MUSINGS ON ST LUCY’S DAY, DECEMBER 13
Happy St Lucy’s Day…December 13.. St Lucy has inspired many great poets and artists, as she is the patron saint of sight, and eyes.. being herself blinded when refusing to bow down to the secular powers of her day, in Sicily… her eyes were gouged out in revenge by her accusers before being miraculously restored – hence her connection with being the patron of seeing, of eyes, and of writers. Presumably because writers have to “see” to write well. There is a marvellous church of St Lucy in Venice and many others scattered around Christendom. Her name has inspired the character of Lucy in the Narnia chronicles, the most endearing of the characters. She also inspired John Donne to write one of his darker love poems, which trades on the fact that this time of year is dark and bleak, as we come to the nadir of the year, the time of Winter solstice. St Lucy (283-304) who was a Sicilian from Syracuse, the same city that Plato had many centuries before tried to help with political affairs, and for his pains been sold for a slave, is commemorated today worldwide in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches. She is one of seven women, apart from the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. Her feast day, known as Saint Lucy’s Day, is celebrated in the West on 13 December. St. Lucia of Syracuse was honoured in the middle ages and remained a well-known saint in early modern England. There is even today an Order of St Lucy, which is based in Dallas, Texas, linked to a similar Order of St Francis and St Clare, and linked the Aquarian Catholic Spiritual Communion and to the Liberal catholic Alliance. Interestingly, these frontier pioneers of reconciling Christian teachings with esoteric learning, are also connected to Sancta Sophia Seminary in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where I had the good fortune to be invited twice to speak in 1999 and 2000, founded by Rev Dr Carol Parrish, who herself is something of a pioneer of synthesising religious theologies with esoteric learning, having for many years studied with the Lucis Trust (founded by Alice Bailey) and also having known many advanced spiritual teachers personally, such as the Armenian American teacher Torkom Saraydarian. The Sancta Sophia Seminary belongs to the International Council of Community Churches, as does the Order of St Lucy. Lucy has a name meaning light, which comes from the same root as Lucis, and also Lucifer, the light bringer. Esoterically speaking, perhaps one could argue that St Lucy is the Christian equivalent or counter-part to Lucifer in pagan traditions. But the light which Lucy offers us is something that is not too bright for us to bear, and does not burn, but rather brings illumination and healing. In my own life I have known one or two Lucy’s, and one in particular (Lucy Lidell) has something of this same light-bringing quality, being a deeply spiritual person who has for many years been on a quest for ultimate truth, and who had an important influence on my own spiritual search at a critical time in my own soul’s evolution. Perhaps you might look around and see if you also know any Lucy’s in person, and whether they also have this same energy of translucent light about them, ?
The poem by John Donne is worth quoting in full, since it is an invocation of the darkness of this time of the year in the northern hemisphere, from which we need St Lucy’s light to navigate our way home to the celestial spheres. The poem is also a tragic statement about death which sadly is all too often with us. This year many great light warriors have died, many who have born the torch of advancing the wisdom work of mankind as a whole: one can think of Colin Wilson, Olivia Robertson, Vicki Junor, John Tavener, Nelson Mandela, and a French journalist, Ghislaine Dupont, who specialised in African issues, having set up a peace radio in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was to this same state, the DRC that Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie visited earlier in 2013 and announced that he has invited 137 foreign ministers to London in 2014 for a Global Conference On Sexual Violence in War zones, to be co-chaired by himself and Ms Jolie (wife of Brad Pitt). Mr Hague said to parliament: “We will run simultaneous events in our embassies and High Commissions on every continent, so that this is not only a summit in London but an international global event that continues around-the-clock throughout the duration of the summit. We intend it to be the largest summit ever staged on this issue. We want to bring the world to a point of no return, creating irreversible momentum towards ending war zone rape and sexual violence worldwide,” he said. This event will be exactly something that St Lucy could support, invisibly, since she herself was the subject of enforced rape. Undoubtedly this project is an inspired event and let us hope it comes to pass in 2014 as William Hague and Ms Angelina Jolie both would wish. It is an important project and IIPSGP will certainly support it as much as we can.
Here is the poem:
A NOCTURNAL UPON ST. LUCY’S DAY
BY JOHN DONNE
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.
But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.
When I lived near Montgomery in Powys, from 2000-2003, I would often visit the ruins of Montgomery Castle and the church in Montgomery, where Magdalene and Lord Herbert are both buried in splendid tombs near the high altar, and meditate on the fact that John Donne used often to visit Montgomery to socialise with his friends, for he was close to Magdalene, who was of course the mother of the celebrated twin brothers George Herbert, and the philosopher Edward Herbert. The one spoke poetry in philosophy, and the other philosophy in poetry; at that time my peace institute also organised a conference on the life and teachings of Sir Edward Herbert, founder of the idea that later became known as deism. Edward also abhorred war and preferred to adopt a place of neutrality in the English civil war that came to visit this castle, surrendering it to the parliamentary army, rather than fight it, so long as he could take his precious library to London and continue with his studies. Later, I moved even further into Wales, near Llanerfyl, living there from 2003-2010, only to discover that Llanerfyl had been the Summer palace where Edward Herbert and his family had retired during the summer moonths. It was named after a St Irfyl, whose golden tongued preaching had astounded her contemporaries.
St Lucy still stands watch on all of us here who would use our gifts, as poets, thinkers, artists, doctors, healers, politicians, bards, actors, film stars, what have you, to see the course of war and violence lifted from mankind, for the only sure way to end rape in war zones, is actually to end war itself. Only when we accomplish that, can we be said to have our moral blindness lifted from our eyes.
Another figure I have been reading about this week, is Florence Nightingale, who not only had the good fortune to be born in Florence, Italy, and hence her parents named her after that fair city, place of visual beauty and philosophy par excellence, but who also inspired Henri Dunant to found the Red Cross, due to her work in the Crimean war. She was also close friends with the German ambassador to Britain at the time, the philosopher and sage Christian Buunsen, who it was who inspired her to take up nursing as a vocation. Having nursed myself for 4 years in my 20’s, in a time when nursing staff were taught as a priority to be courteous, patient, kind, compassionate and morally intelligent, rather than simply attending to box ticking and target fulfilment, i can definitely say that those experiences in nursing had a profound effect on my later path in life as a peace philosopher and teacher of religious studies and history and philosophy. Florence Nightingale was surely a kind of latter day St Lucy come to earth, by all accounts.
So on St Lucy’s day, as we go down into the nadir of the year, let us all remember that in the midst of the darkness, light always returns. Lucy’s feast comes during Advent. Her feast originally coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year before calendar reforms, so her feast day has become a festival of light. This is particularly seen the in Scandinavian countries, with their long dark winters. There, a young girl dressed in a white dress and a red sash (as the symbol of martyrdom) carries palms and wears a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In Sweden, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung. It is said in Sweden that to vividly celebrate St. Lucy’s Day will help one live the long winter days with enough light. A special devotion to St. Lucy is also practiced in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, in the North of the country, and Sicily, in the South, as well as in Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia.
There are innumerable famous churches dedicated to St Lucy throughout the world, but my own favourite remains the one in Venice. Ironically, her mortal remains were stolen from their resting place by thieves on 7 November 1981, (except for her head). Police the recovered them five weeks later, on her feast day. Finally it is also worth pointing out that in Dante’s Divine Comedy, it is St Lucy who sends Virgil to guide the poet himself through the inferno.
May we all get through this long winter, and whatsoever storms it sends us, with the quiet guiding light of the soul to bring us home again, to the place of peace. But may it also be on this earth, as it is in heaven. Is that too much to ask ?