In Little Gidding, Eliot describes the way in which the “brief sun flames the ice, on ponds and ditches, /in windless cold that is the heart’s heat/ reflecting in a watery mirror/ A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.” The season is “midwinter spring,” one well-known to Englishmen and women, where time is suspended “between pole and tropic.” But the poet is also referring to something else with which we are all familiar – that spiritual lukewarmness from which many of us suffer
Yesterday we considered our deafness to God; today I want to consider our blindness. In this time of trial how many of us have our eyes focussed on the news, and on each other? There is, at least to me, something shocking in the rush so many make to judgment. From the policeman telling people sitting in the park that they cannot do so, to those people themselves, congregating in numbers which rightly give cause for concern, from the person doing his or her best to comply with regulations thinly sketched, to those twitching their curtains and reporting their neighbours for going out “uneccessarily.” The cry to close down open spaces is easily made by thosen notn occupying small apartments with young children. All around we can see a rush to judgment.
We are not told that God is mercy or judgment, we are told that He is “love.” Indeed, St Johngoes as far as saying that the identifying feature of the Christian is the love we have for each other. This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that Christians have love for other Christians, but frankly, even if one accepts this narrower definition, we have to ask how many of us would be found guilty if such love were a crime; would there be enough evidence against us? There would if it were a matter of our rush to judgement; there would if it were a mater of preferring our own view to those of others; there would if it were a matter of virtue-signalling (at least in our own judgement of virtue. Yet, as Eliot reminds us, the “heart’s heat” is “windless cold.” It is that “glare” which blinds us.
We see not through agape, that love God has for all His creation, but through our own eyes. Little Gidding was where the proud Stuart, King Charles I, fled after his defeat at Naseby by the Puritans. It was, for him, a moment of humiliation to which a mixture of stubborn pride and principal had brought him. It was significant that he retreated to the religious community at Little Gidding.
Often accused of being a closet Romanist (enough to endear him to some of us), Charles I was an avowed Arminian, that is he supported those within the Church of England who emphasised continuity with its Catholic past, exemplified in particular by the episcopate. Had Charles been willing to compromise on this point, he might have saved his own life. That he did not do so is one reason why the Church of England recognises him as a Saint and Martyr. Like so many saints and martyrs, his career was one marred by sin, not least the sin of pride; but at his end, he died for something greater than himself. At the last, his blindess was lifted.
It took a greater trial than most of us have to bear to open King Charles’ eyes, but a crisis is an opportunity to turn our eyes toward God. On this, strangest of Palm Sundays, let us ponder what acts of love we might perform which would mark us as God’s. We know from the history of Christianity that it has often been the Christian response to such crises which has, indeed, convinced many of the truth that God is love. Can we, in our time, imitate what our forebears did?