February 2020 - Rector’s Ramblings

‘In the midst of darkness, light persists’  (Mahatma Gandhi) 

Tea light candles lit for prayerA few weeks before I wrote this item, we experienced the shortest day of the year: that is, the day on which the sun shone above the horizon for the shortest period. Even now, the days are perceptively lengthening again. Yet, in the meantime, a good many people find the darker days a problem. For some, their morale is markedly lower, their spirits saddened. It is an observable, and not especially surprising, experience for many of us.  

This even has a name: appropriately enough, ‘SAD’: which stands for ‘seasonal affective disorder’ … It is a uncomfortable reality in many lives, and much to be borne in mind in our dealings with one another.

I want to reflect, however, that we do an injustice, at other times, to build into our lives an uncritical favouring of light over darkness. It is easily done in churches, as we recall Jesus’s own declaration ‘I am the Light of the World’; and in the season following Christmas when we celebrate that a light has come into the world. It is common to berate the darkness, but there is blessing to be found there, too; and not only in the light that we extol.

Darkness and light, seemingly such polar opposities, can nevertheless each be a bearer of a spiritual moment to us.

To take the light first: it does frequently bring comfort, understanding, discernment, capacity to walk safely, and even (old fashioned word, this) ‘propriety’. However, darkness, has its own blessing: furthering intimacy, quietness, contemplation, and the much-underestimated wonder of ‘mystery’.

People enter our churches in greater numbers around Christmas. Is it because they offer ‘light’ in a darkened period of the year?  Or is because they do their job for us more powerfully when they offer ‘darkness’, assuaged by just a gentle light? Candlelight is evocative. Yet candlelight is gentle.

A bright and dazzling light may help us see better, but it so easily dominates and forces us into submission. There is little sublety within the neon blaze. Sheer blackness can be a source of terror and distress. But a single candle may mediate the conversation between the darkness and the light, in a way that preserves the integrity and blessing of each alike.

On New Year’s Day, around a quarter to four in the afternoon, I entered the church of St Thomas in Winchelsea (besides Rye on the furthest reaches of the Diocese and of the dual-county of Sussex). The sky outside was darkening in the midwinter, but still was light enough to shine through a beautiful array of stained glass windows into the church.  

The light through these windows shimmered; and they spoke eloquently to the beholder like sparkling jewels, predominantly blue. There were two elegant Christmas trees within the church, either side of the altar: each lit tastefully with a single-colour array of electric lights. However, there was no further light within the church, other than from within the peaceful crib scene. The light from outside did more than enough for us, in bringing subtle differentiated colour from the glass fragments to bear upon an exquisitely presented place of worship.

The interior of the church was dark, and yet the appearance was one beautified by light.  Sufficient light shone, and yet the accompanying drakness was not demonised. Light and dark were in kind syncopation; they interpreted each other, and for the better. Winchelsea presented itself as one of the more beautiful churches I have had the delight to visit.

So, do not idolise the light; and do not disdain the dark; but allow the two to dance in tandem. Be satisfied with seeing, but not to excess; be courteous to the mystery, and do not demand its explanation.

Perhaps in God, this deep counterplay is most helpfully to be discovered.    

‘Even the darkness hideth not from thee,

But the night shineth as the day:

The darkness and the light are both alike to thee’.  (Psalm 139:  American Standard Version)

 

With kind wishes for the year ahead.

Revd Andrew Doye, Rector


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