This was not an empty manger

The Son of Man had no place to lay his head, says Sister Maria. And there are millions of families currently fleeing present-day Herods.

Frost curls the carpark. An urban fox crosses the A426. It is six in the morning and we lift down the beautiful, thatched Itambi-style stable, brought from Malawi by the priest who once lived in one of the three unused diocesan dwellings in which our sisters are staying whilst our monastery is being rebuilt.


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Sister Maria is a Poor Clare Colletine

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We open the box inside the stable – it contains a set of ersatz Victorian bath taps…! Stuck in the reeds on the stable floor is the inevitable lost sheep.


In 1224 Francis of Assisi came home from visiting Bethlehem through the kindness of a Moslem friend.


Francis had failed to bring peace on earth. He had appealed successfully to Al Kamal, the leader of the Islamic armies – but the Christian leaders would not accept a truce. Instead they fought - and in the end they lost.

If Francis could not bring peace to those who were far off he wanted to bring it to those who were near. So he went to the steep hillside village of Greccio, where people were too poor to afford war - and created a living crib with a live ox and ass by the altar.

We get the last box out of the cupboard. Under a pile of tinsel is an old cloth and from it emerges an ebony shepherd, an ox and an exquisite set of figures follow. We put the kneeling Mother of God and the royal Child on the window ledge, shining in the light of the Esso station opposite.


An unexpected eternity breaks into time. The urban fox – a vixen – crosses the car park and pauses hopefully on three paws. I wonder if she has young over on the wasteland. The vixen looks over her shoulder, detects a human approaching, and unhurriedly slips away.


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The human seems more anxious to be unseen than the fox. He or she puts two loaves of bread on the doorstep and also glides off. One of our sisters goes out and collects this gift in time.


We sisters have been moved out by the rebuilding of our monastery, but in this silent dawn there are eighty-two million people displaced by war, terrorism and disasters. Twenty-four million of these are refugees, migrants seeking a home where a world of Herods cannot take their children or their peace away.


There is no room in the inn, and not enough bread on the doorstep for them. Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head, writes St Matthew (8:20).


I wonder how it felt for the Incarnate Word to come to human birth. Did he, too, having not ceased from exploration, arrive where he started and know the place for the first time? Well, not the first time.

• Colette’s Well is one of the three temporary dwellings of the Nottingham Poor Clare Colettines, formerly of Ty Mam Duw.