The broken cloud allowed passing glimpses of sunshine; not the mellow sunlight of a summer’s evening, or the crisp light of spring. or the fading light of autumn, but the pale, anaemic and watery light one expects in the first week in January when the sun is low in the sky casting dark shadows and dazzling unwitting motorists unprepared for its appearance. It made for a cheery greeting and a smile, “Not a bad day!” It wasn’t a bad day at all.
Time passes quickly when one sits down to drink tea. Mugs of strong tea and slices of remaining Christmas cake had been shared in a kitchen warmed by the heat of a range, prayers for loved ones had been said, five o’clock approached and there was another call still to be made. Standing at the doorway, the light in the sky brought that most positive of rural Irish comments, “a great stretch in the days.”
It would have been surly to point out that the solstice was only sixteen days past, and that the sunset was only fifteen minutes later, and that the stretch was more appearance than substance due to it having been a clear afternoon. What mattered was not the actual length of the day, but the confidence that the days were lengthening; confidence shapes mood much more powerfully than measurements and statistics.
Anyone who follows news of political parties, or of financial markets, or even of sports teams, will know confidence is everything. Who would vote for a party that did not believe in its own platform? Or invest in a business that had no confidence that it would make any money? Or want to be part of a team that did not have a hope for its own success.
A little confidence can go a long way, (and a lack of confidence can have a correspondingly detrimental effect, as the property crash demonstrated). A little confidence can make a lot of difference in a parish.
Of course, churches are meant to be places of confidence, aren’t they? Aren’t they about resurrection and eternal life? Aren’t they about love driving out fear? Aren’t they about having the strength to withstand hell itself?
Go to most church meetings and synods and confidence is in short supply? The talk is more likely to be of problems, of struggles, of retrenchment and closures. Yet a little confidence can change things. A small country church that took the decision to believe what it said suddenly found trends being reversed, congregations growing, new people arriving. It took not much more faith than the assertion the days were getting longer, faith the size of a mustard seed.