Thursday, March 14, 2013

Numbering our Days

In 2005, I arrived at the Chamberlain’s Court at the Guildhall in the City of London, where I was greeted by a gentleman dressed in a frock coat and top hat. Introducing himself as the Beadle, he conducted me to the Court Room and announced me to the Clerk of the Court as a ‘Citizen and Apothecary of London’. Having read the Declaration of a Freeman, I was then invited to sign the Freeman’s Declaration Book, and was presented with a parchment copy of ‘The Freedom’, declaring my new found status as a Freeman of the City of London, with the right and privilege to trade within its walls.

The ceremony itself was simple. However, like many matters in life that initially appear to be modest, the Freedom of the City of London is steeped in history and is supported by a wealth of wisdom and expectation.

Dating back to Medieval times, the first Freedom was presented in 1237. The ceremony was once an essential requisite for anyone who wished to conduct business in the City, to own property, and to be unencumbered by subservience to a feudal lord. Today, it is a quaint, symbolic recognition of our rich heritage, and one in which I am a proud participant.

I had cause to reflect on the ceremony when I recently picked up a small, plain red book presented to me at the time of the Freedom Ceremony. With only 43 pages, it is an unpretentious tome apart from the gold embossed title on its front cover, declaring that it contains ‘Rules for the Conduct of Life’. In size, it presents a sharp contrast against another book on my desk that might be said to hold the original ‘rules for life’; I mean the 1,165 pages of the Bible. However, the brevity of the former defies the depth of wisdom contained therein.

Rule I requires the reader to ensure that ‘whatever you intend to do…be sure that it be always really good, or at least innocent.’ Rule II beseeches one to act lawfully; whilst Rule III warns against idle speculation, and exhorts us to put our ideals into practice.

Of the remaining thirty one rules, Rule IV particularly attracted my attention on this occasion. It starts by reflecting on the transitory nature of life; a life ‘short and uncertain’, where ‘the pleasures of it are always intermixt with doubts, fears, and sorrows, of one kind or other’. The rule then requires us to look beyond ‘the joys, pleasures, or prosperity of this transitory world as the ultimate end’. It is indeed a rule of wisdom, and one many of us so easily forget as we travel life’s journey. Yet it is a rule which not only keeps our feet on the ground, but assists us in finding happiness in that which really matters in life.

Psalm 15 says ‘So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom’. Perhaps finding such wisdom brings with it the most significant freedom of all in life.

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 6th December 2012)

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