Echoes in Rowan William’s poem Advent Calendar

At this time of year all the favourite memories and stories usually tumble out as part of the conversations that happen as families gather together. Grown-up children groan as their parents tell their grandchildren of times gone by, of Christmass’s past, of the people who are now missing from the table. There may not be quite so many stories told this year. If they are, it may be over Zoom or Facetime, rather than over pigs in blankets and crackers. Echoes however, will still be heard, because echoes come with love.

I’d like you to read this poem by Rowan Williams called Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

It is because of the echoes our memories hear, that I love this poem from Rowan Williams so much. Though it deals with the now, it also resonates with the things that have been and things that are to come in the Gospel narrative. He will come like the last, like the dark, and like the frost. The aching surety of these things – leaves always fall after the summer, frost always forms after the bitter cold, and dark always comes after the sun light. From this angle these words woefully echo what has gone, been lost, now past. A sharp intake of breath leads the gaze into lament’s loss.

But then the echo of the future starts to sound; after frost there’s warmth, after dark there’s light, and after leaves drop, there’s new growth.

These echoes are cyclical, just as the echoes and memories we form in our own lives, are also cyclical. The circle of life, to coin that famous song title. And this is where the genius of our faith, the genius of God swept in, right in, into the rhythms of the familiar … and that divine genius showed us how the little echoes we breathe from birth to death, are bound up in the vast echoes of his love, the anticipation, the coming, and the swooping up into one long echo through time, the echo of eternity that weaves together past and the future and the present.

In the quiet, listen our for that eternal echo and let it make sense of the empty echo we are currently so acutely aware of.

by The Rev’d Arwen Folkes

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