Thursday, 14 October 2010


".....And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed......"

The last few days have felt appreciably cooler; it will soon be time to dig out the overcoats from the wardrobe, perhaps along with a heavier-weight cassock.
In the country, weather is still important to us, not just being a matter of wet pavements and remembering to carry an umbrella between buildings. But it's also the time of year for our local amateur weather forecasters to come out of the woodwork and start predicting another hard winter. They don't have any more of a clue about our long term weather prospects than do the professional forecasters of the Met Office, but it's an opportunity to chat about a favourite British preoccupation and, statistically, they have to be right some of the time!
This used to be my favourite time of year. Not now - I prefer the spring -  perhaps because I find  it's harder to escape that rather depressing thought that from mid October onwards we are all heading into the dark and the cold of the year's end. Having said that, liturgically it still is a favourite time of year, with the great celebrations of the Communion of Saints, All Saints and All Souls, coming up at the very beginning of November. This is a time, as the Celtic pagans undoubtedly felt, where we sense the reality of the invisible world and of the life of eternity surrounding us as the natural world heads towards the darkness of winter.

For the Jacobean State, the 'Gunpowder Plot' of 1605 was both a political and cultural gift, something which lead to the replacement of the (by then, by most people, dimly remembered) celebrations of the Saints and masses for the departed with something which is, at least for us, as seasonally evocative, if not as gently compassionate. Although now I can't help but reflect on the feelings of the not-insignificant number (recent scholarship suggests far more than was once thought) of adherents of the old religion who must have seen those fires of celebration and the effigies burned upon them as a threat aimed menacingly at them and everything they held dear.
This is something which has been erased from the collective memory of our country and of our church which, only relatively recently in historical terms, has reinvented itself as an body which values tolerance and breadth of religious opinion. And now its governing synodical process, taking a leading role in the unfolding tragedy of contemporary Anglicanism, shows definite signs of wanting in the name of equality and inclusion to reduce the range of its 'comprehensiveness' and significantly narrow its breadth of view.

So for many reasons, despite affectionate childhood memories, I don't regret the decline in popularity of November 5th's Bonfire Night. I suspect what has destroyed it are those large and impeccably organised and sanitised,  ultra-safe civic firework displays;  the spontaneity has gone, a casualty of the current health and safety industry. Yet  it's a huge debasement of our culture even for this double-edged  historical commemoration to be eclipsed by the faux-pagan, commercial, supermarket-based celebration of plastic bats and pumpkins of Hallowe'en. In itself  'Hallowe'en'  may be fairly innocuous, but even what we may think is harmless fun may contribute to the brutalising of our culture and to the kind of neo-pagan 'background noise' which is more and more a part of our society.
Perhaps we should take the advice of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to re-Christianise the Eve of All Saints and organise alternative activities and opportunities for people to worship (including encouraging children to dress up as Saints rather than ghosts, vampires and demons - Link).  It won't compete, more's the pity, with the large and extremely tacky commercial displays like the one in our local Tesco, but may at least provide an alternative for those who have eyes to see.

So let's look ahead a couple of weeks. This is the ending of a sermon by Austin Farrer ('A share in the Family')

"Where Jesus is, there is the Communion of Saints: his life never lives, his action never acts, alone: he gives his saints everywhere a part in all of it. Jesus gathered his disciples round him in Gethsemane to pray with him, and they fell asleep. Unsleeping, his saints pray with him in glory, where their whole life becomes a prayer; a holy desire, strong and efficacious, for the fulfilment of Christ's redemption, and the accomplishment of his kingdom; a perfect union of heart and mind with the society of love, of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three persons in one God."

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