PARISH pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham end
in an emotive blaze of glory. The high altar is awash with candles,
as the priest blesses the congregation with the holy sacrament,
amidst the ringing of bells. It is a spiritually uplifting,
Christ-filled way to start the journey homewards. So, too, the
candles in our churches sparkle with hope. They are a reminder that
not only is the light of Christ with us during the dark winter
days, but that soon will come the burgeoning time of spring, when
the world will awaken to renewal. "All creation is gifted with the
ecstasy of God's light," as Hildegard of Bingen puts it.
There is a powerful corollary to this, and it is found in the
uncompromising words of the Sermon on the Mount: "You are the light
of the world." This really takes our breath away. The Johannine
claim that God is the inextinguishable light is one thing but, if
we weak, fallible, frightened humans are codisplayers of the light
of the world, we need to do some hard thinking.
Being the light of the world is incompatible with a passive
going along with what is, a resigned negativity that shrugs its
shoulders at passing events. Opting out, being indifferent, or
withdrawing into the security of a comfortable existence is not the
way of Christ. The gospel demands that we make a dynamic, prayerful
response to all the rawness that life throws at us.
Each moment presents us with a multitude of choices,
considerations, and potential courses of action. If our neighbour
is sick, we can ignore the problem, ring the Vicar, make a trip to
the hospital, or offer to help with the vacuum cleaning. To put it
bluntly, what we choose literally shapes the world. O'Shaughnessy's
words ring true: "We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of
This is the point at which all those unnerving doubts intrude.
Life has no purpose. Why bother? The philosopher and mathematician
Alfred North Whitehead injects a gleam of hope into this
uncertainty. He incorporates the divine into the equation: "God is
the poet of the world with tender patience leading it."
That throws an entirely different slant on it all. We are not
lone forgers of the world. The presence of the Eternal God is with
us on the crowded roads of the temporal. That is a profound
encouragement and relief.
The Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, went a step further. He
wrote that the entire cosmic, evolutionary process was progressing,
slowly and painfully, forward towards a "Christogenesis", an omega
point at the end of time, when the world would have been
transformed into God's Kingdom.
This has deep implications for human behaviour. Every
destructive, inhumane, and selfish act retards that onward-going
process. Conversely, we have the potential to create beauty, love,
hope, forgiveness, and kindness; indeed, all of St Paul's fruits of
There is a tendency to think that our efforts are so trivial as
to make no difference. My modest cheque will not even dent the
Ebola-virus crisis. World starvation lies far outside my remit. I
am helpless to transform the pattern of the world. That is to cut
out the enormous power of prayer, which lies at the centre of all
faiths. Positive thoughts and words can realign and enrich the
unfolding of life.
If you doubt that, turn for a moment to quantum physics, which
hints that everything is interconnected, and that the fluttering of
a butterfly's wings in North Yorkshire can affect events in South
America. Or think of the Russian dissident poet Irina
Ratushinskaya, who was imprisoned in the dreaded small zone for
women political prisoners. She felt the prayers of her fellow,
worldwide Christians, and survived because of them. Crouched in a
freezing isolation cell in the dead of winter, fearful and
sleepless, she sensed a ray of warmth, an effusion of love, and her
thankful words were:
Someone is thinking of me now,
Petitioning the Lord for me.
(Pencil Letter, Bloodaxe, 1988)
The flickering candles on our altars are a reassurance that
creation contains the seeds of a future Kingdom of Christ, and that
we, in co-operation with God, are called to build it. As Teilhard
de Chardin says, "Let us then for love of our Creation and of the
universe throw ourselves fearlessly into the crucible of the world
We, as a Church, need to get on with it.
The Revd David Bryant is a retired priest, living in