Earlier this week I found myself at the Leeds University Chaplaincy building for a lunchtime Quaker Meeting. It’s a meeting I often try to get to because it gives me thirty minutes of silence and thought in a hectic schedule. My own religious beliefs are not fixed or based on miraculous happenings; I tend to interpret those great stories and events in a metaphorical way and value them for the insights they may bring with them. Inspiring human behaviour and courage are miracles enough for me.
As I sat there I spotted a very lovely nativity scene in one corner of the chapel just under some stained glass from the old church. And I saw for the first time that Mary was the sole woman in a very male gathering of Joseph, angels, shepherds and kings. I’ve yet to dare to write from Mary’s perspective, but have written from the point of view of the innkeeper and one of the shepherds. This last poem was commissioned for a school carol service in Harehills, Leeds, and it subsequently appeared in a little collection I edited for the wonderful Candlestick Press, entitled ‘Fourteen Festive Sonnets’.
And thinking about it I realise I’m always looking for the human stories in world religions, the experiences of ordinary people when faced with the inexplicable [or divine] in their everyday lives. I gave the shepherd my own creaky, septuagenarian knees, and think I was probably influenced by Christine Rossetti’s gorgeous poem [and carol] ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’.
It seems with each Christmas that comes around
God has some changes for my body planned,
And everything I do comes with a sound,
A sighing when I sit, exhaling when I stand.
My joints creak now on winter nights,
When the memory stirs in my heart once more;
We came from the hills to a sky of lights
And I knelt in the snow in reverent awe.
So baby, lying in the manger there,
It’s as if each year you are born anew,
This old man offers these sounds in prayer,
Dedicates each ache and pain to you.
You surely won’t remember who I am,
I was the shepherd boy who brought the lamb.
©James Nash, from ‘Fourteen Festive Sonnets’. Candlestick Press,