In the middle of the 1982 Falklands conflict a series of letters in The Times debated the pronunciation of the name of the southernmost, uninhabited, icy island of the South Sandwich Islands, Thule, far away in the South Atlantic, yet a focus in the conflict.
I was reminded of this while reading recently Cyril Hare’s charming 1950’s crime novel An English Murder. The eccentric academic Dr Wenceslaus Bottwink, withdraws to a distant archives room in the country house where he is staying, and where murder has just taken place. He did so ‘in response to an instinct that drove him to seek refuge from the horrors and perplexities of the present.’
For Dr Bottwink, as for the correspondents to The Times writing on pronunciation, there was a need to find a moment of comfort and order, in a troubled time and place.
As the media in Britain argues about Brexit and puzzles over the pronouncements of the President of the United States I couldn’t help but smile as a group of clergy debated through social media when the pink candle of the Advent wreath should be lit. Although the Advent wreath is a relatively modern creation it has become quickly encrusted with a wide variety of traditions and words. For some it is an annual topic of discussion, some of it quite heated.
Several years ago I heard a surprisingly learned sermon on the topic! The preacher spoke of how light grows in the darkness of Advent towards Christmas and so we light more candles on the wreath and on the Fourth Sunday of Advent even the candle lightens to pink and then to white at Christmas. Others have said the pink candle represents Our Lady Mary, honoured on the Fourth Sunday. All this is totally anathema to many who talk about the pink candle of love or rose coloured (or pink) vestments, candles and even chair and book covers on the Third, Gaudete, Sunday.
Whatever, perhaps like Dr Bottwink, we have an instrinct to withdraw for a while. We all have a need at times to allow ourselves space away from noise and strife, and have space to focus on smaller things. The liturgy of the Church rightly should have places for play, and not so serious debate.
Dr Bottwink returned to his archive room. Withdrawing for a while helped him solve the mystery. Hopefully in Advent or in the Christmas season we can find time to withdraw a little from the pressures around us at this season, focus on something different, perhaps eccentric, and find comfort, and renew our energies and hopes. If the pink candle reminds us to do this it has done a good job!