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Burning Words

02 November 2006


Simon Parke follows the light

JUST as sure as Bill Posters will be prosecuted, Chris Tingle will once again this year do that interesting service with the oranges, at which it has become traditional for money to be raised for the kids, and for the kids present to scald their hair or burn their hands in the moving, if dangerous, closing candle-lit procession.

Apart from the parishioner who wondered why the largely absent Chris Tingle should suddenly appear every year around Advent, and lead a service named after him (a privilege not granted to many), there was the other parishioner who felt that health and safety should play a much more prominent part in the proceedings. Children should not be carrying any candles that were lit complained the parishioner (as if you would want to carry any other sort).

It was fortunate for the enslaved Israelites — and for the Jewish salvation narrative as a whole — that this same parishioner was not around in Egypt in 1300 BC to extinguish the hazardous burning bush before the epiphany granted there to Moses. It would have been the safe thing to do, but would also have denied the great unfolding.

Glory, by its very nature, is dangerous, and it takes a lifetime to learn how to submit to its wonder. This is why it is best to start young, with our little hands around a burning orange.

Obviously, the fragile-shelled selves of the insecure will never experience glory. So much of their inner energy is spent keeping things boxed in and pressed down, that the rumour of a glory unboxed and running over is a threat.

They cope easily, however, with glory in scripture, because it is trapped there: vicarious, ancient, and suffocated by words. On their way to work every morning, there is more of the careful same: the careful journey, and then the careful day. Playing safe, avoiding upset, keeping all things boxed and pressed well down is their way of doing things.
 Finding themselves driving towards the gate of glory, they would probably turn off the road, consult the map, and seek, for safety’s sake, an alternative route. It all makes sense, but it doesn’t make life.

For the rest of us, Chris Tingle will do his usual stunt with the fruit. We’ll hold the orange world in our hands, just as Julian of Norwich once held a hazelnut, and pin the red ribbon of God’s love around it.

We will celebrate the four seasons with fruit on sticks, place the Christ- light deep within the fruit, and keep a flickering silence.

It is a glory worth advertising locally. But don’t use Bill Posters — he will almost certainly be prosecuted.

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