Winter is a time for telling tales, a time for listening to stories. I’ve been playing catch-up recently. A few months ago I bought the DVD of the Disney film ‘Frozen’. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I’d seen the array of school bags, thermos flasks, games, cards, books, pencil cases, and costumes, plus much, much more that the shops were all selling and people had told me how lovely the film was. But after putting it into my shopping trolley I hadn’t got round to putting the disc into the player and sitting down and watching it. So I did.
You know, I thought it was lovely. But I knew I would. It’s no secret that I’m an old romantic, that I love a musical and a good cry. So it had all the ingredients that I like. But it had something else as well. If you were to do an exegesis on the film you would discover, like ‘Q’ in the background of the gospels, that the Hans Christian Andersen story of ‘The Snow Queen’ was one of the inspirations for ‘Frozen’. Ok, so there’s no talking snowman in Andersen’s story but the hearts are frozen by the touch of the Snow Queen.
Like many story tellers, like Dickens who was writing at a similar time, Andersen reflected on the social issues of the day, examined contemporary morality and through his stories continues to make us think about deeper things. One of my favourite short stories that he tells is of ‘The Little Match Girl’. This week I’m going next door to the Deanery into the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre to see their production of Match Girl and some happier stories. The truth is that this little story about this little girl is heart rending on the page and, I’m sure, on the stage.
It’s the story of a poverty stricken family, of a little girl who will be beaten by her father if she goes back home without selling the little bundle of matches she has carried into the winter street in her apron to sell. Andersen writes
In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money.
It’s a tragic story and at the end the child is found
‘frozen to death on the last evening of the old year.’
Andersen was reflecting on the levels of child poverty in his own day in his own society and through this story, aimed at children, will have touched the hearts of the adults reading it to them as they tucked their more middle class and fortunate children in bed beneath a fluffy eiderdown.
This weekend we celebrated at Southwark Cathedral the tenth anniversary of the ROBES Project. This is a cold weather shelter run by churches of all denominations in the north Southwark and north Lambeth areas. It aims to reach out to those without a home who with just a little support and security can find their way back into mainstream society, back into accommodation and back into work. It is a very successful project and over the years many people, men and women, have been helped off the streets and back into a more stable, safer life. I have been pleased to have played a small part in that by sleeping out each year to raise money for the project. After the sleep-out last November we have raised almost £100k and the money is still coming in.
But it is a sad indictment of our society that a story published back in 1845 in Denmark is still of relevance today. There are still people frozen on our streets and there are still hearts frozen to the needs of the homeless.
Jesus identifies himself with those frozen out of home and out of society when he says
‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Matthew 8.20)
Recently Manchester Council agreed to put a statue called ‘Homeless Jesus’ designed by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor, into their public space. It shows Jesus on a bench, asleep. It’s the Jesus who challenges each of us in Matthew 25 with those arresting words
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
The truth is it’s not just the homeless who are frozen, it is those of us who simply walk by the little Match Girl and never notice.
Spirit of God,
thaw my cold heart
with your divine flame,
that I may bring your warmth
to those who are frozen.