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It seems that Christmas and new year are barely behind us when Burns night appears over the horizon.
Burns penned some of the most beautiful love songs ever written, but also ranged from humorous and scandalous verse to inspiring anthems on the freedom and dignity of humankind. In all sorts of places and settings, some far from Scotland, his words have been recited year after year.
Like many people, his complicated personal life didn’t always match up to his own highest ideals, but the lasting power of his words still moves and inspires people today.
Burns was no lover of the dry and judgemental side of the organised religion of his day. His poem Holy Willie’s Prayer is a devastating parody of those who give the outward appearance of being religious without any of the honesty, love and compassion which should arise from true faith.
The woman in the poem To a Louse, sitting in church in all her finery unaware of the louse crawling over her head, reminds us not to avoid any airs or graces lest our pride leads to a fall. Burns recognises our need to have a realistic view of ourselves, saying,
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.
That is a profoundly Christian thought. Honest faith allows us to recognise ourselves as we really are. In each of us there is an individual made, loved and valued by God, combined with the capacity to fall flat on our faces.
Only a fool or a hypocrite would pretend otherwise.
Being honest about our own failings and weaknesses, while still seeing ourselves as people loved and valued enough that God gave His only Son for us, allows us to be self-aware yet still free to make new beginnings and changes when we need them.
Richard Baxter, Fort William Duncansburgh MacIntosh and Kilmonivaig.