Is the church open … ?
When I went across to the church to celebrate Mass this morning (Wednesday 30th), I was surprised to see that there were three visitors sitting on the sacristy doorstep waiting for me.
My surprise was quickly replaced by curiosity: where had they come from? All manner of probable and improbable explanations tumbled into my head at the same time.
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey.”
The opening line of “The Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot came to mind. Were these three, those we sometimes call Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the sages from East, arrived in timely fashion for the celebration of the Epiphany, sitting waiting patiently for admittance to the crib? All of them would certainly have been cold, not a stitch of clothing between the three. If they had come from Eastern climes were they aware that they had come into an area under COVID-19 Tier 4 regulations?
Should I welcome them in? The words of Lord recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew also came to mind:
For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.(25:35-39)
Or is this perhaps some sort of visitation by heavenly messengers? A divine test? An encounter like Abraham’s at the Oak of Mamre?
The Lord God appeared to him at the Oak of Mamre while he was sitting by the entrance of the tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up, and there he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them … (Genesis 18:1-2)
Is the appearance of my visitors a request for hospitality?
(Mmm, reminds me of that parish visit on one occasion to the production of The Nativity at Wintershall with a female actor playing the Archangel Gabriel, yet we all know that angels, asexual and androgynous as they are rendered artistically, really only look like traditional angels if they’re male unless, of course, it’s a school nativity performance that we’re talking about. Anyway …)
Classically the Three Graces (Charites or Gratiae), charm, beauty and creativity, were depicted in female form, the goddesses Euphrosyne, Thalia and Aglaia. Even the three theological graces of faith, hope and charity, when rendered artistically are usually female. Might these three male visitors also represent virtues or graces?
What might be three masculine graces? Am I going down the rabbit-hole of inappropriate gender attributes and the old world view of stereotypes: courage, strength, virility? Another picture comes to mind, an up-turning of expectation in the manner of the parables of Jesus, “The Three Graces” by Mike Chapman, the Dorchester based sculptor and artist, who describes genesis of this painting as his fascination with contradiction.
But why do I first think of liturgical, spiritual or biblical explanations?
What day is it today? The sixth day of Christmas. So, I would expect to find not three male visitors at my threshold but six geese a-laying. But then again, sitting wearily on the doorstep, naked, and one poor fellow of the three with his legs on back to front, steaming in the warming sunshine as the frost begins to melt, these three may have stopped, exhausted from their leaping, piping or drumming activities if they are part of the dectet, hendectet or duodectet rehearsing for the tenth, eleventh or twelfth days of Christmas. These three visitors look like military types so maybe they are martial musicians, pipers or drummers, temporarily separated from their confreres. Who knows?
When I had finished tidying up after Mass they were still there, sitting patiently, but now enjoying the increasing warmth of the morning sunshine in that sheltered spot. Should I move them to the crib? Should I take them indoors? Or would moving them be tantamount to that misplaced compassion often shown to fallen fledglings, thinking them abandoned and picking them up when they are in fact still being cared for by their parents where they have fallen?
Is this just a visit? Or have they come to stay? Somewhere in my loft, in a very small, child-sized suitcase, I know there are two more, and kin to these three on my doorstep. Should I find some of their spare clothes to dress the visitors? Should I bring the visitors in and introduce them to the others?
Such weighty decisions are best dealt with after a fortifying cup of coffee and a meditatively munched digestive biscuit or two.
It really is such a responsibility …