Myrrh

SMUS-Views-Bob

At our carol services Reverend Fletcher always makes the observation that while our School has the tradition of celebrating Christmas, we are very conscious, and increasingly so, that our community includes many faiths. It might seem clumsy at times, but we are nevertheless sincere in working to embrace this diversity. We believe it is richness, and a treasure. We want to include everyone who also respects that diversity. A possible task, we believe.

Of the three gifts the wise men brought to the baby Jesus, the one I could never figure out was myrrh. When I was in school we didn’t have Google, so it was the encyclopaedia that revealed that myrrh was a pungent substance applied to the body for medicinal purposes, or burned as incense, or used to embalm and preserve the dead. Such a gift does beg questions in a young mind, as it did increasingly in mine. I was fortunate enough to go to a school, like ours, that encourages such questions. You could say things have come full circle: at one venue or another during this season we always sing the Christmas Carol, We Three Kings. The tradition is that I sing myrrh, the last king. Myrrh “breaths a light of gathering gloom, sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying.” Pretty grim for a birth.

Religion has puzzling moments, regardless of which. Almost all of the great religions and mythical cycles include the story of a god who dies and is reborn. In his poem, Journey of the Magi, T.S Eliot’s wise men ask the question, “were we led all that way for Birth or Death?” And of course without the circumstances of his death and rising again the life of Jesus would not have its meaning. Myrrh is the gift that foreshadows all this, introducing when Jesus is just a baby the poignant note of his destiny, his death, which is paradoxically an uplifting one. It has taken a long time, but I have come to understand that myrrh is the most complex gift, and my favourite.

This is a season I especially love. Many people write about it more poetically than this blog can. May the light of this season be everyone’s.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.

2 COMMENTS

    • Actually, although I do approve of republican democracy, I prefer parliamentary democracy. I find republican democracy leads to the election only of the rich, whereas in parliamentary democracy it is possible for just about anyone to be elected an MP, and eventually become Prime Minister. Food for thought.

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