The season of the colour purple

I cannot claim to be the most disciplined reader, or indeed to be particularly widely read. However, when I do read I enjoy the experience of both fiction and non-fiction, of being guided through someone else’s heart and mind, of being a passenger and enjoying the journey of words and events, of being awakened to a greater knowledge. It is with great pride that I can claim to have read Alice Walker’s novel, The Colour Purple, before I watched the film! I won’t be able to say the same for Great Expectations which has been gathering dust, half complete. My foray into American literature did not occur by chance – it was a set text for my English ‘O’ level. The novel was charming and disturbing, humble and provocative. The central character, Celie Johnson (17) had been abused by her father and two children by him. The children were taken away and given to missionaries. The plot focusses upon Celie’s life-giving relationship with her sister Nettie and how their love remains constant despite Nettie being sent away by their abusive father. The triumph of the novel is that it subtly integrates the most punitive evil with loving kindness. So Celie’s life, which has been corroded and misshapen, becomes not only a tale of survival but one of triumph. Celie’s triumph centres around her skill and courage in transforming her abusive childhood and marriage by re-claiming her humanity. The novel concludes with Celie being reunited with her two children.

This Sunday marks the beginning of the colour purple in church. The church is dressed in purple which is the traditional colour for the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. Advent is a time for preparing, of waiting and searching for a greater mystery. The mystery that we seek is that of God’s incarnation, God becoming a vulnerable and innocent human. Purple is also a serious colour, the colour of kings and queens, symbolising that Jesus, although vulnerable and innocent, was not ordinary but a king of a kingdom which is not like a kingdom that we know. It was this kingdom that Celie was able to articulate as only those who suffer with dignity can. She has a religious awakening in which she is able to see the signs of God in her life and in the world around her. She remarks that she had never ‘seen’ the works of God before, ‘like the colour purple.’ Celie’s faith had helped  transform the poverty of her life receiving great riches through her quiet dignity.

I wonder if we could use Celie’s example as we journey through the season of the colour purple. Let us be open to God’s extraordinary love which manifests in the most ordinary of circumstances. Try and see the colour purple, be aware of God and his works wherever you are. Allow God to work through you and transform the places in your life that are downtrodden. May this short season be a time of re-awakening when relationships are mended and when we can reclaim our humanity as children of God. This season of the colour purple may well offer us a path which leads to a greater knowledge!

Sunday services: 8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Parish Eucharist (Children’s Church); 6.30pm Taizé Prayer.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! Click here for news and the Sunday readings sheet.

This blog is a revised edition of a former post in 2013.

Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.