Sunday, 29 October 2017

Meek and Mild?

This stained glass window in Grouville Church portrays a Christ who is anything but meek and mild! Anachronistically, he also holds a bible.

Meek and Mild?
From “The Pilot”, 1978

Hymn writers have a lot to answer for. Few of them are, or would even claim to be, theologians; and yet for the "man in the pew" the impact of the oft-repeated aphorisms contained in many of the best loved, is far more important in his religious thinking than the sermons he hears or the articles he reads.

Neither are hymn writers, with some notable exceptions, inspired or inspiring poets, and what theology they do express is all too often twisted by the exigencies of versifying, and more particularly of rhyme.

All of which perhaps explains why many of us have grown up with a most unrealistic, not to say stunted, view of the central figures of the Gospel story; Jesus, the Christ, and Mary, His Mother.

Gentle Jesus?

It is most unfortunate that the word "child" should so often in our hymnody have been made to rhyme with “mild". How many tough 10-year-old boys, forced to sing of "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild", have decided irrevocably that here is no hero to inspire by his example or lead into the way of truth? Who has not winced, or "tuned out" at the implications of the adjuration "Christian children all must be Mild, obedient good as He."?

Years ago a wise priest, setting up in his church what was then the "in" thing - a Children's Corner - searched for months before he found a picture of Jesus that would convey to the children who looked at it, something of the virility, the toughness of body and emotion, the dynamic personality of the Son of Man. He was one after all of compelling leadership, who gathered around him tough fishermen and hard-headed businessmen, as well as the thinkers and the devout; and who in his own person led them, in the face of all opposition and through the gate of suffering to turn the world upside down for him.

Basically, there's nothing wrong with the word "mild", a good Old English derivative meaning originally "gracious".

Perhaps it is the impact of the sickly advertisement on TV for "mild green Fairy liquid" that makes it nowadays so singularly unappropriate to the physically hardy, emotionally rock-like and spiritually dynamic figure that emerges from the pages of scripture. "Gracious" yes; "soft, calm, gentle and conciliatory, lacking in energy or vivacity" (as the modem dictionary defines the word) - one very much doubts it.

Mary, Full of Grace

And girls and women, too, need some more realistic picture than that of "Mary ... that mother mild", if they are to find in her the inspiration of their womanhood. And here not only the hymn-writers but the painters have let their emotions over-run their judgement. It was surely no pallid girl, looking as if she could not say "boo" to a goose, who took up God's challenge and sent back the message "Be it unto me according to Thy word".

Even from the start she must have realised the rough road that she was being called upon to follow. Only a strong healthy girl with great faith and fortitude could have survived the ordeals of the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the birth in the stable and the flight into Egypt. The sword that pierced the side of her son on Calvary must have been foreshadowed again and again in her own experience (as indeed Simeon foretold).

She suffered all the usual anguish borne by a mother of an individualistic, strong-minded powerful personality, driven by a deep purpose in life to endanger his health and his life, again and again. And to watch any crucifixion, let alone that of your son, called for immeasurable reserves of faith and courage and endurance.

Mary was indeed gracious, "full of grace", but never "tame or feeble", to use another dictionary definition.

So we should be grateful to Zepherelli, who in his TV Life of Jesus did something to wipe away the unrealistic images of earlier painters and hymn-writers, and showed us a son of man born of a virgin Mary, credible in human terms and a great credit to their Creator whose divinity they so fully and richly incarnated.

Lady Day

March 25 is by the tradition of the Church called "Lady Day" and celebrates the Annunciation to Mary of her great opportunity and the overture to the drama of Salvation. But let us not overlook the words of Mary Coleridge:

"Mother of God! no Lady Thou,
Common woman of common earth.
`Our Lady' ladies call thee now,
But Christ was never of gentle birth-
A common man of common earth."
And between them, in God, they redeemed the world.

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