It was a bit silly to make the rash promise to write about ‘Dazzling December’ at the end of my last post, but I will try to make sure that all those of you who have been waiting with bated breath to be, well, dazzled by this post will not be disappointed! I even went as far as looking up the meaning of the word ‘dazzling’ and my search confirmed that it can mean something which is ‘amazingly impressive’, and can refer to something which inspires ‘admiration and wonder’. Actually, there were three events in the early days of December which I think fit that description pretty well.
The first was the commissioning of two people as officers here in Latvia. For any non-‘Army’ readers it means that Arturs and Vineta, the two centre-stage in the picture, have completed their residential training and have now become full-time Christian ministers in The Salvation Army. It was a great day. Salvationists came from all over Latvia to witness the culmination of a great deal of work and study, and to celebrate the promises that Arturs and Vineta had made to God in a rather more solemn ceremony a couple of days earlier. The Salvation Army can do ‘amazingly impressive’, even though I say it myself. The whole thing was a paean of praise to God. There was colour and music and marching. There were video greetings from around the world, rather irreverent whoops of joy from time to time, and, it being Latvia, queues of people at the end of the celebration to offer flowers to the new officers.
The second event which, for me, at least deserves to be described as ‘dazzling’ was completely different. I was sitting with two gentlemen in the office of the Swedish Ambassador to Latvia. One of the gentlemen is Latvian and the other Swedish. I was only sitting in such auspicious company because the two of them had requested a meeting with the Ambassador to bring to his attention and showcase the work of The Salvation Army in Latvia with a view to raising public awareness of our presence in the country. They are two very committed members of our Advisory Board. As I watched them present the ‘Army’ to the Ambassador I had a ‘dazzling’ moment because I was filled with ‘admiration and wonder’ that these two professional gentlemen should be giving their time and energy to help us in a way only people in their position can. I thanked God for such attentive ‘friends’ and realised in that moment what a gift such people are to us.
Another visit to the Swedish Embassy on 13th December was the third of the dazzling events that I want to describe. Any Swedish readers will know all about the annual celebrations of Santa Lucia but I was especially excited to witness this ceremony because it is always one which has fascinated me but which I had never witnessed before. The lights in the large reception room were dimmed, the invited guests parted leaving an aisle down which walked the Santa Lucia, her head crowned with lit candles and attended by other members of a Swedish choir, both young women and young men. It was an ‘amazingly impressive’ sight and equally impressive to hear them all sing.
That might have been it, except for a couple of other observations this week, both in their way related to this word ‘dazzling’. As well as the definitions already given, ‘dazzling’ was also defined as ‘to dim the vision of, especially to blind with intense light’. What I had always known about the Santa Lucia festival was that it was a celebration of light in the darkest part of the year. What I did not know was that, by one means or another, the stories seem to differ quite how, Santa Lucia had her eyes gouged out and is also, so some say, the patron saint of the blind. Now there’s an interesting thought to conjure with!
It was whilst thinking along these lines that I took the two photos featured here of the Square outside the cathedral before and after I had attended a concert there. In the weak light of the late afternoon one can hardly see the lights of the Christmas Fair, whilst afterwards against the contrasting darkness of the night sky these same ‘dazzling’ lights give the whole Square a special kind of beauty.
These observations have tantalised me for the past few days and I’m still trying to work through them in the context of the metaphorical understanding of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ as symbolic of good and evil. If you’ve got any thoughts on the matter, let me know. A line from the Bible much-read at this time of year has come to me and seems to suggest that this kind of ‘light’ also shines brightest when the ‘darkness’ does its best to destroy it.‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out’ (John 1:5 GNB)
Coming soon: ‘Pine needles in my Porridge’