A perfect example of how memory affects our prayers and aspirations for the future…
“When I was a child in the 1960s I remember visiting old relatives in rural Ireland. I took electricity for granted, yet it had only arrived in their house in the previous decade, and customs from the time of lamps and candles still survived. When the electric light was switched on, the man said, ‘God give us the light of heaven!’ Everyone in the house, including my parents, would chime back ‘Amen’ in unison. Though I had never heard this before, the moment impressed itself on my memory. It was a liturgy of just two lines, but it linked that day, and that physical light, with a future ‘day’ and the notion of the incomprehensible light of God.
“When we speak of a sacramental understanding of the universe, it is that simple kitchen liturgy that we should keep in mind. For those people, there would have been little need to explain with words ‘the symbolism’ of candles in the liturgy. Every time they lit lamps, they knew that somehow they pointed toward heaven, and that to speak of heaven using lamps and candles made perfect sense: the action now in this reality was a petition for a future in another reality.
It was many years before I recognized the richness of that simple act in a kitchen lit by one light bulb.”
—Thomas O’Loughlin, Journeys on the Edges: The Celtic Tradition (Orbis Books)
Thomas O’Loughlin is a professor of historical theology at the University of Nottingham, UK. You can read some of his own thoughts and reflections on his career of research here. While reflecting on one of his most recently published works, O’Loughlin admonishes that his findings therein “examines how developments and discoveries over the last century in the fields of early Christian studies make it essential that the churches subject their inherited views [on the Eucharist]—inherited mainly from the scholastic Late Medieval and Reformation periods—to a profound reappraisal. Such reappraisals are always difficult as there is usually a great deal of emotional investment in the theologies we inherit from the past, but part of the service of theologians is to help people formulate new and more comprehensive visions of what they believe.” …All of which brings to mind the kinds of thoughts on idolatry that we’ve been discussing about in recent blog posts.