Goodness, Kindness and Love Amidst Tragedy: Let Your Light Shine in the World

From out of the mouths of children…

Last week I took part in “Experience Church”, a special event for children in St Mark’s Church, Leamington Spa. Hand painted jamjars in front of lighted candles on altar steps of St Mark's Church Leamington Spa

 

The event was organised by Ros Davies our lovely and energetic Children and Family Worker. 130 Brownies and Guides toured four “stations” in our church, in groups of five or six.

 

The four stations were:

1) The Church Welcomes.

 

Table display saying "The Church Welcomes" in St Mark's Church Leamington Spa

2) The Church Prays.

 

Wooden cross with prayer flags St Mark's Church Leamington Spa

3) The Church Teaches.

"The Church Teaches" display below pulpit St Mark's Church Leamington Spa

4) The Church Serves.

Hand-painted jamjars and lighted candles on black cloth in church

My daughter Abigail and I were in charge of the Stained Glass station – The Church Serves.

We asked the girls why churches have stained glass windows and what the purpose of them is, then we talked about some of the stories that are told in the windows, and the people in those stories, and the lives they led;  people who serve God in this life by “shining a light” in the way they behave to others. Then the girls painted jam-jars with glass paints and we set them on the altar steps in front of lighted candles so we could see the light shining through them.Hand-painted jamjars in front of lighted candles on altar steps of church

So first we asked the girls, “has anyone been kind and generous to you in the last few days – or today?”

One of the girls  said her friend had stood up for her; another said her mum gave her some sweets, and another mentioned that her older sister is kind to her. We also heard, “all the people in my school. I’ve just moved to a new school and they have all made me feel really welcome.” And the other two said, “Yes!” because they were in her group at school and were among those who had welcomed her. And with every act of kindness, a light shines out into the world.

Light is a strong symbol in the Christian faith as in others.Hand-painted jamjars in front of lighted candles on black cloth in church

People who are kind and generous to others may be described as shining a light in the world. Images of light are abundant in the Old and in the New Testament. One of the many names by which Jesus is known is The Light of the World. When a tragedy happens with mass fatalities, the instinct of all of us, religious or non-religious, is to light a candle for those souls who have perished.

I don’t believe we should equate darkness with evil, but unfortunately there is a strong symbolic correlation in the popular mind. Nevertheless, light is something we can all relate to. We see a light shining through people who act with goodness in this world.

In the recent appalling tragedy of Grenfell Tower, we saw people in the local community acting with goodness, kindness and generosity; a natural outpouring of empathy and a desire to serve.

Through these people, a light shone out into a situation of immense and ongoing pain and anguish.

What about you? Who has been kind and generous to you today, or in the past few days?

 

 

If you have enjoyed this post, here are a couple of my past posts on the subject of light:

The Power of Light to Uplift the Spirit

Darkness into Light: Celtic Spirituality

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Gatsby – a Capacity for Hopefulness, Sparkling Decadence, and Tragedy That Touches Us All

The Great  Gatsby, written in 1925,  is one of the greatest American novels.

The Great Gatsby book
The Great Gatsby book

Yet its author, F.Scott Fitzgerald, died in 1940 believing himself a failure.

The Great Gatsby has been among my top favourites ever since I first read it, for my Contemporary American Literature course at university.

Two days ago I saw the latest  movie of The Great Gatsby, and was reminded once again of how powerful this story is.

Back in my undergraduate days, such was the effect of this novel on me, that one evening in the bar, when asked what I’d like to drink,  I requested mint julep.

My friend looked at me, and said reflectively, “they never even got round to drinking it, did they?”

And we both knew we were talking about that tragic scene in the Plaza Hotel, New York, in the later pages of Scott Fitzgerald’s novel.

I loved the new movie of the novel. Leonardo di Caprio and Toby Maguire were both excellent in the roles of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carroway.

And I asked myself yet again, Why does this novel touch me – and many others – so deeply?

For the answer to that, I must point you to one of the bloggers  I follow. Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking writes: “A good book should return you to your reality better able and prepared to cope with new challenges“.

When the movie ended an audible sigh arose in the cinema – the kind of sigh people give which means, I recognise this as truth, in my own life.

These were the words that gave rise to the sigh:

They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together.

One of the most outstanding things about the book for me is the sheer poetic beauty in Scott Fitzgerald’s writing.  Phrases from this book have stayed with me over the years, without any need to return to the book to check the quote:

Daisy and Gatsby looked at me  remotely, possessed by intense life

and

Gatsby bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths

and finally, the famous end to the novel:

so we  beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Such is the symbolic power of the story, taking us from the immense wealth of a Long Island millionaire  lifestyle into the industrial dumping ground of the Valley of Ashes,watched over by the huge eyes of a long-forgotten oculist, Dr TJ Eckleberg, that I believe The Great Gatsby is the kind of book we should be  reading for our times, not pure  escapism.

As my fellow blogger, Vivienne Tufnell, notes, there is a tendency for people to respond to life’s toughness by “turning more to entertainment that is pure escapism.”

I believe the exact opposite can be said of The Great Gatsby, and that is why this powerful story endures.

Read The Great Gatsby for a tragic contrast between careless hedonism and accumulation of vast wealth, versus harsh reality. But don’t read it for escapist romance.