Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Snuffing out the candles

 We are in the season of Epiphany. Today I took down the (moulting) tree, put the decorations back in the loft, looked out at the rain, noted that the gloom of early morning had moved imperceptibly into the gloom of early evening, and reflected. I reflected on the past fortnight or so, in which the raging energy brought on by the pronouncement of the Bishops (read back - the links are all there) had been dissipated in singing beautiful music and soothed by the magic of Christmas.

And I have been consolidating something I've known for a long time. It's a long time since I stopped thinking that the gospel accounts of the Nativity are literal truth, half a century or more since I realised that in fact the gospels are full of what a student of literature recognises as the hallmarks of a fictional account. (Think of all that direct speech, for starters). And over the years I've heard sermons that have, in their way, dealt with that - pointed out relevance, invited us to think. And I've thought.

Now, as the rain batters on my study window, I can see clearly what it does, all this magic. I don't care that the stories of the shepherds, the angels, the Magi (and Eliot's wonderful poem about them) - I don't care that they can't possibly be true in the way that it's true that I was born in Glasgow. I don't want them changed in any way, for they are perfect. They are perfect poems that contain a truth that inspires, and they are best absorbed as poems, enhanced by art and music and beauty.

And what does this truth inspire me to? I suppose in one way you could say that it inspired me to become a damned nuisance. It certainly knocked me off a comfortable path and set me climbing the spiritual equivalent of the Aonach Eagach, on a ridge walk that I'm still clambering along more than forty years later. It's exciting, it's bound only by trust and love and balance, and that's how I want it to remain.

What does not inspire is a set of rules. Dogma and authoritarianism aren't very thrilling either. Dry politicking within ecclesiastical structures leaves me cold, and people - men, usually - telling me what can and cannot be done because of history and prejudice will tend to set me off on yet another mountain, to sustain the metaphor.

So what about all the beauty and mystery and the stories that tell us of Love incarnate and inspire us to love justice and truth and our neighbours as ourselves? I can't imagine that our bishops, for example, haven't had a bit of that for themselves this Christmas. None of them, after all, is as old as I am - surely they're not blasé about the mysteries they dispense? Does none of it do something to rekindle the fire that, presumably, used to burn in them?

Because in the end, that 's what it does, this season we've just had. It rekindles a fire. Dangerous element, fire - but warming and wonderful. Gives you courage. Gives you passion. I have heard at least one of our bishops preach with passion - but a new image has just presented itself to me, and it seems horribly apt.

Bishop's mitre as candle snuffer.

Icon, anyone?


  1. Your candle snuffer image will stay with me as a horrible warning.

    I'm another who holds on increasinly lightly to dogma and rules, but always passionately to the truth behind and within the stories.

  2. Do you think we'd have been different if we'd become bishops? ;)

  3. Very nicely put altgether, and so polite when I can see the cause for other, I enjoyed this and the images. The Mitres have snuffed out what ever is under them. And yes most definately!

  4. Alexander, I feel sure you could create a cartoon of my final image...