The Silent Guest - An Epiphany Reflection
Thursday 6th January 2022
Years ago, January was traditionally a time of feasting and keeping warm away from the harsh winter elements. It was a time around the fireside to take stock of life and relationships and feed on memories. That looks back of course to the days when, in our countryside, the weather ruled life. Now we are mostly preserved from harsh weather by warm buildings, personal transport, and guaranteed food supplies. It is mainly farmers and gardeners that know well that weather still plays a hand in the game of growing food. But we still take stock of our lives every new year and, perhaps, resolve to make changes. Except now perhaps, the times change us. The year begins with the new variant of the Covid virus running amok around the world and so we are forced once again to alter our behaviour and habits for the common good. Thinking on these things, I meander in the gloaming through the vegetable plot to pick some greens for supper. The air is cold and promises rain; ‘damping’ as my old Cornish neighbour Margaret Hoskin describes it. A line from T S Eliot’s poem ‘The Magi’ comes into my mind, no doubt because it is not only January but the church season of Epiphany; the season that begins with those mysterious strangers from the East visiting Bethlehem, seeking a king greater than themselves. ‘A cold coming we had of it,’ they say in the poem as they felt the biting winter air of Palestine. Even their camels are grumpy, ‘refractory’ is the word in the poem. My thoughts stray to how grumpy and strident our national discourse has become this winter and I make a new year resolution to avoid grumpiness in myself, for it is an unattractive trait.
As I turn towards the spinach row I am suddenly aware that I am being observed. I stand still and then notice a solitary sharp-eyed robin watching my every intention. He is just a few feet away, but I didn’t see him come. I put aside the thought of grumpy camels and grumpy old men and find myself saying, ‘hello Robin my old friend’, and then quickly I look around in case a neighbour has overheard me and thinks yet another eccentric parson has lost the plot. At that moment I find hope in talking to a robin, because I realise that he and I are united by being alive. We have seen each other. Now, that is a gift.
As darkness falls, clutching to my lifting spirits, I scrabble a rake through the leaf mould and the robin feeds on the revealed grubs. I am a guest at his banquet. In a mood of mutual gratitude I look around and see that the pots and planters of spring bulbs have a damp layer of leaves covering their soil. While the robin purposefully feeds I carefully uncover each pot and- joy- there are finger-nail high daffodil shoots emerging. Now that really is a bonus. The robin and the daffodil are surely our national symbols of hope. It is an epiphany. Let the year begin!
Revd Canon John Halkes (Jan 2020)