U.A. Fanthorpe, Not the Millennium

Wise men are busy being computer-literate. There should be a law against confusing Religion with mathematics. There was a baby. Born where? And when? The sources mention Massacres, prophecies, stars; They tell a good story, but they don’t agree. So we celebrate at the wrong midnight. Does it matter? Only dull science expects An accurate audit. The economy of heaven Looks for fiestas and fireworks every day, Every day. Be realistic, says heaven: Expect a miracle. From U.A. Fanthorpe, Christmas Poems (Enitharmon Press, 2002), p. 61

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I heard a girl singing

Everyone I know agrees that 2016 has been a bad year. Too many good people died (one a close friend of mine) and too much rubbish happened. 2016 should not have been, or so we all seem to think. But as the year came to an end, I heard a girl singing, and I think it might turn out alright. And it’s not that I’m ignoring the rest. I’ve heard the racist slurs that we wanted to have left behind in the seventies, and the economic forecasts, and the bombs going off, and the bulldozers in the jungle, and the bells tolling—so many bells tolling—the bells that seemed not to stop tolling all year. I’ve heard it all. And grieved for our losses. And despaired for our futures. But then I heard a girl singing, and I began to hope again. She was a bit younger than our eldest—fourteen, or perhaps just turned fifteen. Pregnant. She didn’t have much to sing about I guess. But I heard her singing anyway. She was away from home, staying with elderly relatives, trying to avoid the scandal back home I suppose. And she sang. And I can’t stop hearing her song. It was religious, of course, you’d expect that from me. There was a purity of confidence, a childlike trust, as she sung about God’s glory and God’s name and God’s salvation. And when you’re trying to have faith of your own, that’s wonderful to hear from someone in trouble. She saw hope for her own future, at least. And perhaps that began to give me hope. But her song didn’t end there. It got bigger. Not just her story, but our story. And even their story. You know, ‘them’, the ones who helped make 2016 such a rubbish year. The ones who lied their way to a referendum win and then abdicated any responsibility for cleaning up their mess. The ones who dropped or planted the bombs. The orange one. Them. Her song wasn’t very nice about them. She sang sweetly and cheerfully of what she thought God might do to them. Smashed and broken and deposed was only the start of it. She knew the despair and desperation that led some to believe the lies and others to plant the bombs; that was her life. But she looked to God to help—yeah, I know, but I said the song was religious. And while ‘they’ were getting smashed and broken, she was singing of God lifting others up and feeding the hungry. Of course, it could all be optimistic opium, dulling the proletarian pain to repel revolution. But I heard her sing, and I think it was something more. As she sang I started to believe that the mouths of the racists would be stopped—and their fists and feet too—and that one day God’s children would gather from every tongue and tribe and nation. As she sang I began to hope that the economic forecasts, even if true, might be prophecies of people finding cause to display love and generosity and solidarity. As she sang I heard her voice soar louder and higher than the bullets and bombs, and began to imagine peace. As she sang I understood that the voices of the bulldozed echoed louder in heaven than the exhaust pipes of the bulldozers ever could. As she sang I found hope, even, that the endless tolling funeral bells would one day be silenced for ever by a trumpet sounding. 2016 was a rubbish year indeed. But as it ended I heard a girl singing, and I learned to hope that it might yet turn out all right.     (If you haven’t guessed, the song began Magnificat anima mea Dominum; the idea for this came as my colleague Elizabeth Shively sang a setting of the Magnificat in our service on Sunday.)...

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