A Candle in the Window

24 August 2021            A Candle in the Window            Peter Millar

Words to encourage us in these times.            This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Huge green of oak, shining green of yew, tall deer, quiet does, trapped trout, sweet sloes and honey, black winged beetles, small bees, fine white gulls all sea-singing.      (A 6th century description of the Irish countryside.)

Night of Africa, mystical and bright:

“Tokowaly, uncle, do you remember the nights gone by? When my head weighed heavy on the back of your patience, or holding my hand, your hand led me by shadows and signs. The fields are flowers of glow-worms, stars hung on the bushes, on the trees and silence is everywhere. Only the scents of the jungle hum, swarms of reddish bees that overwhelm the cricket’s shrill sounds, and covered tom-tom, breathing in the distance of the night. You, Tokowaly, you listen to what cannot be heard, and you explain to me what the ancestors are saying in the liquid calm of the constellations. The bull, the scorpion, the leopard, the elephant, and the fish we know, and the white pomp of the spirits in the heavenly shell that has no end; but now comes the radiance of the goddess moon and the veils of the shadow fall. Night of Africa, my black night, mystical and bright, black and shining.     Leopold Senghor - Chants D’ombre – Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1945.

Black skins: White masks:  

The white man wants the world: he wants it for himself alone. He finds himself predestined master of the world. He enslaves it. An acquisitive relation is established between the world and him. But there exist other values that fit only my forms. Like a magician, I robbed the white man of a “certain world,” forever after lost to him and his. Somewhere beyond the objective world of farms, rubber trees and banana plantations, I had subtly brought the real world into being. Between the world and me a relationship of co-existence was established. I had discovered the primeval one. My “speaking hands” tore at the hysterical throat of the world. The white man had the anguished feeling that I was escaping from him and that I was taking something with me.  Frantz Fanon from his book, Black Skins: White Masks. Frantz Omar Fanon (1925-1962) was a French West India psychiatrist from Martinique, a former French colony in the eastern Caribbean. His works remain influential in the fields of post-colonial studies and critical theory. For me his most challenging book is – The Wretched of the Earth, which although now dated in some ways, is still a powerful understanding of the complexities of colonialism. In our times his work has taken on a new relevance as we witness new forms of human subjugation in many countries. The masks are still in place, but times are a changing, embedded in struggles which will last for the generations ahead.

Why are we all so distracted every day?    (The following words are from Oliver Burkeman’s newly published book: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. See details about the book on the web.)

*** One Friday in April 2016, as the polarising US presidential race intensified, and more than 30 armed conflicts raged around the globe, approximately 3 million people spent part of their day watching two reporters from BuzzFeed wrap rubber bands around a watermelon. Gradually over the course of 43 agonising minutes, the pressure ramped up – the psychological kind and the physical force on the melon- until the 686th rubber band was applied. What happened next won’t amaze you – the watermelon exploded, messily. The reporters high-fived, wiped the splatters from their reflective goggles, then ate some of the fruit. The broadcast ended. Earth continued its orbit around the sun.

There is nothing especially shameful about spending part of the day staring at a watermelon on the internet. But it is a vivid illustration of one central obstacle we encounter when it comes to our efforts to use time well: distraction. It is safe bet that none of those 3 million people woke up that day with the intention of watching a watermelon burst, nor when the moment arrive did they necessarily feel as if they were freely choosing to do so. The average human lifespan is short. If you live to be 80, you’ll have had about 4,000 weeks. When I first made that calculation I felt queasy. All of which helps clarify what’s so alarming about the online “attention economy”, we’ve heard so much about in recent years: it is essentially a giant machine for persuading you what to do with your attention, and therefore with your finite life, by getting you to care about things you didn’t want to care about.

This distraction goes deep and radically undermines our efforts to spend our finite time as we would like. The “attention economy” is designed to prioritise whatever is most compelling –instead of whatever’s most true or most useful – it distorts the picture of the world we carry in our heads. It influences our sense of what matters, what kinds of threats we face, how venal our political opponents are – and all these distorted judgements then influence how we allocate our offline time as well. If social media convinces you, for example, that violent crime is a far bigger problem in your area than it really is, you might find yourself walking the streets with unwarranted fear.

But the most effective way to sap distraction of its power is to stop expecting things to be otherwise – to accept that this unpleasantness is simply what it feels like to commit ourselves to the kinds of demanding and valuable tasks that force us to confront our limited control over how our lives unfold. And yet there is a sense in which accepting this lack of a solution is the solution. Suffering often subsides when we become in some ways resigned to the truth of a situation: when we may feel the agony more. The way to find peaceful absorption in a difficult project, isn’t to chase feelings of peace or absorption, but to acknowledge the inevitability of discomfort, and to turn more attention to the reality of your situation than to railing against it. There is a very down-to-earth kind of liberation in grasping that there are certain truths about being a human from which you will never be liberated. You don’t get to dictate the course of events. And the paradoxical reward for accepting reality’s constraints is that they no longer feel constraining.

And some words based on various words and hopes within the Psalms.

May my joy in You – the source of life - never be at the expense of others, and  may my neighbour’s well-being be to me as my own. May your presence in me be known not by violence and angry outbursts due to my own, often deep and unexamined insecurities. Give me that ability to be less critical - and much more forgiving. Let me take time to really hear what the other person is trying to say – even if it may be critical. May I even see a blessing in the criticism. 

Examine my heart, and remove the bits and pieces in it that prevent genuine encounters - such as inner fears and the silent determination to put myself first at any cost. Enlighten my understanding, and give me each day all that makes for calm discernment- such as even a little more patience and kindness. You know that I am often distracted by many things throughout the day, but help me also to rediscover within me these great gifts that are within every human being such as generosity  and the courage to face up to reality however hard. Help me to pause and may be -- even if it hurts! - turn away from a screen for a moment - and see all these things in my heart, such as affection and tears and tender speech as real blessings for myself and others. Let me try as often as possible not to live in a fake way, often masking my true self, and to be able to differentiate between what is good and true and that which is bland, untrue and which may lead me into pathways I have no real wish to go down.   pm

Contact Information

Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church,
18 West Mayfield,
Edinburgh,
EH9 1TQ

0131 667 1522 / 0780 801 1234

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Scottish Charity Number: SC000785

Quotations

  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.
    Origen

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.
    Wittgenstein

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.
    Plotinus

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • 'God is not the answer, God is the question.'
    Herbert McCabe