Well, did you open the window and kiss 2016 goodbye last night with a sigh or a cheerful ‘don’t come back’? Either way, last year is locked and we face a clean slate for another twelve months. Not that has stopped political and ecclesial luminaries trying to under-draw what we will find ahead. They often came on the telly over the festive session to bring their message of Christmas cheerlessness. Repeatedly was the message of us entering an age of uncertainty. However, despite being at the bottom of the clerical food-chain, I have the temerity to suggest that concern would be better raised of us going into age of certainty.
To explain – one of my pleasures at this time of year is to watch the Christmas lectures from the Royal Institution. This year’s series was on energy and powering the planet. During these scientific tours de theatre, usually the only risk is some precocious child being covered in green glop. But the first lecture was different. Since, none other than Richard Dawkins, now elevated to the rank of Professor, demonstrated his certainty in the laws of physics. It was experiment that I once saw Richard Fynman demonstrate. You take a large metal ball that swings on a string and place it in front of your nose. The you let it go. It swings away from you and then back endangering your good looks. However, air resistance has reduced the balls momentum and so it swings only back to a point few inches from you.As a result the Dawkins’ visage survived as did his certainty in his scientific understanding.
Here then is a good form of certainty.
His certainty that there is no God however is a less valid form of certainty. Indeed, it could illustrate the era of false certainty that we have entered. Since last year was infested by those with the cast iron certainty to be wrong at the top of the voice. A certainty that selected facts are easier than the complexity of the whole picture to bombast on. In truth, a certainty that division is more effective than unity when appealing to people’s hunger for simplistic answers. Put directly, today’s growing certainty across swaths of our global neighbours is born of a limiting prejudice and not of a wider observation of reality and greater feeling of humanity.
Here then is what Christ had in mind when he warned of false prophets . For this morning we heard – ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
Here indeed is what Hundertwasser warned of when he said – When we dream alone it is only a dream, but when many dream together it is the beginning of a new reality.
So as we enter a New Year on what can be base a more wholesome certainty?
On Boxing Day, I watched that now Christmas classic film and it is ‘Love Actually’. Based on a series of inter-related relationships it contains most of life from funerals to weddings via 10 Downing Street, autism and the school nativity play.
Hugh Grant, in his role as Prime Minister, reminds us at the very start of the movie that on the day of 9/11 the phone calls made were not of hatred but of love. As a result, he presents the movie’s tenant that the only certain foundation for living is love. Jesus too knew just what he meant. He knew that the purest certainty for life in all its fullness comes from loving relationships – relationships between creatures – relationships between created and creator. In fact, the very relationship that Simeon and Anna had with God. Since it was though this spiritual certainty they saw the whole picture, they grasped the whole picture and they embraced the whole picture. They in truth met God’s own love in flesh appearing.
When watching ‘Love Actually’, as usual I shed a tear with Emma Thompson’s devoted mother character crying over her husband’s infidelity. In the background, Joni Mitchell sings her bittersweet song:
Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all.
Is then even the love of God an illusion? Is it no more than looking at the clouds of our own longing for certainty the wrong way around?
Well the most popular version of ‘Both sides now’ is sung not by its writer, Joni Mitchell, but by Judy Collins. The latter is bright, fast paced and simple. Yet a recent re-recording Mitchell is filled with all the hurts and joys that the years encrusts us with. It indeed, give the wider picture of life with its truths and illusions. Here then is a reminder perhaps that we can only prove Christ’s foundational love by living it for all humanity. We can only dispel the false prophecies of this era through living for a greater reality. We can only give ourselves utter certainty by waiting for God, expecting of God and then being surprised by God.
Because if we do we may well bring the Mitchell’s central verses into being:
Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.