A knock on the door reminded me I must get round to fixing that bell! The words,
‘That will be £6 please, sir,’ were my first indication that we had our own window
cleaner. My extremely rare forays into the world of water and chamois leather were,
mercifully, at an end!
The experience set me thinking about windows and the properties of glass. I remember,
as a child, being somewhat mystified by the question, ‘Is your father a glazier?’
whenever I stood in someone’s way – especially because everyone knew he was a steelfixer
and bar bender! He, in turn, was incensed by one of the few items of history he
had acquired during his short school career that, in the past, people had felt it
necessary to brick up windows because of the iniquitous ‘Window Tax’ – a tax on daylight!
However, all is not gloom - for glass and its properties have been used as powerful
Christian symbols by many writers. Paul, in his wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians
13 about the gift of love, looking forward to that, ‘which is perfect to come,’ explains,
‘For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part
but then shall I know even as also I am known.’ Similarly, George Herbert in his
hymn, ‘Teach me my God and King,’ used glass to illustrate the choices we can make
in response to God’s revelation:
A man may look on glass
On it may stay his eye;
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass
And then the heaven espy.
I have always been struck by how simple, yet how clear, this analogy is. Of course,
had I taken more notice of the fourth verse, I would have realised that even cleaning
windows should have been a real joy – if approached in the right frame of mind!
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine,
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws.
Makes that and the action fine.
People approach the divinity of Christ in many ways. For some, it is expressed in
the story of the Virgin Birth or in the miracles or in the Passion and Resurrection.
The theologian, Paul Tillich approached it from, seemingly, the other end of the
scale. For him, it was Jesus’ total humility, selflessness and openness to God’s
will that made Him divine. To explain this, he used the symbolism of transparency.
For Tillich, Jesus was so utterly selfless and open to God’s will that he became,
as it were, transparent, so that God was revealed through Him in a unique, once and
for all, way.
Thomas Merton, a 20th century contemplative Christian writer, in his book, ‘New Seeds
of Contemplation’, attempts to set out for us the mystery of Christ using the imagery
of the magnifying glass:
As a magnifying glass concentrates the rays of the sun into a little burning knot
of heat that can set fire to a dry leaf or a piece of paper, so the mystery of Christ
in the gospel concentrates the rays of God’s light and fire to a point that sets
fire to the spirit of man. And this is why Christ was born and lived in the world
and died and returned from death and ascended to his father in heaven. Through the
glass of His incarnation, He concentrates the rays of His Divine Truth and Love upon
us so that we feel the burn, and all mystical experience is communicated to men through
the Man Christ.
It would appear from these passages that, not only can glass illuminate our everyday
lives, but it may also act as a symbol that can illuminate our spiritual lives.
As for me, perhaps it’s time I got around to having a look at that bell, now that
our new window cleaner has freed up some of my time!