In 1513, Giovanni da Fiesole wrote to his friend La Contessa Allagia Aldobrandeschi:
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not already; but there is much, very much, which though I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this precious little instant. Take peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and courage in the darkness could we but see it; and to see, we have only to look.
Life is so generous a giver; but we, judging its gifts by their coverings, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love, and wisdom, and power. Welcome it, greet it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts. Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Take courage, then, to claim it, that is al!! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims wending through unknown country our way home.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greeting, but with profound esteem now and for ever.
The day breaks and the shadows flee away.
It’s Christmas now, but not if you are watching this on Dave (or reading it when it is published some four weeks after I have written it!). But that does not matter. The letter is beautiful and it’s not just for Christmas.
Our country and much of our world is going through dark times. When I was born, my parents could remember only a few years before the Depression. I never heard them refer to it once in my whole life. Because a couple of years after I was born, they were thrust into the Second World War and, anyway, my father (and family) had been posted to India, where we lived for a few years. Back in England, in the years after the War, times were very tough for my parents and it was not until the late 60s that they became in some sense ‘comfortable’. But then my father died and my mother had quite a tough widowhood until she died only a couple of years ago. My parents remembered only the recent difficulties, because that was all they could usefully and helpfully handle. And previous difficulties were no longer particularly relevant. I think that most of the time, they were too tired to look ahead with eager anticipation.
Our dark days now are the opportunities for the future, not the reward for the past (unless you want to waste your time thinking and doing that). We all know the saying ‘today is the first day of the rest of my life’. It may be trite but, of course, it is true. It is too late to live yesterday, other than in pleasant remembrance. If you do not believe in a God at all, then it matters not what you did yesterday, so long as you do the best for yourself from today. If you believe in an angry God, then may he help you because I can’t. But if you believe in a loving, forgiving God, as I do, then today is the most important day, not just the first day, of the rest of my life – because I can use it to establish a new pattern of living.
So my New Year Resolution is to ‘take heaven’, to ‘take peace’, to ‘take courage’ and to try my best to enjoy the ‘unknown country on my way home’.