I haven't forgotten you lot. I've just been extremely busy away from the interwebertron thingy. One has to be, just now and again. I've been remembering what it feels like to hold a book in my grubby little hands for more than the few milliseconds required to note down important things to quote from it. Keep going at this rate and I might even pass for mildly educated. My packed case is full of heavy tomes and I leave tomorrow for Christmas with the family. Today was spent in the company of even more family (whose company will be lacking for said Christmas festivities). I can only hope the transport system holds out until tomorrow afternoon.
As I arrived back in the home town this evening - or what for now is my home town - I leapt in a taxi only to find myself within a matter of minutes in a stinking traffic jam. At 5.30pm on a Sunday evening if you please. The taxi driver said the motorists had all been about town, getting and spending ... or words to that effect. Much they miss in nature that is theirs, I thought to myself. And nature, in its snow-capped glory, was especially handsome today; well, in a greying-at-the-temples kind of a way. What is all that money going on, I wondered. Where is all that money coming from, I wondered again.
Feeling Christmas-y, as I am wont to do in this period of the year, I am currently ploughing through Paul Claudel's wonderful play L'Annonce faite à Marie. The plot is easily summarized. Young girl in love with father's favoured suitor discovers she has leoprosy, and retires from field, allowing jealous sister to inherit suitor with whom she has a child. Blinded but sanctified by her leperous sufferings, young girl is asked by jealous sister to raise the now dead child to life. Child is resurrected, but sister pushes young girl in a sand pit in an attempt to murder her (out of continued jealousy), but sister is saved only to die later. All reflect on their eternal salvation. Hmm, maybe not so easy to summarize.
But the Christmas theme therein is fascinating. Christmas was fundamental to Claudel. He was converted suddenly during Christmas Vespers at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in ( I think ) 1886. Christmas thus appears to be for him a special time of grace. For example, another play, La Nuit de Noël 1914, is a meditation on the fate of France in WWI and on the salvation of the French who require the prayers of the saints. In L'Annonce faite à Marie, the miracle of the raising of the child takes place on Christmas Eve, just as the bells are ringing for Midnight Mass, and as the young girl (Violaine) and her jealous sister (Mara) are praying the Office of Matins, perhaps one of the most beautiful in the liturgical year. Then, as The Child is born, so Mara's child is brought back to life ... Claudel's symbol for the regeneration of humanity by grace.
These things, I think, make Christmas worthwhile. It's not the taking part that matters, in spite of what a thousand motorists in a traffic jam outside the town centre might have thought this evening; it's the sitting and pondering, and reflecting on the extraordinary mystery of the Incarnation, which is the heart of it all. I'm sure that's why it snows for us at this time of the year (at least we godless Europeans and Americans).
Because we need reminding of the stillness ...