During the heyday of medieval pilgrimage, the beach at Corunna used to be alight with small bundles of flame. French travellers who had completed the long trek to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella in Northern Spain would go to the beach to burn the clothes they wore on the pilgrimage.
They had seen new places and met new people and had had space to reflect on these experiences and their lives generally. So they burnt their clothes as a sign that they are now different people.
Each day brings us new experiences but often lack of time and opportunity prevents us from absorbing their effect. We are into tomorrow before weíve reflected on the meaning of today.
Few of us are likely to follow the path taken by pilgrims in honour of St Iago (James). But we could all make our lives a pilgrimage by allowing the things that happen to us, and how we respond to them, to become grist for our reflective mill.
We may also need opportunity occasionally to mark changes in ourselves that we have identified, and if they are changes we welcome, to celebrate them. Itís unlikely to mean burning our clothes and wading naked into the sea. But, if today or over the weekend, in moments of reflection, we discover some way in which we recognise that we are becoming different and better people, it might warrant a celebratory drink, or an iced lolly.
Scrabble players worldwide were outraged when it was suggested that mobile phone-style text slang may become acceptable in this popular word game. Shortened words like Ďluví and acronyms like PCM (please call me) and CU NXT WK might be included, said the gameís makers, but the Association of British Scrabble players was vehemently opposed to the change. It didnít honour the purity of the English language.
Texting is the new way of communicating. 58.5 million texts are sent each day in the UK. But many, especially of an older generation, simply donít like its technological complications and the slang abbreviations that are often used. Some contemporaries of Jesus did not like his style. They felt that his way of teaching about God did not do justice to Godís purity and holiness. His origins too, birth in a stable of poor parents, did not seem to justify his claim to be speaking on Godís behalf. A criminalís death on a cross seemed to some to be the final evidence that this man could not be Godís new way of communicating with human beings.
Nothing is good simply because itís new. But sometimes our resistance to change inhibits the discovery of new things which will improve our lives. Letís today be open to whatís new and hope to find it enriching.
Sales of canine shades have gone through the woof - goggle-shaped sunglasses are available in 4,500 shops in 16 countries. And now owners of aged dogs can buy them spectacles. At £40 a pair, Doggles come in a range of colours including pink, blue and black. A retinoscopy, performed by specially trained vets, produces the correct prescription in lieu of an eye test. Contact lenses have proved impractical but itís thought the next step might be the development of bi-focals.
Doggles are not popular with everyone. Dogs normally protest by trying to pull the glasses off though they can be trained to get used to them. The RSPCA says they are Ďa little bit sceptical about the benefitsí. Simon Pope, a spokesman for the Blue Cross, said: ďThis sounds more like a fashion accessory than something based on proper advice. A lot of people find it quite hard to cope with the fact that animals get older and that with that comes a whole range of consequences - not just poor sight but poor hearing, arthritis and bladder problems.Ē
Coping with the physical effects of aging in someone we love is not easy. We wish we could hold back the process and keep them as energetic and healthy as they were. But thereís no holding back their bodyís deterioration over the years Ė nor ours. We too, less obviously if weíre younger, will be deteriorating at the same rate. Reminders that the length of our lives is limited are not welcome.
Pretending this is not so deprives us of the opportunity to make the most of what can be gleaned from life at every stage, including when we are physically fading. Being unwilling to accept the decline in the physical abilities of those we love may prevent us supporting them in making the most of even a weakened state. Itís important to do all we can to maintain quality of life as long as possible but not if it means denying the reality of aging.
In the long run, dog-ownersí attempts to maintain their petsí vision could be short-sighted.
Kamaruddin Mohammed, who is 72, has remarried. He married his new wife once before, back in 1957, and in the intervening years has got married 51 times. The length of the marriages has varied from 2 days to twenty years but he appears now to have decided to settle down. ďI am not a playboy,Ē he said, ďIíve never believed in marrying more than one woman at a time."
The sense that there might be something better round the corner haunts many people who in one way or another are unhappy with where they are. Even those who are moderately content sometimes wonder if, even so, they might be missing out on something.
