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In Preparation

27 November 2016
Ben Pentreath
28 Comments

I’m afraid this is going to be the shortest blog ever, partly because the week has whizzed by quicker than ever.  Here’s a photo of the house this evening, a cold, grey, wintry afternoon in Dorset. The leaves are completely off the trees, although in the garden some flowers continue to struggle on.p1070471

But I love this time of year, when it starts getting dark at four; here we are, lying by the fire, Mavis fast asleep at our feet, and it’s 5 o clock and a quiet evening stretches gently before us. I’ll admit, one of the happiest things about running my own office is that I can, from time to time, simply decide not to get the train up to London on a Sunday night, but instead on Monday morning, and at this time of year not too early (I don’t know about you, but I hate getting up for an early train when it is still pitch dark), without having to call and check with anyone. Thus it is tonight.

We’ve had friends staying, but they were out for a big 50th birthday party dinner while Charlie and I stayed at home and babysat. Which was the nicest thing ever. At 7 o clock we and the children were entirely changed into our pyjamas watching Little Miss Sunshine (which has to rate as one of my favourite films of the last decade) on the big screen, eating pizza, popcorn and ice cream.  The most blissful Saturday night, off to bed by 9.30. Life is so exciting here sometimes!

And today, all we did was to cook a big breakfast, go to church, go for a walk, and cook and eat a long lunch, and wave them all goodbye this afternoon.  One of the things about living next door to the prettiest church in Dorset, where, of course, Charlie and I were lucky enough to have our wedding blessing, is that we like to go to services every now and again. As much to support the village, and the institution, for any other reason, but all reasons are important. Today, the congregation was small, the church was freezing cold, and the organist Sandra was away, so we were without hymns. Moreover our wonderful valley vicar, who was so kind and so thoughtful to me and Charlie when we were developing our plans together 2 years ago, has just found out that he is really, really unwell. We are all praying for him.

So it could have been, how can I say, a bit bleak. Curiously, however, it was one of the most beautiful services I’ve been to for a while. Here we were, just eight of nine of us. There was something incredibly peaceful and quiet about that small gathering, for what turned out to be the first Sunday in Advent, although we are not yet at the first of December.

Ed, the priest who is standing in for Stephen, gave, therefore, a quiet talk about Preparation. He wanted us to compare the frantic preparation that many of us feel in the lead-up to Christmas, ticking endless things off lists, buying presents, rushing around, getting in huge quantities of food, or drink; making travel plans – with a different approach. He talked about so many projects – a fact I know deeply for myself, in the architecture world – which need to be finished ‘by Christmas‘.  I was sitting there thinking how many clients have insisted to me in the last 5 or 6 weeks that we get this or that project in for planning ‘by Christmas‘. How many false deadlines do we need in life?

And then instead, he talked about a different, deeper sort of preparation; much quieter, much more subtle, much humbler. This is a preparation of our own mind, of our own heart, for an entirely separate event. Not a countdown at all, but one which is engaged with a deep sense of renewal and re-birth. That’s what I love, I realise, about this particular time of year; with its silent, cold soil, plants diminishing, leaves falling, days shortening; all in preparation for the turning point that comes with the Winter Solstice, and with Christmas.

Whatever your cloth, your belief, your lack of belief or your mere humanity, I have the tiniest hunch that this is something we feel and need deep within us. This last week of November, we’re all on the tipping point of the headlong rush to the end of the year; the noisiest, most frantic time of the calendar, parties to the left and right. That still, small, quiet voice that comes from the deeper theme is all the more magical and necessary for it, but it can get lost so easily. It is the voice that speaks so quietly that you have to listen hard to hear it; but it is the voice that can tell us to look beyond our own problems and think of how to solve them, and to help others with worse problems of their own.

Over at Pentreath & Hall we are about to invite you to join in the noisy Christmas preparations. That’s all well and good, and Bridie and I, Sarah and Mary are really looking forward to seeing as many of our neighbours as possible at our Christmas street party this coming Thursday. But in amongst the mince pies and mulled cider, and the rush and din of the next four weeks, make time in your life – somewhere, early in the morning, late in the evening, sitting on the bus on your way to or from work, I don’t know – for a quieter form of preparation.

I’m sure that all of our worlds, and the whole world, will be a little bit better for it.

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28 comments on this post

Kathrynsays:

Ben this is my first ever comment. I came across you earlier this year and became an instant fan. Your prose is uplifting. Your photographs enchanting. You make a difference Ben long may you continue.

Nicolasays:

Thank you for highlighting the real and proper importance of this time of year. Nicola

lissy parkersays:

Well said!
xo, lissy

Helensays:

You’re not the only one, PP: made me cry too.

PPsays:

This post of yours prompted tears. Partly because I’ve just lost my Great Dane and almost anything brings forth a huge wave of sadness. But it also prompted the tearfulness that comes with recognition and consolidation.

