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  • Mike and Helen


This is the season of ‘no room’.

Mary had to give birth to Jesus in makeshift accommodation in the stable. In modern terms, there was no room in the hostel, so she had to make do with a tent for protection.

So the ancient story goes. It has modern resonances.

The Salvation Army has recently reported that this Christmas local councils in the UK will turn away one in four people who turn to them for help. Those who are classed as having ‘priority need’ – pregnant women, children, those with a disability, those at risk of domestic abuse – will be accommodated but the rest will have to fend for themselves. There simply is not the capacity. There’s no room.

In today’s ‘Holy Land’ there is no room either. No room in Gaza for tens of thousands because their homes have been smashed to smithereens. No room in the territory itself because several million have been forced into the very confined and supposedly ‘safe’ space of southern Gaza. No room it seems in Israel-Palestine for two peoples to live more or less peaceably together in the same space. It seems the Israeli government ultimately wants to drive out all Palestinians from the territory. No room for such ‘lowlife’.

Maybe a more personal experience for many of us is ‘no room’ in terms of ‘headspace’? Space not in territory but in our inner landscape. In mental and emotional capacity. It’s not unusual to hear people, juggling their many responsibilities, to say something like ‘I don’t have headspace for that at the moment’.

So what do we have headspace for this Christmas?

Helen was at a performance of ‘Messiah’ this week. In the interval she wondered aloud to the woman next to her whether the very engaging and seemingly passionate soloists were believers or just good actors and actresses. The woman suggested that maybe the soloists were like her. ‘I’m not a believer, ‘she said, ‘but I am while they are singing!’.

Emily Dickinson, the American poet, once wrote: 'We both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an hour, which keeps believing nimble.' She probably speaks for many of us. We might hope for ourselves that we will be honest enough to acknowledge that we move in and out of belief more often than we might care to admit.

So the important thing may be to keep our minds nimble – able to make space for ideas that are new, different, difficult maybe. Dickinson is surely right when she says that all believing, religious, social, political, must be ‘nimble’ if we are to live in a healthy and more peaceful world.

Making space for new ideas takes energy and courage and....that most rare of commodities: time! Making space for what is new and different doesn’t have to be a dramatic move. Cambridge professor, Sarah Coakley, says it is no stretch to translate early descriptions of Jesus as the ‘Gentle Space Maker’. Christmas is a time to be a space maker.

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