Christina Rees offers an Advent reflection on the importance of wondering, from her new book of writings and recipes
One of the aspects of God I think about the most is the Divine creativity. Whatever it was that happened at the Big Bang, it unleashed the potential for the whole universe and everything there is in it to come into being. Scientists have discovered that the world as it is now was not created at the moment that God exploded into matter, time and space, but we can say that at that moment the potential for our world was created.
The mystical Dominican tertiary and writer, Catherine of Siena, who lived in the 14th Century, expressed the potential in creation from God’s point of view:
I opened my hand and the Infinite ran to the edges of space – and all possibilities are contained therein, all possibilities, even sorrow. In the end, nothing that ever caused one pain will exist. No one will begrudge Me. The Absolute innocence of all within my Creation takes a while to understand.
I love St Catherine’s beautiful way of describing the potential of the universe, and her conviction that, ultimately, only God’s intended goodness will exist.
It may have taken over 13 billion years since the moment that matter came into being for our universe to start to take shape, but here we are, sitting on our beautiful blue and green planet, spinning through space at a dizzying speed.
Most of us do not spend time thinking about the actual state of our universe and the changes taking place within it. Instead, we toddle off to bed each night thinking about the events of the day or what we have to do the next day, rather than wondering about the possibility that the universe might change in some unprecedented way by the time we wake up in the morning. Of course, we take mornings utterly for granted and grumble if we throw back the curtains to find there are any unwanted weather conditions passing overhead, giving no thought to the fact that without our atmosphere and the inevitable weather that is created, we would not be able to breathe and we would most certainly not exist!
When I was growing up on the Tappan Zee, the little wooden schooner our family lived on for a number of years, I spent hours and hours on the deck, staring out into space and watching the waves hit against our hull, the bubbles and swirls of water floating endlessly by. I must have spent years in all staring at nothing but the sea and sky. The various shades of blue and green, and all the other colours in sunrises and sunsets, in storms and squalls, at night and under the blinding midday sun – all these colours, sights, scents and sounds are etched deep into my being.
I wrote poetry from the age of six and composed songs in my head, which I would sing over the roar of the engine or the whistling of the wind. When we were around civilisation, my parents used to go to the offices of local newspapers and ask for the ends of the huge rolls of plain paper used for printing the newspapers. We always had a newsprint roll, which was about a metre in width, hanging below in our main cabin, and we could pull down the amount of paper we wanted and cut it off for our drawings and paintings. Sometimes we would be given roll ends with what seemed like miles of paper left on them!
We observed nature at close range and lived according to its rhythms. We rose with the sun and went to bed shortly after sundown, our little kerosene lanterns barely providing enough light to read by. Because our boat could only travel at four miles an hour when using the engine, and eight miles an hour under sail, we were able to observe a great amount of detail in all that we saw, and the world seemed to go by in slow motion.
It was only recently that it struck me that during my childhood, because of growing up on a boat, I had many of the experiences of the contemplative life: we were silent for hours on end, we prayed together as a family before every meal and would end each day with a time of prayer and singing. My thoughts would often turn to contemplation on the Divine, and I would wonder about what God was really like and where Jesus fitted into the picture, and think about what was important in life.
This article is an edited extract from Feast and Fast – Food for Advent and Christmas (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2012, available from www.dltbooks.com) which explores the season of Advent and Christmas through the themes of Welcoming, Wondering, Giving, Receiving and Celebrating, as well as offering recipes for festive meals.
Christina Rees is a broadcaster, writer, consultant and a member of the Church of England General Synod and Archbishops’ Council
This article was published in the combined December 2012/January 2013 edition of Reform.