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Hallo again to all.Asparagus

Okay, we'll confess it: we're addicted to sunlight. This past January — now mercifully over — was the coldest, greyest, and gloomiest we remember. We've never envied our antipodean friends more. When rare shafts of sunlight have made it through our windows, we've often stopped what we were doing just to stand still in the beams or closed our eyes to feel the warmth whilst working at our desk. An addiction indeed.

If there is one quality that God must have, surely it's light. From Christ as the light of the world, whom darkness could not overcome, to the light that enlightens the nations, it is a sure theological winner. Darkness, on the other hand, is usually a Bad Thing in the Christian tradition; examples are almost too numerous to mention. So it's theologically appropriate to be a little cranky after days of drabness and briskly more cheerful after a bit of sun; we can proof-text it easily. Don't ask me to give up my love of light: it says right here [finger jabbing Book] in John 1 that it's a metaphor, an image of Christ.

But still, there it is: an image. And images, no matter how scripturally sound, can confine our thinking of God. Charles Williams often used a phrase of unknown origin 'This also is Thou, Neither is this Thou', to suggest the paradox to which Christians must hold.

The phrase contrasts the two great ways of the Christian life — the Via Positiva and the Via Negativa — and Williams saw the temptation of concluding that one was more Godly, somehow 'better' than the other. The way of the incarnation (perhaps a good shorthand for the Via Positiva) delights in the tangibility, touchability, and sensuousness of this world, finding God most clearly in a life lived more abundantly. The Via Negativa (the way of omission, perhaps) finds God most clearly in the space and emptiness between worldly things; in silence, in deep mystical prayer, in a spareness often associated with religious orders. Powdered lapis lazuli

In our youth, we found the Via Negativa compelling: it seemed a more pronounced, more definable way of being Christian. Whether by cross or habit, these were conscious symbols of setting aside earthly things, of being noticeably 'Christian'. Living in and amongst those things, as most of us do, we're a kind of camouflaged Christians. Do you recall the old quip 'If being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?'? You there in that business suit! Up against the wall! Living as a Christian seemed so much easier in a religious order, we reasoned; a conclusion we slowly came to realise was facile. The Via Negativa brings with it complex burdens and difficult demands — and it is a way that most of us are not called to choose.

So here we are, clomping in our pilgrimage along the old three-dimensional, tangible, incarnational path. We pick our way through the things of this world, from lapis lazuli to laptops, from digital cameras to damask altar cloths. Whilst delighting in them, they are no more than images and signs of God's great abundance. 'This also is Thou, Neither is this Thou'. As Charles Williams noted about the great ascetic St John of the Cross: 'Even he, towards the end, was encouraged to remember he liked asparagus; our Lord the Spirit is reluctant to allow either of the two great Ways to flourish without some courtesy to the other'.

So on February 2nd, the feast of Candlemas, we'll rejoice in whatever small bit of sunlight there may be. And in the evening, we shall light candles and chant with old Simeon about the light that enlightens, and remember that 'The darkness and the light to thee are both alike'. Phos hilaron!

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 1 February 2004

A thin blue line
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