlehem is hidden the promise of the light and life of the world.

– Margaret Z. Wilkins