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Supper man

Robert Burns is being brought to mind

He was critical of abuses of power

THE Burns Night suppers are just for starters. All over Scotland and farther afield, people are cel­ebrating Robert Burns. Many will have planned to hold a traditional supper on Burns Night – 25 January – but others will be piping in the haggis this weekend as well as enjoying other festivities that demonstrate how people are still ‘deep in luve’ with the writer of poems and songs such as ‘A Red Red Rose’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Today (Saturday 27 January) Burns’s native village, Alloway, is staging Burns Alicht, an illuminated nighttime tour. Performers will speak the words of Burns’s verse to groups of peo­ple who follow a route that begins at the cottage where the poet lived with his family.

Meanwhile, Rose Street in Edinburgh is the focus of the Red, Red Rose Street Festival, which is allowing people to renew auld acquaintance with Burns in ceilidhs, comedy nights and a musical, Rabbie.

Away from the festival, many other venues in the city – like others around the world – are still holding Burns suppers, including St James Scottish Episcopal Church.

James Stewart is looking forward to the church’s event, which has become a highlight of his year since he moved to Scotland from England ten years ago. ‘Many Burns suppers are quite formal, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but our church does it in its own way,’ he says. ‘Lots of people bring something – whether it’s the haggis, the neeps or the tatties – and rather than have formal speeches, we have a ceilidh, which, as it originally meant, is an informal night where people just do what they want. The teenage girls sometimes do a dance, then a wee lad may stand up and recite a poem and an old lady may tell a little story. Everyone who wants to does their turn.

‘But we always have a Burns poem.’

James sees why people hold Burns in high regard.

‘He was moving among philosophers, economists and deep thinkers who were using English, but Burns showed that the Scots vernacular was a language that could communicate deep feelings and thought. He used it to talk about freedom, the equality of women and the environ­ment. He was deeply egalitarian and critical of abuses of power.’

As an example, James cites the song in which Burns writes that, however rich or poor a person, whatever their social stand­ing, ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’. It says that all people should be valued.

The reality is that – as Burns’s poetry acknowledges – humans fall short in that and many other ways. We treat people far from equally. We can be self-centred, prejudiced and self-satisfied.

In Burns’s words in ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’, we are ‘guilty man’. But the ‘Christian volume’ mentioned in the same poem – the New Testament – assures us that our guilt need not have the last word. It insists that Jesus showed how God cares for all people, values all people and offers to forgive all people.

One Bible writer summed it up by emphasising that through Jesus ‘the free gift’ of recon­ciliation with God was made avail­able to ‘all men’ (Romans 5:18 King James Bible).

The message is that those who put their trust in Jesus discover that God cares for them and has a love for them that will last even after ‘a’ the seas gang dry’.

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