The drive to move ahead in life is important and is often stimulated by such curiosity. In the Bible, God characteristically calls people into new ventures in their lives and new ways of living. But the capacity to be content with whatever situation develops is also seen, by the apostle Paul
for example, as a valuable quality.
As we reflect on ourselves, it may be that we are so concerned to move on to something new that we fail to see the value of our current situation. Or maybe our present lifestyle may make us so content that we no longer look out for new possibilities. Perhaps today itís worth checking to see whether we have the balance about right.
Mandy Gregory has bought her own refuse truck. She reached the end of her tether when Telford and Wrekin Borough Council scaled back its rubbish collection service to once every two weeks. She got a £2000 Prince's Trust grant and bought her own £8000 truck. She now charges other residents £3 a week to take away two sacks of rubbish.
Rubbish that isnít disposed of can clutter up our lives as well as our homes. Bits of our past can get in the way of future development; old assumptions about ourselves and others can undermine valuable moves forward; attachments and commitments that no longer serve a purpose become millstones round our necks. We need to take responsibility for getting rid of such debris.
For Christians there is help available in this process. Godís offer of forgiveness is intended to set us free from the restricting aspects of regret and guilt and Christís daily support in our lives gives us the courage to put the past behind us. But there remains the fact that some of our rubbish is all mixed up with other peopleís. Particularly those close to us share some of the same history and continuing to be conscious of their rubbish makes it harder to dispose of our own.
Mandy needed to remove othersí refuse to recoupe her capital. But she may also have been motivated by an awareness that keeping rubbish off the streets needs everyoneís cooperation. Perhaps today a conversation with someone whose past is mixed up with ours could become a way of deciding jointly to discard the rubbish and move on.
Japanís cosmetic surgeons have been overworked these last few weeks. ďWe get a lot of patients toward the end of the year,Ē said a spokesman for the Otsuka Academy for Cosmetic Surgery, ďbecause people want to get rid of the things they donít like about their faces and feel refreshed before moving on to a new yearĒ. Minor procedures like removing wrinkles or fixing your eyes can be done in about 5 minutes; the downside is that they only last about six months.
There are probably lots of things weíd like to get rid of in our lives, not just from our faces, as we start this New Year. Though we may not feel refreshed physically this morning if we were up seeing the new year in, we hope it will bring a refreshing new look to our lives. But for us too the temptation might be only to make changes on the surface.
When a religious leader, Nicodemus, came secretly to Jesus seeking something to liven up his existence, Jesus told him that nothing less than being born again would do.* No tinkering at the edges; real, complete inner change was needed.
At the beginning of 2004, as we review what we want to change at the start of the year, itís worth asking ourselves how deep we want to go. Changing something superficial may be all thatís required. If it leads to more significant shifts in our lives, it could also be the beginning of something really new. But it can also be a way of avoiding the fundamental changes that we know deep down we need to make. Letís try to be clear today at what level our hopes for a fresh start need to begin and find the courage to make those hopes a reality.
As Pakistan celebrated yesterday its creation and separation from India 60 years ago, the traditional ritual at the border-crossing on the road between Amritsar and Lahore continued as usual. Every day, border guards engage in a ceremony to close the border. Indian guards march toward Pakistani guards, high-stepping aggressively. They snarl at each other and paw the ground with their shiny black shoes.
The parading the prowess of nations is no proof of their superiority. Proclaiming loudly that youíre giving nothing away wins few admirers or supporters. The people who make most noise are rarely the most deserving of respect. Jesus accused
of hypocrisy those religious types who paraded their piety for all to see (Matthew 6.5). In religion and in many other areas of life, a personís true quality is revealed not in how loud they shout about it but in quieter, more subtle ways.
At the end of the ceremony on Sunday, Pakistanis and Indians rushed toward the gate, waving wildly through the bars. At one spot, Indians and Pakistanis stood across from each other, separated only by ropes. Indian children leaned into Pakistan.
"We are the same people," shouted Muhammad Zahid, on the Pakistani side. "There is no difference." "There is no difference," G.S. Jamwal from India shouted back.
Perhaps today we might notice particularly the truths that lie behind outward confrontation, both between nations and in more personal relationships. Beneath external bravado often lies a more peaceful, reconciliatory reality which, if it can be harnessed, is a more powerful force for change