Thursday, 5 November 2015

November 5th

5th November seemed such an exciting day when I was a primary school age child.

In the few days before 'Bonfire Night' there would be the making of the 'Guy' and the building of the bonfire on which to burn this effigy of Guy Fawkes, one of the conspirators of the 'Gunpowder Plot'.

At school we usually painted Bonfire Night pictures. At home there would be a box of fireworks bought by my father in readiness for dangerous fun in the garden after dark, when rockets were precariously balanced in milk bottles ready for launching into the night sky. Usually the weather was cold and often wet but it all seemed worth it and surprisingly, but thankfully none of the family suffered burns. Like most pet dogs, the dog hated it. For more of this see 'Please to Remember the 5th of November'. The remainder of this post is adapted from what I posted last year.


In childhood I learned the simplified and Protestant-biased version of the 'Gunpowder Plot' to blow up Parliament when King James 1 was present and how it was thwarted on 5th November 1605 when one of the conspirators, Guy (also known as Guido) Fawkes, was discovered guarding the barrels of gunpowder in the cellars.



Later I realized how much government propaganda of that time, harnessed with the Church of England, ensured this day was not forgotten. On 21 January 1606 an Act of Parliament was passed that appointed November 5th as a national day of thanksgiving, a holy day with joyful celebrations for deliverance from a 'Popish' plot. Church bells were rung and special services held in churches. I believe the bonfires came later. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer (as published that year) has an official form of prayer for 5th November 'Gunpowder Treason'. Astonishingly this was not abolished until 1859 although it may have fallen into disuse earlier than that. (You will not find it in BCPs published after 1859.) From a historical point of view the service makes interesting reading. You can read the full revised form as published in 1762 here. You can also find it on the Lewes Bonfire Celebrations site here.

I've never attended the celebrations in Lewes, Sussex, England. I'm not sure I would want to as they seem to be keeping alive the anti-Roman Catholic sentiments in a way that is not so generally evident in other places, for example by burning an effigy of the Pope. I could be completely wrong. If you live in Lewes you might want to comment.

It seems that societies often need a scapegoat, which burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, or the Pope provided. The danger of creating scapegoats of individuals or groups is that it reinforces the belief that wrong or evil is always 'out there', someone else's fault, 'their fault'; never 'our fault' or 'my fault'. Today's perceived scapegoats in this county are no longer Roman Catholics, thank God, but we have created others. We variously blame government, 'welfare cheats', Muslim extremists (and then sadly by extension all Muslims), immigrants - anyone or group that we might try to distance ourselves for reasons of ignorance, despair or fear.

The focus of hatred, jealousy, fear and grudges changes with time, but the source is always the human heart. Thankfully that same human heart also has the God-breathed capacity to love, to forgive, to repair.

Here's a prayer that I love - a prayer for the world by Rabbi Harold Kushner


Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory
of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us
wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels,
beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness
of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and
feel the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun
be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts
to reach upward to heaven.

Amen.




Image Credita: Bonfire: Wikimedia Commons
Gunpowder Plot Conspirators: Wikipedia



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