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Reform Magazine | May 13, 2021

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On the pilgrim way: ‘I must contradict Dylan Thomas’

Sheila Maxey rediscovers the spirit of Advent

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I am, by nature, a long-term planner: holidays, family gatherings, theatre trips. So, among all the other challenges of Covid-19, I have had to accept cancellation after cancellation. As Christmas approached, the stripping down of plans took place on an almost daily basis: our daughter and family would only come for Christmas Day; then they would not have dinner but a garage buffet before fireworks; then they did not come at all. I have been surprised at how easily I seem to have been able to let go of lovely plans.

I still make holiday plans – a gathering with both daughters and their families in Wales after Easter, and a twice-postponed holiday in Mallaig, Scottish Highlands, in June. Each plan gives such anticipated pleasure. But the pain of cancellation is, by now, quite short-lived.

I can sympathise with Dylan Thomas’ desperate poem about his father’s dying – ‘Do not go gentle into that good night./ Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ – but I do not share his desperation, either about the end of life or just facing whatever the future brings. This past Advent has been quite special for me. Of course, I know it is supposed to be a season of waiting in hope but I have often been too busy with Christmas preparations to take time to wait. I have also, in past years, thought I could start to discern God’s calling for the new year. Not this year.

In fact, the spirit of Advent seems to be going on and on, with Christmas just a pit stop on the way. Waiting in hope is getting harder. All I can do is wait gently – with empty hands – for God to show me the next step along my road. I wonder if this is being irresponsibly passive, or perhaps this is just the calling of an 82-year-old in the privileged position of having enough money, food and a comfortable home.

I don’t think so. I find I am more than usually emotional, feeling the pain and joy of others more keenly. And there is time to dwell on that, and pray for them more thoughtfully:

A friend with dementia is now so much improved through medication she said she thought she had found herself again.

A church friend, currently near death with Covid, is in the prayers of so many of us. A 14-year-old who had given his mother so much anxiety – over eating, not getting up in the morning – has started getting up early, and jogging.

Our 20-year-old autistic grandson, when asked what he wanted to do with his life, said he wanted to help poor people and fight racism. Our junior church leader decided it was time to get junior church activities going again.

I want to contradict Dylan Thomas. I say: Go gently into God’s tomorrow, God’s future, and God’s good night.

Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex

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This article was published in the February 2021 edition of Reform

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