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andrew rumsey
strangely warmed
By Andrew Rumsey
More strange warmings here
The open door
December 2008

It is not what you say that counts, but how you say it. This simple but vital life lesson is soon learned by people who have to say difficult things for a living, and I have always admired those who deftly apply what is sometimes called the "velvet fist" – the damning blow that is dealt with such smoothness and grace that those on the receiving end feel nothing but a sense of cowed gratitude.

With a certain pride I have observed that this is a gift peculiarly bestowed upon evangelical clergy. I always remember the colleague who, presented in a staff meeting with a minor blunder by one of his team, responded, "Could I encourage you
never to do that again?" "Encourage" is of course the key word here, for, as long as you do so encouragingly, you can say just about anything.

My favourite example features the incumbent of a certain West London church, who effortlessly sacked one of his staff with the words, "We want to release you into all that God has in store". Isn't that priceless? You can imagine the poor sap shaking his vicar warmly by the hand, and wandering off down the high street beaming vacantly until he realises he has just been done up like a Christmas turkey.

Which brings me to the festive purpose of all this – namely, to introduce my customary guided meditation for Advent, whose delivery stands or falls by the encouraging manner in which it is delivered. The main aim is to take a congregation of people on the kind of imaginary journey that allows them to see their everyday world afresh, as if they were a group of well-meaning aliens landing in Budgens. Feel free to dispense with this script if you feel an actual trip with them to Budgens will achieve a similar effect.

Good evening and welcome to our meditation for Advent, the season of...
waiting. (Pause for a good 10 seconds here and ensure the lights are turned down ridiculously low). You may notice that it's become quite dark in here. That's because, theologically speaking, it makes things... feel sort of spiritual. Remember that in Celtic spirituality, the dark represents... the night time, which is symbolised by a great owl. The night owl. In the dark, let us wait for the night owl to come...

How do you think we should make him arrive? You may wish to stay quiet, or, alternatively, you might like to make a noise like a tiny woodland animal, remembering that owls are birds of prey and will always come when they hear a mouse, or a vole... Squeak with me, if you like... (
pause here to allow participants to squeak aloud – you may need to start them off). Is the night owl here yet? Let's wait a little longer... (feel free to soak up several minutes in this fashion if you've space to fill).

What... what will you feel first when the night owl comes, do you think? His talons? His powerful beak? The... insane flapping of his great wings? And how does that make you feel? Some of you might want to run away, which is understandable. But remember, the owl's eyesight is perfect – even in the dark – and he
will find you.

And so, with the night owl having smothered us in his feathery blackness, I want you to picture yourself at a door – an
open door. How saddening it is to find doors which are closed, locked up – existing only to keep others out. Open doors allow everyone in – they invite strangers into our home, free to come and go as they please, to help themselves to all that we have to offer. Are all your doors open tonight? I do hope so (there may be some slight scuffling at this point as a few participants make their way outside to check their cars etc – all quite natural).

Tonight we are standing in the
open door of a supermarket. Waiting, quite still, in the doorway, what is the first thing to catch your attention? Is it the busy murmur of conversation or the vibrant commerce? Is it, perhaps, the fact that you are blocking the entrance for others trying to come in? So often the world wants to carry us forward in its relentless pace, wants us to all walk the same way, never pausing to notice everything that surrounds us. But that is not our way – this is Advent, and we are called to stop and wait, however hard the world may find it.

When you are ready, and not before, just allow the pressure of bodies behind – all of whom have now discovered the meaning of waiting – to propel you into the shop, until you arrive at the dairy produce. Look around you:
what a lot of margarine there is – a quite overwhelming variety of colour and size. Carefully, you might like to lift the lid of one of the tubs and slide your fingers inside, feeling its texture – bringing it to your face to smell, and maybe taste. If you like, gently smear some of the margarine around your cheeks and leave it there... How strange that so few others are taking the time to do the same thing. What does it feel like to be so different?

You may wish to try this with some of the other produce that surrounds you in this place. In the quiet, I'm going to leave some space for you to choose which areas of the supermarket you want to discover (
it may be helpful to prompt people by mentioning a few aisles out loud – pickles and spreads... wet fish... and so on).

And now, having touched and tasted all there is in store, you slowly move towards the exit. Regrettably, though perhaps inevitably, this is now a
closed door, and you learn that Security has been called. Security. What a sad and empty word that is – for who or what can be secure when one is completely open? Insecurity is surely what these poor people need – and what you can offer them, as they take you by the arm...
strangely warmed
Strangely Warmed by Andrew Rumsey is now available as a book.
also see
crow's nest
Stephen Tomkins' regular column of tales of religious lunacy from the far reaches of the Net
hubris 2
Mark Howe's regular rant about Internet culture
loose canons
Also by Stephen Tomkins... a regular round-up of the saints of yore who were one wafer short of a full communion
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