One of the things I’ve missed amongst the year-round fecundity in Australia is the long, silent death of Winter and then the utter joy of Spring. When we lived here in the UK last, we used to drive down from London to Somerset on Friday nights, pop the baby, still sleeping, into her cot, and then I’d take a torch around the garden to see what had happened in our absence. I can’t think of many things that have given me more intense happiness than finding those first shoots of earliest Spring.

I don’t pray but I do hope and wish, and so I am doing that for Stephen, who sounds like a very good man.

Claire Howardsays:

Thankyou Ben,I think we are all guilty of going into overdrive at this time of year,sitting reading your blog makes me take a step back and realise there are an awful lot of things I should be grateful for but take for granted.
A cold winter evening sharing the sofa with a loved one and maybe a dog or two and a roaring fire is certainly something special for me.

Bridgetsays:

Just wanted to endorse what everyone’s already said – thank you!

Karen Donohue Fleersays:

The quiet heart. Perfect for now.

Karensays:

As a lurker, an American, and a humanist: thank you.

Annasays:

Thankyou

DebMsays:

Beautiful, Ben. Just beautiful.

elizabeth csays:

Ben,what a truly wonderful piece.
Thank you.
You give a lot of comfort .

Joaniesays:

I start my Mondays with you and my coffee to set my week right. This was pitch perfect. I work at a private school and came through the chapel to find the advent wreath on the gathering table and ready to be lit. You have lit it with words this morning. Thank you for your heartfelt missive today. Blessing the season, you and Charlie and Mavis.

Teresa Personsays:

Beautiful writing…. Our priest here in Texas said similar things…love the season and this time of year as well…. Wish I could be at your street party on Thursday.. Will definitely visit your shop when I get to London again…. Love the city… And all its beauty at Christmas…. Have a very blessed season…. Teresa

Jannansays:

Lovely–thank you.

Alice Minnichsays:

Thank you, Ben, for setting me right with your beautiful sentiments, perfectly timed. Happy Christmas season to you, Charlie, Mavis and the kitties.

Janesays:

Thank you, Ben.

Kevinsays:

Thank you Ben. Advent is such a beautiful season that is often missed in the rush to Christmas. You summed up its spirit so well. All the best to you and Charlie. I shall keep Stephen and his parishioners in my prayers.

Amandasays:

As I sit in my little thatched cottage, just nestled under the toes of your gorgeous home. I am sipping hot chocolate and relishing your article, so thought provoking, this is my little routine to start my week of work ahead, I love your words most ardently you always make me sit back and think, and look outside and to what is around us and how lucky we all are x

Deesays:

Beautiful and wise words

judithsays:

Ben, you must wonder, who is this person who keeps on saying the same thing; ‘THANKYOU’ for your truly wonderful blog. I’m an expat with roots in London and Wimborne and your musings are always a joy to read. Modern technology enables so many around the world to share your sentiments and today’s was just the absolute bestest ever. Yep, I was in tears reading it; every word so true.To you and yours and all your followers: Peace.

Poppysays:

such a beautiful way of seeking the true spirit of Christmas and perfect weekend.

David Sanderssays:

Well Ben; all the others have summed up your thoughts about this time of year so beautifully. I can only add: beautiful, reflective – so kind – and quite spiritual. Hope you and Charlie have wonderful Christmas.

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Beautiful, Ben. Your words stopped me in my tracks as they should. I met a man, yesterday, in his 80s who was out the front of a little antique shop I was in, wearing a second hand walkman he’d bought only yesterday – and singing along very loudly to Elvis. We usually speed through this little town on our trip home and I felt under pressure to get on the road again but I stopped to talk with him – and he told me of recent tragic losses yet he had had, but he had so much life about him and he was doing exactly what you’ve said – caring about those around him – drawing comfort and energy from his community – who, by the amount of people in this little town who stopped to talk to him – love him too. I was quite humbled. Thank for reinforcing this message and I join the prayers and thoughts for your friend Stephen. xx

Alison Lewissays:

A beautiful and reflective piece of writing, Ben, and thank you so much. I’m hosting a mulled wine and mince pies gathering of neighbours at my ‘new’ home (I’ve lived in this house, a Victorian restoration wonder, for 2 years already) this coming Friday – the first of this kind apparently for my street which I’m so looking forward to. A chance for us all to come together and rejoice in the blessing of friendship, unity and peace. If only you could join us! X

Debrasays:

Your home looks cosy how lovely to be able to draw up near the fire and just be still with appreciation for life’s blessings and prayers and thoughts for others who are experiencing difficult times. God Bless you Ben you are a beautiful soul.Hope your friend gets well thank you for your wonderful blogs.

Margheritasays:

Beautiful

Lisasays:

A thoughtful blog Ben, and how good that the words given to the eight or nine in the church by ‘Ed’, have now gone world wide to the many readers of this blog. I am sure we all send good wishes to ‘Stephen’.

The world is in a parlous state, and I feel we must concentrate on keeping our own small spaces safe and peaceful. About three years ago I moved to a small medieval town in northern Italy where there is hardly an external sign of Christmas though all the churches have their wonderful nativity scenes. No frantic gift buying, because the emphasis is on food and church.Families are together and it’s good.Thank you Ben for today . Lisa

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