A Candle in the Window - 29 July 2020

A Candle in the Window - 29 July 2020

Peter Millar

Words to encourage us in tough times

Earth’s Music:

Great Spirit, give us hearts to understand, never to take

From creation’s beauty more than we can give.

Never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed.                                                            

Never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth’s beauty,

Nor to take from her what we cannot use.

Give us hearts to understand that to destroy earth’s music is to create confusion. That to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty.

That to callously pollute her fragrance is to make a house of stench.

That as we care for her – she will care for us.

(These words are from a United Nations programme on the environment.)

The golden-ringed dragonfly    (A beautiful reflection by John Gilbey in Wales)

My route home was badly overgrown and I made slow progress looking down at the rocky, uneven ground and concentrating on a good foothold. Bees and small moths swirled up from around the long grass and wild flowers, then something much bigger blundered away from under my feet. As it rose above the tangled grasses, the wingbeats of this golden-ringed dragonfly were clearly audible as a deep chitinous drone, the frequency modulating as it repeatedly changed direction. I watched it fly further up the path, expecting it to veer away and be lost to view, but instead it settled again on a tall stem.

Dramatically marked with contrasting bands of yellow and black, the slender body was as long as my middle finger and, as the stem moved in the breeze, the complex structure of the wing surface created transient patches of iridescence. Dragonflies have a family history reaching back hundreds of millions of years, with origins almost as distant as the ancient Silurian rocks I was standing on. The ancestors that flew in the rich carboniferous atmosphere must have been an especially impressive sight, with fossil evidence showing a wingspan the length of my arm – the apex aerial predators of their day. Then the breeze blew the stem into my shadow and, alarmed by the sudden change of light, the dragonfly started upwards from its perch. Caught by the rising wind, it whirred away across the meadows toward the dark, still oxbow lakes that mark the meandering former courses of my local river. (Note: the adjective ’chitinous’ comes from the noun ‘chitin’ which is a polysaccharide that is the principal component of the exoskeletons of anthropods and of the bodies of fungi.)

Life’s many unfinished symphonies

Since I was diagnosed with an incurable cancer in January of 2016, I have thought in a new way about the many unfinished symphonies in my own life. In one of my earlier books, ‘Our Hearts Still Sing’ I included these words by Ronald Rolheiser which come from his book ‘Finding Spirituality’.

“When we fail to mourn properly our incomplete lives, then this incompleteness becomes a gnawing restlessness, a bitter centre that robs our lives of delight. Because we do not mourn, we demand that someone or something - a marriage partner, a sexual partner, an ideal family, having children, an achievement, a vocational goal or a job – take all of our loneliness away. That of course, is an unreal expectation which invariable leads to bitterness and disappointment. In this life there is no finished symphony. We are built for eternity. Because of that we will, this side of eternity, always be to some extent lonely, restless, incomplete.”

It took me several years to take on board in a meaningful way that many of life’s symphonies remain incomplete. Lesslie Newbigin a former bishop in the Diocese of Madras in South India where Dorothy and I worked for many years, called his autobiography ‘Unfinished Agenda’ – words which eloquently  capture this truth. Many of our hopes and dreams will never come to fruition, which does not mean we should not have them. Even as I near the end of my own life I still have more than a handful of hopes! We all do – even if one of our hopes may be for a relatively pain-free death.

It is good and it is healing that we should mourn some of these unfinished agendas, while at the same time celebrating what we have accomplished. I know that for many people this is a hard task as deep inside they feel they have achieved very little. Yet paradoxically as we mourn all that we have not done in this life, we may also discover that we reappraise the things we did do.  Becoming aware of what we have left incomplete may help us to move into a more gentle, and honest, estimation of ourselves. That kind of inner journey can be hugely rewarding and healing. I remember a friend telling me that life is all about – ‘releasing our baggage every day’ As the well-known and much loved Australian writer Michael Leunig said ….’God, give me the strength to hold on, and the strength to let go.’ That truly is a great prayer for all of us.

HOLIDAY TIME: After many Candles in the Window, August will be a holiday month for these reflections. Thank you for all your messages and support.