Mining has always been a perilous occupation. One of the most insidious and invisible dangers comes from toxic gases that are heavier than air and therefore collect in low spots. These gases are lethal to miners because it can either poison them or explode with devastating consequences. For centuries it was the practice of miners to carry a caged canary into a mine with them. If the canary died, the miners knew there were gases present and it was too dangerous to remain.
Keep this in mind for a moment.
My husband came into my office on Thursday afternoon, visibly upset. “Do you know about the holy thorn tree of Glastonbury?” he asked.
“No, what is it?”
He told me the story of this remarkable tree. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea, who donated his own prepared tomb to lay the body of Jesus after the crucifixion, traveled to Britain after Jesus’ death. On a hill by Glastonbury, he stuck his staff (which is said to have belonged to Jesus) into the ground before he went to sleep. When he woke up, the staff had sprouted into a thorn tree. This tree flowered twice a year, at Christmas and at Easter. It survived for centuries until it was chopped down by puritans during the English Civil War, but secret cuttings of the original tree were planted around the town. It was from one of those cuttings that a replacement tree was planted in the original spot.
In 1965, Queen Elizabeth erected a wooden cross at Glastonbury with the inscription: “The cross, the symbol of our faith, the gift of Queen Elizabeth II, marks a Christian sanctuary so ancient that only legend can record its origin.”
“Today,” my husband concluded grimly, “someone cut down the thorn tree.”
I gasped. I seldom have the urge to roundly damn someone to hell, but this was one of those moments. It sickens me to think that someone is so filled with evil and hatred that they would cruelly destroy a prominent Christian symbol.
My husband is not normally subject to flights of fancy, but this act unsettled him. “This would never have happened 20 years ago,” he muttered. “I don’t care what antipathy someone feels against Christianity, this would never have happened 20 years ago.”
I don’t know how bad the situation is in England, but for many years here in America the expression of anything having to do with Judeo-Christian faith or values has become less and less tolerated. During this happy season when we prepare to welcome the birth of the Christ child, there are people so filled with loathing about any hint of Christian reverence that they are driven to vandalize or decimate any expression of that reverence, or file lawsuits to force it out of existence.
Meanwhile, behaviors and actions that would have been considered wrong, shameful, or evil just 50 years ago are now being venerated and lauded. And of course, this is all done in the name of (cough) “diversity” and “tolerance.”
The dead canary in the mine was such a small thing, really. It’s only a canary, right? But it was an indicator of something much bigger, something potentially lethal or explosive. And right now we are surrounded by dead canaries.
Every day the head of the Fed stands in front of a microphone and lies to us. So does our president. So do the members of Congress. So do the talking heads in the mainstream media. We have riots going on in England and France and Greece and Ireland. Government employees are required to take naked photos of children and grope nuns before permitting them to travel. Black Friday shoppers stampede and threaten and hurt others over cheap televisions and laptops. The list of appalling acts is endless. How many dead canaries can we count? Hundreds, perhaps thousands.
What astounds me is how blind people are to these symbols of an imminent explosion. Every day, people wade through dozens of dead canaries, stepping over them or kicking them out of the way or just denying that they exist at all. There is almost a universal refusal to accept what a dead canary – or a dead thorn tree – signifies.
Remember, the last time this thorn tree was chopped down was nearly 400 years ago during a time of tremendous societal upheaval in England, a time of war, death and destruction. And now the thorn tree is cut down again. Is it only my husband and me who can see the dead canaries littering the ground at its base? Are we on the verge of a similarly devastating religious, economic or political upheaval?
In the grand scheme of things, one dead thorn tree doesn’t amount to much. It’s just a tree, after all. One dead canary doesn’t amount to much. It’s just a bird, after all. One requirement to put aside our constitutionally guaranteed Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure doesn’t amount to much. It’s just the Constitution, after all. One crucified rabbi doesn’t amount to much. He’s just a man, after all.
Or is he?
My sincerest hope is that the importance and impact behind these events will be recognized for what they are – things of such deep and profound significance that paying heed can literally save our lives.
There is an old saying that the darkest hour is just before dawn. We are plunging into darkness with alarming speed. We have a lot of darkness to go through before we can see the light.
I dearly hope that some wise and enterprising soul can nurture a cutting from the holy thorn tree of Glastonbury and replant it in its original location. The symbolism of such a task is not hard to see. After the explosion, how many of us will be willing or able to nurture the seeds of goodness, hope, honor and faith and plant them for all to see?
Because those seeds will be desperately needed.