Wednesday, December 04, 2013

in the guise of a small child: an Advent spirituality

I’ve been offered a new way of engaging Christ – one that seems strangely relevant in this Advent Season. In the 12th century, an English mystic, Christina of Markyate, wrote of her experience of the divine:

an unheard-of-grace. For in the guise of a small child [Jesus] came to the arms of his sorely tried spouse and remained with her a whole day, not only being felt but also seen.

The experience can be found in The Life of Christina of Markyate (Oxford World’s Classics). It is fascinating, for God in Christ is encountered not as a baby (at Christmas), nor as an adult (in the gospels), but as a small child.

The experience was a turning point for Christina. There is more evidence of compassion, more active care for friends, more concern for the church, more peace in prayer. There is a new joy evident, a greater depth of celebration of Christmas. (According to Grace Jantzen, “The womb and the tomb,” in Wounds that Heal – Theology, Imagination and Health, edited by Jonathan Baxter, SPCK, 2007, 176)

It opened up some new imaginative space in prayer for me. What might I experience if Christ came to me, today, as a small child. What “Christology” might I encounter? I identified four things – simplicity, mindfulness, play, surrender. I realise that these are a form of reader response – that I am most likely bringing my (idealised) experiences of small children – to the encounter. But it offered a new sense for me of engaging with God. It made fresh sense of the Incarnation, that God as fully human can relate to all of life. It made me realise again the gift that is all-age, inter-generational worship, that I can encounter God in the actions, questions and questions of a child.

I also reflected on what might be the opposites of simplicity, mindfulness, play, surrender. I identified complexity, history, rationalism, suspicion. I was reminded of the sour and corrosive power of these behaviours – often the domain of adults, and perhaps adults who are academics. These became for me moments of confession, as I reflected on my last 24 hours, the email I send and receive, the conversations I have.

“In the guise of a small child”, is proving a generative Advent spirituality.

Posted by steve at 08:18 AM


  1. I liked your reflection on Christina of Markyate. St Nicholas saw the Christ child in every child, and like the Magi, wanted to give the Christ Child a gift, so gave gifts to children.

    Comment by Judyth Roberts — December 5, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

  2. I’ve only just come across this reflection but it’s very helpful. Thank you. As the minisiter of the Methodist Church in Markyate for a number of years I found it particularly significant. Markyate is a village about ten miles north of St Albans in the UK and on the main Watling Street Roman road. I’ve passed it on to my ministerial colleagues who are there now. I though you might like to know that your reflection gone ‘full circle’
    Have a blessed Christmas.
    John Fellows

    Comment by John Fellows — December 25, 2013 @ 2:15 am

  3. That’s great John.

    The full circle is even more wonderful – we stayed in Cuddesdon, Oxford and so probably drove through Marykate – and went to an Anglican church on Christmas Eve that could have been this very church!


    Comment by steve taylor — January 3, 2014 @ 11:28 am

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