Posted by: rosa alba | May 29, 2009

The Star of Rabbie Burns


Although I had in mind a different post originally, there came to mind a certain well-kennt Scots song – beloved by some but hated by other “raffined” Burns enthusiasts for all its bonny tune:

There is a star whose beaming ray
Is shed on ev’ry clime.
It shines by night, it shines by day
And ne’er grows dim wi’ time.
It rose upon the banks of Ayr,
It shone on Doon’s clear stream –
A hundred years are gane and mair,
Yet brighter grows its beam.

Chorus
Let kings and courtiers rise and fa’,
This world has mony turns
But brightly beams aboon them a’
The star o’ Rabbie Burns.

To continue a bit on the theme of rhythm and time – we are but drops in an eternal ocean and it is perhaps not hubris but interesting to see the focus modern societies – modern political agglomerations – place on their own politics in terms of the global.

Scotland, for all we are a nation fraughtly torn between a view anchored on the past (battles one and lost, betrayal and too often, World Cup disappointments) and the future, a dichotomy bedecked with trite tartan fripperies, yet perhaps we have both a sense of place and time within the world.  My great grandfather’s words of advice to his young grand-daughter: Never shake hands with a Campbell, they are not to be trusted (advice his grand-daughter repeated to her grandson, resulting in his informing an American tourist of that name, that he was not to be trusted); yes the massacre of Glencoe was over 300 years ago yet still living in folk memory.   One thing I was aware of when an American friend (a MacDuff by heritage) visited me and I was showing her round Old Aberdeen (::waves to Lee Ann!::) is the perspective of history.  I live in a house built in the 1980s but the house nextdoor to me was built in – I think – 1300, and the Cathedral round the corner, built in the 1100.  There is a sense of place in this.  These buildings (and moreso even the likes of the burial stones at Clava or the chambered cairn at Maes Howe in Orkey) humble us to our place in time.

Kings and courtiers will rise and fall, and nations come and go (and, God willing, come back to full nationhood again).. and time keeps rolling on.  Buildings will stand impassive to puppet kings, parcels of rogues, and the artillary that took pot shots at Rouen Cathedral, how much more does God remain unchanged by “change” to use an American political leitmotiv.  Human institutions  or political constructs are temporary, as indeed our time here -and any happiness here- on earth.

Emily Bronte summed it up quite perfectly in the middle few stanza’s of her poem No Coward Soul is Mine (one of the first non-Burns poems I learnt by heart, from a book given me by a Church of Scotland minister when I was young):


Vain are the thousand creeds
That move mens hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast Rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

Not then the star of Rabbie Burns that rises through the rhythms of seasons, days and years, but God, unchanging God.  In the light that shines from God we should seek to illuminate, not difference, but the human bonds that hold us – frail and fallen – together, the needy Christ in the sufferings of our neighbours. Only then, will we be, “the warld o’er” “brithers” “for a’ that”.

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