Merry Christmas to you if your day is starting – and if it’s drawing to a close, I hope you had a peaceful and happy day.
I wanted to share with you something that’s been a source of joy and hope to me.
To set it in context – much of the time, these days, I carry with me the degradation of the living earth and the cynically ruthless dismantling of human community, as an aching sore in the centre of my soul. Yemen, Aleppo, Trump, the present UK administration waging war on the poor and vulnerable, the growing of poverty and corresponding amassing of riches, the destruction of forests, oceans, air, species . . . War as a business model, oil as a god, flagrant racism and religious persecution, sickening violence wherever you look. It hurts to think of it, and I do every day.
What can I do? I ask myself this constantly. One can donate money of course, and I try to live as simply and frugally as I can so as to make spare as much as I can to help wherever I can – but my resources are not significant.
Neither do I have the temperament to plunge into social engagement: I live quietly, even reclusively – by choice, you might say, but in truth of necessity. We are what we are.
But here’s a small thing that brings me delight, and grows goodness.
Hastings (where I live) is a place of poverty. Employment is scarce, jobs few and low paid. Yet here we have immense riches – just not the kind that have anything to do with money. We’re on the coast, so we have the ocean – and what in the world is more beautiful than the sea? We’re in East Sussex, gentle in climate, clad in woodlands, replete with wild places, a network of lanes threading through farmland and bluebell woods, where the Sussex Downs find their way to the southern shores of England.
And in Hastings – exactly because it is a poor town, unpretentious, short on snobbery, alternative lifestyles flourish. Therefore art and music, spirituality and creativity, diversity and imagination all do well here. It is a cornucopia of artistic creation, and there are so many dancers, singers, thinkers, makers, designers of every kind you could think of.
In our family, you may remember, we stopped exchanging Christmas gifts some years ago, and this year I stopped sending cards as well, except for a tiny handful.
But we do try, at Christmas time, to bless some of the art and imagination that lights a candle of protest against the encroaching midnight of hideous politics and corporate greed. We sing carols at the supermarket, to bring a spark of joy and wonder to the children, to remind last minute shoppers about melody and harmony and spiritual tradition; Christmas is not primarily commercial. We go to the ballet, to celebrate the disciplines of excellence – real live performance, something blessedly free from computer generated images.
And this year we had an excited and happy morning at the Beacon, where Hastings artists had an Open Studios day.
Giving to charity is both important and necessary, but equally essential is the blessing of writers and potters, artists and weavers, tailors and woodworkers, blacksmiths and silversmiths, milliners and bookbinders, by celebrating and purchasing what they make. Unless we do that, the richness of human culture will run out into the sand, and we shall be left alone with Monsanto and Rupert Murdoch on a desert island of our own making.
At the Beacon Open Studios, with great happiness I seized the chance to acquire some of the work of Judith Rowe, a Hastings potter. She makes the loveliest things, and is part of the co-operative that runs one of our best Old Town shops – Made in Hastings.
So I thought you might like a glimpse of how I start my days – here is my Christmas breakfast, enjoyed a thousand-fold more because of Judith’s beautiful pottery.
And look – it stacks most neatly when I’ve done and it’s time to take it to the sink to be washed up. I find that so pleasing.
Bless the makers, friends; bless those who live by discipline and excellence and imagination. Help the poor and needy, but save a little to give yourself the joy of partnering art and craft in the community; a pot, a book, a pair of shoes, a hat, a rug – something made by human hand and heart and eye; for herein is treasure indeed.