Gool Piran lowen dheugh-why oll. Happy St Piran’s day to you all.

St Piran’s banner, the national flag of Cornwall, seen above, is one of the worlds simpler emblems. A white cross on a black background represents variously the triumph of good over evil, or (St Piran being the patron saint of miners, of which Cornwall once had many) the molten tin flowing from the black ore.

The black is contrasted with the white, the darkness with the light, the wealth of the tin from the raw ore.  The flag’s design suggests an either / or, black or white, dark or light, good or evil. But we know that life is not like that.

The singer Nina Simone[1] said, “Did you know that the human voice is the only pure instrument? That it has notes no other instrument has? It’s like being between the keys of a piano. The notes are there, you can sing them, but they can’t be found on any instrument. That’s like me. I live in between this. I live in both worlds, the black and white world.”

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about vulnerability and the freedom that comes from accepting it, welcoming it even. To accept our vulnerability is to accept that we are none of us perfect, that we none of us lives a perfect life, that we each have our faults and failings. Such acceptance is where we begin to grow, or at least where we can, if we take it, grasp the opportunity to learn presented by experiences of darkness and light and every shade between.

We know that darkness and light, day and night, each season of the year are necessary for life. There’s a song from the Iona Community the first verse of which reads:

“Thank you for the night,

The sign that day is done,

That life is meant to rest

And sleep to come.”

Similarly, one of my prayers speaks of “the God of the dark night and the bright day, of spring’s bursting and winter’s waiting…”

Just as the day and night give living things opportunity for work and rest, and the seasons allow that passage from death to life, from budding to blooming, so the changes and chances of life, the joys and sorrows, the successes and the failures, being built up and being broken down, may each be pathways to growth and learning, to maturity as human beings.

Said Dr Brené Brown,[2] the self-described “researcher – storyteller and professor at University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

And the thing is, as Brown says, it seems to be the darkness that so often most defines us, the negative, the failure. This is a passage from the talk linked above: do you identify with it?

“So I thought, you know what, I’m going to start with connection. Well, you know that situation where you get an evaluation from your boss, and she tells you 37 things that you do really awesome, and one “opportunity for growth?”

And all you can think about is that opportunity for growth, right? Well, apparently this is the way my work went as well, because, when you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.”

To learn from those moments can be painful, and the temptation is to ignore them or shut them away, or even to let them become the most defining thing about us: 37 great things make no difference; the one area for improvement means we are worthless

To learn from life is to be open to it, to be vulnerable, to tear down those protective walls however they are constructed (perhaps unearned glory, undeserved shame or any of the other bricks we might use to construct that barrier hide behind).

As Gail Sheehy wrote, “With each passage of human growth we must shed a protective structure (like a hardy crustacean). We are left exposed and vulnerable –  but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.”

Yes, that does sound painful, and growth very often is. That’s when it’s good to have friends, when it’s good to have those alongside us who accept us as we are – “warts and all”, who don’t try to change us, but will hold us while we change, and love us still.

So on St Piran’s Day 2018, I want to celebrate our saint and his flag that reminds us that we need both the darkness and the light to live and to learn, to acknowledge that our living and learning fully and authentically demands our openness to the whole range of life’s experiences, demands our vulnerability, and finally, to acknowledge and express gratitude for all those who walk alongside others in their journey through the darkness and the light.

And if that’s all a bit too serious, I leave you with this quote from Sam Goldwyn: “Color television! Bah, I won’t believe it until I see it in black and white.”
[1] Singing a song from my early teens.


[2] Brown giving at TED talk on vulnerability


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